Nuan Xin Rice Roll

Instagram Post 9/10/2019

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While scouting Sunset Park’s Chinatown in search of more mooncake madness for my massive Chinese Mooncakes Demystified post (which if you haven’t read it, please do), I passed Nuan Xin Rice Roll at 5103 8th Ave, one of five locations in NYC. For some time, I’ve been curious about their purple rice fàn tuán (飯糰) so I grabbed one to go.

The décor is targeted to young folks, as is the heavy-handed use of mayonnaise, but I’m not complaining; I absolutely enjoyed it and wished I had purchased a few of the other 14 varieties. As it happened, I was in a rush so I let the phrase “Special Rice Roll” do the deciding for me. Deconstructing it at home, I tasted pork floss (rou song, 肉鬆), shredded lettuce, and tiny bits of pickled mustard greens within the nori wrapper. They also tout Sea Salt Beverages (next time) and an ocean of other tea-based beverages. Good stuff.
 
 

Eggcellent Soufflé Pancake

Instagram Post 8/15/2019

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There’s a new addition to the lineup of quality vendors in the mini-mall at 135-15 40th Road in Flushing. Keeping company with the likes of local luminaries Legend Chicken, Yi Fang Taiwan Fruit Tea, and the Flushing Ice Cream Factory, Eggcellent Soufflé Pancake opened on August 4 and their soufflé pancakes are outstanding. Possibly the lightest yet richest dessert in the neighborhood, they’re fluffy, spongy, custardy, foamy, eggy, bouncy, moist, creamy and sweet. (I think that pretty much covers it.) The flavor list compels me to return for multiple visits: Original (with a kiss of maple cream), Crème Brûlée, Strawberry/Blueberry Yogurt Cream, Red Bean/Matcha Cream, Mango Yogurt Cream, and Chocolate/Banana/Caramel (with marshmallows, yet). With roots in Japan and Taiwan, these puppies are prepared from scratch (like apparently everything in that mini-mall if the immeasurably long lines are any indication, grumble, grumble) and you’ll be advised that there will be a significant wait.


Mine went well beyond “significant” but I was the first customer of the day and those soufflé pans (see photo) must be heated to a precise temperature (she used an LED equipped digital surface thermometer) before the airy batter can be plopped down without deflating, lightly cooked on one side, carefully flipped à point, transferred to a serving dish and dressed.


But it’s absolutely worth the wait. We’re talking about a real soufflé pancake, not some ersatz premade doppelganger, and a delicious one at that. I tried to smoosh it a little for this photo you so you could see what I was getting at with that parade of adjectives earlier. Artwork against the back wall captioned “Soufflé from the Sky” depicts the dessert floating heavenward on a lacy doily. Trust me. It fits.
 
 

Happy Wheelie

Instagram Post 8/9/2019

Happy Wheelie, known to some as Taiwanese Wheel Cake because that’s what they sell, can be found in Landmark Quest Mall, 136-21 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, and the experience is as much about watching the process of making these traditional Taiwanese treats as it is about eating them.

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Using a modest batter and a variety of fillings, they’re prepared in this custom apparatus whose roots are in Japan’s Imagawayaki (今川焼き) where they’re often filled with adzuki bean paste. Here, they’re stuffed with options that run the gamut from savory to sweet (I haven’t tried anything that would provoke the “it’s too sweet!” contingent yet). These little snacks are best when freshly made, a little crisp outside, soft and warm inside – but they’re still fine as delayed gratification.


The eight available flavors include custard cream, red bean (with or without cream) taro (with* or without cream), black sesame and cream*, Oreo cookie, and dried radish*. All that I’ve tasted are yummy but I’d recommend starting with the dried radish: savory, a teeny bit spicy; if this appeared on a dim sum cart, you’d be happy. Then work your way up on the sweetness scale; I admit to not having tried the Oreo, but I’d guess that one falls at the outer boundary of the sweeter meter.

Vivian, super friendly and helpful, told me that most of the back section of this narrow mini-mall is populated by Taiwanese vendors with an eclectic selection of goodies from beef noodle soup and dumplings to crystal shaved ice, and that all of their distinctive wares are crafted from natural ingredients. So obviously, more to come….

(* shown here)

 
 

Hey Chick

Instagram Post 8/3/2019

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As part of the prep for my Elmhurst food tour, I decided to do a compare-and-contrast exercise between Taiwanese style popcorn chicken vendors at HK Food Court at 82-02 45th Ave. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Salt & Pepper Chicken at Hang (stall 15). This post examines the differences between theirs and that of Hey Chick in stall 3.

Given a cursory glance, it’s easy to assume they’d essentially be the same, but there are a few key distinctions. Hey Chick’s chix seems to be a bit juicier, attributable perhaps to slightly larger chunks of chicken. Hang’s hangs its hat on the fact that it’s Salt & Pepper Chicken, not the more ubiquitous and gentler flavor profile. And finally, when I was there at least, Hey Chick has taken a leaf from other popcorn chicken purveyors I’ve visited and was more generous with their fried basil.

Note that IMHO, both were good – it’s just an assessment of the fundamentals. In other words, if you’re a seasoned popcorn chicken lover, it will be a basal comparison.
 
