Fish head with minced peppers

Fish head with minced peppers

Rosie postulates that spicy food alleviate allergy symptoms, so with my nose congested through memorial day weekend, we decided to lunch at Hunan house and test out her theory.
While Cantonese and Sichuan food are familiar to the western palate, Chinese cuisine varies greatly based on regional differences. Hunan cuisine, like the two above-mentioned, reigns among the eight most famous Chinese culinary styles. Hunanese cuisine, like Sichuan food is spicy, but it relies not on tongue numbing characteristics of tiny but deadly Sichuan peppercorns. Instead, a ton of fresh chilis, both green and red are used in abundance. We recruited JW, another spice lover to test out 4 dishes.

The cold spicy tongue and tripe appetizer is authentically Sichuanese, slick with fiery red oil and those potent peppercorns that render your tongue momentarily dysfunctional. Next was a platter of tofu soaking up some light red sauce that had been enhanced by broth and peppers. Although humble looking, the tofu was smooth and nutty, and possessed a clean, bracing flavor from the light sauce. Large chunks of bell peppers and very tender ginger finished that dish. Next was a humble looking dish called chicken casserole on the menu. We would not have ordered it had it not come highly recommended by the helpful proprietor, with its really generic name and the fact it was not even on the specials page. However, the lean and flavorful chicken (unlike the garden roaster variety) stewed in a deep flavorful sauce that thickened as the casserole bubbled over an open flame was my favorite dish, the sauce, both spicy, sweet, salty with a little funk from fermented soy bean paste addictive particularly with rice. I ate a second bowl of rice just sopping up the sauce.

The unassumingly delicious chicken dish

The unassumingly delicious chicken dish

Just wonderful as the chicken may be, the piece de resistance was definitely the fish head cooked with fresh minced peppers. The braised fish head is not presented whole but thoughtfully chopped into 2 inch chunks to facilitate marination, rendering the freshwater fish tender with minimal mud taste and saturated with the delightly taste of soy and chili. Another dish that requires plenty of rice, which we happily ate, seconds and thirds included. Only quibble about this dish was that the chopped up head made it really difficult to locate the fish eyes that rosie and I both coveted. Hehe.

With Hunanese food  conveniently found in Flushing, the regional cuisine is definitely going to break my usual rotation of Canton/Shanghai and Sichuan food!

Hunan House

13740 Northern Boulevard, Flushing

yin/yang pot

So here I am wishing for signs of spring, but  instead I get a cold front, blistering winds and a foot of snow dumped upon me unceremoniously on the first day of March. Whilst drinking soup out of a box in the pantry is a practical way of staying warm, it is not the ideal winter meal. I can only conjure memories of the hot pot at Little Fat Lamb to make myself feel better. Now if only my trip to Little Fat Lamb for the bubbly cauldron of hot pot happened this week and not 2 weekends ago. Then I would be able to slurp the piping hot soup, served in one big pot or a split one for the variety seeker. Both the spicy sichuan and the milk white concoction boiled long and slow with chinese herbs (goji berries, red dates, dang gui etc) are good. We swished razor thin slices of lamb and beef in the broth till just cooked and dragged the meat in a concoction of sauces before devouring it. Meatballs, fishballsm and other types of meat such as frozen fish slices (the freezer burn a little concerning) also made their appearance, as did some more exotic animal parts. We opted for the safe choices this time, with only duck tongue mildly more offal-like. Germaine and I seemed to be the only cartilage lovers so we split the plate.  To finish, a handful of vermicelli, some vegetables and a thoroughly warmed and satisfied stomach. Hotpot is a salve for cold days indeed.

Little Fat Lamb

36-45 Main St (Flushing)

Summer is not officially over until the 22nd, but today is the psychological end to a brief but sunny 3
strawberries in june

strawberries in june

months. I confess that summer is my least favorite of the 4 seasons given my childhood in ubiquitous heat and humidity, but I did a lot this year and consequently had an enjoyable summer.
I moved from Hell’s Kitchen into a tiny studio in the East Village and welcomed a host of visitors there. A sister, two cousins, both college roommates, the boyfriend and my dad. I explored east village restaurants with my siblings, countered the worst heat wave with pakshun by eating a lot of frozen yogurt, entertained friends for the first time in a long time in my building’s central courtyard on shopping from the greenmarket, whole foods and specialty grocers, ate my weight in fragrant berries and juicy stone fruits, and got to make amends to my father by bringing him around New York in summer, where we visited a musuem, shopped and people watched while dining al fresco in my neighborhood. It must have infinitely more interesting than his last trip made in winter, when mum and I made him sit through a not very interesting musical. 
Nathan's hot dogs


I finally made it to coney island to eat a hot dog from the original Nathans, to ride the ferris wheel and take in the view of the boardwalk and ocean. We shared the beach with seagulls, mountains of trash and the assortment of people that made up the crowds.

