Qing tuan, piping hot, each filled with a savory-sweet surprise.
As anyone who talks to me about xiao long bao for more than five minutes knows, my favorite soup dumplings in downtown Flushing can be had at Shanghai specialist Diverse Dim Sum in the New York Food Court. The skin is so thin as to be translucent, and the balance of savory pork and crab broth is perfect, making the little packages a staple on my Flushing Chinatown food tours.
Last week I had a guest with a gluten allergy. I knew the rest of her party would enjoy the soup dumplings, but also wanted to give the gluten-free guest a taste of Shanghai. And that’s where the trio of multihued spheres—purple, green, and yellow—come in. I first noticed them around Easter time and suspected they were a seasonal specialty. Normally I don’t chance trying new things on a food tour, but after learning they were made from rice and various sweet-savory fillings I made an exception. (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…)
Why not have a large-format Dongbei lamb feast for Easter?
The New York Times recently had an article about lamb overtaking ham on the Easter table. Here in Queens I don’t wait until that springtime holiday to eat lamb. Just in case you don’t yet have Easter plans, please enjoy this selection of Chinese, Indian, and Uzbek lamb delicacies. If I left your favorite out please let me know in the comments.
1. Roast Lamb Leg, Desired Taste International
There are many, many places in downtown Flushing’s Chinatown to get juicy lamb skewers seasoned with cumin and red pepper, but there’s none quite like Desired Taste International. That’s because it’s star skewer—kao yang tui—is an entire leg of lamb. Salt, cumin, and sesame form a delicious crunchy crust that encases succulent purplish-red flesh. Ask for some cumin and ground red pepper to use as a dip for an extra burst of flavor. Desired Taste International, 35-20 Farrington St., Flushing, 718-888-9622
2. Lamb Chops, Kurry Qulture
“My lamb chops are getting very famous,” says Kurry Qulture’s Sonny Solomon. “A Greek guy came in and ordered 50 for Easter, he loved it so much.” Marinated in yogurt, black pepper, garam masala, coriander, and cumin the Astoria restaurant’s chops are indeed delicious. Tandoor-cooked, they’re the tenderest, most flavorful Indian lamb in Astoria—and all of Queens. (Photo: @restaurantfairy) Kurry Qulture, 36-05 30th Avenue, Astoria, 718-674-1212(more…)
The lamb and green squash dumplings at Helen You’s Tianjin Dumpling House were a revelation when I first tasted them years ago at Flushing’s Golden Mall. The tiny packages filled with lamb emit a puff of ovine aroma and burst with juices when bitten into. They remain a feature of my food tour to this day. Three years ago she opened Dumpling Galaxy, a sit-down restaurant. While I love the variety it offers—100 kinds of dumplings—sometimes, really most of the time, I prefer the hawker stand.
When I heard You was offering off menu lamb soup dumplings at Dumpling Galaxy, I forgot all about my preference for the hawker stand and hightailed it over to the restaurant. After all I am as big a fan of lamb as I am of soup dumplings. To the best of my knowledge she’s the only one in New York City offering yang rou xiao long bao.(more…)
“They should call this place mei you xiao long bao,” I cracked to a buddy on one of my first visits to The Bund, a newish Shanghai spot in Forest Hills. Two chefs from Shanghai and nary a soup dumpling in sight. Apparently the guys who started it wanted to make the point that Shanghai cuisine consists of so much more than XLB.
I’m not sure if they made their point, but I’m happy to say that they’ve changed their minds about XLB. They recently introduced soup dumplings to the menu. Today I stopped in with some friends for a steamer full of pork and another of pork and crab. The skins were a bit on the thickish side, but they were fine otherwise, certainly the best in the hood. As long as they don’t start selling those ridiculous novelty dumplings with the straw the Bund is all right by me. (more…)
Soup dumplings—and instructions on how to eat them—are always a highlight of my Flushing Chinatown food tours. One of the stranger techniques I’ve witnessed is people who forego a spoon and hold the dumpling aloft, nipping a hole in the side. It’s not a method I’d recommend. One tool I never thought I’d see used in dispatching xiao long bao is a straw. Lately though a larger style dumpling has begun to appear, first in Shanghai, and now in Queens, thanks to Shanghai You Garden.(more…)
Crunchy, spicy, and salty baby squid from Shanghai 33.