 

Hang

Instagram Post 6/29/2019

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In Elmhurst’s new HK Food Court at 82-02 45th Ave, the Chinese characters on Stall 15’s marquee translate to “Hang”. More to the point, on the left it reads “Taipei”, on the right, “snacks”, and therefore likely a potential stop on my Elmhurst food tour, but taste testing always comes first. (Well, right after the photos, I guess.) Taiwanese style popcorn chicken and its marine mate, squid, are hallmarks of the cuisine around these parts; crispy yet juicy and traditionally topped with a bit of fried basil, they’re easy to track down and everyone has their favorites.

Shown here, serviceable fried [1] Salt & Pepper Chicken and [2] Salt & Pepper Squid; the chicken was marginally better, the squid more attractive by the same degree. A few more decisions to make before the Elmhurst ethnojunket goes live – but we’re close!
 
 

Legend Chicken

Instagram Post 2/25/2019

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Seems like I always discover tremendous treats in the teeniest mini-malls when I visit Flushing; Legend Chicken, tucked away in stall number 2 (of only 4!) at 135-15 40th Road in Queens, is a notable case in point. They obviously take pride in offering cage-free, hormone-free, halal-certified poultry, but the fact that all their Taiwanese street food is truly delicious and cooked to order is what won me over. Three examples:

[1] Leg Cutlet prevailed over Legend Pops and Legend Chicken in the “which one should we get” deliberation. Tasty – and there’s always a Next Time to try the others.

[2] Blood Rice Cakes. Don’t be shy, you might like ’em. You won’t know until you try.

[3] Hashbrowns. Your comfort zone reward for trying the blood rice cakes 😉.

There are additional chicken variations on the surprisingly extensive menu along with specialties like Taiwanese sausages, taro and turnip cakes, Venetian tofu and a few items I had to ask about: amid avian accessories like gizzards, necks and hearts, spades made the cut. Nope, not card suits. Turns out those are tails, aka the Pope’s nose, aka the part that goes over the fence last. The real deal.
 
 

Tian Jin Meat Pie

Instagram Post 10/26/2018

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Upstairs at the downstairs Golden Mall.

Folks who are new to Flushing’s OG Golden Shopping Mall at 41-28 Main St often just head downstairs (the former digs of Xi’an Famous Foods) to prowl the labyrinthine basement and enjoy the wares of a handful of vendors including the everything-is-delicious-here Tian Jin Dumpling House. Sometimes, however, they neglect the street level merchants; here’s an example of what you’ll find there from Tian Jin Meat Pie, 天津餡餅.

Top right, a hefty bing (餅, Chinese wheat-flour pancake or pie) stuffed with delicious savory ground lamb; on the left, a chive, egg, and vermicelli somewhat thinner, floppier bing; and a folded scallion pancake for support. Unlike the fried scallion pancakes you typically find in a menu’s appetizer section, this doughy, steamed beauty is perfect for filling with whatever treats you find appropriate, perhaps from the bins there or elsewhere in Golden Mall. Or do as I do, buy some to warm up and experiment with at home.

[1] Chive, egg, and vermicelli bings at the ready.
[2] Lamb bings in front being upstaged by the yellow conical items on the left and to the rear: Chinese cornbread. Yes, it’s a thing.

[1] One of the aforementioned bins…
[2] …and another.
[3] Look for this sign just to the left of the Golden Shopping Mall entrance.
 
 

Taiwanese Pineapple Shortbread

Instagram Post 9/7/2018

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Taiwan has a long-standing association with pineapples. In the early twentieth century, it was the world’s third largest exporter and because of the fruit’s surfeit, its supplementary role in baked goods became popular. Still a significant part of the economy, there’s even an annual Taipei Pineapple Cake Cultural Festival.

I recently learned that these little gems are available in Manhattan’s Chinatown at Audrey Bakery, 12 Chatham Square. The three characters along the left side of the package read “pineapple shortbread” and it’s delicate and delectable. There are packaged versions of similar fruit filled shortbread cookies easily found in just about every Chinatown market, but these treasures are a world apart.
 
 

Q Town Asian Cuisine – Part 4

Instagram Post 9/1/2018

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A few more dishes from our group dinner at Q Town Asian Cuisine, 82-87 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens. In no special order:

[1] Three Cup Chicken. A Taiwanese classic, theoretically made using one cup of soy sauce, one cup of sesame oil, and one cup of rice wine, but usually tweaked a bit and fleshed out with additional ingredients including garlic, ginger, sugar and red chili. They did a good job with this one.
[2] Sizzling Black Pepper Short Ribs with onions and bell peppers.
[3] Striped Bass swimming in Spicy Black Bean Sauce dodging slabs of tofu. Very fresh and truly delicious.
 
 

Q Town Asian Cuisine – Part 3

Instagram Post 8/23/2018

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A few more dishes from our group dinner at Q Town Asian Cuisine, 82-87 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens. In no special order:

[1] Clams with Basil. Tasty and flavorful. The basil flavor comes mostly from the basil leaves in the dish, not the sauce itself, but that’s fine.
[2] Sautéed Squash – the loofah variety. It’s a gentle dish with a pleasant crunch, a change of pace for the palate; as such, it succeeded.
[3] Kidney and Liver in Sesame Oil. If you’re an offal aficionado and a liver lover (like me), this one is for you. Perfectly cooked, tender meat with welcome slices of ginger to kick it up; they did a good job here.

More to come from Q Town Asian Cuisine.