Ma po pig brains are an offal lover’s version of the classic Sichuan dish.
As a rule I never put new, untried dishes on a food tour except when I choose to break that rule. On those rare occasions, the new item comes from a trusted vendor. Like the other day when I took my friend Giuseppe Viterale chef-owner of Astoria’s Ornella Trattoria on a culinary research tour of downtown Flushing’s Chinatown with the aim of showing him how the Chinese eat pork offal. I had blood, feet, and ears covered, but wanted a larger dish to share at the end of our gastronomic adventure. So before I met up with Giuseppe I stopped in Szechuan House to see if my friend Linda and her husband had anything that might fit the bill.
Among a baker’s dozen new dishes I hit paydirt in the form of No. 5, listed in English as “ma po brain flower.” Surely this is a mistranslation I thought to myself, but Lisa informed me otherwise. “It’s like ma po tofu, but we use pig brain instead.”
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…)
Karl Palma, the jovially brawny dude behind Karl’s Balls, a takoyaki stand that can be found at the Queens Night Market among other places around New York City, has been trying to get me to eat Sichuan food with him for at least three years.
“You gotta come with me to this place, it’s me and my wife’s favorite,” he would crow about Szechuan House, and I would say, “Yeah sure,” while thinking, “I’m a Chengdu Tian Fu man myself.”
I finally caved in. I don’t know why I waited so long. Karl and I ate there a few weeks ago and I’ve been back several times with different friends to try at least a half dozen items, but there is one particular dish that has become the very stuff of my Sichuan food fever dreams, shredded fried beef. (more…)
“We’re here at Flushing’s oldest food court,” I tell my Chinatown tour guests as we stand outside the Golden Shopping Mall before descending the stairs to the gritty wonderland of regional Chinese food. “When I first came here, I had no idea what to order because everything was in Chinese,” I continue.
Once downstairs I point out Chen Du Tian Fu, noting that it has wonderful Sichuan food. Typically we forego the fiery fare at this stall in favor of Helen You’s Tianjin Dumpling House, which is a shame because Stall No. 31, downtown Flushing’s O.G. Sichuan street food specialist, is where a decade ago myself and many other non-Chinese speaking Chinese food nerds had our first experiences with Golden Shopping Mall thanks to a legendary Chowhound post by BrianS that translated the then all Chinese red and yellow wall menu. That translation ultimately led me to bring Chinese food expert and Sichuan food specialist Fuchsia Dunlop to Golden Mall in the summer of 2008.
“They’re speaking Sichuan dialect. I love it, Sichuan dialect is so lovely,” Dunlop exclaimed as we tucked into a plate of fu qi fei pian, a tangle of tendon, tripe, and beef bathed in chili oil singing with ma la flavor. In the ten years since my visit with Dunlop, Golden Shopping Mall has been discovered. Zimmern, Bourdain, the Times, even Mission Chinese Food’s Danny Bowien, who I once ran into dining there with his kitchen crew, have all taken a seat at the rickety stools.
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.”
Ma po tofu and homemade roasted fish are both standouts.
The entrance to Guan Fu— the latest in a recent string of higher end Sichuan openings in downtown Flushing’s Chinatown—is flanked by two formidable foo lions standing sentry outside a facade that calls to mind a temple or palace. Quite appropriate given that the black and gold plaque reads “Guan Fu Chuan Cai,” which translates to “Official Palace Szechuan Cuisine.”
I’ve been mighty curious about Guan Fu since it opened. My interest reached a fever pitch when Pete Wells bestowed three stars upon it this summer. So when the one of the owners reached out with a dinner invite I couldn’t say no. As I waited for my dining companion on a bench facing the entrance delicious aromas wafted towards me as the doors opened and closed.
I’ve been hearing about Legend of Taste since late last year when Jim Leff, the founder of Chowhound declared it “The Best Sichuan I’ve Ever Found in NYC.” I knew I’d eventually make it out to the restaurant, which is located rather incongruously in Whitestone, a neighborhood hardly known for regional Chinese cuisine. So when Rich Sanders of Ethnojunkie told me he was gathering a crew of a dozen like-minded eaters and writers, I immediately said yes.
I knew we were off to a good start when a dish of peanuts coated in a heady mixture of salt, sugar, ground chili pepper and Sichuan peppercorn was placed before us. It’s one of my favorite Sichuan snacks. Everything we tried was delicious, but there was one dish that stood out, Szechuan style crispy eggplant ($12.95). (more…)
Duck charcuterie by way of Chengdu and downtown Flushing.
As a keen watcher and eater of all that goes on in downtown Flushing’s Chinatown, I’ve seen a many a hawker stall come and go. This seems especially true of Sichuan outfits. Thankfully there’s one constant in this shifting ma la sea: Cheng Du Tian Fu or Chengdu Heaven, as it’s often so aptly rendered in English. (more…)
Who knew Gui Lin Mi Fen had an awesome tofu salad?
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.)(more…)
Zhi zi liang fen, slippery cool, and garlicky as all getout.
“What’s your favorite noodle dish?,” is a question I’m asked all too often. As a food nerd I have about a dozen favorites encompassing Thai,Uzbek, and Chinese. One of my top Chinese noodles these days is the ma la liang mian or cold noodles—humming with ma la flavor of tingling Sichuan peppercorns combined with red chilies—from Szechuan Taste.
It’s so good that it’s taken me a year to start ordering the stall’s other cold noodle specialties like zhi zi liang fen, or gardenia bean jelly ($3.75). Despite the English name, there are no flowers in it whatsoever. Just Like its bone-white cousin liang fen, this sunnier version is made with mung beans. (more…)