As a nonvegetarian omnivore the first things I think of when it comes to vegetarian food in the bustling Chinatown of downtown Flushing are the tofu from Soybean Chen and the dosai at the Ganesh Temple Canteen. But what would a real vegetarian choose? To find out I turned to Howard Walfish, the man behind the web sites Lost Vegetarian and Brooklyn Vegetarian, who was kind enough to share his favorites in this guest post.
Downtown Flushing can be a little daunting for vegetarians. Between the restaurants, street vendors, and food courts, there are hundreds of places to eat. Many of them don’t have English-language menus, and many of them have decidedly nonvegetarian specialties. But all it takes is a little digging, and you can find lots of great vegetarian food. Here are a few of my favorites.
1. Tofu Salad at Gui Lin Mei Fen
Gui Lin Mi Fen is best known for its noodle bowls, but there’s a sleeper vegetarian hit on their menu that’s easy to overlook: a tofu salad. The firm tofu is diced and flavored with kalimeris indica, a plant also known as Indian aster. The herb adds an herbal, floral note to the salad that makes it irresistible. (135-25 40th Rd.)
2. Di san xian, Qing Dao Restaurant
When you think of Chinese food you probably don’t think of potatoes, but they’re a star ingredient in a vegetarian trifecta at Qing Dao Restaurant. Listed in English as “eggplant with chili and potato,” di san xian is a Dongbei classic that warms both palate and body. The name loosely translates to “three delights from the earth. The eggplant with peppers and potatoes is not only a beautiful dish but also an interesting one—the texture of the potatoes acts as a bridge between the silky eggplant and the crisp peppers. (40-46 Main St.)
3. Green bean sheet jelly, Fu Run
The green bean sheet jelly with red oil at Fu Run doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a knockout. Jiggling slippery noodles made from beans are mixed with shreds of raw cabbage, crisp cucumbers, cilantro leaves, and tossed in a vinegary, spicy sauce. Once you start eating, it’s hard to stop. (40-09 Prince St.)
4. Chao bing with vegetables, Guchun Private Kitchen
At New York Food Court make your way to Guchun Private Kitchen, where you’ll find a completely different kind of noodle called chao bing. Here they cut crepe-like pancakes, or bing, into thin noodles and stir-fry them with vegetables and mushrooms. The pancake noodles are heartier and chewier than traditional noodles, and everything is well-seasoned and spiced. (133-35 Roosevelt Ave.)
5. Bamboo in chili sauce, Spicy & Tasty
The cold salads at Spicy & Tasty are all fantastic, but I have a clear favorite. The bamboo in chili sauce is exactly what it sounds like, and yet the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The bamboo is soft but with an asparagus-like bite, and bears no resemblance at all to the grainy, woody strips that come out of cans. The chili oil coats the bamboo, clinging to its nooks and crannies, adding the perfect level of heat. (39-07 Prince St.)