A Food Tour Through the Neighborhood
Gung Hay Fat Choy!
The Chinese New Year welcomes the Year of the Ox, and according to the Chinese zodiac, the ox represents economic prosperity (let’s hope so). Like all big holidays, celebrating Chinese New Year is right up there with Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah, honoring tradition with family, cultural ceremonies and, best of all, food.
Traditionally Chinese New Year is starts with a family sit-down dinner followed by the “red envelope” exchanges. The next day, the celebration kicks off with the firecracker ceremony and then the lion and dragon dancers from different organizations take to the streets, strolling through the sidewalks accompanied by a troop of drummers usually performing for red enveloples from businesses and onlookers.
I celebrated Chinese New Year in Flushing, Queens–one of the five boroughs in New York City. Though it has been a little over a year since I made Flushing my home, I still feel like a stranger in my ‘hood. So, I bundled up and join the folks my community, braving the freezing temperatures while listening to the firecrackers and drums, cheer on the lion and dancing through the streets and explore the neighborhood.
Flushing is considered one of New York City’s off the beaten paths because, well, there aren’t any bright lights to lure you in, no glamorous nightlife and the gentrification movement has yet to manifest into the neighborhoods so businesses are still owned and run by moms and pops. Residents can get their fresh produce from local vendors and the old folks can still practice their Tai Chi in the parks.
Die-hard New York foodies know Flushing (the second-biggest Chinatown in New York City) as the secret hot spot for authentic Asian dishes. You can sit down to a warm meal normally served somewhere in the back alleys of Hong Kong or from a makeshift food stand in Sichuan. It’s worth making the 25-minute subway ride on the 7 train (be sure to catch the express train!) to Main Street, which is the last stop, and swim through the sea of people on the sidewalks to experience a steaming bowl of handmade noodle soup, a thick piece of Char Siu glistening in the window or Shanghai crab soup-filled dumplings. I love slowing down during my usual morning dashes to catch the 7 train and smell the hot-out-of-oven bread and strong coffee aromas from the bakeries.
So now the secret’s out with Flushing and ever since The New York Times came through the neighborhood for a food tour (this past summer), the streets have been buzzing with fannypack-clad tourists, curious to explore the streets.
Walking through Flushing is intimidating as most businesses speak in their native language. Corporate buildings and restaurants are stacked side to side with Chinese, East Indian, Pakistani, Korean, or English sings, and walking through the sidewalks you hear a musical spectrum of different Asian or Latin dialects. But don’t let that discourage you, just follow my modus operandi: Point at the item, smile an at the end and when appropiate, tip generously.
If you are in the Flushing neighborhood, here are some places worth exploring:
- Flushing Mall (13331 39th Ave): You can find old-school kung fu cult classic movies like The Five Deadly Venoms. Also, the food court is worth exploring. There is a food stall that makes their noodles by hand over the counter. Amazing to watch and eat.
- Chao Zhou Restaurant (40-52 Main St.): It’s elbow to elbow seating but it’s about the food, not ambiance. I recommend the beef and okra dish.
- Queens Botanical Gardens (4350 Main St.): The park is perfect for dog walking and jogging but it’s a popular wedding venue so becareful when wandering through the park.
- Tai Pan Bakery (3725 Main St.): You’ll be standing in line but it’s worth the wait for the warm flaky French pastries, buttery pouches of curry chicken, mini egg tarts and the cakes!
- Hong Kong Supermarket (3711 Main St.): The best local Asian grocery store for those hard-to-find produce like durians, black vinegar, herbal medicine and fresh duck confit.
- Patel Brothers (4292 Main St.): Take your time exploring the vast selection of imported East Indian and Middle Eastern spices.
- Catch a Mets game at Citi Field (formerly Shea Stadium–There, I finally said it!).
My name: Song Yang
How I earn my keep: I work and play at Travelocity.
Travel ambitions: At the moment, I'm dreaming of whale-watching in New Zealand; hiking the mountains of the Douro Valley in Portugal and motorcycling through rice paddies in Laos.
Best meal I've ever had while traveling: An incredible discovery of pulled-pork tacos in La Paz. The surprisingly delectable treat came from a makeshift taco stand at 1 a.m. Splashing lime juice onto our greasy tacos with fresh pico de gallo, we ate amongst the locals to the sound of blaring mariachi music under Christmas lights. It was fabulous!
Great travel lesson learned: Giving money back to the community by supporting local businesses whenever possible.
Favorite place on Earth: My home: New York City. Can it be possible for another city to be as vibrant as New York? If so, email me.