Ever since Zhu Da Jie—Flushing’s Queen of Sichuan cookery—set up a cart in Elmhurst on the corner of Broadway and Whitney last spring I’ve been begging her to make dan dan mian. After all the savory, spicy noodles have their roots in the street food of Chengdu. That hasn’t happened yet, but I was pleased to see that one of her classic dishes, spicy fried fish, has been revived after a fashion. And by a cart that had the nerve to open up right next door to her lump charcoal fueled operation.
The competition couldn’t be friendlier though. The new cart is run by Zhu Da Jie’s son, Andy Yang. When asked for the best item on the menu, he recommended the squid. I nodded and ordered the crispy fish ($1.25). It wasn’t quite like his mother’s, but it was freshly fried and lashed with dried chilies and hot oil. “You should put some Sichuan peppercorn on it,” I advised.
And then I ordered the squid yaki ($3). I felt utterly compelled to do so after seeing him prepare one for some other customers. First a rather large specimen splayed between two skewers was placed on the grill. Then Yang pressed down on it with a cast iron device normally used to flatten bacon. Under the pressure of the cast iron the squid flattened, hissing and popping along the way. Yang then anointed it with chili and sauce.
The result is crunchy, spicy and chewy, and unwieldy in the best possible way. It is surely some of the best grilled squid to be had on the street in any of New York City’s four Chinatowns. Yang winds the far left and right tentacles around the skewers corkscrew fashion. It’s a nice touch. I asked him where he learned to make this delicious seafood street snack. “My wife taught me, she’s Japanese.” So there you have it a Sichuan-Japanese street food by way of Elmhurst, Queens.
Yang said he wanted to do something different because his mother’s cart already makes squid skewers. Those of you who miss his mother’s Sichuan cooking as much as I do should keep your fingers crossed. Yang says the family might be looking into a restaurant space later this year.
Son of Zhu Da Jie Squid Cart, Broadway and Whitney Ave., Elmhurst