Break The Routine With A Num Pang Bang

Alexandra Strimbu, age 17

Not many people like out-of-the-ordinary, especially New Yorkers. We get our bagel at the same bodega every day, shop in the same borough every week, hang out at the same park every weekend. We don’t like to go out of our way much because we’re busy trying to get somewhere else — but when we stumble across something amazing, we drop the routine and savor the spontaneity of the experience.

On Friday nights, I typically head to a Chipotle to finish off the week with a burrito bowl. So when I turned on 12th Street, I did not expect to find Num Pang Sandwich Shop right next to the place that awaited me. It was tiny, but it caught my eye because of the bright graffiti and the little line that definitely made me rethink mainstream “Mexican” food. But calling it a small sandwich shop was an understatement. Upon entering, I realized the place was a miniature flavor factory with warm, ethnic scents dancing in the air with the music that played under the soft lighting.

The sandwich menu went beyond a New York BLT — Hoisin Meatballs, Coconut Tiger Shrimp, and Ginger Barbecue Brisket were only some of the mouthwatering items listed above me. There was also a section on the menu that listed rice bowls, and since that was my original mission, I ordered one with roasted chicken. The colorful juices displayed before me also prompted me to buy their Sweet Mango juice.

The bowl was larger than I expected, and was filled with colorful vegetables, chili yogurt and chive lime vinaigrette that sat upon the chicken and jasmine rice. The flavor factory truly worked its magic into every single bite. The chicken was lightly seasoned and didn’t take away from the vegetables or dressings, which were perfectly balanced by the warm jasmine rice. The mango juice added just the right touch to the food, providing an oasis of sweetness when I took a break from the artistic blend of spices on my fork. If Chipotle and halal food had a baby, that food baby wouldn’t compare to that Cambodian rice bowl I had not intended to buy that Friday night. I could juice my own mangoes at home, but my product would taste nowhere as refreshing as that Sweet Mango juice did.

New Yorkers have been globally labeled busybodies thriving on the same old, same old. But Num Pang is not the same old ethnic food. Sometimes, having a spontaneous change of mind can really open your comfort zone in ways you’ve never tasted. Num Pang’s ambience and cuisine is both spontaneous and inviting — two ingredients for any dish that’s worth remembering.