Little Alley is a New York City eatery that specializes in Shanghai food; specifically, meals that would be on the dinner tables in a “long tang.” The kitchen staff is comprised of entirely Shanghainese chefs who speak the Shanghainese dialect and create dishes that are 100% Shanghainese. Since it’s opening, the restaurant has been regaled by major publications the NY Times and The New Yorker.

Chef Cheung Yuchun is the chef owner of Little Alley who believes that what we eat triggers emotions and memories. Cheung Yuchun was raised in Shanghai and comes from a long line of restauranteurs and chefs and worked in some of New York’s most prestigious Shanghainese restaurants prior to opening Little Alley.

Cheung Yuchun recently discussed his business and more via an exclusive interview.

Food, cuisine and chefs

Meagan (MM): You come from a long line of professional chefs, so when did you realize this was also your calling?

Cheung Yuchun (CY): I always liked cooking food growing up, so it's natural for me to become a chef when I chose my occupation.

MM: How long did it take you to master the art of Shanghainese cuisine?

CY: It took me quite a while to master it. I grew up in Shanghai and attended culinary institute there. Both major factors contributed to my cooking techniques today.

MM: What differentiates Shanghai food from recipes that come from other areas in China?

CY: Shanghai food has a bit of sweetness.

It's also rich in umami.

MM: What's your personal favorite Shanghainese dish and which one is the most difficult to prepare?

CY: My favorite is Little Alley Lion's Head, and the most difficult to prepare is the Eight Delicacies Stuffed Whole Duck.

MM: How did you manage to establish Little Alley and how tough is it to keep a restaurant afloat in Manhattan?

CY: I was born and raised in a family of chefs and restaurateurs in a long tang (little alley) in Shanghai. I decided to establish Little Alley to recreate the truly exceptional Shanghainese cuisine that I grew up with. Keeping an authentic Shanghainese restaurant afloat in Murray Hill is quite difficult, because the neighborhood doesn't have many of us, and people who crave an authentic meal don't usually have Murray Hill as their top choice.

But we are lucky enough to have customers loving us and keep coming back.

Chinese New Year, holidays and special dishes

MM: The Chinese New Year is coming up next month, so what does this special holiday mean to you and how is it celebrated in Shanghai?

CY: This holiday usually means a lot of family time and a lot of cooking. We visit families and eat around a round table. In Shanghai, smoked fish, tacai (aka tatsoi), and eight delicacies rice pudding are must-haves on the day of celebration.

MM: Will Little Alley be offering any special dishes or discounts in honor of the Year of the Pig (2019)?

CY: During January 3 to February 10, Little Alley is offering classic festive dishes that Shanghainese eat during Chinese New Year, including Cheese Baked Lobster, Dungeness Crab with Salted Duck Egg, Little Alley Braised Pig Trotter, Sweet and Sour Pork with Pineapple.

MM: What are your biggest hopes regarding the future of Little Alley?

CY: Our biggest hope is to serve our neighborhood and New Yorkers to the best.

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