Top row: raw puerh tea from 2017, bottom the prized 1976 raw puerh.
Fang Gourmet Tea is one of my favorite places to take food tour guests when exploring the bustling neighborhood that is downtown Flushing. It’s a great way to get to know my new friends. Plus, they’re always surprised to find the oasis of calm lying at the back of a minimall, just steps away from the often chaotic energy of America’s Greatest Chinatown. The puerh tea that I typically order—Little Brick—is great for the digestion, and it’s always neat for my guests to see the bullion-sized break expand over the course of five steeps. (more…)
Chen Du Tian Fu, the stall that lies at the bottom of the stairs of Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall has been my favorite Sichuan spot for more than 10 years. I’ve even taken such luminaries as Sichuan food expert Fuchsia Dunlop and Anthony Bourdain there and once ran into Mission Chinese founder Danny Bowien and his staff.
I’ve tasted tremendously good cold noodles, fiery water poached fish, and superb ma po tofu, along with many, many other specialties from the vast menu. There’s one dish that never appeared, kung pao chicken, or gong bao ji ding as it is known in Chinese. (more…)
Fish cakes from Bronx-based Vendy finalist CaSpanish.
Back in 2009, when the Vendy Awards were held in the shadow of the Unisphere, there was only one food market game in town: Smorgasburg. LIC Flea & Food came along in 2012 and a few years later Queens got its very own night market. Well these days it does and so does the Bronx. The finalists for this years Vendy Awards are a lineup of vendors from the street and from the markets that is almost as diverse as Queens itself. Puerto Rico, the Domican Republic,Trinidad, Italy, China, Indonesia, Japan, El Salvador, India, and Romania are all represented. What’s more, six of the nine finalists have a connection to Queens.This year’s Vendy Awards will be held on Governors Island on September 22. Click here to get tickets. Ladies and gentlemen, we present your 2018 Vendy Awards Finalists for Best Market Vendor and Best Dessert Vendor.
These Bronx Night Market stalwarts take their name from a blend of Caribbean and Spanish cuisines as reflected in a menu that features straight up Dominican fare like mangu—a trifecta of salami fried cheese, and eggs—and fusion specialties like jerk chicken empanadas. Husband and wife duo Keith and Judy were in the middle of planning their wedding in 2015 when they could not find a caterer that offered the varied menu they were looking for. Keith is Trinidadian-American and Judy is Puerto Rican and Dominican. They wanted a reception spread that included each of their favorite foods reflecting their Caribbean-American backgrounds. Unhappy with what they found they decided to cater their own wedding reception, and thus was born CaSpanish.
D’Abruzzo NYC took top honors at this spring’s World’s Fare.
Tommaso Conte started D’Abruzzo NYC in August 2017, and now sells his arrosticini, succulent roasted lamb skewers, at Smorgasburg and other markets. While growing up on Long Island, Tommaso’s family, in particular his nonno, or grandfather, instilled in him the values, traditions, and work ethic that he learned in Abruzzo a rugged mountainous region is southern Italy. Early on Tommaso grew tomatoes, helped make wine in his Cantina, and turned the soil in his nonno’s garden. This connection to the land at an early age has inspired Tommaso to pay homage to his roots with D’Abruzzo NYC.
Hometown Spring Pancakes
Founder Annie Ye hails from Wenzhou, China and got started in the food market game with CBao Asian Buns, which can still be found at Queens Night Market, beside her new venture, Hometown Spring Pancake, which showcases a lesser known Northern Chinese snack. Each flaky pancake is made fresh to order and then filled with such meats as stewed beef or roast pork. (more…)
A trio of cold appetizers at Wenzhou Noodle House.
In my perambulations around America’s Greatest Chinatown, aka downtown Flushing, I encounter many, many cold appetizers. One of my favorites can be found at Chengdu Tianfu. Liang ban san su—cold salad three vegetables—consists of seaweed, julienned carrots, and chewy noodles showered in cilantro dressed with roasted chili oil, black vinegar, and a healthy dose of garlic. The other day though I took a dive into the 42-item roster of special cold appetizers at Wenzhou Noodle Restaurant and discovered a trio of new favorites.
Among all meats, lamb particularly the fatty ribs, might just be my very favorite. In my Rego Park stamping grounds, I’m especially keen on Uzbek style lamb rib kebabs, but as many of you know my favorite lamb ribs of all were the Muslim Lamb Chop as served by the now defunct Peng Shun Spicy Pot.
