Chinese cultural and culinary field trip in Flushing, Queens

For all of you who couldn’t make it out to Flushing with us on Sunday, you missed a fantastic and bizarre day. Because the combination of offal, sake, whiskey, and blood gelatin proved to be toxic and induced several ‘mini-strokes’ in my body – I will be writing my inaugural blog post in the narrative style a la an English-as-Second-Language third grader. 6 of us made the trip – Eric, KJ, Jason, Cece, my friend Kelly, and I. Walking out of the Flushing subway station was somewhat ethereal. Chinese characters lined every shop and street corner. If it wasn’t for the Duane Reade, you would have thought you were in another country (although in this day and age it’s plausible that Duane Reade is ubiquitous in even China…)

Started day with duck skin baohaus, bubble tea at Corner 28 and at a bakery

As Kelly was nursing a hangover and parched, we need to find the first shop that sold water. Serendipitously that store also served the most delicious thing that I ate all day – fried duck skin baohaus, with scallions and Hoisin sauce. The skin was crispy, golden, and translucent and played wonderfully against the soft steamed bun. The second treat was a rice noodle roll which is a Cantonese dish commonly served as a variety of dim sum. In layman’s terms, it’s rice flour mixed with minced pork, quickly steamed and served with soy sauce. KJ swears it as classic Chinese breakfast food.

Kelly and I grabbed a few bubble teas and we hit the streets. The next stop was a Chinese patisserie where we indulged in egg and coconut custard mini pies, sweetened pork rolls. The rolls were the most interesting as – simply put – they were oversized dinner rolls glazed in pork fat and studded with tiny pieces of pork and sugar. There was a lard/butter lining throughout the roll as well creating an intensely savory and intriguing flavor. Upon a conversation that KJ had with our patissier from the Far East, we located our next stop which was the Flushing Mall.

Cold spicy beef tendons, chive dumplings, and Taiwanese soup in the Flushing Mall food court

As soon as we got into the food court the Asians in our group frantically scurried off in different directions as if we were in ’89 Tiananmen Square. KJ and Eric returned with what looked like hard flat wafers of smoked salmon with spring onions on them. I asked what we were dining on, to which Eric responded, “Try it first and then I’ll tell you”. The spicy meat texture was a little chewy and slick almost like jerky but all in all not bad, not sure if it was raw or cooked but certainly an interesting texture play and certainly not the last time I’ll be trying beef tendon.

spicy been tendon from benjamin.lim’s flickr stream

Jason returned with 3-5 gallon ramen noodle bowls – apparently an authentic Taiwanese soup dish – you could smell copious amounts of fish sauce/dried anchovies in the soup. The thick goopy broth was strewn with tripe and had a very homey feel to it. Finally the most familial dish – pork and chive dumplings served with a spicy dipping sauce was again standard tasty fare. You can see all of the dishes in the below video (as well as me destroy a chive dumpling):

On our way out, Eric bought some finger cakes – which were stuffed with almost like a zabaglione filling. The fact that each cake was individually wrapped and raised with a unique print underscored the industrious nature of the Chinese. Also the fact that we weren’t expected to clean up after ourselves at the local food court was an interesting cultural difference.

Journeyed to basement of the Golden Shopping Mall to experience Xi’an Famous Foods

The next stop was a less ‘commercialized’ food court in the basement of the Golden Shopping Mall. It was something straight out of “No Reservations”, which is why I wasn’t surprised when the stall we stopped at had a huge picture of Tony himself on the wall… We watched hand made noodles being prepared while waiting to be seated in the tiny 12 person stall (was it reminiscent of momofuku ko? – no chance)

This is where things got interesting….I knew when I heard Borzino say, “are you guys SERIOUSLY out of lamb spine???”, that I needed to go find some pepto…In descending bizarre foods order – the first course was spicy cumin lamb baohaus/burger.

lamb and cumin burger from xi’an famous foods

Second course was lamb and cumin noodles in chili oil. The third course was another helping of lamb cumin but without the bun and noodles. The forth course was a salad of coagulated pig’s blood – I’m open minded people and that was still pretty weird. Kelly surprisingly was fine with it per the video below..

