The Real Chinatown: Flushing, Queens

10Dec08

While most people get paid to blog, I had to pay $4 for the 120 minutes it took to blog this post.  

flushing

Unnecessarily tight tube socks that leave itchy red indentations around your ankle,  emergency underwear large enough for  your future geriatric bottom,  and anything that can be easily packaged into a foh fo one dolla deal. These might be a few things you wait to purchase until you find yourself in Chinatown, but save your money! Save your money because the Chinese have more to offer than discounted cotton, they have discounts you can EAT! 

Three of my very hungry friends and I took a recent trip to Flushing, Queens to discover what is, New York’s REAL Chinatown. 

While this is technically the third time I’ve done it, I realized I actually had already run two marathons. Two food marathons that is. And let me tell you doubters and disbelievers, the ability to expand your stomach to hold as much food as I can is just as admirable and difficult. I train 365 days a year, 3 times a day (I double that closer to the date of the run), and AND spend countless minutes thinking about it throughout the entire day even when I’m “in an important conference” or “meeting clients.” I don’t think your average Kenyan marathon champion can even say that. 

If you’re not familiar with the food marathon, you’re alone. Because people across the country, from LA to NY are doing it, and doing it wherever they can connect the dots between food establishments within a reasonable traveling radius. I’ve always felt food is one of the greatest ways to explore a culture.  A culture’s cuisine is an edible historical record of how they came to be, where they came from, and what makes that culture so unique and peticular. By sitting down at a traditional dinner setting, you can learn more than what they eat day to day, but mannerisms, cultural norms, social etiquette. The basics of human interaction

SO… that’s why we decided to endure the 3 subway transfers, the morose singing of Janis Joplin’s illegitimate tone deft sister, and 50 minutes of subway musical chairs. 

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We used the super efficient and handy interactive guide posted by The New York Times back in July on the top 20 foods to eat in Flushing, Queens. I cut it down to 10 places that were highly recommended and, unbeknownst to me, we were going to hit all 10 that day.  

You won’t find your stereotypical Orange Chicken or Beef & Broccoli in Flushing. A lot of the Chinese food in Flushing seems to have its roots mostly in the Western and Northern parts of China, an area densely populated with Chinese Muslims. Therefore, you’ll see a lot of food that uses ingredients most often found in Middle Eastern cuisine.

Our first stop was the Golden “Mall.” The mall is more like a basement floor the size of your average classroom sectioned off with flimsy wall dividers to make room for several food stalls and 1 obligatory sock/Chinese pop CD store. Being the only Asian, I was automatically deemed our little tour group’s guide. And anyone that knows me, knows I’m in no linguistic form to not only speak Chinese, but hardly any Asian of any kind.

Once we walked downstairs, if you could imagine the sound of several chopsticks dropping, the final noodles being slurped up, and crickets chirping, that’s pretty much what it felt like. After a freeze frame moment of 30 seconds, business went back to normal and the haggling of the strange city folks began.  

After somehow finding the first stall on our list, we sat down and ordered 1 bowl of oxtail hand-noodles. We knew we had a long day ahead, so starting with 1 bowl for 4 sounded pretty reasonable. One thing you can rely on in ANY chinese establishment, is the fast service. Within SECONDS, we were presented with our $4 purchase. Hand-pulled noodles in a beef broth is the most famous dish of Lanzhou, capital of Gansu province, in north-central China. It’s very basic and nothing fancy to detail, but with a good amount of chili sauce, is especially satisfying  on a cold day.

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Lanzhou Handmade Noodles @ The Golden Mall 

I’m not exaggerating when I say there were hardly any words from the English dictionary to be found, unless you consider the below sufficient. 

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Free hand-pulled noodle show as you wait for your meal.

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Any savvy food stall operator in Flushing knows, if you see 3 wide-eyed and 1 slightly not so wide eyed customers that look like they’ve never set foot outside of Manhattan, you better sell those dumplings like you’ve never sold them before. 

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House of Xie Dumplings @ The Golden Mall

So we were pleasantly greeted by the owner of the stall across from us. We were all taken by her surprisingly good command of English, and so we were basically willing to buy whatever she wanted to sell us. And we’re so glad it was dumplings. Because her seafood chive dumplings were so clean to the palette and incredibly light and “healthy” as she liked to remind us over and over again. The wrappers and filling are both handmade and you can watch the women make them behind the counter. 

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The balls of dough that will house the best dumplings we had all day.

img_3055As we left the mall full and satisfied, we stood outside on Main street, pointing and attempting to iphone our way to our next destination. We finally crumbled to the point of asking a fellow Flushinite where we could get those Chinese hamburgers we read so much about. Ever so willing to help us out, he took our hands, literally, and took us around the corner, to a back door that led us to…. the Golden Mall. That’s right. The Golden Mall we had JUST walked out of from the other side of the building. Under normal circumstances, we might have said, “thanks, but no thanks,” but seeing as he was so enthusiastic to take us there and understood no other words besides “Chinese hamburger,” we were led back into the place we had just left. You could say the sound of several chopsticks dropping, the final noodles being slurped, and crickets chirping was our fault this time.  

