Song Song’s Zhou & Bing

I recently listened to an NPR Food podcast discussing Chinese home-cooking. Bottom line? It’s not quite like the “Chinese takeout” we’ve come to know [and love.] In fact, it’s much, much simpler. Many dishes have fewer than five ingredients, and none of them are an “egg roll” or “pork lo mein.” My curiosity piqued, and I had to know Chinese flavors other than soy sauce, teriyaki, duck sauce and MSG.

Lucky for me, Song Song’s Zhou & Bing opened in January on the Downtown Mall across from Commonwealth’s Skybar entrance. [Adorable] owner and chef Song Song’s mission is to cook “from-scratch, homestyle, healthy Chinese food” and deliver it to customers at a bargain. It’s a delicious, delicious bargain, and a vegetarian’s heaven, to boot.

Song Song is not advertising [reports The Hook] which made our journey to her restaurant quite difficult. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a Charlottesville Real Estate Blog that took a picture of the hours sign that I even knew when the place was open. Hint: closed Sundays, but open for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights and lunch Monday through Saturday. You’re welcome for that legwork.

The menu is sickeningly simple. Six-item simple. And those six items themselves are made with the simplest, freshest ingredients, all listed right there on the page. Simple is a good motto for any cooking endeavor, and Song Song pulls it off brilliantly.

all you need for good food.

The two main dishes are zhou and bing. Zhou is a traditional Chinese porridge, and bing is a stuffed pancake of sorts. We decided to sample everything vegetarian on the menu [all but one dish.] Our 10-Grain Sweet Zhou, Celery Zhou, Veggie Bing, Five-Spiced Peanut and Celery and Muer set us back $13.50 for a Friday night dinner – and that included our drinks, too.

You’re not getting monster portions by any means, but since Song Song’s goal is to have us feel healthier than when we walked in, I’d say by that standard the serving sizes are quite generous. Plus we can’t forget all of this was only $13.50.

The veggie bing [$2.50/piece] was stuffed with vegetables and peas and resembled a fluffed-up flatbread. It’s partially made with corn so it also boasts the creaminess of a cornbread [always a win in my mind]. Lightly pan-fried, it’s great alone but also perfect for dipping into your Zhou. Savory pancakes for dinner? I’ll take one.


The zhou [$2.00/cup] was the perfect warm-up on a winter night. If you’re a fan of oatmeal [check] or hearty soups like black bean [double check], zhou might be right up your alley. The peanuts gave the Celery Zhou a nutty flavor, and the pureed celery lingered on your palate just enough after each bite [I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest celery fan, but this place might change me.] The prize goes to the 10-Grain Sweet Zhou, though, for a killer flavor and slightly sweet finish.

up front: celery zhou, behind: 10-grain zhou.

But what’s probably going to become a legitimate and problematic addiction for me are the side dishes. The Five-Spiced Peanut and Celery salad [$2.50] completely cured me of my aversion to celery after the first bite. The peanuts are boiled, and then mixed into heavily-seasoned celery. It’s easily the saltiest thing on the menu, but celery has a mild flavor, anyway, so bring on the salt. I dumped a spoonful into the celery zhou: heavenly.

peanut and celery salad.

And then there was the Muer [$2.00]. Muer is made from Chinese Woodear, which I thought was a collard green-type plant but is actually a fungus. The mushroom is famous for soaking up whatever sauce it’s cooked in and makes appearances in many soups, including Hot and Sour. It’s apparently got some fancy anti-coagulant and antioxidant properties, too, but the taste alone is incentive enough to eat it. It’s a little tougher than cooked button mushrooms, but the vinegar explodes from the woodear with each bite.

Song Song’s perfectly straddles the arduous line between “eating healthy food” and “eating health food.” There’s nothing “lite” about these homestyle Chinese dishes. Rather, Song Song has adopted principles of wholesome cooking that leave you physically full and mentally satisfied [and perhaps even detoxified] without breaking the proverbial food bank. There’s no walking out of Song Song’s with “food guilt”-making my trip to Song Song’s a rare occurrence of weekend restraint on my part.I feel confident giving Song Song’s an A. It’s a solid lunch or dinner choice, and genuinely manages to add something to the Chinese food scene in C’Ville. The only downside? Waste. Even dine-in dishes are served in to-go containers, and they haven’t yet begun to recycle. We’ll forgive Song Song for this transgression for now and hope that business becomes so booming she’ll be forced to opt for dishware. I can only hope that my aspirations to be a regular there help her business grow.

* Hey, there’s always Saturday.


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Categories: C-Ville, Food


Courtney grew up in Reading, PA, and has lived in New York City (where she earned a bachelor's degree at NYU), Prague, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville (where she received a J.D. from UVa Law). Courtney and her new husband will settle in Philadelphia following a six-week Euro-trip extravaganza in September of 2012. Courtney's interests include music, writing, criticism, fitness, travel, cooking, and sports. Please enjoy the blog. LinkedIn: Tumblr:


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3 Comments on “Song Song’s Zhou & Bing”

  1. February 6, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    I tried the muer today for the first time – it was surprisingly tasty.

    • February 6, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

      Yeah it’s such an interesting texture – but it works!


  1. Song Song’s Zhou and Bing | Mas to Millers | Charlottesville Restaurant Reviews - June 25, 2012

    […] Ryes and ‘Shine: Song Song’s Zhou & Bing […]

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