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Mar 24, 2013 09:00 AM

Spicy Village (Formerly He Nan Flavor) – Delicious Henan Food In Chinatown

**For full post and pics**:

Spicy Village was originally a branch of Henan Fengwei from Flushing. Around 6 months ago they were supposedly shutting down and possibly re-opening in another space on Allen. Luckily that never happened and instead they ended up changing their name to Spicy Village, but everything else remained the same.

Spicy Village specializes in cuisine from the Henan province in China. Henan is a landlocked province that is northwest of Shanghai. I’d love to give you some long winded background on Henan cuisine, but I don’t actually know that much about their cuisine as I have little experience eating it as isn’t prevalent or popular in the parts of China I usually visit. This Wikipedia article discusses it a little bit. I believe the owners are actually from Fuzhou as I’ve heard them speaking in the Fuzhou dialect with customers.

The restaurant is typical Chinatown in that it has very little in the way of décor although it is clean. The service is fine and the lady who runs the place is really nice. She also happens to speak English well and the entire menu is translated into English, so you will have no issues ordering.

Here’s what we got:

Cucumbers and Smoked Tofu (Liang Ban Huang Gua Dou Gan):
This was typical cold marinated cucumbers and smoked tofu called dou gan in Chinese. The pickles are tangy and a bit sweet as well. The version here was alright; it had decent crunch and flavor, but they were missing the really good flavor you get in a good version. I wasn’t really a fan of the dou gan as it was pretty plain tasting. 7.5/10 for the cucumbers; 6.75/10 for the smoked tofu

Pancake with Pork (Rou Jia Mo):
This is a shredded pork sandwich with cilantro. The bread is sort of like pita bread and is crispy from being toasted. The pork is actually quite light and is savory from the brown sauce they cook it in. It will remind you of the pancakes from Xi’an Famous Foods except the bread is thinner, it’s not as heavily spiced and it’s lighter. Overall, it’s not amazing, but it is a tasty enough pancake. 7.5/10

Pancake with Beef (Niu Rou Jia Mo):
This is the same as the prior pancake except with beef. However, I find the meat to be a little more flavorful, so I’d give the nod to the beef version. 7.75/10

Soup Dumplings (Guan Tang Bao):
While these look like misshapen ugly Shanghainese soup dumplings they are actually quite good and different than regular soup dumplings. The skins are a bit thicker and there is no soup inside. However, they are delicious as the filling is very flavorful. I actually enjoy these more than I do most Shanghainese soup dumplings in NY (I only like Nan Xiang actually). These are one of the best dishes here. 8/10

Homemade Steamed Dumplings (Shou Gong Shui Jiao):
These are typical northern Chinese style dumplings with thicker skins and pork and chive filling. I like their dumplings, but I don’t love them. The skins are decent, a bit on the doughy side, but I find their filling to be a bit bland. I end up using a lot of black vinegar and chili oil to make them tasty. 7.25/10

Black Bean Sauce Huimei (Zha Jiang Hui Mian):
Hui mian is thick wheat noodles that I believe are Henan in origin. Zha jiang mian literally means “fried sauce noodle”. You may know this dish as it is a ubiquitous dish in Korean-Chinese restaurants where Koreans took northern Chinese dishes and fit them to Korean tastes; they call it ja jang myun. I think it’s almost more popular with Koreans than it is with Chinese despite it being Chinese in origin. The Chinese version is more of a meat based sauce similar to a ragu. This can taste very different depending on who is making it. Here the sauce is fairly light in flavor and mainly just tastes like meat. I added some chili oil which made it a lot better. The noodles are excellent as they are a bit al dente and have great texture. Overall, the dish was decent, but not great. 7.5/10

Spicy Beef Brisket Huimei (Ma La Niu Nan Hui Mian):
This is a spicy beef brisket noodle soup. The beef brisket has been simmered for a while so it was quite tender and also had a good five spice flavor. The noodles are excellent being nicely al dente. The broth is flavorful and a bit spicy. While a bit different from traditional beef noodle soup, this is my current pick for the best beef noodle soup in NY. I think it far surpasses the various Lan Zhou noodle places around Chinatown (and Flushing) as the beef and broth are far superior in quality. This is another one of my favorite dishes here. Also, definitely use some chili oil and black vinegar, it tastes great with it. 8.25/10

Oxtail Huimei (Niu Wei Hui Mian):
This was an oxtail broth noodle soup with the hui mian. This was one of the duds here; I thought the broth was a bit bland, so there just wasn’t that much to it. We had to add a lot of chili oil and black vinegar to make it more interesting. 6.75/10

Grilled Pepper Chicken with Rice (Qing Jiao Ji Fan):
This was a surprise dish as I don’t think I’ve heard anyone mention it. Its stir fried pieces of chicken in slightly spicy and sweet sauce with diced green peppers. The chicken is tender and the sauce is really good, it’s a bit peppery, smoky, spicy and sweet. It tastes great with rice. This is one of my favorite dishes here. 8.25/10

