Eating With Boykji: A Dining Diary in Five Parts

by James Boo on September 16, 2010 · 13 comments

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In mid-August, my great friend and epic eating comrade Boykji visited New York for a whirlwind tour of the city’s eats. The five days I spent sharing meals with Boyk reminded me of how lucky I am to live in New York, where one can literally spend hours on end walking, eating and repeating without ever getting bored. They also tested my limits more than any stretch of time in recent memory – there’s something to be said about bad influences when two insatiable appetites egg each other on against the better sense of gastric conscience.

For better or for wurst, here’s the record of our eating marathon – I’ll be breaking form to spread this over the week, so your RSS feeds don’t explode. Let the feast of a thousand hams begin!

Flushing with Style

We hopped on the Queens-bound train the next morning for the week’s main event: Boykji’s first trip to Flushing. For those unaware, Flushing is the crown gem of East Asian cuisine in New York: Just as Monterey Park, the San Gabriel Valley and parts of Orange County have eclipsed Chinatown in the foodscape of Southern California, Flushing has nourished a cult residence in its corner of Queens for a great diversity and density of regional foods. From traditional dim sum to Shanghainese/Taiwanese breakfast to Xinjiang street meat, the edible excitement of Asian culture steeps in every corner of this neighborhood’s downtown blocks.

Naturally, a trip to Flushing was Boykji’s most anticipated stop on the New York grazing track. Having just read Lingbo Li‘s guide to the popular Golden Mall on Serious Eats and accompanied by Dinevore‘s Jeremy Fisher, we decided to tackle the mall’s two floors, moving from stall to stall until our eager steps became fat, happy waddles.

Liang Pi Cold Skin Noodles - Flushing Golden Mall - Queens, NY
The opening volley was a plate of liang pi (“cold skin”) noodles at Xi’an Famous Foods. Many eaters walk away from Xi’an raving about their lamb burger, but I’m a liang pi loyalist: the dish throws every flavor trick but Sichuan peppercorn into the mix, imparting tangy, spicy, hot, cool, crisp, moist and chewy sensations with every bite. Every food blogger in the city must have expended a page of drool over these by now, and I’m happy to report that they are still the vibrant, glutenous double rainbow of flavor they’ve always been.

Squid, Seaweed and Chicken Heart Kebabs - Old North's Fresh and Fragrant Fried Kebab - Flushing Golden Mall - Queens, NY
Next was a trio of treats at Old North’s Fresh and Fragrant Fried Kebab. The boldness that escapes from the pressure of adventurous company is not to be squandered, so we settled on squid, seaweed and chicken heart. I ended up liking only the chicken hearts, which essentially resembled dense pearls of dark meat; the squid and seaweed kebabs weren’t particularly flavorful in and of themselves, nor were they terribly fun to eat past the point of sampling. None of the trio was nearly as good as the lamb kebab available just a few blocks away at the Kissena Xinjiang cart, where we would eventually end up for post-grazing dessert.

Dan Dan Noodles - Chengdu Heavenly Plenty Snacks - Flushing Golden Mall - Queens, NY Pork Bone Soup - Zhu's Snacks - Flushing Golden Mall - Queens, NY
Dan dan noodles at Chengdu Heavenly Plenty Snacks and pork bone soup at Zhu’s Snacks also ended up on the side of underwhelming. While the noodles and minced pork in Chengdu’s dan dan mian were fine, we seemed to have gotten the shaft on chili oil, so the majority of our noodles ended up in the bland zone. And Zhu’s pork bone soup seemed uncharacteristically weak, lacking the addictive flavor we had hoped to slurp up like marrow from a bone. Not coincidentally, we did slurp marrow from Zhu’s pork bone, but it wasn’t nearly as mouth-coatingly flavorful as pork marrow I’ve prepared in my own kitchen.

Fortunately, a beef pancake from Xie’s Family Dishes across the way provided a juicy, flavorful antidote. The matron of the stall, a natural hustler, tried to sell us on her full menu of delights as we split a single 6″ pancake. When we decided to move to our next stop, she practically flipped us all the bird for wasting her time. With that cold shoulder, Mrs. Xie won the Asian half of my heart, and her stall will be first on my list when I return to the Golden Mall basement.

Hot and Numbing Soup With Fish - Mom's Hot and Numbing Heat - Flushing Golden Mall - Queens, NY
Soaring over the rest of the tour, Sichuan hot pot with fish at Mom’s Hot and Numbing Heat blazed across our taste buds with no mercy for the foreign tongue. Tender, flaky chunk of fish, scraps of crisp, hardly-cooked vegetable, thick glass noodles and a plethora of goodies bathed in blood-red chili oil, daring us to take another bite without begging for mercy. Jeremy and Boykji had no problem tearing through the bowl, but spice-averse sweat glands stopped me from finishing my share without reaching for a can of soda and a fat stack of one-ply napkins.

Flaky Pastry Shaobing - Wang Zheng's Halal Snacks - Flushing Golden Mall - Queens, NY
Compared to Mom’s Hot and Numbing Heat, Wang-Zheng’s halal flatbreads were positively bland. After getting over the flavor rush of Sichuan food, though, I fell in love with the cook’s “flaky shaobing,” a nice, subtle, $1 treat. The pancake isn’t so much flaky as it is layered, with a nicely crisped outside and slightly mealy innards. Its flavor is fleetingly nutty and toasted, and the dough is just dense enough to make this a snack to be nursed, not inhaled.

