By Joe DiStefano
Ploy Thai’s miang kana: like a miniature Thai
grocery store wrapped up in a green bundle.
I am still in a state of wondrous shock over Monday’s first-ever Asian Feastival.It was quite an experience to see cuisines from all over Asia and all over Queens represented in one place. The Phoenix Ballroom at Flushing’s Sheraton Laguardia was packed with all manner of deliciousness ranging from the Thaisnack miang kana from Elmhurst’s Ploy Thai to freshly made xiao long bao from Flushing’s Nan Xiang Dumpling House. The former—filled with red onion, ginger, peanut, chili, and bits of pork—was one of the tastiest items I tried. The latter received a shoutout from ghetto fabulous Taiwanese wunderkind Eddie Huang as being his favorite soup dumplings in New York City. (It’s my favorite too, but I didn’t have any as there were plenty of other items to taste that day.)
Hahm Ji Bach’s short ribs helped it earn the honor “Most Delicious.”
When Chinese food expert Jackie Newman’s husband Lenny gets excited about a dish I usually agree wholeheartedly. So when he urged me to try Hahm Ji Bach’s short ribs I complied. They were tender and flavorful and helped the restaurant win the honor Most Delicious. (Nan Xiang’s soup dumplings took Most Popular, and Filipino newcomer Payag took Most Creative.)
Katsuno’s takikomi gohan: rice with chicken, mushroom,
carrots, bamboo, fried bean curd, and rice.
It was also a real treat to say hello to many of the restaurateurs and chefs who brought their A-game that day. Each of the offerings from Katsuno mackerel,kobucha, and takikomo gohan sang with clear, bright flavors. Next door Java Village’s Chef Dewi was ladling out daun kinkong, a wonderfully rich curried Indonesian kale in coconut milk. My friends at M&T were there too serving refreshing Qingdao cold noodles.
Himalayan Yak brought plenty of its namesake momo.
And then there was the terrace, which featured not only the opportunity to sample exotic fruits like durian and jackfruit, but a chance to savor creamy coconut milk-based Singapore laksa from Taste Good in Elmhurst, dosa from Dosa Place in Jackson Heights, and yak momo from Himalayan Yak, as well as those wildly popular soup dumplings.
With all of the sights, sounds, and flavors pleasantly buzzing in my head I almost forgot that I was to lead a walking tour of downtown Flushing called “Tastehunting” that day. (Actually I never really quite forgot and was more or less obsessing about it all day, which was probably a good thing.)
By the time 4:30 rolled I was getting pretty full, and truth be told pretty nervous, especially since the tour was to be filmed by eatTV. Adding to my jitters was the fact that the group had somehow doubled in size from 20 people to 40. Rather than run away to Ice Fire Land to calm my nerves with a frigid bowl of tai shi bao bing, I decided to man up and give the people what they wanted, which I had predetermined to be chou dofu, or Taiwanese stinky tofu.
Avid Tastehunters sample Taiwanese pork intestines and braised tofu
from Temple Snacks (left) and cold skin noodles from Xi’an Famous Foods.
Sadly when we arrived at the Flushing Mall Food Court the Taiwanese vendor, Temple Snacks had none of the stinky stuff to offer. Instead we got some pillowy braised tofu, which while delicious was not all funky. We also tried chewy pork intestines with a wonderfully bright chili sauce. Liang Pi of Xi’an Famous Foods also graciously provided a plate of his signature cold skin noodles, which were as slippery, chewy, spicy and as bright as ever.
Kian Lam Kho holds the Tastemob at bay outside Tian Jin Restaurant.
I felt sort of like the pied piper of Flushing as I led the group to the nearby Tian Jin Restaurant on Prince Street. Restaurant is a rather grandiose term for this hole in the wall, which is really more of a snack shop. Nonetheless it turns out some of the neighborhood’s tastiest roasted and braised meats. Rather than try to bring everyone inside my trusty translator Kian Lam Kho and I entered and asked after the owner Ma Gennian.
Tofu, rabbit, and chicken were served streetside, along
with an offal-rich board of fare that included pork tongue and trotters.
Once we tracked him down Gennian went to work with a cleaver and proceeded to prepare seeming endless variety of morsels which he placed on a table outside his shop. We marveled over firm tofu, succulent chicken and rabbit as well as a plethora of offal including chicken gizzard, chicken necks, and pork tongue and trotters. All of it was imbued with a wonderful five-spice flavor thanks to a technique called flavorpotting. It’s a shame that Gennian’s crew wasn’t cooking anything when we stopped by. When they are, the aroma emanating from the tiny shop is intoxicating.
Our next stop was New York Tong Ren Tang where we sampled some ginseng tea and took a gander at some of the aromatic herbs used to make Taiwanese hotpot. The Tastemob’s last stop was one of my favorite places of all: the Golden Shopping Mall. Here we sampled Eric Ripert’s favorite Chinese head cheese at Xie’s Home Cooking, or Xie Jia Tsai, where Mr. Xie, who also hails from Tianjin was kind enough to provide each of us with a taste.
All in the Feastival itself as well the chance to take 40 foodies through the crowded streets of Flushing down into the Golden Shopping Mall was beyond my wildest dreams. So much so that I did ultimately calm my nerves with a bowl of shaved ice and vowed not return to the hood for at least a week. So much for that vow. I was back at Golden shopping mall last night for some fiery Sichuan fare from Chengdu Heavenly Plenty.
Many thanks to Tina Wong of The Wandering Eater and Suzanne Glickstein ofeatTV for providing the images that accompany this dispatch. A full list of the Asian Feastival participants can be found at Dinevore.