Spicy Big Tray Kitchen (Da Pan Ji):
This is the dish that made them famous. It’s large chicken casserole in big iron pot. There are big chunks of very tender chicken on the bone and potatoes topped with cilantro. The sauce while it looks really oily isn’t actually all that heavy. It’s also ma la in flavor, which is normally a Sichuan flavor profile. “Ma” means the numbing sensation you get on your tongue from the Sichuan peppercorns, while “la” means spicy. While it is ma la, it’s not nearly as ma la as what you get at most Sichuan restaurants. It’s a bit hard to explain this dish, but it’s really good, so just hurry up and go try it. 8.5/10

Sweet Peanut Filled Rice Ball Soup (Tang Yuan):
Tang yuan has always been one of my favorite Chinese desserts, so I almost always get them when I see them on a menu. They can have various fillings, but here they serve them with peanut filling. The peanuts are not chopped that finely, so the chunks are pretty big. The filling also had these pinks things, but I couldn’t figure out what they were and they really didn’t taste like anything. The skins were decent, but not as super tender as I prefer them. These were alright, but I think this is the way Fuzhou people prepare them because this is the way they always taste at Fuzhou restaurants in NY. I prefer the Cantonese preparation. 7.25/10

Overall, I enjoy this place a lot and it’s somewhere that I eat at quite regularly. It’s also one of the few bright spots in a fast dying Chinatown, so I’d highly come recommend coming here to support them.

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  1. Homemade Steamed Dumplings (Shou Gong Shui Jiao):
    These are typical northern Chinese style dumplings with thicker skins and pork and chive filling. I like their dumplings, but I don’t love them. The skins are decent, a bit on the doughy side, but I find their filling to be a bit bland. I end up using a lot of black vinegar and chili oil to make them tasty. 7.25/10

    If they were steamed, wouldn't the English phonetic translation be something like "Shou Gong Tzeng Jiao"?

    By the way, did you spy Henan's version of Turducken (i.e.Kaifeng Tao Si Bao)? Or how about the banquet-style multi-course "Luoyang Shui Xi"?

    And I think the pink stuff in the peanut filling were mochi.

    Thanks for the report. May have to check it out next time I'm in NYC.

    7 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      i wrote their direct english names from the menu in the post, so people who know exactly which dish it is, but you are correct it would be shou gong zheng jiao. And you are also correct in that i believe their are boiled not steamed although im not 100% on that

      re: other henan food - this is really a xiao chi kind of place not like a full board henan restaurant, so they don't have any of that. it's really noodle soups, dumplings and a few other dishes. The henan fengwei in flushing has a more extensive menu. here's the menu:

      re: pink things - i dont think their were mochi, im really not sure what they are, i shouldve asked the lady

      1. re: ipsedixit

        btw this just reminded me that since you stay in midtown east when you're in NY you should give hunan manor a shot, i think its quite good, probably the best chinese restaurant in manhattan (although manhattan's chinese food is going downhill though aside from sichuan food)

        1. re: Lau

          Not sure if lunch there is representative but found it pretty average on one visit.

          1. re: Peter Cuce

            what did you have? not everything there is good, some of the noodle soups i tried (forgot to take pictures) were bland and as i wrote in the post the dumplings were a bit bland. The very first time i went a long time ago i got the beef brisket huimei (not the spicy one) and the steamed dumplings and i came away thinking the food was pretty bland and just so so. I then came back a 2nd time and tried the spicy beef brisket huimei and thought it was much better and then came back more times and tried the rest of the menu.

            after trying most of the menu I tried to specifically highlight in the post the dishes i think are pretty good and worth trying, which are soup dumplings, spicy beef brisket huimei, grilled chicken with rice and big plate chicken. the pancake sandwiches are alright, but i prefer Xi'an Famous Food version.

            Btw just generally my posts are pretty specific about dishes i like so hopefully the post is actually useful for people when they are ordering. Unfortunately this is not Asia, so inevitably every chinese restaurant in NY has a menu that has duds on it and usually has alot of duds on it, so I try to be pretty specific about what i think is good, so you can avoid the duds

          2. re: Lau

            Thanks. I actually stay in midtown west, but who's counting, right?

            And, fwiw, I usu. avoid Chinese food of any kind in NYC just because I can get more than enough of all types in SGV. There's just so much else for me to try and explore in/around Manhattan.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              yah i agree with that, in general i think thats a reasonable assumption to stick with

              i can't remember if there is a good hunan restaurant in LA or not? i know there are definitely some, but i dont think ive eaten at them. i think some of the sichuan restaurants here are probably worth trying, but stuff like taiwanese, cantonese, shanghainese etc is def better in LA

              1. re: Lau

                Hunan Mao, Dong Ting Chun and maybe Xiang Wei Lo and Yunnan Garden are pretty good in SGV.