Chive Flatbread Pie - Wang Zheng's Halal Snacks - Flushing Golden Mall - Queens, NY Beef Flatbread Pie - Wang Zheng's Halal Snacks - Flushing Golden Mall - Queens, NY
Wang-Zheng’s egg-chive-and-youtiao pancake and beef pancake provided a punchier flavor in a lighter package. The chive pancake, like other chive pancakes I’ve had, is not for anyone who has a hint of a reason to dislike the taste of fresh chives: the herb’s flavor and texture is aggressive to the point of being on the attack. The beef pancake is a safer choice, but it’s by no means generic. Shying away from the greasy stylings of its sesame pancake cousins in Manhattan Chinatown, it has a disarmingly clean, grease-free feel, and sharp aromatic notes in its flavor. My knowledge on Chinese pancakes is sorely unqualified to make more material comparisons, but I’d definitely recommend giving it – and Wang-Zheng’s other snacks – a shot when you make it to the Golden Mall.

After the letdown of Zhu’s pork bone soup, the rich broth in an eponymous bowl of Nutritious Lamb Noodles was the perfect finish to our Golden Mall tour. Within that heavenly bowl lay what seemed like one broad, endless hand-pulled wheat noodle, flanked by thin rice noodles, bright scraps of green, and fatty chunks of lamb. $4.50 couldn’t buy a better bowl of noodles in most of the country – fact enough to answer Boykji’s rhetorical question as we waddled out the Golden Mall entrance and walked down Main Street:

“So this is basically the best neighborhood in America, right?”

Flushing Golden Mall
41-28 Main St.
(Serious Eats Maps)
Flushing, NY 11355

Comments

Hungry September 16, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Hi James,

Long time reader, first time commenter (I think). Just wanted to say I love this series. It’s exactly what I do when out of town food hungry friends come to visit. Walking food tours are fantastic! Keep it up.

Nicholas September 16, 2010 at 1:31 pm

YOWZA, I love my chili oil as much as the next Asian guy, but that pool of translucent red makes me weak at the knees (and eyes… and mouth). Is it actually as spicy as it appears, or are looks deceptive in this case?

James Boo September 16, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Hungry – It’s good to know you’re out there! And I love your blog motto :] The only thing I don’t like about food crawling when friends visit is a) unbelievable gut fatigue and b) the fact that friends are ALWAYS visiting at some point. I tried to let everything loose for Boykji’s visit, but even then I had trouble keeping up!

Nick – Dude, you gotta try this out. On a scale of Waterworld to the titular Lost Ark opening in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the chili oil in that hot pot would rank somewhere around… Frodo seeing the Eye of Sauron when he puts on the ring? Ok, fine. It’s like an 8/10 in heat, with the numbing effect giving things an extra kick.

Lingbo September 16, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Awesome! This looks amazing. The pork bone soup is kind of hit or miss – the place is not very consistent, but it’s still a fun dish to eat. The last time i went, it was too sweet/oily which was strange.

Danny September 16, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Ah see, I never knew until this year that some people could not tolerate chives. I knew that about cilantro. But man, I love those chive pockets. They ought to sell those things frozen, so i can microwave it like hot pockets.

Hungry September 16, 2010 at 6:00 pm

@James: Thanks! Also, I’ve found in the past that I must pick places located all around the city to endure the eating that’s involved. I’ve literally walked 6+ miles on past crawls. It helps the digestion.

wasabi prime September 17, 2010 at 11:46 am

Wow, this all looks amazing. The colors and textures are beautiful. Asian food — ok *real* Asian food, not the stuff marketed by a fuzzy panda bear — is such a treat since it doesn’t dress up Mother Nature and for the most part, you have a pretty good idea what you’re eating. Been especially craving spicy things, but I think that’s mostly because the Washington Weather Dial has turned to “Normal” which is to say, grey and rainy. But there’s plenty of little stripmall gems full of family run restaurants serving spicy goods like these!

Jason Lam September 17, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Geez. I love how spicy that hot pot looks.

Nicholas September 17, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Would Frodo getting his finger bitten off rank as a 10/10 on the heat scale? Seriously though, I can take a fair bit of heat, and that looks like such a winning meal in the dead of winter.

Joon S. September 17, 2010 at 8:52 pm

WHY AM I IN DC!!!!!

James Boo September 17, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Lingbo – For $4 I was happy to try it! If I ever manage to avoid the craving for nutritious lamb noodles, I’ll give it another shot :)

Danny – I think chive are less polarizing in general, but I find it tough to handle massive quantities of them. I wish Chinatown dumpling places would take special orders… 50 frozen with extra leeks and cabbage would be outstanding.

Wasabi – Flushing is definitely one of the best things New York has going for it! It makes me want to spend a lot more time eating around Monterey Park when I fly back to LA for the holidays. Is there regional Chinese representation in your part of Washington?

Jason – Oh indeed. I highly recommend it.

Patrick September 20, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Had the same experience with the dan dan noodles at Chengdu Heavenly Plenty Snacks – I don’t know what they’re thinking.

hOWEVER the ma po dofu there is out of this world. definitely hit it if you go back.

James Boo September 20, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Thanks for the tip, Patrick. I will definitely try Chengdu again and order the mapo when that happens :) Do you have any idea if their rabbit is good? The menu items with rabbit meat really piqued my curiosity.

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