Sunday, May 06, 2007

Eating in China Town

Last week, in a bit of a panic over the 4 days of NYC entertainment that I would soon be expected to provide for my mother and our friend Jeanne, I booked an eating tour of China Town through The Enthusiastic Gourmet. (I did hesitate slightly out of a fear that poor web site design might be a sign of poor tour guide abilities but, luckily, decided that those skills are unrelated). China Town has always intimidated me. I'm creeped out by the people whispering in my ear about knockoff purses/sunglasses/perfumes. Much of the signage is in Chinese which leaves me fearful that I will accidentally consume gerbil brains. I mostly tend to pass through (swearing intermittently at the slow moving crowds) on my way to the bus depot (cause there ain't no way to beat $25 to Boston or DC). I'm occasionally distracted by the high quality produce at cheap prices but rarely does it seem worth while to risk being trampled over a few cherries. I expected the tour to be a fun way to pass a Sunday afternoon and was thrilled to have scheduled 3 hours of someone else playing tour guide but was surprised to discover tips, deals and flavors that have me almost eager to fight through the tourists and Asian Grandmas on Canal St. I heartily recommend this tour and expect to force future guests to accompany me on similar exploration of other neighborhoods -- the experience was well worth the $45/person price tag.

A few highlights:
  1. Tasty Dumpling at 54 Mulberry has to be the best kept secret in the city. For ONE DOLLAR you can get five amazingly yumarific fried pork dumplings. This is an entire meal! Fuck the dollar menu at McDonalds everyone in the city should be flocking to Tasty Dumpling (if this were to happen I wouldn't even be saddened by the ensuing obesity epidemic, some things are worth getting fat for).
  2. At the beginning of the tour the guide warned us that the food in Chinatown is authentic Chinese and is often a bit hard for Americans to adjust to, she assured us that if we didn't like something we should feel no obligation to eat it. I am a huge food snob so I thought, "ha! Boring middle American tourists probably can't handle the food on this tour but my cultured palleted will have no problems. Not only will I taste everything but I plan on loving it!" My snobbery held up quite well (who wouldn't love pork pies, egg custard, spicy beef jerky and fried dumplings?) until we got to Aji Ichiban and I was handed a piece of dried crab. I popped it into my mouth thinking "Here we go, mmmm dried fish! I am so hard core." I have to blame my Wisconsin roots for betraying me -- dried crab was so awful that I wimped out on trying any of the other dried (and often sweetened) fish products. Instead I hightailed it over to the other side of the shop where I discovered that preserved lemon is a great way to cleanse ones wimpy American pallet.
  3. Dumplings aren't the only smoking deal in China Town, it turns out that the Chinese have discovered a way to sell almost anything for 50% less than it costs anywhere else in the city. On this tour we saw entire rabbits (the dead kind for eating, not the cute kind of petting) for $4, fish at $.80/lb, mini custards for $.60 each and cooked duck for $8/lb. If I were not so lazy I would immediately start doing all of my shopping in China Town.
  4. Even an adventurous veggie eater like myself still has lots left to try. The produce market we visited was stocked with greenery that has not yet passed through my glossy rose scented lips. This will have to change. Luckily the tour guide provided us with a handout detailing the best cooking methods for each of the strange and unusual plant products. ( A note from Mom, who, a couple of years ago, bowed to her own adventurous spirit and bought and cooked a bitter melon. She does not recommend this. The resulting meal was "gross" and (shockingly) also "very bitter." Mom and Dad were reduced to the pizza back up plan.)
  5. I am happy to report that Asian communities seem to have finally realized that ice cream is the perfect food. I assume that they would have acknowledged this fact sooner but they probably needed some time to get over being angry that god didn't provide their culture with access to dairy years ago. The last tasting on our tour was an entire bowl of ice cream from the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory where I had a half scoop of "Yum Butter" (aka sesame ice cream with peanut butter) and a half scoop of lychee. The experience reminded me of the Bombay Ice Creamery in San Francisco where they serve shockingly good cardamom ice cream. I heartily recommend both places (you can probably assume that I recommend any place dealing in ice cream -- expect for Cold Stone, their ice cream is strangely blah).
  6. In addition to the fun of trying new food stuffs we also learned some practical lessons like how to tell if fish is fresh:
              1. Smell it -- it should have very little scent (I already knew this one, go me)
              2. Press on it -- the flesh should spring back
              3. Check the gills -- they should be bright red
              4. Look at the eyes -- they should be clear, not milky.


Gillian said...

AWESOME post Bri! So when are we getting dumplings?

themikestand said...

Did they also tell you how to tell if the rabbit is good, too?

(Ew. Poor bunnies.)