A Serious Taste of China in Flushing

Finding legitimate chinese food in the United States is a tricky thing. Sure there’s a chinese joint in even the smallest small town, but they all dish up “American-Chinese food” a gloopy, uniform, selection of heavy items that only vaguely resemble their chinese counterparts.

Since I’ve come back from China this fake chinese just isn’t cutting it anymore. I’m obsessed with the real thing. I’ve had a couple of good leads- the closest being a legitimate hot pot place in suburban Virginia, but for the most part, I’m resigned to eating fried wontons and only dreaming of Gan Bian Dou Jiao and Bao Zi.

Until now. Now I’ve discovered Flushing’s Chinatown and nothing will ever be the same.

New York City is home to the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of China and has as many as NINE different Chinatown’s depending on how you count. Flushing’s Chinatown is bigger than the better known Manhattan version and only slightly smaller than the one in Brooklyn.

Kim, my adventurous eater partner-in-crime, and I took the subway out there on a Saturday afternoon to investigate. It took nearly an hour to get wind from Brookyln to Manhattan then out into Queens but oh was it worth it. Here’s a taste of what we found on our make-shift food tour:

Chengdu Heaven

We started our tour by following Yelp reviews into the shabby basement of a shopping center, where we uncovered a warren of tiny restaurants. We walked past the original Xi’an famous foods (Mike and I visit the Manhattan one every time we’re in town) and went straight for Chengdu Heaven.

Chengdu you may remember, in addition to being Panda HQ, has some of the most delicious food in all of China. The stall looked promisingly chinese: slightly grimy with small card tables and paper cups of bland tea.

Kim wanted Dan Dan noodles and I went for the cucumber salad. They were near perfect: delicate, crucnhy and mouth-numbingly spicy. The closest to the real deal I’ve found outside of China. I could have cried. I was tempted to order about 5 more things here but we needed to save stomach space to press on.

Soup Dumplings and More

I only spent a few days in Shanghai, but I remember standing in line for over half an hour to try the local soup dumplings. This time we waited outside of Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao, possibly the most popular restaurant in Chinatown on a Saturday afternoon, for nearly half an hour.

It was worth it. We ordered a basket of soft pink crab and pork dumplings along with a side of beef filled scallion pancake. Carefully we balanced the dumplings on our chopsticks, bit off the tops and sipped the boiling broth inside. It’s a tricky, tricky delicious business.

A Taste of Taiwan

Flushing’s Chinatown is full of basement food courts hidden under malls and shopping centers. We wandered into one of the biggest, on the bottom floor of Flushing Mall, devoted entirely to Taiwanese cuisine.

I’m not as familiar with the food of Taiwan (although I’d really like to be!). We turned to the internet on this one and ended up ordering a quarter of a crispy duck and a bucket of shaved ice the size of my head.

The shaved ice was a unique mess of a masterpiece: fluffy ice smothered with multiple sweet syrups, gummies, red beans, tapioca balls, pineapple chunks and more. The two of us together only made it halfway through.

Street Meat

We also hit up a bakery and a couple of street stands but I could not leave the neighborhood without hitting up one of the aluminum carts selling street barbecue.

One of our favorite meals in Xi’an was Kou Ro, grilled lamb kebabs, bought for 1 yuan a skewer and eaten at an open air plastic table with some naan bread and beer. If I could go back to China for just one meal, this is what I would choose.

I was quite full at this point so I just ordered one skewer of lamb, doused in red pepper. It tasted rich, spicy and creamy. Just like I remembered (although at $1 each they were about 5 times the price).

I never was totally able to consider China home, but every once in awhile a taste comes along that makes me miss it viscerally. This afternoon was full of them.

So if you’re after real, legit Chinese food in New York City- Flushing has you covered. It’s not the most easy neighborhood to get to, but the cultural experience alone is well worth it.

I can guarantee you I’ll be back. Maybe I’ll even bring Mike this time, after all he misses China even more than I do.

 

21 thoughts on “A Serious Taste of China in Flushing”

  1. Wow, that really does look legit! One of the things I’ve loved most about living in China is all the delicious food! It’s nice to know I’ll be able to get the real thing when we eventually move back to the States. Nice find!

  2. Yum, everything there looks so tasty! To be honest, I’m not a fan of Chinese cuisine, both in Canada and the UK I find it greasy and kind of bland. It doesn’t compare to SE Asia or Japan. But, I imagine the food tastes so much better in China itself. I can’t wait to visit and see if it changes my opinion on Chinese food!

  3. Awesome post – I’ve been in Elmhurst, Queens the past month and it is like a mini Flushing – lots of excellent Chinese food here, but also a lot of Malaysian, Indonesian, Taiwanese. Jackson Heights is also fantastic for Indian/Bangladeshi, and all sorts of Latin Food…well worth a trip on the 7 Line!

  4. Yum! I’ve never had “real” Chinese food so I would have no idea what to expect or compare it to but this all looks delicious!

  5. Soooo, with a few exceptions, Xi’an was pretty much the only city in China where my husband and I actually legitimately enjoyed the food. Everything else we encountered was pretty greasy or lackluster (or made us sick!). Despite all that, looking at these photos, I was immediately salivating and wishing I could tuck into each and every one of these dishes! 😀 One of my big regrets about China is that we didn’t get to visit Sichuan and Yunnan provinces—I’ve heard the food is amazing there!

  6. Real Chinese food means tons of MSG at least in China. You can get less chemical outcome if you cook it by youself. It’s generally pretty easy: chop everything and stir-fry in pig fat. We used to enjoy tofu a lot in SEA until we quit salt.

      1. That’s what they were telling us in China, too. Makes food tasty, and then they somehow implied that they know it’s a bit bad for health but still want to use it, just a little.

        The most common argument we hear for MSG is that it gives depth to the taste and makes it taste a bit like chicken. That would probably be fine if we were not vegan for ethical reasons.

        1. Not really, if you can cook everything you eat. We used a lot hospex and people kindle opened to us their kitchens. If you have to rely on restaurants, that is a nightmare. Chinese lack the concept of vegetarianism. We tried explain that by claiming that we are buddhists with no luck. The problem is that in China vegetarians are considered to be poor people. If you have money you buy meat, lot’s or it. So they tried to help us by hiding little pieces of seafood or meat to our food.

  7. This looks so incredible, I so love Chinese food. Especially the grilled lamb kebabs and cucumber salad…that’s my meal right there 🙂

  8. Photos look great, it can be hard to find a good Chinese in Dublin too. Will be travelling your way soon. Will be sure to check it out. I got a great deal with Tour America. Looking forward to even more now.
    Thanks for posting.

  9. Thank you so much for your wonderful suggestions. I went to Flushing today with a friend and took your article with us. We started with the soup dumplings at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao and then moved on to the dan dan noodles and cucumber salad at Chengdu Heaven. I know exactly what you meant, I almost cried over that cucumber salad. It was out of this world and I can’t wait to go back. I even got an order to go. Thank you for paving the way and sharing your experience.

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