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.”
Stephen Yen, executive chef of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill is a pretty busy guy, so I’m pretty glad he found the time to answer Seven Questions. Not only was Chef Yen born in Queens, he was born in the Year of the Pig. Chef Yen will be preparing a very special roast pork bao at Charcuterie Masters on February 23.
1. Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in Queens?
I was born on Main street in Flushing. The hospital was called Booth Memorial back then. My mother’s OBGYN, Dr. Uma Mysorekar, is now president of the Hindu Temple Society in Flushing. I have a special place in my heart for Flushing. I was raised out on Long Island in a small town about an hour from NYC, been back in queens now for about 7 years.
2. I’m excited to have you roasting a pig at Charcuterie Masters! Tell me a little bit about the process?
We are going to brine the little piggie using fish sauce in the brine, this is something I learned from Robbie Richter at Fatty ‘Cue. Nowadays its common practice in most kitchens. The sodium content is where you need it to be, plus you gain all the umami! We are going to then roast the pig in a La Caja China. It’s a roasting oven that simulates the old way of burying a pig and keeping the charcoal on top. The box makes it easier for us, we don’t have to dig! I’ve used a La Caja China before and they are awesome! I usually end up throwing some seafood on top of the charcoals to snack on while we wait for the pork. (more…)
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.