                But yeah, definitely not a strong suit in SGV Chinese food scene.

        2. Good writeup... I live in Chinatown and this is one of our regular spots when we want a quick meal and can't figure out what else to eat.

          I always get the "spicy chicken huimei" (麻辣鸡烩面) which is basically wide flat noodles topped with "big plate chicken." Spicy, oily, and the chicken meat is tender.

          The other dish I always get is the steamed dumplings in sour lamb broth soup. Great dish for cold weather.

          I like "big plate chicken" and I'm pretty sure this is one of the only places in NYC to find it, but I didn't like their rendition that much when I tried it - I found it a bit too oily and not enough potato. I'm not sure where this dish originates, but you can have some excellent versions of this dish in Xinjiang in northwestern China. The Xinjiang version usually has a thicker sauce and big chunks of potato and peppers.

          5 Replies
          1. re: pravit

            ah interesting, i havent tried those two dishes, probably some of the only dishes i haven't tried

            never been to xinjiang and i'm far from a northern chinese food expert, so can't say how it should or shouldn't taste in China. Also, I didn't find it that oily even though it looks quite oily

            1. re: pravit

              The big tray chicken is great, but l totally agree: they should definitely put more potatoes in, because they're SO GOOD. Maybe they would if requested?

              1. re: howdini

                im sure you could work something out with the boss lady, maybe pay a little more? she is really nice, so im sure she would be accomodating

                1. re: Lau

                  Yes, they are very nice there; l can't envision it being a problem. Just got a delivery at work: beef pancake and soup dumplings...yum!

              2. re: pravit

                Then you simply must try the big tray of chicken at the original Henan Feng Wei in Flushing. It's closer to your experience:-) and IMHO, it's simply the best in NYC. And if you are there with a company, don't forget to order their divine meatballs in casserole. :-)

              3. Great review as usual

                But if there's no soup in the soup dumplings, are they soup dumplings?

                1 Reply
                1. re: plf515


                  you are correct technically they aren't soup dumplings per se b/c as you pointed out they don't have soup in them, but aside from that you'll notice that they are very similar to the shanghainese style soup dumplings that most people are familiar with although to be fair soup dumpling is an english term as that's not what they're called in chinese. the literal translation in chinese means "small dragon bun"

                2. Does anyone know if they are opening a new location. I left the usual one today and walked along Hester. Near Baxter was a papered over window with their menu taped to it.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: tazerowe

                    i thought they decided not to open a new location, the one of forysth is here to stay i believe?

                    did it say spicy village or henan feng wei (or henan flavor)?

                    1. re: Lau

                      Are these guys opening a new branch? I saw their menu posted in a papered window on Hester, I think, toward Center.

                      1. re: tazerowe

                        not to my knowledge, but i guess its possible? this place has become infinitely more popular post that danny bowien video

                  2. Hi Lau. I have friends in town from Hainan Island They pronounce it like He Nan. Is the food in this restaurant like they have on Hainan island? They want the food from their home, they don't like the Chinese food they've had in NYC thus far.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: foodwhisperer

                      no henan is a landlocked province to the west of shanghai and hainan is an island off the far southern of china (actually means south sea in chinese). they are completely different from each other, not related at all and their food is not similar at all.

                      very difficult to get hainanese food outside hainan (you can still get a bit of it in singapore / malaysia). cantonese food would probably be the most similar, but still different.

                      i mean did they come here from hainan? or do they live somewhere else and are just in NY?

                      1. re: Lau

                        They live in Hainan. They are here for a week, staying in Flushing. But coming back to manhattan. They don't like spicy food and don;t want dim sum. LOL when i mentioned Chow Fun noodles to them , they never heard of it , they thought chow fun was rice. Maybe Taiwanese food in Flushing would be good. They like Taiwan food.

                        1. re: foodwhisperer

                          Where are they staying in Flushing? Maybe they'd find something they like in Mamak.

                          1. re: foodwhisperer

                            most southern chinese do not like spicy food at all, i would steer away from northern food (its not very popular in the south aside from maybe some of their dumplings)

                            if they really are dead set on chinese food, i'd probably take them:
                            - imperial palace:
                            - main street imperial:

                            those are both southern chinese cuisines that will probably fit their palate best. from the little i know about hainanese cuisine it sounds like its more similar to teochew (chiu chow food), which unfortunately we don't really have in NY, so those will have to do.

                            btw chow fun is usually called 乾炒牛河 (gan chao niu he), you can show them those characters they may know it if they see that.

                            1. re: Lau

                              Thanks Lau, I took them to what I thought was East Lake on Main St , but in the location of the diner ( i think it was Palace Diner) near the LIE. We had some good fish and some good chicken . But not sure if it is related to the restaurant you mentioned.

                              1. re: foodwhisperer

                                you went to lake pavilion which is not east lake or imperial palace and isn't related to them

                                were they ok with the food? i like lake pavilion although you need to order the right dishes