Downtown Flushing’s Chinese nougat man plying his wares on a hot summer’s day.
I can count the number of times I’ve added unknown foods to my Queens culinary walking tours on the fingers of one hand. This reticence to try new things with guests stems not from a lack of adventure, but rather the “all killer no filler” approach I take to the foods I showcase on the tour. Most of the time, unknown quantities prove to be severely lacking, but every now and then I come across a gem. Such a diamond in the rough appeared in the form of a streetside sweet on yesterday’s Flushing Chinatown food tour.
My guests and I were en route to the subterranean Golden Shopping Mall food court when I spied a Chinese gentleman with a streetside stand with a bunch of other Chinese folks surrounding him. I peeked over their shoulders, to see what I first thought was dragon beard candy because of the clouds of confectioners sugar, then I realized it was giant spiral of stretchy, sweet nougat. For a buck a pop the gent, who turns about to be from Fujian Province, stretched out the elastic peanut-filled sweet and then cut a fat finger sized length off with kitchen shears. It’s pretty tasty, but truthfully I was more amazed by finding a new street food than the flavor per se.
After my guests and I said our goodbyes, I hung out for a while and watched him ply his craft.When asked him his hours he shrugged and said he didn’t know. I bought a few more pieces to give my friends at Chengdu Tian Fu. I emerged from Golden Mall on to the street and went to say goodbye to the taffy master, but he was gone.
“Wow that was quick,” I thought giving myself a healthy mental pat on the back for having tried it. As I made my way northward on Main Street who should I see but my new friend posted up underneath the Long Island Railroad Station, with a small crowd around him. He hadn’t left, but had moved on to a busier spot. My new motto is Carpe Via Cibus—Seize The Street Food—for you never know when it’s going to be gone.
All of this brings me back to the titular question of this post, what’s your favorite Queens street food these days? Let me know in the comments.
The other day I was quoted in a Wall Street Journal piece on the staggering diversity of Asian fried chicken now available in New York City. Besides Korean, there’s now Filipino, Taiwanese, and Thai, to name just a few. The reporter and I talked about how most everybody loves fried chicken, but how their are other Asian dishes that aren’t as easily accepted by Western palates.
“Korean Fried chicken is an easier sell than Korean blood sausage,” I quipped. You don’t have to try too hard to sell me on soondae though. I like the Korean blood sausage shot through with dangmyeon or glass noodles plain with salt and red pepper as it’s served at many Korean takeout spots in Murray Hill. I also like it in the hearty pork bone soup soon dae gook, which I enjoyed for dinner last night at Tang.
Like fried chicken though, in Queens there’s a blood sausage for almost every culture: Argentine morcilla, Irish black pudding, and Tibetan gyuma are among my favorites. So here’s what I’d like to know what’s your favorite way to enjoy this delicacy?
Many guests on my food tours of America’s Greatest Chinatown—aka downtown Flushing—have had soup dumplings. Xiao long bao virgins get a quick tutorial. Since the wrappers at my favorite spot in New York Food Court are super thin, I encourage people to avoid using chopsticks and gingerly pick up the package from the top with their fingers and place it on the spoon.
They may or may not choose to cool their dumpling in the accompanying black vinegar, but the next step is always the same: “Bite a tiny hole in the side like a vampire and slurp the soup out.”
The fig and rosemary latte from Toby’s Estate Coffee Roasters.
I’d just wrapped up a rather epic food tour of the entire 7 line in Long Island City. Before parting ways with one of my guests we had a brief chat about overpriced coffee in L.I.C. and how he never patronizes the local cafes. After we parted ways I proceeded to one of the aforementioned cafes, Toby’s Estate Coffee Roasters for an espresso.
When it come to highfalutin java I’m an espresso man, or if I’m feeling kind of fancy a cortado. I hardly ever get lattes, and certainly never flavored ones. But when I saw the sign on the counter for a $5 seasonal fig and rosemary latte, I couldn’t resist. If I’m going to overpay for a coffee, it might as well be a fancy one.
Thankfully both the rosemary syrup and fig preserves were on the light side, but it was definitely a sweet drink. In any case I’m sure it was way better than the ubiquitous pumpkin spice latte. So here’s what I like to know friends, what’s your favorite fall beverage? Let me know in the comments below.
