Sing Kee – Beef Short Ribs in a Pumpkin

Instagram Post 7/19/2018

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It’s described as a “Top Pick” on the menu at Sing Kee, 42 Bowery in Manhattan’s Chinatown, so we obligingly picked it as one of our Cantonese banquet choices. Beef Short Ribs in a Pumpkin was a study in tenderness, both the meat and the squash, lounging in a mild curry gravy. The presentation was appealing as well: sliced into wedges, it fell open, looking like chunky flower petals encircling a beefy nucleus.

(🤔 “Short Ribs in a Pumpkin.” You could Sing it in the Key of “Three Coins in the Fountain.” 😉)

Sing Kee – House Special T-Bone Steak

Instagram Post 7/12/2018

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Another scene from our Cantonese banquet at Sing Kee, 42 Bowery in Manhattan’s Chinatown. I had heard about their battered, fried, House Special T-Bone Steak from a reliable source so I was totally down with trying it. Insiders’ tip: In order to determine your preference for degree of doneness, they don’t use terms like rare, medium, or well done; rather it’s expressed in terms of percentage. I discovered this when our waiter asked how we wanted it done. As we looked at each other, stumped for a decision, he offered, “17%? 25%?” I think our final vote was, “Um, yeah.”

New Asian Cuisine – Halal Beef Onion Buns

Instagram Post 7/11/2018

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The sign hanging just below the awning of New Asian Cuisine at 153D Centre Street, Manhattan, was what caught my eye: Halal Beef Onion Buns. I believe the Chinese text was literally “Halal Beef – Big Scallion (hence onion) Bun”. The text in French at the bottom (which I can read far better than I’ll ever be able to read Chinese) was “Recettes d’une Chinoise”, Recipes from a Chinese Woman. That was enough to persuade me to venture into what looked like an old school downtown NYC coffee shop that had seen better days.

(The second photo shows the inside scoop.)

I don’t know if this inexpensive but tasty snack was really Chinese. I don’t know why the subtitle was in French. And I know even less about that emoji-like face stuck to the sign. But I do know that this steamed bao hit the spot right before I descended into the subway station next door!

Hong Kong Taste – Part 2

Instagram Post 7/4/2018

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If you haven’t been to Hong Kong Taste, 47-21 90th Street at the corner of Corona Ave in Elmhurst, Queens, you’re missing an opportunity. Each time I go, there’s something different I want to try, and each time I try something different, I want to go back again for more.

[1] This is Dai Pai Dong Style Cheong Fun, impossibly thick, chewy rolled rice noodles – a plateful of comforting satisfaction.

[2] Cart Noodle Soup: The obligatory noodle lift shot. There are scores of combinations of noodles and add-ons. (And no, I haven’t done the math – too busy slurping. 😉)

[3] The equally obligatory helicopter shot featuring their Taiwanese Style Popcorn Chicken (the spicy seasoning is sprinkled on the top, so mix ’em up a little) and curry fish balls – more chewy goodness – not to mention their amazing housemade curry and garlic sauces which I’ve posted about before.

And I’ve barely made a dent in their menu so stay tuned – more to come!

Sing Kee – Fresh Squid with Pepper and Spiced Salt

Instagram Post 7/3/2018

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Perfectly tender, perfectly seasoned, perfectly fried Fresh Squid with Pepper and Spiced Salt was one of the best dishes we had at Sing Kee Seafood Restaurant, 42 Bowery – OG Cantonese in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Sometimes, less is more.

(Like the text of this post! 😉)

More dishes from Sing Kee to follow….

Durian’s Best Kept Secret

Back in the seventies (ahem), Saturday Night Live did a sketch about Scotch Boutique, a store that sold nothing but Scotch Tape. They carried a variety of widths and lengths to be sure, but that was it. Just Scotch Tape.

MK Durian Group at 5806 6th Ave in Sunset Park, Brooklyn sells nothing but durian. They carry a variety of cultivars and variations to be sure, but that’s it. Just durian.

