Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Golden Mall, Flushing

At the end of the 7 train, is the most amazing Asian food heaven in NYC. Flushing offers endless options of cuisines of Asia, particularly Chinese and Korean. Within minutes of walk from the Main Street station, a small basement food court inside of the Golden Mall offers a series of food stalls of street food style Szechuanese food from Chengdu. Entering this unassuming door, vendors awaits for hungry locals, and tourists alike -including those from the "City". Most of the vendors speak little or no English, but the pictures of the food on the walls of some of the stalls, and pointing fingers here and there, may guide you through discovering Chinese food unlike you've ever had before. Forget Manhattan Chinatown, this is Flushing! Each stall has its number, and all of the signs are written in Chinese, though some of the gracious vendors offer menus in English. Thank Food God! With the help of the articles and, I had some understanding about the stalls, but as visual of a learner as I am, and maybe you are, too, I had to just do it. I was joined by my friend Binny, who was happy to tag along to this journey, and also was brave enough to trust my blind navigation, not to mention food ordering! Both of us were starved at the time, so there were some hasty decision making, but, oh well.

The first one we went to, is located at the center of the court, which displayed various meat and vegetable items, like Chinese charcuteries (yes, pig's feet, too), cucumbers(perfect for cooling down your mouth after each spicy bite), tofu, potatoes, and etc. Now, if you've ever been to China and thought "what's this spice that's in EVERYTHING"? that is from the Chinese five spices, which consist of equal parts cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, star anise, and Szechuan peppercorns. It may be an acquired taste for some, and for some, like me, once pass the initial shock of the bold and complex flavor, may even be pleasant. I was prepared to use my "sign language" skills when ordering, but luckily, this guy (shown in picture with white t-shirt) spoke English. We ordered three tasting sized dishes (came on one plate) from the display case ($1 each); Wood Ear mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and tripes. All three items were dressed in almost identical seasoning, including Chinese five spices, and dark vinegar. Pungent and spicy come to mind. First there is the strong vinegarly punch, then there come peppercorns, and rest of the spices intensely lingering on your tongue and throat for a lasting present. BEER!! (which we forgot to get. It's BYOB!) All three were texturally exciting, however, we were not able to finish them. Did I mention pungent and spicy?? We also ordered dumplings 2 of each flavors, 12 pieces ($4); pork, shrimp, cabbage, something that tasted like dills, and etc. Each dumpling is handmade, with slightly thick skin, perfect two bites. Though some of them have distict flavor of the main ingredients, some I couldn't identify clearly. They were tasty but the flavors from the spices in the previous dishes still lingered on my tongue. I recommend pork, and cabbage dumplings to start -next time!

So we moved to the next stall, which seems to also cater to another stall near by that serves hot pot. Maybe next time for hot pot, but we settled with what everyone there seems was eating. Spicy clear sweet potato noodle soup that comes with daikon, Chinese broccoli, and other vegetables, rice cakes, tofu skins, wood ear mushrooms, and meat of your choice($4). We chose beef, medium spicy, and split one order. They charge $.25 for additional bowl. Again, Chinese five spices had a strong presence here, along with chilli oil. Immediately, sweats come down my forehead, and I reach for the tissue box(conveniently and maybe intentionally) located nearby. Then I thought, I am enjoying this. This is the new flavor of Chinese cuisine I've been looking for! ...until I bite into a little chunk of clove. WOW!
Why didn't we get the beer?! Get the beer -or soda! In any case, worth a visit.

By now, both of us are pretty full. I challenged myself to try one more, stall 36(only place I managed to get the number documented). This place has the infamous lamb burgers ($2.50). With all of the spices already on my tongue, nothing else would have been a perfect choice to match the strong flavors. Small chunks of lamb meat is sauteed with couple different kinds of hot peppers, onions, lots of cumin, and other spices. It is served between a small, toasted pita bread, wrapped in plastic sandwich bag. They would be happy to cut it in half, if you ask (and give you an extra napkin!). The grease from the meat is messy but keeps the meat and the bread moist. I understand there was Muslim influence in many Szechuan dishes. This was the best dish I tasted on my trip to the Golden Mall. Even with a full stomach, I ended up finishing the whole sandwich(as Binny was too full to eat the other half anyway). What a treat! We also ordered the Liang-Pi Cold Noodle($3.50). This is a cold salad of wheat gluten chunks and wheat starch noodles dressed with cucumber, cilantro, bean sprouts, chili oil and dark vinegar. This would have been a perfect appetizer to start. My first visit to the Golden Mall, as expected, wasn't perfect, with dishes varying in flavor and personal taste. However, a great introduction for discovering Chinese street cuisine I had not yet experienced. I can not wait to go back again, for another round of stall hopping!

The Golden Mall, 41-28 Main St Flushing, NY

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