Flushing, Queens Food Crawl
Yesterday, I got to take part in something that I’ve been dying to do for ages. I went on a food/eating tour of Flushing, New York, a dynamic and diverse part of Queens. What was nice was that I was part of a group of folks organized by the New York Social Network, so we had a good guide, and I got to check out what everyone else was eating as well.
After taking the #7 subway line all the way to its end, we exited onto the buzzing sidewalks of the neighborhood. Our first stop was to check out the new mall and food court that opened up there. From the moment you walk through the doors, you realize that this is going to be a complete cultural and sensory experience.
It is immediately clear that this is not your average American mall food court serving french fries, pizza, and sandwiches. There’s tables full of families slurping bowls of noodles and broth and eating plates of plump dumplings. One of the more unique things to take in is the guys making hand-pulled noodles. If you’ve never seen their magic, it is kind of cool to watch them take a ball of dough and with a few flips, twists, spins, and twirls make long gorgeous threads that will be someone’s meal.
We were just there, however, to stop off, check out the scene, and pick up a Bubble Tea. A few folks in our group hadn’t had this before, so it was interesting to see their reaction to it. Kung Fu Tea seems to be very popular, given the reviews I’ve read, and it certainly made some converts of people in our group. Big black pearls of chewy tapioca hug the bottom of the glass of milky, sweet tea. Sipping from a big fat straw helps bring them to the top and into your mouth.
We also paid a visit to J-Mart during our trip to the mall. This is one place I need to come back to to get more of the ingredients I’ve been using lately in cooking Asian dishes. It was amazing to see all the kinds of produce, fish, condiments, and prepared food products that they had there.
From the mall, we headed out onto the streets to start eating some of the local culinary offerings. First stop was Corner 28 where we got Duck Wraps, a soft pillowy bun holding tender slices of duck, a dash of savory sauce, and crunchy sliced scallions. I could have eaten several of these.
Then, we followed up with a hearty bowl from the same place filled with rice, chunks of chicken and roast pork, and tart greens. The caramelized pork was soft and tender with just enough fat left on it to tame the bitterness of the greens. The sweet, savory sauce over the rice perfumed the whole dish. Each bite was just a a perfect harmony of flavors. To the bottom right, there’s a piece of the scallion pancake that we shared. It was crispy and fluffy and filled with oniony goodness.
Our next bites were of street meat. I know, I know, I don’t normally condone sampling this, but Dave, our leader, was swearing that this was the best meat on a stick in the city, according to Yelp. Sure enough, when I got home, I checked and found out that it was true. Xinjiang BBQ Cart has rave reviews. The Lamb I had was tender with a light smokey back note from the grill and a slight taste of some spice.
Our next destination was stop a visit to Vietnam and some Summer Rolls from Pho Hoang. These ones were slightly different from my version in that they had noodles inside of them instead of the herbs and vegetables. I think I preferred mine to these. Oh, and a word of warning about that red sauce in the front of the photo; it is really hot, as Dave found out when he dumped a bunch of it on his roll and took a big bite.
We walked off some of our previous eats by heading to Nan Xiang Dumpling House, where we could sit down, drink some tea, and, of course eat dumplings. By the way, this is also a Michelin recommended restaurant as well. I bet the tire guy has had a few of their dumplings on his trips to this part of town.
Before we dove into the main attraction, however, we started off with a cool, refreshing dish to keep our palates happy. These peeled, seeded, sliced cucumbers were tossed with a little toasted sesame oil and crushed fresh garlic. Chopped cilantro was sprinkled over it to finish up the salad. This Cucumber-Garlic creation is definitely something I’ll keep in mind to make the next time I have an Asian-themed dinner party.
Have you ever tried Soup Dumplings? I’m not sure if they are more of a New York thing, as I’d never had them until I moved here, and I grew up on a steady diet of Chinese food. These are great to introduce people to as the chewy exterior dumpling is filled with meat and broth. Think of it as inside-out wonton soup. There is definitely a technique involved in getting them out of the steamer basket without puncturing them and in consuming them in such a manner as not to get soup splattered all over oneself.
We also tried their Vegetable Dumplings, which I could have had all to myself. Filled with minced, well-seasoned greens, it was like salad met wrapper and they had a delicious child together.
Stuffed full of dumplings, we headed back towards the subway station and our return trips to our respective homes. That was not before stopping off for dessert at Tai Pan Bakery. Here they have a gorgeous display of colorful and diverse kinds of sweets. I saw boxes with cakes being taken out of the shop while we were on line waiting for our turn to choose something.
What we were there for was their Custard Tarts. They have a traditional Portuguese-style one, a regular egg custard, vanilla, almond, and, what I chose, coconut. The tart was dense and rich without being overly sweet. I think that it would be really fun sometime to get a tray with one of each flavor they carry and to try to figure out which one is a favorite.
I’m a big fan of getting to know a country and a culture through food so this was a great experience to have without needing to back a bag or to locate my passport. It was wonderful to explore a neighborhood that is in my backyard, sort of, and to get to know what everyone has been raving about when they hang out in Flushing. There is so much more to taste and to discover that I know that this will be one of many more trips to come.
Dave Cervini is the founder and owner of the New York Social Network. I’ve been a member of it for several years and jumped on the chance to take this tour when I saw it on the calendar. I paid my own way, as I do with all of his events, and the price for all of the food was included in the activity fee. For information on upcoming activities as well as how you can join them, please check out his website at http://www.newyorksocialnetwork.com/.