One of the best things about living in NYC is the ethnic diversity, especially when it comes to food. Something that has always peaked my curiosity is culture, that of my own and many others. Globalization and modern transportation is making the world easily accessible. It is also my deep hope that because of this fact, by the mare exposure of people to different cultures can help to improve understanding and decrease ignorance. And the best way to understand another culture, other than speaking the language is through food. I would also like to think that my penchant for languages is also closely related because I can order food in 4 different languages (which is pretty much the extent of my being a polyglot). In many cultures food is often used as an ice-breaker, respect and appreciation. From high-stake political banquets to a humble offering. I know in my culture, refusal of food is seen as an insult. I have been eating and learning my way through NYC since circa 1992 :).
One of the first places I explored on my own and with friends was Chinatown. My friends and I would take the train to Grand St. to go to the video arcade on Mott and buy comics or video games at the Chinatown mall. I remember my first venture into street food, buying little Chinese hotcakes 20 for $1. But, it was dim sum that I loved the best. The carts of freshly made dishes, which is all centered around drinking tea. Drink some tea, snatch up some choice eats and then fight over the bill. In my years of dim sum, I have seen families literally fight over who gets to pay the bill. Often sneaking to the cashier to get the bill before it is even asked for. Grandmothers sneaking off into the kitchen to get a dish before it hits the carts, let alone the dining room floor. It is a marvel of organization and management the way these large dim sum restaurants are ran.
My friend, who I met in graduate school and is from the outskirts of Beijing asked me if I would join her for tea last weekend. A few texts later and we had settled on Jing Fong restaurant on Elizabeth at 10:30am because anytime later than this, expect to wait at least an hour to get a table. I have been to a couple in Brooklyn since the emergence of the chinatown there but nothing to me is better than Jing Fong. You are provided with a ticket, every dish that you order gets a stamp: small, medium, large or special dish. We snatched up some stewed chicken feet, which I love — in Trinidad we eat it all the time. It is very gelatinous and flavorful. Then some dumplings and my favorite steamed pork ribs.
At this particular dim sum spot, there is a section on the middle far wall where you can get specialty dishes. I got some clams in black beans sauce. Sorry, I totally forgot to take a picture it was so delicious.
For about an hour, every time the dim sum carts rolled by my friend would ask the lady something in Mandarin. She told me that she was waiting for a special desert. I asked what it was called and she didn’t know the name in English, so she googled it for me; there on her phone I read the dreaded word – DURIAN. Now, I had never had the guts to try this fruit before, having watched enough episodes of ‘No Reservations’ to be rightly weary. But, what the heck – why not give it a try. We waited for about 20 minutes more and finally the dish was spotted on the lower level of a passing cart. It looked harmless enough, looked like filo dough on the outside, hot and crusty. I took a bite and got a slight sent of rot, but it was actually not bad — delicious even. Not too sweet, which is a plus for me because I dislike overly sweet deserts. So, if you visit Jing Fong try the durian puffs and let me know what you think. I will warn you, it is probably not for everyone.
Afterwards, we walked to a local bakery (Hop Shing) I have been meaning to try. Let me just say, this place is also not to be missed. Their char siu bao and coconut buns are incredible. On the way, there was this guy showing off his classic car and blasting classic music – perfection.
(between Canal St & Bayard St)
New York, NY 10013
9 Chatham Sq
New York, NY 10038
Tel: (212) 267-0220