Fifth course was the spicy and tingly lamb faced salad.

cold spicy and tingly lamb face salad from Xi’an Famous Foods

Grocery shopping and karaoke, a standard Sunday afternoon

Barring the blood, the food was quite good and interesting to say the least. We needed a respite from the so far gluttonous day so we headed to the grocery store to check out some odd foods. A veritable cornucopia of animals endangered and the like – boxes of turtles, frogs, live prawns, black chickens, fresh fishes to order. In other words, if you’ve seen it on the animal channel or paid $150 for a charity ticket to save it, chances are it was in this store in a bucket of ice with no head… We had a mini-shot of an uber-saccharine fruit milk shake and a few lychee flavored gummy candies and left for our next quintessentially Asian adventure – Karaoke! For those “True Blood” fans out there, you might appreciate that this Karaoke ‘Club’ was exactly like one of the extravagant vampire hotels from the show – dimly lit, a bit gauche in style, and completely sterile. We were led to our private room which was equipped with a flat screen TV, bar, full bathroom, and a computer so complicated that it could clearly only be operated by the Asians in the room. Eric introduced us to a new cocktail – green tea and Johnny Walker on the rocks and we were off to “A Whole New World”… Literally as that was the first duet that Jason and I shared… If a picture says a thousand words, the below clips say it all….

Devoured individual hot pots at Minni’s Shabu Shabu

As if we hadn’t consumed enough odd animal parts, whiskey, blood, and sweets, after karaoke it was DINNER TIME! We went to Minni’s Shabu Shabu & BBQ.  As my last hot pot experience was less than ideal, I came into the restaurant with a slight bias to the downside and I was completely mistaken. Our hostess led us to the family style table and she was followed by plates full of noodles and vegetables. Our inboard hot pots began to bubble as we enjoyed some Tsingtao beer, sake, more chive dumplings, and an amazingly simple grilled sausage with raw garlic. Paper thin slices of garlic were supposed to be eaten simultaneously with the sausage. I was apprehensive as I know how pungent and unpleasant raw garlic can be to the palate but was amazingly surprised how well a paper thin slice worked with the sweet pork sausage.

taiwanese sausage with raw garlic from harris graber’s flickr stream

After a cursory look a the menu, a barrage of tapas style raw plates came to the table: spicy lamb, radishes, chicken, pork, fish cakes, cabbage, enotaki mushrooms, more noodles, quail eggs, and coagulated blood again! A heaping ladle of spicy broth was accepted by a brave few before we headed to the condiment bar. Red-hot pepper sauce, sesame oil, scallions, garlic, diced chilies, seafood sauce, peanut sauce, and other concoctions were liberally mixed into a single bowl to create our individual dipping sauces. Once back at the table I was instructed that the solitary egg which sat in front of each of our plates was meant to be partially used in the sauce mixtures to increase the viscosity of the sauce as well as the probability of garnering a food bourn illness – both of which I was completely fine with.

What a day. When we going back?

Dinner was the coup de grace of the day which was a wonderful culmination of drinking, laughing, singing, and eating in bountiful amounts. The ride back espoused the bittersweet feeling that you get when the season finale of your favorite TV show is almost over – you’re sad it’s ending but you thoroughly enjoyed being a part of it… The ride home seemed shorter as each of us grew pensive over our imminent case of ‘the Mondays’. We walked out into grand central, exchanged hugs and high fives and each went our own way. Watching each friend disappear down a flight of stairs, up an escalator, and into the night, I couldn’t help but think of a Calvin and Hobbes script that perfectly captured the sentiment of that day, “We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.”

6 comments… add one
  • I blog frequently and I genuinely appreciate your information. This great article has truly peaked my interest.
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  • The Beast May 14, 2010

    VERGHESE!!!!! Nice job hoss

  • MonChiChi May 13, 2010

    Tom, well done my friend. I may have teared up a bit at the end. Seriously.

  • Susan Verghese May 13, 2010

    Dear Tom,
    I wish I was with you guys and Kelly! Your blog is so very interesting to read! I am looking forward to reading more of these. Great to see the Flip video recording these interesting moments!
    love,
    Mom

  • Ajit Verghese May 13, 2010

    Tom – Great inaugural post. Really well written and described – I felt like I was on the visionquest with you guys. I want more videos of the stuff you’re describing and eating. Man oh man I want in on the next trip! I’ll come down from Boston – just let me know. Looking forward to more posts from you and the rest of the ‘Peck The Beak’ crew.

  • Eric Borzino May 12, 2010

    Hello World Tom! Thank you for this awesome inaugural outer borough experience post. Looking forward to other great insights and food opinion posts in the future. Eat the head & pig’s blood.

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