Day 15: Taking the take-out out of Chinese.
I’m an avid taker-outer of Chinese; and when I say Chinese, I’m of course talking about General Tso’s chicken, an eggroll, and wonton soup. While it can be argued that each of these can lay claim to authenticity, I simply can’t think of anything else that has become more Americanized. As New Yorkers, we are blessed with the myriad of ethnic enclaves that run throughout the 5 boroughs, and on this beautiful Friday afternoon, I thought it best to hop down to Grand Street for a stroll through the streets of the country’s second biggest Chinatown.
Once out of the station, I spot a stand with a woman hammering away furiously at her station, opening and closing the metal lids, releasing, every few seconds, bursts of steam that smell of fresh rice and shrimp. $2 bought me a combo of Cherng Fun and Yue Don (fishballs). I’m fluent in both Cantonese and Mandarin, and the locals here speak predominantly Cantonese while in Flushing, Mandarin is preferred, so I have the luxury of picking my dialects depending on where I travel. I received a container of Cherng Fun (steamed rice rolls) covered in a combination of sweet soy and peanut sauce. The Cherng Fun was soft and had bits of dried shrimp inside. The sauce was delicious, balancing sweet and savory and the peanut sauce gave it tons of character. The fishballs were simply meatballs, first fried, then boiled, to give it the thicker shell encasing moist and fresh ground fish inside.
Across the street, I found a line gracing a Yummy Cakes cart, so I hopped on and bought an order of 20 little round cakes. Three or four make up a bite, so 20 is less than it sounds. These are Hong Kong style mini cakes, super soft with the occasional crisped edges, and mildly sweet, almost like a vanilla sponge cake, but with a flavor profile closer to egg custard. They’re made with waffle-maker-like griddles, with a liquid batter poured over little sphere shaped molds. I’d had these actually from Hong Kong before, and those are served like an actual waffle, whereas in the States, they’re usually broken into pieces.
I delved deeper into Chinatown and found on Elizabeth and Hester another cart that sold more fishballs and tea eggs. Another $1 bought 3 eggs – hard boiled in a teabath containing herbs, spices, and soy sauce. The taste of tea is very faint, with flavors matching more the soy sauce and herbs, lending it a savory profile. By now, I was somewhat full, but the smell of fried goodness coming out of Canal and Mott made me drop $2.75 for my last meal of the day. $1.25 of that went to 3 spring rolls while the rest went to a box of vegetable fried noodles.
The noodles were really good – the only veggies came in the form of shredded cabbage and bean sprouts, but my guess is that chicken bouillon most probably had a hand in enhancing the savory flavor of the noodles. The spring rolls were super crispy and contained more cabbage doused in a nice kick of black pepper. When I saw the little tub of hot sauce that came with my order, I dumped it all onto the noodles- and the spiciness was just what I’d needed. I ended up doggie-bagging half of the noodles and spring rolls, so your dollar definitely buys a lot in the StreetGrub scene in Chinatown. There were more carts I missed, so I’ll definitely be back.