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Xi’an Famous Snacks @ Golden Mall

They weren’t the burgers we were after, but they were tasty nonetheless. We ordered 2 hamburgers, 1 filled with spiced pulled pork and the other was filled with a cumin lamb mixture. Like the hand-pulled noodle soup, you can tell with the use of familiar middle eastern ingredients like lamb and cumin that this dish comes from a muslim-populated region, which specific region I’m not so sure.  

For the next two hours or so, we made our way down Main Street, the main “drag” in Flushing and proudly checked off all the places we listed on our list. A bite here and a bite here, I left most of the biting to the others (As a professional marathon runner, I understand how important it is to pace yourself). Here’s a quick recap of the remaining places we checked out:

After having consumed three meals in less than an hour, we needed a caffeine pick-me-up, so coffee boba it was.

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 Bubble Milk Tea @ Quickly

41-40 Kissena Blvd.

 

I never thought I would find edible faces scarier than this, but these might work.img_3064

Edible face cakes for your child’s next birthday party @ Sun Mary Bakery

133-57 41st Road

 

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Fried Leek Dumplings @ Zhu Ji Guo Tie

40-52 Main Street

3 for $2

 

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Peking Duck Sandwich @ Corner 28

40-28 Min Street

$1/sandwich

 

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Scott tried to get the women to give us more of the crackling duck skin in our sandwiches, but she only pretended to and then hid the extra skin behind the pan of bread…weird.

 

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 Grilled Lamb Skewers @ Xingjiang BBQ Cart 

41st Ave. Near Kissena Blvd.

$1/skewer 

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Xinjiang, is another province in Northern China and according to Wikipedia, the region populated by the Uyghurs who are Sunni Muslim Turks. Their most famous foods are lamb skewers and homemade noodles.

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I realize he’s just trying to protect himself from not inhaling the smoke rising from the grill, but it just makes me think of SARS.

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I never eat street meat in Manhattan, but for some reason these skewers seemed safe to consume. Heavily seasoned with garlic powder, chili pepper, salt, pepper, and some other seasonings, these lamb skewers were a favorite on our marathon.

 

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Guo Bao AKA Taiwanese Style Pork Burger @ Temple Snacks

Roosevelt Food Court

These were the sandwiches that sparked our trip to Flushing. We read about them on Serious Eats, and vowed never to eat another sandwich again. By this point, we’ve already eaten at 8 different food stalls and only a few hours had past. Our only rest stop was a quick visit to the Sanrio store, which only ended with more food as we walked out chewing on those mambo-like candies they sell in the checkout aisles in asian markets.  

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Other than pork belly with a lot of fat, hoisen sauce, and a sprinkling of parsley, I couldn’t even tell you what was in the sandwiches. I was too full and exhausted to even pay attention. After we pulled most of the fat off the meat, we were left with about 1/3 of what was in the sandwich. They were tasty and I would say, better than the first sandwiches we had. Since we pulled the meat ourselves, it was chunkier and the added hoison sauce and sauteed greens made for a  sandwich with better texture than the one from the Golden Mall.

 

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Shaved Ice @ S&C Shaved Ice Stall

Food Court, Flushing Mall 

~$4

Our 10th and final stop for the day.


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 The shaved ice dessert has to be one of the most interesting food pairings in the culinary arts. Whoever thought of putting beans, shaved ice, fruit jelly and condensed milk together or how those ingredients would physically be even close enough on a kitchen counter somewhere to create this wonderful disaster beats me, but it seems to work. 

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After leaving Flushing Mall and walking back into the cold, stomachs out, arm in arm, grinning cheek to cheek, I could feel my thighs considerably heavier, thudding their way down the street. I couldn’t help but imagine that we were contributing to the destruction of Flushing’s infrastructure with our triumphantly proud walk back to Manhattan.

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8 Responses to “The Real Chinatown: Flushing, Queens”

  1. nice.. good to see “Zhu Ji Guo Tie” is still around… (was in Flushing for 3 years) but tea @ Quickly??? c’mon now! better boba elsewhere man!

  2. 2 Shanna

    man, i really need to start training for food marathons.

  3. What, no invite? I’m in for the next one.

  4. 4 smelly

    You really are looking old in that picture at Quickly…

  5. 5 Heather

    remember when we went to Chinatown in LA last year? I got shoes for $10 and a good luck elephant plant. Sarina got turtles. You bought fruit at one of those stands and told the lady that she didn’t put enough spicy pepper on it. Remember what happened next, Ames? 🙂

  6. 6 jenny chon

    hi amy! we better meet up in NY when I go for an interview in february! You make me excited for NY just for the food~ hahahha
    seems like you’re doing well! Hopefully see you soon!

  7. 7 Sarina

    And 2 of the 4 turtles I bought are still alive. Pretty impressive, right?
    Chinatown looks awesome.
    I’ve been participating in far too many food marathons lately.

  8. 8 foodyi

    @Jenny: Hey! Of course-call me up when you get in and I’ll be happy to eat my way through NY with you 🙂

    @Heather: yes I do remember that brief moment of anxiety. But I was too proud to admit it then. It was fuckin burning hot!


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