And the durian they carry is wonderful.

You’ve probably heard the oft-quoted aphorism about it, “Tastes like heaven, smells like hell” (some would have the order of the phrases swapped but you get the idea), so much so that the fruit is banned from hotels, airlines and mass transit in some parts of the world. (And yes, I’ve been known to smuggle some well-wrapped samples home on the subway.) If you’ve never tasted durian, you might discover that you actually like it; a number of folks I’ve introduced it to on ethnojunkets have experienced that epiphany. There are gateway durian goodies too, like sweet durian pizza (yes, really), durian ice cream, candies, and freeze dried snacks and they’re all acceptable entry points as far as I’m concerned.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what durian smells like. The scent appears to defy description; I’ve encountered dozens of conflicting sardonic similes, but suffice it to say that most people find it downright unpleasant. Although I have a pretty keen sniffer, somehow its powerful essence doesn’t offend me although I am acutely aware of it – just lucky I guess, or perhaps I’m inured to it – because this greatly maligned, sweet, tropical, custardy fruit is truly delicious. So I was thrilled to learn about MK Durian Group (aka MK International Group) from Dave Cook (Eating In Translation) whom I accompanied on a visit there.

Often called the King of Fruits (perhaps because you’d want to think twice about staging an uprising against its thorny mass and pungent aroma), it comes by its reputation honestly but with a footnote. The divine-to-demonic ratio varies depending upon the cultivar and, if I understand correctly, a window of opportunity when certain cultivars are sweet and nearly odorless simultaneously. This, I believe, is durian’s best kept secret. But more about that in a moment. (Click on any photo to view it in high resolution.)

MK Durian Group works directly with plantations in Malaysia and is a wholesaler and distributor to restaurants and retailers in addition to catering to walk-in customers. We entered the commodious space with its many tables, all unoccupied at the time. Chinese-captioned signs showing photos of fifteen cultivars and another seven in English decked the walls along with a menu that, in addition to a price list for the fruit itself, included durian pancakes, mochi, and a variety of cakes, buns, and biscuits, a concession to the timid, perhaps. Durian cultivars are typically known by a common name and a code number starting with the letter “D”, so you might see Sultan (D24) or Musang King (D197), but sometimes you’ll find just the code numbers or sometimes just names like XO or Kim Hong. Scientists continue to work on hybrids to maximize flavor and minimize unpleasant smell.
Fion, without whom I would have been at a complete loss, urged us to get the Musang King, often regarded as the king of the King of Fruits. She selected one from the freezer case and microwaved it for a few minutes to thaw it but not warm it up. Our four pounder, stripped of seeds and rind, ultimately produced about one pound of (expensive but) delicious fruit.Using an apparatus that looked a little like some sort of medieval torture device to crack the husk, she then adeptly removed the yellow pods; each pod contains a single seed that can be used in cooking like those of jackfruit. We took our treasure to one of the tables where boxes of plastic poly gloves were as ubiquitous as bottles of ketchup would be on tables at a diner.

That Musang King was perhaps the best durian I had ever tasted, so much so that my new personal aphorism is “Durian: The fruit that makes its own custard.”

You may have seen durian in Chinatown in yellow plastic mesh bags where the fruit is often sold by the container and you don’t have to buy a whole one; you might conceivably experiment with whatever is available. But these were a cut above. As we left, I realized that something about the experience had been unusual: I asked Dave if he had noticed any of the customary malodourous bouquet. He replied no, but he thought perhaps he was a little congested that morning. I knew I wasn’t congested that morning. There had been no unpleasant smell to contend with. Had we stumbled upon that elusive golden window of odorless but sweet opportunity? Was that particular Musang King odor free? Or perhaps all of them in that lot? Did it have something to do with the fact that it had been frozen and thawed? We were beyond the point of going back and asking Fion, but I think it’s worth a return visit to get some answers!

