“Savor Fusion’s been DOH’d what shall I do w/o Sister Zhu,” I tweeted in no small amount of distress after Flushing’s newest food court was shut down by the Department of Health in September. I’ve been eating at Zhū Dà Jiě Chéng dū Xiǎo Chī (Big Sister Zhu’s Chengdu Snacks) in one incarnation or another for about three years. I’ve tried everything from springy dàn dàn miàn, noodles in fiery pork sauce, and homemade pork sausage scented with orange to the poetically named fū qī fèi piàn, husband and wife offal slices, actually cold ox tongue and tripe in an incendiary sauce, to Sichuan hacked rabbit. At Savor Fusion I became enamored of her má là yú, deliciously crisp fried fish, and a quite a deal at $6 for six.
I’d given up finding her ever again, and then she reappeared, in a bakery of all places. I’d stopped in with a friend to grab a coffee milk tea and a pork bun and then I saw them. There was no mistaking the cook behind the hotel pan of chili crusted fish on the counter. “Zhū dà jiě!,” I exclaimed pointing to the fish. And out she came from the back. “Hey, my friend. How are you,” she asked with a broad smile. The pork bun was quite good, but what I really wanted was some fish. That crunchy, fiery fish that calls to mind Wise BBQ potato chips, had they been created in a Chengdu snack shop.
I’m pretty sure my big sister from Chengdu has never heard of a pop-up restaurant, but I am ever so glad that she popped up where she did. The other week a buddy and I stopped in for some of that fish and an order of tofu skin with hot peppers. The crunchy coating of the fish sang with the classic má là,or numb-hot flavor that comes from the combination of chilies and tongue-tingling Sichuan peppers. And the hot peppers and chewy tofu skin called to mind a flavor from my childhood, hot sopressata.
I have a feeling that if Sister Zhu moves again I’ll be able to find her. Not because of some cosmic culinary connection, but mainly because I’ll be sure to keep tabs on her. It’s not every day one finds fried fish that good after all.