When I was first learning about Chinese food from my old man at various spots on Long Island—including the fabled Hunam in Levittown—my brothers and I were always discouraged from ordering any form of whole fish. I think dear old Dad thought it wasn’t worth the expense. My relationship with Chinese whole fish dishes has been strained ever since. In general I prefer bolder fried whole fish dishes as opposed to steamed specimens. Or at least I did until last night when I tried the Dongbei surf and turf.
Dongbei surf and turf is, of course not the name of this culinary curiosity. The menu lists it as “steamed whole fish with sliced lamb” $29.95. Your waitress at Spicy Road—the only place in Flushing if not all of New York City to serve this dish—will warn that the wondrous marriage of land and sea take 30 minutes to consummate. Don’t let that dissuade you from trying it, though. Last night I was glad to have the 30 minutes as I’d given a food tour earlier that afternoon. (Leave it to fellow Flushingphile Eric Malson to convince me to have a third, or was it a fourth, meal in my favorite Chinatown.)
Thirty minutes flew by as Eric, his friend Jennifer and I happily feasted on some tasty sautéed mixed mushrooms ($12.95) and spicy Xinjiang style sliced beef ($13.95). Soon it was time for the Dongbei surf and turf. Save for being showered in dried chilies and cilantro and sitting next to an island of fragrant cumin sautéed lamb it looked just like any other steamed fish. For a moment I was disappointed. Then Eric cut into the fish with a spoon revealing a veritable mountain of lamb. The fish itself was tender if a tad muddy tasting. Combined with the spicy lamb it was absolutely brilliant. The morsels of lamb closest to the head were quite tasty.
If there is a poetic dragon and phoenix type story as to the origin of the Dongbei surf and turf it is lost to the ages, or at least to Spicy Road’s menu. The Chinese name of this complex dish—zhēng yú yang— translates simply to steam fish lamb. I have a feeling my old man would have liked this one.
Spicy Road, 43-18 Main Street, Flushing, 718-321-3688