01/28/14 11:14am
Hly's version. XXXXXXXX

Sichuan ox tongue and tripe is a classic spicy Chinese dish.

Welcome to the fifth installment of C+M’s ongoing series of audio guides on how to order authentically spicy food in ethnic restaurants. As a service to C+M readers Anne Noyes Saini has been compiling a series of audio guides demonstrating phrases in several relevant languages, which can be used to navigate ordering situations fraught with tricky cultural and language barriers.

Today just in time for the upcoming Chinese New Year festivities, a primer from Rain Yan Wang on how to order spicy food in Mandarin. At most of my favorite Flushing haunts, like Lao Cheng Du and Cheng Du Tian Fu, they don’t pull any punches when it comes to fiery chili heat and tingling Sichuan peppercorns. That’s not the case everywhere though. Click through to learn how to get real deal spicy Chinese. (more…)

10/25/13 11:11am
The stewed oxtail lunch special at Liang’s.

The stewed oxtail lunch special at Liang’s.

Can you give me a recommendation for a place in Queens to eat oxtails?
Paul Z., Bayside,N.Y.

There are many good West Indian places to eat oxtails in Queens, but I suggest that you go Chinese. The stewed oxtail over rice special at Liang’s Kitchen (133-51 39th Ave., Flushing, 347-506-0115) is quite lovely. For a spicier approach I highly recommend the oxtail and hand ripped noodles at Biang! (41-10 Main St., Flushing,  718-888-7713.)

Whenever I go to the Golden Shopping Mall I find myself very overwhelmed by all the sights, sounds,and aromas. What’s the best thing to eat there?
Baffled in Brooklyn

You are not alone, the first time I went there I left without ordering a thing because I was completely overwhelmed. (more…)

10/14/13 12:15pm
SichuanWonton

Surely this is the subtlest Sichuan seafood soup ever.

When it comes to Sichuan dumplings two words spring to mind: chili oil. So it was a pleasant surprise to discover a subtle wonton soup at Szechuan Dish in the New World Mall Food Court. The stall serves what are to my mind the best Sichuan noodles in New York City and its exquisite cold dishes, including cucumbers in chili and surprisingly smoky strips of gluten, are a staple of my Flushing food tours.

On the picture menu, where all the others item are tinted a fiery red, haĭ weì chāo shoŭ ($7), looks out of place. Although there’s no chili to be found in seafood flavor wonton soup,  it has a steady buzz of spice thanks to black and white pepper. And there are so many delicate (more…)

04/22/13 11:20am
aaaaaaaaaaaaaa

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

04/16/13 9:46am
Apparently Master Fu Zi liked his pork belly and his chilies.

Apparently Old Master Fu Zi liked his pork belly and his chilies.

Last night I had dinner in Flushing with two fellow food writers at a newish Sichuan restaurant that shall remain nameless for the purposes of this dispatch. Almost everything we ordered was stunning save for one item. As luck would have it, it was the one dish that I, Queens’ foremost Caucasian expert on Asian food insisted on ordering. I expected a pork belly creation like the one pictured above. To be sure what came to the table was pork belly in a steamer, but all resemblance ended there. For one thing it looked like a washed up version of mofongo and tasted rather like an English school lunch sitting atop bland mashed peas. The entire lot had been steamed into flavorless submission.

What I’d expected was something like a dish I’d had at Hunan House a while back: xiang shan ma la fu zi rou, or “Hunan house Old Master Fuzi meat dish.” It consists of pork belly and rice powder steamed for so long that the rice powder has melded with the pork fat, and vice versa. Each slice of the fanned out pork belly is rich and unctuous and can just barely retain its form.  It’s tasty, but superfatty, which is where those pickled chilies come in. It’s the type of thing that’s best eaten with rice and shared with more than one person.

As for the nameless Sichuan restaurant, all I can say is not every dish can be a winner. It was just such a shock to see such a weirdly lackluster dish emerge from an otherwise accomplished kitchen. And it was of course a slight slow to my ego. I suppose such occupational hazards are part and parcel of being The Guy Who Ate Queens.

Hunan House, 137-40 Northern Boulevard, Flushing, 718-353-1808

03/07/13 10:15am
The English name still reads Prince Noodle House but his psot has undergone a transformation into Láo Chéng Dū.

Prince Noodle House has undergone a transformation into Láo Chéng Dū.

“My Mom has a new place, you have to come try it,” Zhū Dà Jiě’s son told me about a week ago. “Call me, she’ll make you a few dishes to taste.” Big Sister Zhū is widely known among Flushing aficionados for making some of the best Sichuan food around. She has had a succession of small-scale food court stalls, and was most recently at a Chinese bakery. And that’s the type of set-up I expected to find on Prince Street. When I saw that her new place was a full-scale restaurant, Láo Chéng Dū, I was very excited indeed.

