Mix in the sauce and dig into the best Sichuan cold noodles ever.
Cheng Du Tian Fu, or Chengdu Heavenly Plenty Snacks, is one of the first stalls I ever visited in the regional Chinese wonderland that is the Golden Shopping Mall. Back in 2007 there was hardly any English signage in the entire place and I was relying upon a rosetta stone of sorts from a Chowhound post. These days the menu is in English and there are dozens of items—beef jerky, fu qi fei pian, dan dan mian and more—shown in the mouthwatering photos that adorn the wall at the bottom of the stairs.
This Sichuan specialist has become a favorite of the Mission Chinese crew. Despite the vast selection I’ve gotten the same thing every time for the last 10 or more visits: cold noodles Chengdu style ($3.50). A palate-awakening sauce consisting of crushed chilies, Sichuan peppercorns, what looks to be MSG, black vinegar, and a prodigious amount of fine garlic paste tops the tangle of thin al dente noodles. Mixing the sauce to coat the noodles take a bit of effort. It’s worth it for the results, though. The bowl of noodles ping pongs between refreshing,fiery, palate-tingling, and pungent.
Cheng Du Tian Fu, No. 31, Golden Shopping Mall, 41-28 Main St., Flushing
Wonder what the Marx Bros. would have made of this duck offal soup.
About a month ago I was showing a tour group around Flushing’s New World Mall Food Court. As we approached No. 28—one of the few spots in the food court whose sign is only in Chinese—the new tenant, a strangely familiar looking woman behind the counter greeted me enthusiastically. No matter how hard tried I couldn’t place her.
On my next visit it dawned on me. The mystery woman was the wife of the owner of Golden Shopping Mall’s Nutritious Lamb Noodle Soup, one of my go-to spots in the rag-tag collection of miniature restaurants. In addition to the wonderful hand-pulled lamb noodle soup there are several other items on the pictorial menu at this new outpost, including a largely forgettable knockoff of Xi’an Famous Foods lamb burger. And then there’s something that the menu lists as “old duck soup fans” ($6.50),which sounds like a club for elderly fans of the Marx Bros.
The offal rich soup’s Chinese name, lao ya feng shi tang,does indeed contain the words for old duick, “lao ya.” I can’t tell whether they came from an old duck or not, but the soup’s nasty bits—gizzard, bits of stomach, and blood cakes—were pleasant enough. Golden pillows of fried tofu, bok choy, and slippery glass noodles round out the bowl. Like the lamb noodle soup, it takes well to a dollop of chili paste. The proprietors of this new stall have set up a flat screen monitor. Instead of Chico, Groucho, and Harpo it plays a loop of Anthony Bourdain’s visit to Golden Shopping Mall.
Nutritious Lamb Noodle Soup, No.28, New World Mall Food Court, Flushing
One of the questions I ask Flushing food tour groups—besides is it too early in the morning for tripe—is, “How do you feel about durian?” Canvassing opinions about the spiky king of fruit, which Anthony Bourdain once described as smelling “…like you’d buried somebody holding a big wheel of Stilton in his arms, then dug him up a few weeks later,” is as good a gauge of adventurousness as any.
On one tour a guy told me about how an over-ripe durian landed on his head while he was taking a nap under a tree in Southeast Asia. He was supposed to go to a wedding later that day, but was forbidden to attend because he was “unlucky,” and, no doubt, stinky.
Most truly odiferous durian varieties never make it to the United States. Usually I’ll buy my tour group a bag of freeze-dried durian at a Malaysian market. As durian goes it’s pretty benign. It’s crunchy and sweet, though it does have a somewhat funky after taste. Last Sunday though I purchased some dumplings at Golden Shopping Mall called “ice durian.” Each tiny purse was filled with a mixture of cool custard topped by some really pungent durian. I rather liked it, so much so that I’m thinking of eating some today. My tour group did not feel the same way. Here’s what I’d like to know: Do you dig durian? Tell me in the comments or hit me on the Twitter, @JoeDiStefano.
When eating pork bone soup a straw and a glove come in handy.
“And where is this pig marrow bone soup you speaketh of?” my pal Liza de Guia of Food Curated tweeted me a couple of weeks back. Her question was prompted by my mention of a joint in Flushing where one could get pig marrow bone soup. OK, Liza I suppose you have been waiting long enough. The mysterious pig marrow bone soup can be had at Zhu’s Snacks on the lower level of the Golden Shopping Mall. (more…)
Hly’s fu qi fei pian is quite the harmonious marriage of offal.
With its ribbons of tongue and tripe slicked with chili oil and romantic back story, fu qi fei pian is one of the most intriguing and delicious cold Sichuan dishes out there. I honestly forget whether I read it in one of her books or whether she told me on a visit to Golden Shopping Mall, but Fuchsia Dunlop says it gets its name, “husband and wife offal slices” from an especially happy couple who created the dish many years ago in Sichuan.
It is commonly listed on menus as ox tongue and tripe in pepper sauce, perhaps to avoid tasteless jokes about cannibalism. There are almost as many versions of this dish in Flushing’s Chinatown as there are Chinese restaurants. The one that makes me happiest these days can be found at at Hly, a newish spot on the southern end of Main Street. Strewn with peanuts and bits of greenery it is plenty spicy but not ridiculously so. Consider it a more refined take on a Chengdu street food classic. Or perhaps an offal lover’s version of the American Chinese stir fry, Happy Family.
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.