The other week my hopes were raised when my buddy Stanford and I saw a dish on the menu of Alley 41 listed as cumin roasted lamb chops. “Can you ask the waiter if it’s fried fresh?” I queried of my pal whose Chinese is way better than mine. Eventually after a phone call to his father, the question was put to the waiter in a sufficiently delicate fashion. It’s a question of crucial importance too, because the restaurant that brought the dish to Flushing, Fu Run, chooses to fry the whole thing beforehand and then reheat it, an unconscionable disservice to both the diners and the lamb itself.
I walked into Old Tang—a new spot just off the bustling corner of Main and Roosevelt in downtown Flushing—at least three times before finally trying the noodles. The first time they were under construction, but the other times I eyed the mise en place and upon seeing minced pickled green beans and fried soybeans asked the same question in my fractured Mandarin Chinese “Giulin ren ma?” And each time the kids behind the counter would patiently respond, “No we’re from Sichuan.” “Ah so, the workers are from Sichuan, but surely the food is from Giulin,” I thought to myself. “I’ll have to come back and try it when I’m not already full from leading a food tour.”
The menu calls it a salted pancake, but it’s really fried rice roll.
My earliest Chinese food memories center around Cantonese chang fen slurped at the counter of Mei Lei Wah in the mid 1970s with my father who taught me all I know about Chinese food. Beef roll, as he called it, awash in sweet soy sauce, was his go-to and mine was shrimp.
Over the years I’ve tried many versions, including yim shui cheung fen, which stars cilantro; one stuffed with fried crullers; and my current obsession the gossamer thin version made from freshly ground rice at Joe’s Steam Rice Roll. The other day I encountered a kind I’ve never had, a deep fried version, listed on the menu at Congee Village as sweet or salted pancake ($6.50). (more…)
I’m not sure why, but it’s taken four decades of eating Chinese food for me to discover the wonders of HK noodles. My introduction to the wiry Hong Kong style yellow noodles began with HK lo mein combo at Shun Wong in Elmhurst. The massive portion of dumplings and lo mein comes with a sidecar of chicken broth as does an equally massive feed I tried at Flushing’s Shifu Chio.
I’ve passed Shifu Chio by hundreds of times, but had only eaten there once before. I scarcely ever look up at the faded red awning, which reads “Prince Noodle & Cafe, when I’m leading tours through the neighborhood. One day last week after perusing such whimsical menu categories as “Golden Oldies,” which includes fried fish cake lo mein, and “The Conservatives,” a septet of congees, including pig’s belly and liver I zeroed in on HK noodles. (more…)
The year that just drew to close was a year of personal challenges—coping with chemo via congee—and achievements—publishing a guidebook to Queens—all while eating my way through New York City’s most delicious and diverse borough. Herewith, are 17 from 2017.
1. Most Super Soup Dumplings
I’ve been a fan of Helen You’s dumplings since long before she became the empress of Dumpling Galaxy. My favorite at Tianjin Dumpling house in Golden Mall remains the lamb and green squash. Yang rou xiao long bao, or lamb soup dumplings, are one of the off-menu stars at Dumpling Galaxy. The little packages bursting with unctuous lamb broth are so good that they have become a staple of my Flushing Chinatown food tours. Dumpling Galaxy, 42-35 Main St., Flushing, 718-461-0808
2. Choicest Chang Fen
I cut my teeth on Cantonese steam rice rolls at Mei Lei Wah in Manhattan’s Chinatown, so this breakfast staple will always have a special place in my heart and stomach. About a year ago Joe’s Steam Rice Roll opened in downtown Flushing and I knew right away that it was somethings special. For one thing he’s grinding fresh rice as opposed to using rice flour like everybody else in New York City, which imparts a delicate flavor and texture. Turns out that Joe himself went to Guangzhou to learn his craft and brought the equipment back with him. My favorite is the shrimp and egg with green onion. Joe’s Steam Rice Roll, 136-21 Roosevelt Ave., #A1, Flushing
3. Duckiest Thai Arancini
OK fine, they’re not quite Italian rice balls, but the trio of crispy sticky rice balls served with Thailand Center Point’s larb duck with crispy rice ($13.95) do a great job of soaking up the piquant sauce. The shredded meat—mixed with roasted rice powder and shot through with herbs and just the right amount of chilies—is superb. Thailand’s Center Point, 63-19 39th Avenue, Woodside, 718-651-6888(more…)
In the 20 plus years that I’ve been living in Queens the strip of Austin Street that runs through Forest Hills has never been known as a hotbed of authentic Asian cuisine. In the past few years though, that’s been gradually changing. First came Violet’s Bake Shoppe, which brought top-notch bánh mì to the area and then Pink Forest Cafe, a Chinese-run coffee shop with a sideline in jian bing. The latest entrant, Xin Taste Lan Zhou Hand Pull Noodle opened a few weeks ago, just as winter was beginning to sink its icy claws into New York City. (more…)