As an Italian-American, I cut my teeth on fried calamari. Whether made at home by my old man or at the Long Island outpost of Vincent’s Clam Bar, it was almost always eaten with a marinara sauce spiked with copious amounts of red pepper. The other day I tried a Chinese twist on fried squid at Shanghai 33 that was simply amazing. (more…)
Ligaya Mishan of the Times weighs in on Salt & Fat in Sunnyside whose pork belly buns are capable of “evoking not so much a Big Mac as your best childhood memory of it.” Mishan’s takeaway: “. . . not every dish is hellbent on living up to the restaurant’s name.”
Over at The Atlantic Michael Moss writes about a food that is hell-bent on the use of salt, fat, and sugar: the potato chip. Apart from an incisive analysis of why chips are so addictive, or craveable as snack industry gurus like to say there’s this revelation: ”chip companies spend a lot of effort creating a perfectly noisy, crunchy chip.”
The Village Voice offers a hit list of the city’s 10 best French fries, including Mile End’s wonderful looking smoked-meat poutine fries. Sadly the only entry for Queens is Huajio fried potatoes at Little Pepper.While the Sichuan-accented fries are quite good, surely Joju’s ultracrunchy bizarre banh mi fries deserve a spot.
And Tejal Rao makes me incredibly hungry for the pristine flavors and jewel-box presentation of Japanese vegan cusine as served at Kajitsu in Midtown.
O.G. ethnic food enthusiast Robert Sietsema files a dispatch headlined, “Shanghai Newcomer Full House Brings Back Soup Dumplings.” I’m sure the xiao long bao at this Bowery spot are quite good, but here in Queens soup dumplings never left.
Over at Esquire’s Eat Like a Man John Mariani writes about his bromance with the Bronx hood, Belmont where one can score fresh mozzarella that’s still warm and slurp clams on the sidewalk. Sign me up, John.
Max Falkowitz endures the wrath of a surly paesan working the counter at Little Italy’s Parisi Bakery and orders a dreadnought of a sandwich: a potato and egg on an 18-inch loaf of lard bread. Now why didn’t I think of that.
Are the soup dumplings at Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao Flushing’s finest?
Last week my friend and neighbor Suzanne Parker, TimesLedger food critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, New York,” called me to rave about Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao’s pork and crab soup dumplings.
“Seriously,” I said, “their soup dumplings aren’t all that, they’re good, but certainly not the best.” The best I’ve had in Queens, I pointed out, can be found at Diverse Dim Sum in the Flushing Mall. This got us to wondering whether either of us really knew where to find the best xiao long bao in Flushing. So we decided to find out. I should point out that we are both certified Kansas City Barbecue Society judges and certified food enthusiasts (Suzanne, it should be noted flies the foodie flag, while I abhor the word).
We very roughly modeled our judging criteria—filling, broth, wrapper, texture, and taste—on the KCBS categories and set out to evaluate four xiao long bao joints. The plan was to savor just one dumpling at each restaurant so as not skew our judgment by becoming overly full. The remaining dumplings would be taken back to Suzanne’s house to reheat and reassess. I had the brilliant idea to eat two dumplings at each stop, one with vinegar and one without. I did this not because it enabled me to judge the dumplings better, but because I am a glutton. So without further ado C+M presents the Xiao Long Bao Battle Royale.
Nan Xiang Dumpling House ain’t what it used to be.
The first stop on our soup dumpling survey was Nan Xiang Dumpling House where an order of pork and crab soup dumplings is $6.50 for 6 pieces. At one time I could say with confidence—and home borough pride—that Nan Xiang had the best soup dumplings not only in Queens, but in all of New York City. Sadly, that time has passed. The first thing we noticed about the xiao long bao here was that they were huge. The second thing we noticed is that they were abysmal. The broth was completely devoid of crab flavor, and mine even had a bit of gristle in it. What was once a great soup dumpling joint has clearly been spoiled by its own success. It was all I could do to not remove Nan Xiang’s Michelin sign on the way out. Nan Xiang Dumpling House, 38-12 Prince St., Flushing, 718-321-3838