Northern Chinese breakfast, really.
It used to be that I only know the Taiwanese Shaobing Youtiao and soymilk as Chinese breakfast, but after going to China twice in the last year, I've come to crave more variety of Chinese breakfast.
I was in Flushing last weekend. When I walked into this little strip of Chinese eats I thought I was back in China again. Narrow, crowded spaces, cheap tables and chairs, the muted colored suites that medium to tallish Chinese men wear, the old hair styles, the northern accent and tones. The mall has food from more than one region, but the hopping place is in the back where the Qing Zhen (Muslim) place is serving up breakfast.
I sat down and one man in a group of 4 readily asked if I'm "also from Tian Jin". That's one clue of the customers there I guess. Then I see people eating this thick soup with muted green/yellow ribbon-like noodles and dark,goopy, hot and sour-looking soup and a swirl of dijon mustard-colored sauce (their peanut sauce)plus a smaller swirl of mute pink sauce. "I want that!What's that?!" I asked one of the guys bring stuff out of the kitchen. "Guobian..." Guobian something or rather. Guo1 means Pot, Bian1 means side. Good stuff.
Then I saw someone eating the soft soybean curd in a similar type of broth. They call it Dofu Nao ("Tofu brain") as opposed to the Taiwanese's "Dofu Hua" ("Tofu flower"). Of course I gotta have that. It really hit the spot. I knew there was a reason why just a week before this I suddenly had a craving for the "HuLa Tang" (translated to be goopy and spicy soup)that I had for breakfast in Zheng Zhou. It was a premonition of what I would find in Flushing.
The group of four was enjoying their breakfast. One was talking about how the soup in the Guobian isn't quite right, yet, but I couldn't understand his speech enough to get the whole meaning. Two of them were breaking off pieces of the steamed Chinese roll (like the steamed buns but twirled and braided) into the soup(dunking) and then eating the soup with chopsticks.
The other two each had half of the Da Bing (closest to the big sesame pancake without the sesame)in their hands and a huge, paper thin, dark brown and blistered sheet of deep fried wheat dough (think they called it Shao Mai) that they insert into the many folds of the Da Bing. I have to explain that this Da Bing (which I had purchased and tried the night before) is one of the two versions. The "Shou" Da Bing is the one they're having. It's not as wide, but thicker with several spiced layers inside. It was explained to me that you could eat it as is. (Where as the "shen" Da Bing is not flavored and is used to shred into soups like noodles).
I don't want to give false impressions when I said it's not as wide. The Shou Da Bing is about 10 inchs in diameter. It's pretty darn big. It is perfectly constructed for a Chinese Muffaletta sandwich should one decide to make one, because when cut open there are so many layers partitioned and ready. Also, it tastes better than any of the best sesame pancake to me.
I don't want to leave out the red bean filled golden fried glutinous rice pastry. I don't like most glutinous rice things because they are too thick. This one was thin and again blistery on the outside. You barely notice that it's glutinous rice flour. The red bean filling was plentiful, scented with guihua maybe(?) and not too sweet. I had again done the stop-the-moving-tray point-and-ask routine, and so had one fresh out of the fryer. New crave item.
Oh, did I mention the steamed lamb buns? 3 for a dollar. So lamby and juicy that I can only eat at the most 2 in one setting. But it's good.
Other stuff I hadn't tried is the triangular steamed hamantache (sp?)shaped buns filled with yellow sugar. I hear it's really good, but I'm saving it for next time.
re: jen kalb
Shot in the dark: It sounds like a place I stumbled into a few weeks ago, west side of Main, somewhere between the LIRR tracks and Sanford (I think). Bare-bones stalls, some with a few chairs, line a narrow space that winds back some distance from the street. More than one vendor sold snackish-looking things that could be the triangular steamed buns described above. I'd just eaten so I didn't try anything. I've been meaning to return.
Whoa! Did you just discover what I think you just discovered? Though I'm a newcomer, this is the first Islamic Chinese place in NYC that I've heard of. Hooray!