Howard's fish, steamed Cantonese style

Howard's fish, steamed

Not satisfied with merely sitting on the beach, I joined rosie and co on a deep sea fishing trip, on a fishing boat docked on Sheepshead bay, Brooklyn. Despite over 20 cumulative hours of choppy waters and terrible sea sickness shared between the 6 of us, we caught fish in waters so populous with sea bass that the first catch of the day bit less than 30 seconds after Yu Gang lowered his bait. Once onshore, we sped to Flushing, Queens, begged the chef at Imperial Palace, a fancy for Chinatown Cantonese seafood restaurant- to steam our largest catch (courtesy of Howard) and devoured our spoils of war. It was one of my most well earned meal and darn delicious, as it should be, given the fish was still flopping around, alive, less than 2 hours before being cooked.

And now on labor day, after a few hours in the office, I am doing a stint as a tourist in the city, on a beautifully sunny but breezy day, one of those days when the city conspires to make you fall in love with it. I am sit beneath the shade of a palm in rockefeller center, bustling but mercifully not overrun with people, with a book (now blackberry) in hand and a cup of creamy gelato from a stand operated by the rock center cafe on the rink. It is an indulgent cup of bacio gelato by a Philadelphia base company called Capogiro, and the cold treat is both luxe in ingredients and in price, expensive even for NYC standards. Of the 2 fruit base sorbets and the sinful chocolatey gelato, I of course choose the fatty, creamy, sinful gelato. When one wastes empty calories on sweets, one might as well go for the extreme. The chocolate is sweet but not cloyingly so, and the luscious gelato is generously speckled with fresh roasted hazelnuts before it melts. A perfect antidote for the heat and 5th Avenue crowds.  
It has been a good summer indeed. I’m sad to see it go as everybody else is, but at the same time looking forward to fall fashion and cold weather foods. I wonder what I’ll be eating.

Nathan’s Famous

1310 Surf Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11224 ( the original, multiple locations nationwide)


Imperial Palace

136-13 37th Ave, Flushing, NY 11354

Capogiro Gelato Artisans @ the Rock Center Cafe

20 W50th St (Between 5th & 6th Aves, right by the rink)


During my brief studies in Beijing, I had developed a taste, an addiction towards a dish called 地三鲜, literally translated as the three fresh earthly vegetables(incidentally there’s only one root vegetable in the mix). Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find this dish in any Chinese restaurant in Singapore or New York since I left China. But my pining ended on Friday when I stepped foot into Waterfront International Enterprise.
With a name like that, one might have thought that the eatery dabbled in the import/export business of seafood. Instead, Waterfront International Enterprise is the sole restaurant in New York (at least to my knowledge) specializing in an arsenal of Northeastern Chinese cuisine. Compared to the refined and delicate cuisine found in the southern coastal regions of Canton and Shanghai, Northeastern food is exceedingly humble in terms of looks and cost, cooked to satisfy one’s hunger on a cold winter night in Liaoning rather than to elevate one’s tastebuds via haute cuisine. Even the spartan dining room reflected such sensibilities. But the hearty fare, competently cooked and rich with the flavor of soy sauce, garlic and pickled vegetables nonetheless made for a very tasty dinner.
We started the meal with a complimentary dish of pickled spicy cabbage not unlike Korean kimchi and salty roasted peanuts which would have made for good bar snacks except we weren’t drinking beer. We ordered a plate of boiled pork and chives dumplings, which I inhaled in the dozens while in Beijing but ate daintily with my colleagues. Our meat dish of the day was a casserole filled with dark soy-based liquid, braised wild mushrooms and chicken. The thick stew was wonderfully aromatic, earthy with the addition of the braised mushrooms. The chicken was flavorful, and not cooked to an unrecognizable mush, a fate that befalls many over-boiled chicken. Translucent glass noodles in the bowl soaked up the rest of the stew and we fished those slippery threads with gusto.
And how can I forget my 地三鲜, an unhealthy vegetarian dish consisting of my favorite deep fried eggplant, potato and fresh green pepper? It was as I remembered, the viscous soy-based sauce, crispy potatos, mushy eggplants and spicy slivers of green peppers melding together to form a dish perfect mixed with rice. We only had a minor quibble with the potato, which should be crunchier rather than crumbly, most possibly due to the use of mealy russet potatos. But with this being the only rendition found in the city, I am not complaining. In fact, with the prolific list of hard to find Chinese dishes such as cold bean sheet salad, various chicken and lamb innards, spicy fried crawfish and sweet, caramelized root vegetables and fruit served alongside a vat of iced water, I’m already plotting my next trip. Any takers for a weekend eating trip to the outer boroughs?

