This week I caught up with my old friend Josh Ozersky, the Meatopia maven and food writer. Of late Josh has been writing hunger-inducing dispatches like this one on modernist barbecue over on Esquire’s Eat Like A Man. In case anyone is wondering the rumors about Josh and I rolling around in the dewy heather on Martha Stewart’s compound are dirty lie. It was asphalt
Where do you like to eat when you make it out to Queens? I still have a soft spot for the Bukharian places in Rego Park, like Arzu and Cheburchnaya, and I never miss a chance to visit the Northern Chinese “mutton men” of Flushing. I would like to go back to La Portena someday.
Ah, the mutton men. You owe it to yourself to try Fu Run’s Muslim lamb chop. Tell me where did you learn to use chopsticks? I haven’t, and I won’t. Chopsticks are the stupidest implement in history. There can be no more ludicrous act of pretension than an American claiming to like them. You might as well wear a powdered wig, or carry a Roman short sword into battle.
I seem to remember reading something about you having a beef with chefs overusing bone marrow. Tell me more? It’s all written right here. The simple fact is that bone marrow sounds sexy, but it’s just tasteless fat, never meant to have a starring role. It should be, like Joyce’s God, invisible and omnipresent in a dish. (more…)
As a kid I grew up watching badly dubbed Shaw Bros. kung fu films on Channel 5. I’ve always thought the only chopstick scene in a martial arts flick was Daniel-san and Mr. Miyagi catching flies. Turns out I’m wrong. Check out Jackie Chan and his master fighting over food in this hunger-inducing clip. Now I know where they got the dumpling shtick from for Kung Fu Panda.
The secrets of Golden Mall’s Nutritious Lamb Noodle Soup revealed.
“No, no, no,” the lady at Flushing’s Nutritious Lamb Noodle Soup screamed as I took a photo of the above sign. The namesake dish at the Henanese hand-pulled noodle shop is one of my favorite things to eat in Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall. I am something of a regular at the ramshackle shop, often seen snapping glamour shots of chewy broad noodles held above steaming bowls of broth. I’ve even brought a video crew there. More recently the shop has become a show-and-tell staple of my Flushing food tours. So it’s not like the owner’s wife doesn’t know me as the crazy lao wai with the camera who’s obsessed about lamb noodle soup.
The shop is one of the only food stalls in the magnificent hawker center that is Golden Mall that still has Chinese-only signage. My order usually goes something like this, “small lamb soup,” accompanied by pointing at items in the cold case. These include chicken feet, potato slaw, crunchy boiled lotus root, or thinly sliced lamb heart dressed in a warm broth. Occasionally I ask for some heart meat in my soup.
The only appropriate use for a fork in a Chinese restaurant.
I blame my obsession with Chinese food on the old man. One of my earliest memories is sitting at the counter at old school Chinatown teahouse Mei Lei Wah in 1974. We were eating beef in rice noodle rolls, when an old geezer next to us turned his head and hocked a loogie on the floor. Six-year-old me looked to the old man for guidance. He didn’t flinch, and kept on eating. So did I. Despite everything he knew about Chinatown—like where to buy the won ton skins that he sliced to make his own version of chow fun—my father never used chopsticks. “I don’t know how to use ‘em,” he said to me when I was in my twenties.
When I was seven or eight years old my brother, Tony, taught me how to use them over a dish of chow fun on Mott Street “This is why there are so many starving people in China,” he joked as I mastered the skill of picking up the grease-slicked noodles.
Thirty-some-odd years later I am a full-blown Chinese food freak, versed in fare from Dongbei to Sichuan, thanks to frequent trips to Flushing. And, I’m ambichopstickdextrous, often holding a morsel aloft with my left hand while shooting a photo with my right. I have also been studying Mandarin for about five months through the good graces of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office and am eager to practice my rudimentary Chinese language skills on waiters.
Last night I had a late supper at a quasi-hip spot on Main Street in Flushing. Let’s call it the 37th-and-a-half Chamber of the Golden Shopping Mall. I asked for some hot tea as I perused the menu. The food—delicious and possessed of a cumin-chili kick—came, yet still no tea. When the waiter passed by bad Mandarin autopilot took over. “Qǐng gĕi wŏ chā,” I asked for tea. The waiter came back in a minute, not with tea, but with a fork.
Normally when I am given a fork in a Chinese restaurant I ask for chopsticks and place the offending utensil as far away from me as possible as if to say “Mighty white Chinese food explorer does not need Western implements.” I’ve never had the opposite happen though. For a moment I was baffled. Clearly I was eating just fine with the sticks and I spoke to the guy in Chinese. And then it hit me. This fork makes a fine chopstick rest. When he strolled by again I asked for a Diet Coke.
When I got home I decided to look up the Mandarin word for fork. It turns out that it is chā (pronounced with an even tone), and the word for tea is chá (pronounced with a rising tone). That would explain why the waiter, who must have been more puzzled by this exchange than I was, brought over a fork.
Memory is at least as complex and nuanced as Mandarin. Years later I learned that my father did know how to use chopsticks. No doubt his claim of chopstick ignorance was an attempt to save face because his arthritic hands had rendered him less than dextrous.
“What do you mean,” my eldest brother, Frank said when I told him that the old man said he didn’t know how to use chopsticks. “When we were kids he even had a special pair.” Special,indeed.