Dà pán jī—or “big tray of chicken” is a Henanese dish I’ve been meaning to try for some time. I’d forgotten all about dà pán jī until I started seeing it at the New World Mall Food Court, notably at the purple curvilinear stand Stew where it goes by the rather ungainly yet specific English name “chicken potato noodle.” For an additional four bucks one can procure beef, lamb, or fish potato noodle. As I snapped a photo of the Chinese language sign for the dish, which shows Stew’s chef giving a thumbs up and some characters that likely translate to “Best big tray of chicken in the free world,” my friend from the neighboring Stall No. 28 waved me over.
“No good,” he said gesturing toward Stew and pointing to a picture of his dà pán jī on a flat screen monitor. I don’t know the English name of his stall, but I’m familiar with him and his wonderful Henanese food from Nutritious Lamb Noodle Soup, a Golden Shopping Mall mainstay for years. That soup with its rich lamb stock and wonderfully chewy noodles has made him famous in certain circles. It remains one of my favorite things to eat at Flushing O.G. food court. I’d no idea he even sold big tray of chicken until he pointed it out. I decided to order my first ever dà pán jī from him. After all, he’s from Henan and I know his food is good. For all I know the folks from Stew are from the same planet as the folks who designed and operated erstwhile East Village purple space pod/Thai eatery Kurve.
“They must be making it fresh,” my friend said as we waited and waited for our big tray of chicken ($12) to emerge from the kitchen. There is a $5 deposit on the big tray itself, which is indeed quite large. Hacked up bits of bird and chunks of potatoes sit atop a bed of hand-pulled noodles. The whole thing is crowned with fresh cilantro and shot through with dried chilies. Best of all it sits in a beguiling brown curry-like concoction. Slightly sweet with a gently mounting spiciness spicy it has just a touch of star anise along with pleasant bursts of saltiness from preserved beans.That murky sauce is lovely with the potatoes. It’s even better to dredge the chewy noodles through the brown lake. Along with the tender bits of hacked up chicken the whole thing is a perfect cold weather comfort food to share with a friend, or perhaps two.
After polishing off about 97% of the big tray I went to the counter to retrieve the $5 deposit. I am convinced that reason for said deposit is not that people are going to steal the tray, but rather that they are going to take the tray and remaining sauce home and steal the recipe. I know I would!
Nutritious Lamb Noodle Soup, No.28, New World Mall Food Court, Flushing