Waterfront International Enterprise
40-09 Prince St (Roosevelt Ave)
Flushing, Queens
(718) 321-1363

Three consecutive meals at three different Chinatowns (two in NY, one in Boston) later, I’ve come to the conclusion that if you can stomach 1) a little bit of attitude from the servers, 2) sitting with others on the same table and 3) the insanity that’s called parking in Chinatown, you most definitely be able to find some excellent grub at hit me its so dirt cheap rock bottom prices. And have money to spare to eat dessert too!
Anyway, P and I hit Boston’s Chinatown for Sunday brunch and both of us remembered a taiwanese restaurant (uncreatively named Taiwan Cafe) which we had been to and really liked 3 summers ago when visiting a friend at MIT. So we had the signature pork chop rice, not very suitable at 11 am, but very satisfying, with a huge pork chop deep fried in star anise-spiked batter laying atop a huge mound of rice, which was in turn drenched with dark, sweet and salty meat sauce. The plate of the rice also came with a hard boiled egg cooked in soy sauce and some pickled vegetables which helped balance the oily factor. We washed down the rice with a fresh bowl of sweet soy milk served in a bowl and picked up another plate of fried vermicelli, once again topped in the tasty meat sauce and also a big roll of baked chinese dough (烧饼)All that for under $15 bucks with a hefty tip!And the leftover dough served us well as an afternoon snack while stuck in traffic too! Parking was a crazy affair however, with hungry chinese eaters double parking, placing cars blatantly next to the fire hydrants etc, so if we do ever go back, we’ll be taking the metro.
Almost 10 hours after our foray into Boston’s ctown, we landed in Flushing, Queens. This time we headd to Shanghai Tide for what else? shanghainese food, including a steamer full of soup dumplings, which, while competently made did not wow us. We also had 2 not tt memorable dishes and a bowl of spicy dan dan noodle that stole the show. Its amazing how good a little bit of minced pork and a lot of chili oil mixed together with handfuls of scallions can taste. While we were there, we observed the bulk of the diners actually eating hotpot, which while did not seem like the best summer dish to us, was indeed a huge bargain, as $18.95 yielded an all you can eat buffet and as much beer you can drink. Again, we spent no more than $25 dollars, tips included. We blew the remainder of our cash on cantonese desserts at Sweet & Tart Cafe, where we had a hit in the doubled boiled ginger egg custard (姜汁炖奶)and a miss in the classic green bean soup (绿豆汤). Still at $6 dollars, the entire tab cost less than a frozen hot chocolate in a certain Manhattan eatery, which while satisfying, is definitely not worth its price.
Chinatown #3 is our very own sprawling Manhattan version, where littered amongst some serious duds like the (un)Yummy Noodles are several more worthy restaurants. We discovered a newfound favorite in Great NY Noodletown, where the minced beef congee is up to discerning standards, and the portions for the wonton soup are huge, with more than half a dozen wontons, all swollen with fresh, succulent shrimp. We liked that place so much we were there three times (once we didn’t get seats because it was so darn crowded) in less than 2 weeks. Talk about an obsession. We ended our mad eating session that day with a superlative bowl of sweeten silken tofu (豆腐花) for a princely sum of $1 from Kong Kee Food Corp. This made our total lunch expense that day $10 including tips! Slap me now, I’m giddy with the realization that I fed me and my bf for the same cost of a salad in midtown! How much less I would be spending if the office was closer to ctown =(

Taiwan Cafe (34 Oxford St, Boston)
Shanghai Tide (135-20 40th Rd, Flushing)
Sweet & Tart Cafe (13611 38th Ave, Flushing)
Great NY Noodletown (28 Bowery, NY)
Kong Kee Food Corp (240 Grand Street)

There is something about the 7 train that I find utterly charming. It could be the fact that it hurtles through the railway tracks at breakneck speed, as though the train drivers are paid according to how fast they drive, or that it rumbles unapologetically throughout the entire trip to finally spit its passengers out into the heart of mainland china. In any case, for manhattanites smittened with teochew duck and taiwanese oyster omelettes, you would have to endure the slightly painful journey via the 7 train to get to Flushing to get to those local delicacies.

