Wednesday, December 10, 2008

the secret New York Chinatown

Yes, New York has its Chinatown, where tourists visit searching authentic Chinese food. But during a recent visit to New York, I accidentally discovered a secret Chinatown. In Flushing (Queens), there are no red arches and almost no visible tourists.

Almost everyone on the street is Asian. Almost all of the stores are Asian. Almost all of the signs are written in Asian languages. As Caucasians, we felt comfortable walking around. But we were the odd ones out. The services there were directed to the local Asian restaurants.

I wanted to find some Chinese baby pants that have the slit in them so a child can bend over, go to the bathroom, and go on with their playing. When I went into stores and asked where I could find a place selling baby clothes, I was directed to Children’s Place or Macy’s. They seemed to just assume I was lost there, that I couldn’t possibly be looking for Asian clothes.

“I’m looking for Chinese baby pants,” I’d say.

When I did finally find a Korean store that sold baby clothes, they showed me a pair of Guess jeans, with snaps down the legs. No authentic slits for me.

What brought us to Flushing was the raving reviews I saw online for Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant. I was looking for delicious ethnic food, I wanted to bring dinner to a friend who had just had a baby, and the descriptions of the steamed dumplings were irresistible.

Good thing we called ahead and ordered takeout, because the hole-in-the-wall restaurant was packed, and then some. Our order was ready at the counter though, so after elbowing through the crowd waiting to get in, I could pay and leave quickly.

I think the dumplings would have been even more delicious fresh at the table. But they were still wonderful – the dough just the right firmness, the pork sweet and meaty. The garlic eggplant was also especially good, with the eggplant slices just the right texture.

Flushing is accessible by subway. It’s the last stop on the purple line and Joe’s is walkable from the subway station. There is also a municipal lot that allows three-hour parking on the lower level and 12 hours on the upper level. This fills up quickly on the weekends though, so get there early.

I wish I lived where I could get food like Joe’s on a whim. Since I don’t, I’ll have to wait until my next trip to New York to enjoy the spices and flavors.

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