For those who aren't familiar with Chinatowns in New York City, here's a quick little lesson: There are three major ones, in Manhattan, Brooklyn (Sunset Park), and Queens (Flushing), with more on the way because daaamn, there are a lot of Chinese people. Out of those three Chinatowns, the one I've been to the least is the Brooklyn one.
But I'm slowly building my Sunset Park repertoire of "places my stomach has ravaged." Two weeks ago I ate at East Harbor Seafood Palace with Diana, Olia, Chichi, Adelyn, and Greg upon Diana's recommendation. The restaurant was crowded at noon on a Sunday, and we had to wait about half an hour for our number to be called. In Cantonese. Maybe they'll call your number out in English if you don't know Chinese, but I'm not sure. Thankfully, Diana and Adelyn know their Cantonese numbers, while I...um...can do one to ten in Mandarin, crappily at best.
FOOD PORN TIME.
Taro cake nubs: Not the official name, which I hope is something like "Happy Golden Taro Treasure Delight." This was one of my favorite dishes of the meal and the first time I ever had it at dim sum, but I love most taro (and turnip) cake-based things. It's way easier to share when cut into bite-sized cubes instead of the usual rectangular slab.
Clams in black bean sauce: Tastes like clams in black bean sauce. I'm usually indifferent to shellfish, so...that's all I have to say. It's good if you like clams.
Steamed pork sparerib nubs: Another dish I'm usually indifferent about. Tastes like a pork nub that's half meat, half bone.
Har gow (shrimp dumplings): You can't eat dim sum without har gow. Plump shrimp dumplings = yay.
Rice noodle rolls: Another "must order" during dim sum. Rice noodle rolls have always been one of my favorite dishes—thin, soft rice noodle skin filled with MEATY DELIGHTS. I preferred the shrimp-filled one over the the beef paste one.
Rice noodle roll-wrapped crullers: I don't know why I like this dish so much. It's pretty boring—fried bread encased in rice noodle—and I can't think of any other situation where a carb-on-carb would taste good. But I like how the rice noodle layer gives an extra bit of chewiness to the bread, which is also sort of chewy. In conclusion, I like chewing.
Kai-lan (Chinese kale): Chinese vegetables are my favorite—tender with a bit of crispiness, perhaps a hint of bitterness to remind you that this is a vegetable, but mostly sweet (in a vegetal way). My friends and I usually get a vegetable dish to offset the meat and carbs.
Some sort of steamed dumplings: ...In an eggy skin! I forget what was in these. But they were probably good.
Pan fried shrimp and chives dumplings:
These may have been the shrimp and pea shoot sort Scratch that original statement! Like har gow, they've got the translucent wheat and tapioca starch skin. I like these more than har gow for the veg component and for being a bit crispy.
Tofu skin rolls: Steamed tofu skin filled with meat and vegetables.
Bak fan yu (deep fried whitebait): Thanks to the twitter army for identifying the fish for me. This was the first time I had ever eaten deep fried whitebait, and I got hooked right away: They're the fish-based version of french fries. They taste more like "crispy crust matter" than fish, but the pin dot eyes give away their aquatic origins. If the "deep fried" bit weren't enough to make them delicious, the heavy application of salt and pepper should do it.
Dan tat (mini egg custard tarts): I was too slow to try these, but everyone else seemed to like them. Looks like there are a gazillion layers of pastry goodness.
Sweet black sesame paste-filled mochi dusted in crushed peanuts and sugar: Mochi at dim sum tends to be awesome—very soft, just a little chewy, and just sweet enough.
Dofu fa (hot soft tofu with ginger syrup): A comforting dessert if you grew up with it, and maybe even if you haven't. Although extra firm dried tofu is my favorite for savory dishes, silky pudding-soft tofu is my favorite for dessert. The tofu is pretty flavorless on its own; a good ratio of syrup-to-tofu makes every bite worthwhile, as it did here.
Dessert steamed buns: One filled with lotus seed paste and a salted egg yolk, the other with egg custard. I preferred the custard; although I tend to appreciate disparate textures, the fluffy, soft bread seamlessly smooshed into a full belly of warm, creamy custard for a mouthful of awesome. I'd much prefer a warm custard-filled steamed bun over other more popular custard-filled desserts, like doughnuts or choux pastries.
Fried mantou: File this under "Impulse Buy." I saw it at another table and initially hesitated to tack on another dish to our bulging bellies, but THERE IS NO HESITATION WHEN IT COMES TO DEEP FRIED BREAD NUBS DIPPED IN CONDENSED MILK. Ye hear that? You order that shit right away. The outer crust, although deeply golden, is very thin; you mostly get soft, fluffy white bread, which you then smother in thick condensed milk (at first the cart lady only gave us one little dish's worth—hell no, we asked for another). It won't change your life, but, like many other dim sum desserts, is an appealingly simple sweet that seems to taste best in the context of dim sum.
East Harbor Seafood Palace got thumbs up from all of us. As Adelyn said, $12 per person (including tax and tip) = DIM SUM LOVE 4-EVER. This is why I rarely go for a non-dim sum brunch where you'd end up paying $12 for a plate of pancakes.
Roaming Around Chinatown
After dim sum, we roamed around Chinatown for a bit. First stop was Fei Long Supermarket, where I focused on candy more than anything else. This candy coated chocolate/compass combo immediately whipped my brain back to childhood; I vaguely remember seeing this candy when I was a kid at a local Japanese supermarket and thinking, "YES THIS IS WHAT I WANT, candy plus a doohicky I'll never use." Whether my mom ever gave into my wishes, I can't remember. I loved the Japanese method for sucking in children by combining a weeny bit of candy with some of toy (as opposed to a plain old toy-less Snickers bar or pack of Skittles).
Because my tween obsession with Tamagotchis rages on, I bought a pack of strawberry milk-flavored Tamagotchi candy that I spied near the checkout counter while waiting in line. I'm so easily sucked in by cuteness; if I lived in Japan I'd surely blow most of my money on useless cute stuff. Although the candy comes in a gum-shaped packet, it's actually just gum stick-shaped fruit chews. Or sort-of-chews—the candy dissolved rather quickly. The best part is that each stick comes wrapped in a different paper featuring an illustration of a Tamagotchi with some sort of message (the only one I understand says how to say "Thank You" in English). If I had known that at the time I would've bought five packs.
After Fei Long, we went to Hong Kong Supermarket a few blocks away. Aisle 1 features diapers and Godly Tribute (that is, stacks of papers and incense for burning).
We stopped into Savoy Bakery for a bit where we saw some mildly frightening Mickey Mouse cakes and less frightening Pikachu cakes. At least, I think that's Mickey.
Chinese bakeries fare better with undecorated desserts. Too bad I wasn't hungry enough to try this cake-gelatin hybrid.
East Harbor Seafood Palace
6301 8th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11220 (map)
Fei Long Supermarket
6301 8th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11220 (map)
5922 8th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11220 (map)