Cantonese food, however is another matter. Manhattan’s Chinatown is the stronghold for early chinese immigrants who hailed from Hong Kong and Guangzhou, and consequently, there is no lack of decent cantonese restaurants on the island, from the hole-in-the wall Hong Kong style cafes to large banquet restaurants. In fact, Ruoying and I had enjoyed a really enjoyable and dirt-cheap lunch at New Wonton Garden just the other day.

Ruoying’s ordered the namesake wonton noodles with charsiew and the wontons were plump and juicy while the egg noodles had just the right elasticity to it. My beef brisket with hor fun was equally impressive and I slurped up every single drop of the flavorful beef broth, no doubt boiled for long hours over slow heat in a pot that probably gets a good scrub once every 5 years.

Given the ample supply of fair to good cantonese restaurants in the city, it would seem strange that we chose to eat at a Cantonese restaurant for dinner at Flushing last night. It was less a conscious decision but more a result borne out of a series of happy accidents yesterday:
1. First deciding to go to Flushing for dinner after finding out that taking the E train followed by a transfer on the 7 train would cut travelling time by 15 mins (after 1 yr, me and the subway system still don’t get along)
2. Getting there for free, after a tourist who was going home but still had money in his metrocard kindly offered his card, with the remaining value to the first person he saw in the station (me!)
3. Choosing the restaurant by getting lost in Queens and finally stumbling onto prince street, then marching into the restaurant based on the crowd of old folks and their kids standing impatiently outside, without any notion about cuisine they served. We figured that if the cantonese grandpas and grandmas can stomach the wait outside, in a not so cool night, to eat here, so could we. It was only after we had stepped out of the restaurant at the conclusion of a great meal that we discovered, located on the old-fashioned red awnings, are 2 capitalized words “Canton Gourmet”.
But what an awesome meal it was! Between my sister and I, we had garlic stir-fried spinach, less oily and light on the seasoning that several other versions we have had in other restaurants; a fine steamed chicken boldly flavored with a viscous ginger sauce and some unidentifiable chinese herbs; and a plate of sweet and succulent shrimp, deep fried with the lightest coat of batter and then flash fried with a mixture of minced shallots, ginger, garlic, scallions and dried red peppers. YUM…And once again, we left wondering, “how do the chinese restaurateurs manage to make a profit by charging us so little?” Our only regret was not coming out to Flushing with a couple more people, so that we could try more dishes, such as the goose web casserole; the cereal crab, which was a house specialty and really great looking steamed fish, whereby the patrons get to choose the fish from the big tanks adorning an entire wall and then elect the way they want it cooked. Well, another time, another meal, another subway ride…

New Wonton Garden
56 Mott St (at Bayard St)

Canton Gourmet
38-08 Prince St, Flushing

Restorant Malaysia looks nondescript from the outside, tucked in the middle of a busy row of restaurants serving anything from taiwan beef noodles to foo chow fishballs. The shop front is narrow and the window was grimy from years of soot, soot created from the satay and stingray freshly barbeque-ed in the front of the restaurant. It is not a very attractive looking restaurant and you would walk right past it if you were not hankering for some authentic Malaysian grub, and Ruoying and I almost gave it a miss. Still, the lure of sambal kangkong and roti prata proved to be too much for two homesick Singaporeans and we walked in to find ourselves ordering way too much and with each bite, connecting what we see, eat and smell with events that happened long ago, linking each dish with places and faces we miss.
We shared a plate of hokkien fried noodles, malaysia styled; hakka style pearl noodles; bbq-ed stingray and finally a plate of sambal kangkong. The dishes were extremely flavorful, smelling of parfum de wok, the wok scent that you find at good zi-char places. The hokkien fried noodles reminded us of saturday lunches in Singapore, with Pa wielding the wok and cooking up enormous amounts of the same noodles in dark gooey sauce. The grilled stingray tasted like those at East Coast Park, plump, succulent and the perfect foil for the huge dish of sambal belacan that came with it. Ruoying was so excited to see the pickled green chillies that by the time we were done with dinner, we had eaten half a bowl of green chillies with our noodle dishes. We could have easily finished everything there, but great discipline restrained ourselves from becoming even bigger girls than we already are and brought most of the kangkong home.
Back home tody, we decided to complemented the kangkong, which by the way microwaves very well with homemade nasi lemak, fried egg and luncheon meat. Its strange how food ties people and places together, and the wave of nostalgia and the regret from being so far from home has not been so strong in a while. Maybe its a good thing that the restaurant’s in Flushing and not anywhere closer and the Malaysian restaurants in Manhattan are not nearly as authentic, or else I might be flooded with homesickness everytime i visit!