With a restaurant kitchen at her disposal Zhū Dà Jiě now offers a full menu of Sichuan specialties.

Zhū Dà Jiě now offers a full menu of Sichuan specialties.

When I entered the place the staff were wondering why I was outside taking photos. In a combination of Mandarin and English I made it understood that I was friend of Big Sister Zhū. I was so happy when I saw her. After following her and her fantastic food around for several years we have a connection. Lately I have come to realize that seeing her and eating her food reminds of eating homemade pasta with Big Ann, my mother’s aunt. And just like my Italian-American family Big Sister Zhū and the staff decided to kill me with kindness laying out way more than a few dishes.

(more…)

02/22/13 10:41am
At just under $10 this six-course meal of Sichuan snacks won’t break the bank.

At just under $10 this six-course meal of Sichuan snacks won’t break the bank.

Much like downtown Flushing’s Chinatown itself the New World Mall food court is diverse and constantly evolving. One of the latest additions is a two-week-old outfit that goes by the rather unassuming English name, “Szechuan Dish.” The Chinese on its sign “Mei Sichuan” and  “Chéng Dū kǒu wèi,”  which more or less says beautiful Sichuan, Chengdu flavor, gives a much better idea of the beautiful flavorful, fiery things coming out of Stall No. 25.

Last Sunday I tried liáng bàn xīn shé, a fiery cold salad of pig tongue and heart slicked with chili oil. And yesterday I stopped by for a fēng wèi xiǎo chī tào cān, or local flavor set meal. Think of it as a six-course Sichuan Happy Meal. For $9.50 I was one happy, happy eater. It was like a greatest hits of Chengdu street food: excellent dàn dàn miàn,noodles in a fiery sauce of ground beef and preserved vegetables; Chéng Dū hóng yóu shuǐ jiǎo, pork dumplings in soy sauce enlivened with chilies and no small amount of garlic; and hǎi wèi chāo shŏu, a flavorful wonton and seafood soup. The bountiful set also includes a cold two-veggie plate and a cold two-meat plate. Last night the meats were the aforementioned pig offal and excellent diced rabbit. The vegetable plate was preserved tofu and celery and an unidentifiable yet pleasantly chewy rooty type vegetable.  If you’re into that sort of thing there is also a sweet fermented rice soup.

If you think this sounds like a whole lot of food for $9.50, you are right. It is also a whole lot of flavors: chili, garlic, salty, sweet, even a subtle smokiness from the vegetable plate. I haven’t been this excited about Sichuan food since I took Fuchsia Dunlop to the Golden Mall. It’s a game changer people.

Szechuan Dish, No. 25, New World Mall Food Court, 40-21 Main St., Flushing

02/14/13 9:30am
Mào dòu, edamame's more flavorful Taiwanese cousin.

Mào dòu, edamame’s more flavorful Taiwanese cousin.

If you’ve ever spent much time in an izakaya then you’re familiar with edamame. At its most basic the popular Japanese drinking snack consists of nutty tasting immature soybean pods briefly boiled in salt water. They’re fun to eat—just squeeze the fuzzy pod and pop out the smooth beans—and much better for you than pretzels.

Once I was enjoying a bowl in a certain Midtown izakaya and they had a incredible shrimp flavor. Boiling the beans with shrimp shells is a nice touch, but the most interesting treatment of edamame I’ve had was a Taiwanese version known as mào dòu. Tossed with sesame oil, cracked pepper, garlic, and just a hint of star anise they are absolutely wonderful. Best of all, mào dòu is easy to make at home just boil the beans briefly, shock them in cold water, and toss with your mào dòu fixins.

Those mào dòu fixins need not be limited to the ones I’ve mentioned either. Come to think of it a má là version with palate tingling Sichuan peppercorn and fiery dried chilies would be quite nice.

01/15/13 10:39am
Hly's version. XXXXXXXX

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.

Hly Chinese Cuisine, 43-23 Main St., Flushing, 718-353-0278

01/03/13 10:10am
Sister Zhu and her amazing Chengdu fried fish. Note the duck heads at right.

Sister Zhu and her amazing Chengdu fried fish.

“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.

Coated in Sichuan peppercorn and hot pepper these fish are killer diller delicious.

Coated in Sichuan peppercorn and hot pepper these fish are delicious.

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.

Sister Zhu has a new home.

Sister Zhu is lucky to have a new home.

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.

 Zhū Dà Jiě Chéng dū  Xiǎo Chī  ,Lucky Bakery ,44-35 Kissena Blvd., Flushing, 718-888-7771