Hun jiang chang fen, aka mixed sauce rice roll noodle.
One of my earliest food memories is shrimp in rice roll noodles at Mei Lei Wah in Chinatown. Slippery, sweet and savory—they sparked a love affair with Chinese food and proved to be good chopstick training.
Served two or three to a plate, cheung fen, whether beef or shrimp remained a dim sum favorite for many years. When I moved to Queens I discovered other varieties, including the wonderful hun jiang chang fen, or mixed sauce rice roll noodle. It’s a simple pleasure consisting of the rolled up noodles, peanut and sweet sauces, and little else. They’ve become a staple of my Flushing Chinatown food tours.(more…)
Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Shack, one of my Smorgasburg Queens favorites.
PLEASE NOTE THIS VENUE IS CLOSED
Curating Smorgasburg Queens with its melting pot of international vendors ranging from The Arepa Lady and Celebes Bakar Indonesian Grill to luxe offerings like the lobster rolls from Brine by Danny Brown has been a real hoot. What’s even more fun for me though is eating there.
One Saturday I went full on Andrew Zimmern: balut from Papa’s Kitchen for starters, papaya salad with black crab from Qi, Snowy Durian from my friends at KULU Desserts. While I’m partial to the hallacas—sweet and savory Ecuadorean tamales—from Son Foods, my favorite eating experience at Smorgasburg Queens has to be Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Shack.
To step behind the curtain and take a seat at Keizo’s counter is to enter another world, somewhat more serene than the rest of the market, but no less delicious. Both of the hot soups I have tried have been most excellent, but my top pick might be the seafood broth based cold noodles. So, tell me, what’s your favorite thing to eat at Smorgasburg Queens?
Smorgasburg Queens, 43-29 Crescent St., Long Island City
“This one wants to try something really weird,” the parent of a young man on my most recent Flushing Chinatown food tour said. We had already tried fu qi fei pian, the Sichuan mélange of offal that combines tripe, tendon, and beef shin, so I knew the kid was a tough customer. He seemed satisfied by the plate of crunchy Chengdu style pig ears we shared at Golden Mall. (more…)
At Lao Dong Bei, they call it lamb chop in Xinjiang style, and it’s glorious.
Muslim lamb chop is a dish I first had at one of Flushing’s first Dongbei eateries, Fu Run. Not really a chop but rather a whole slab of lamb ribs, braised and then deep fried and rolled in cumin, chili, and sesame seeds—a mixture that one food writer termed “Dongbei everything bagel spice”—the result was magnificent fatty, crunchy and luscious. And for quite some time it continued to be magnificent, so much so that I turned the crew of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods America on to it. (more…)
A selection of Guyanese sodas in Richmond Hill, Queens.
“Are you a soda geek?” my pal Rich Sanders of Ethnojunkie asked me a few weeks ago when he saw me scoring some Sanbitter, an Italian aperetif soda,with evident glee. “I dunno Rich, I like Vimto, Chinotto, and Moxie’s pretty good,” I replied.
The point here is that whether I admit or not I am indeed a fan of carbonated beverages that go well beyond the Sprite, Coke, and Pepsi. I blame it all on that first Fresca I tasted as a kid. So here’s what I’d like to know what’s your favorite oddball soda? Do you like oldschool medicinal ones like Moxie, or a Thai Fanta fan,or perhaps something else entirely Tell me in the comments or hit me on the Twitter, @JoeDiStefano.
A selection of Czechoslovakian and German charcuterie at Chef Dave’s.
Spicy Italian dry sausage with a slight fermented funk, mortadella, liverwurst, blood sausage. These are some of my favorite forms of charcuterie. Recently I added a few more to the list. I don’t know their names, but I do know they’re from the Czech Republic. My pal chef Dave smuggled them back after a European vacation. My favorite was a skinny pork sausage flavored with paprika and a spice we couldn’t quite put our finger on. Then, it hit me. Caraway! Germany was also represented in the form of schwartenmagen, a rustic tinned liverwurst of sorts. So here’s what I’d like to know. What’s your favorite form of charcuterie? Tell me in the comments or hit me on the Twitter, @JoeDiStefano.