East Wind Snack Shop – Dry Aged Beef Potstickers

Instagram Post 6/28/2018

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My initial foray into the new North 3rd Street Market in Williamsburg, Brooklyn: I suspect there is still a lot of space for new businesses, but of the stalls that were there, East Wind Snack Shop caught my eye with their Dry Aged Beef Potstickers. I had been a little skeptical, but I was convinced when I tasted one: exceedingly beefy and extremely juicy – not what one might characterize as classically Asian, of course: that’s not what they’re aiming for. And yes, it really tasted like aged beef. Glad I tried ’em!

North 3rd Street Market is located at 103 North 3rd St (obvs) between Berry St and Wythe Ave.

Bake Culture

Instagram Post 6/14/2018

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As I continue to update my Manhattan Chinatown ethnojunket, I find that there’s always a new bakery that has popped up, and although they sell many similar items, there are often a few surprises. Bake Culture at 48 Bowery has a branch in Flushing and its roots in Taiwan and presents a clean, sleek image to its millennial customers. The brainchild of three Taiwanese boy band members, they offer items that are touched with whimsy like Seashell Bread, Chocoholic Bread, Hot Dog Bunnies, and this Chocolate Dipped Coconut Sheep Bread. It’s actually not bad; chocolate dipped horns and candy eyes with a tasty version of that eggy yellow coconut filling that you’ve probably sampled before.

Photo #2 – To reacquaint yourself with the filling.

Photo #3 – They simply call this one German Pudding, a common name in Singapore for this kind of custard tart; it sports a crust that’s a bit more sturdy and flavorful than a standard Chinatown dan tat and a filling that’s a little lighter and less dense than others I’ve tried around these parts. Good stuff!

(I guess this is how these former musicians are making their bread these days! 😉)

46 Mott Street

Instagram Post 6/10/2018

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46 Mott Street. That was the only name. A holdover, perhaps, from Manhattan Chinatown’s early days when businesses were sometimes referred to only by their addresses? I thought the venue looked familiar, but I didn’t recall that name. Then I remembered the former occupant of that space, Fong Inn Too, the oldest and much beloved independently-run tofu shop in the US as well as the controversy surrounding its space, the particulars of which I won’t detail here, except to say that I fondly remember the warm douhua (tofu pudding) they scooped from huge bins.

A message hand-sketched in streaky yellow paint (see photo 3) graced the new proprietors’ window: “Welcome to 46 store” so I decided to check it out. They still feature soy milk and tofu products, steamed sweet and savory cakes, as well as some other prepared items like these two: (photo 1) Representing the sweet division, thick, chewy glutinous rice dumplings filled with chopped peanuts and coconut, and for the savory side (photo 2) crispy fried fish skins with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce. Betcha can’t eat just one!

Hom Sui Gok

Instagram Post 6/6/2018

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A favorite dim sum treat that always touches my heart is Hom Sui Gok (咸水角). These crescent shaped fried dumplings are savory and sweet, chewy and crispy all in the same bite. Shaped a little like a three-inch football with turned up corners, this delicious filled dumpling is easy to find in many Chinese bakeries and restaurants.

Recipes vary, but the filling is primarily pork, sometimes with the addition of dried shrimp, plus mushrooms and scallion (savory) that have been cooked in a sweet soy sauce/oyster sauce based medium (sweet). The thick dough is mostly glutinous rice flour (chewy), similar to Japanese mochi. The dumplings are deep fried to golden brown perfection (crispy) on the outside while still leaving plenty of chew surrounding the salty sweet goodness within.

Shown here are samples from four of Manhattan Chinatown’s bakeries.

Second Photo: If you do what I did and head to a number of venues in an attempt to discover your favorite, you too might decide that there is no “best”, just different: one is sweeter, one crisper, another more fully stuffed, another (the pinkish one) redolent of dried shrimp – each with its own flavor profile.

The cool part is that I’m not alone in my passion: there’s actually a #homsuigok hashtag! 🇨🇳