Sunday, August 03, 2008

Traveling From Brooklyn to China - 20 Minutes in my Mazda

I get most of my news and information from The New York Times, and as a result, I view the world through a liberally-tinted lens.

Ain't nothing wrong with that. And besides, along with news and opinion, I also discover great places to eat and drink in and around the city of New York – places that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

For example, this past week’s NYTimes article about authentic Chinese food in Flushing, Queens piqued my curiosity. So, Jaimi and I decided to venture forth from the generally non-Asian confines of DUMBO, Brooklyn for a taste of China.

Queens Chinatown is the real deal. If you knew zero English, and only how to speak Chinese, you’d get around perfectly fine. Also, if you’re a vegetarian (as Jaimi is) and you want to make sure you’re not getting any pork in that so-called "shrimp-vegetable taste" dumpling, you need some help.

So I enlisted the assistance of two fine, young, ethnically Chinese gentlemen from work – Dennis and Jimmy.

Dennis, as he put it, is about as Chinese as I am. But he still knows his way around the neighborhood rather well.

Dennis enjoys good food, Coca-Cola, and risking his life by wearing a Red Sox hat in New York.

Jimmy, on the other hand, is a flowing fountain of Chinese culinary, cultural, historical, and political knowledge. Not only that, but he grew up in Flushing. He’ll point you to the best place for bubble tea, or the best meat on a stick.

He could probably be the mayor of Chinatown if he had any interest in local politics.

Anyway, our first stop was the Flushing Mall. Not much of a shopping destination by any account – a Verizon stand, a wedding photo studio, and a plant shop seem to be the anchor stores. But the basement level food court is where we planned to spend our hard-earned Washingtons - and maybe a few Lincolns.

The food court consists of 8 or 10 vendors of varying menu sizes. Some specialize in just a few items, whereas others serve everything from soup, to dumplings, to steak, to chicken hearts on a stick.

Jimmy led us on a quick walkthrough, and as we gazed at the menus and open kitchens, he added historical context and sociopolitical commentary wherever appropriate.

It was as informative as a course at the University of Phoenix Online. And as you’ll soon see, even more delicious.

We decided to start with some traditional Taiwanese cuisine from the Ay-Chung stand. Ordering things that Jaimi could share with me (no land or air meat, but seafood is okay) we got a bowl of squid thick noodle soup, and a shrimp pancake.

First the soup. I found the menu’s designer to be disingenuous at worst, and ambiguous at best. The broth was indeed thick, but the noodles were not – they were the thin cellophane kind.

Squid thick noodle soup. Thick soup, yes. Noodles? Skinny as Kate Moss.

Still, the soup was steaming hot, savory, and filling. For $5.50 you get a giant-ass bowl of soup – enough for two people to share.

The shrimp pancake was even better – and its description wasn’t misleading at all. Loads of shrimp mixed with eggs and bok choy, formed into a pancake shape. This was topped with sauce, and a chewy, glutenous rice dough of some sort.

Forkful of savory shrimp pancake. Very tasty. Too slippery to use chopsticks - at least for this amateur.

Very tasty. Fo shizzle.

Jimmy had a pork dry noodle dish, that he described as "Chinese pork Sloppy Joe over fettucine."

Jimmy, master of all that is Chinese, enjoys his Sloppy Chinese Joe Noodles.

Indeed, it was tasty and a little sloppy.

Dennis ordered a hearty-looking pork chop platter. This guy can eat like a cowboy, and let's leave it at that.

A steaming plate of pork chop, noodles, and veggies.

Our next stop was the second level of the mall, to a little, out of the way Shandong dumpling shop. The crowd gathered around a counter, behind which stood four little ladies busily assembling dumplings by hand, and dropping them into pots of boiling water. Their kitchen looked like your grandmother's house - out of date all-white appliances and all - except with 4 industrial-sized sinks off to one side.

We ordered a plate of pork/shrimp/chive dumplings with a side of kimchi.

Dumpling glamour shot.

The flavor was fresh and savory. The dumplings were juicy and satisfying. The dipping sauce was like crack - I couldn't get enough, and it was only 50 cents for another serving.

I couldn't get enough of that sauce. They had to restrain me from eating the chopsticks.

Our after-lunch activities included bubble tea from the Ten Ren tea shop and meat on a stick from an old street vendor - honey green tea flavor, with fun, chewy, slightly sweet tapioca balls, and spicy beef, respectively. Although I probably would try spicy beef bubble tea if they offered it.

Thanks again to Dennis and Jimmy for steering us in all the right directions. We'll definitely be headed back to Flushing - maybe even on our own next time.

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JG said...

wow, those are some amazing pictures. i wonder who took them.

The Mill said...

Oh crap!

Yes, Jaimi did an amazing job with all of the pictures. Thank you dear!!

Dennis said...

Hanging out with The Mill outside of work was a lot of fun.

I must say, he's a fine gentlemen whether at work or in Flushing.

I'll have to see how he is in Dumbo, but that requires The Mill to throw that apartment warming party!!!

All in all, a great day (a little warm and muggy though)!

The Mill said...

Dennis, you will be the first to know when Millapalooza is scheduled in Brooklyn.