Am I right? And do they have the sesame bread with leeks (sze ma da bing, I believe)? I know you mentioned a flavored and an unflavored da bing, but what about the sesame-and-leek one? Based on China Islamic and Tung Lai Shun in the San Gabriel Valley, these are some of the heartiest, most substantial and delicious breads anywhere.
re: Spoony Bard
The Dean/Pacific place (I also think that there may be others) are Halal, but they serve very ordinary Chinese take-out, just with no pork and halal produced meats. It has no real relation to the place described in Flushing which I assume serves food from the Muslim provinces of China..
The simple question first: J-Dawgz, you can get there by taking the 7 train all the way to the last stop: Main Street. Or the LIRR Port Washington line to Flushing, Main street.($3 city tickets on weekends, 17 minutes from Penn)
As to exactly where and which: I have to get the street names to be sure. For now I can only say that there are two Qing Zhen places with the same name of "Shen Jin", one in each strip mall. One of them serves very tender lamb hearts and kidneys. The other does more of the various bings (of which I forgot to mention "Shaobing Guozi", another item I've read about but have yet to try). It was the one who served lamb hearts who told me to get the Da Bings from the other "Shen Jin" further along Main street toward the Botanical Garden.
Those of you who speak Chinese will have better luck at at least communicating what you want to them. The menus are not in English.
I will be back with street names.
From the description of the red bean pastry, we think the food stalls that Hling is discussing is on the west side of Main St. between Sanford and Maple, across the street from the Chinese Supermarket Kam Sen. It is roughly in the middle of the block. The vendor who sells the fried red bean pastry and the lamb buns is roughly in the middle of the mini-mall on the left side. There will be a small table in front of their stall with breads and other foodstuffs on display. The fried red bean pastry is indeed very good, which has a very crispy and crunchy outer layer and a good amount of red bean filling inside. We can vouch for not eating the unflavored large pancake Shen Da Bing bread by itself. We had bought the Shen Da Bing pancake and made the mistake of trying to eat it by itself, but it was quite dry and lacked a chewy texture. :Later, however, we cut it into long thin strips and stir-fried the Bing bread with meat and vegetables, which was much more satisfactory. Thus far, we have not tried the other vendors, but have only bought the various buns and breads at the fried red bean vendor.
But the environment is definitely a Chinese experience (we doubt if any of the vendors speaks English). As described by Hling, it is exactly like being in a back alleyway with everything out in the open. You are literally in their kitchen watching them make and cook the food. Sometimes trays with piping hot food are laid out to cool almost in the aisle. Food aromas and oil smells are everywhere. Seating arrangements are almost an afterthought with seating primarily at the back of the store. But we would guess that prices at most of the stalls are commensurate with the surroundings (quite low). For adventurous non-Asians planning a foray into Flushing Chinatown, this food mini-mall might be an interesting brief stop-off to sample a very Chinese experience, but you might have to blank out the surroundings and concentrate only on the food. In the 5-10 times that we have been there, we do not remember seeing a non-Asian there.
I just got back from Flushing, where I had a lovely meal at Spicy & Tasty. But before I went, I sought out the mall. It is at 41-82 Main Street. It is exactly as you describe. It would have been worth the trip to Flushing just to stroll around it. It reminded me of the food malls on Nathan Rd in Kowloon (the ones that inspired the film Chungking Express) But this one seemed more Chinese, less Western. Thank you.
"You wrote: But the environment is definitely a Chinese experience (we doubt if any of the vendors speaks English). As described by Hling, it is exactly like being in a back alleyway with everything out in the open. You are literally in their kitchen watching them make and cook the food. Sometimes trays with piping hot food are laid out to cool almost in the aisle. Food aromas and oil smells are everywhere. Seating arrangements are almost an afterthought with seating primarily at the back of the store. But we would guess that prices at most of the stalls are commensurate with the surroundings (quite low). For adventurous non-Asians planning a foray into Flushing Chinatown, this food mini-mall might be an interesting brief stop-off to sample a very Chinese experience, but you might have to blank out the surroundings and concentrate only on the food. In the 5-10 times that we have been there, we do not remember seeing a non-Asian there."