You know you've had a good day when you semi-unintentionally embark on a three and a half-hour gorging tour of Flushing.
I say "semi" because the original plan did entail hoofing it to Flushing (about a 90-minute subway ride from my apartment in Bed-Stuy) to meet at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao before moving on to a series of yet-to-be-determined destinations that required open maws, digestive fortitude, and ignorance of one's stomach being on the cusp of explosion.
But then plan changed when Nan Xiang was too crowded to easily accommodate our group of six—Kathy, Kathryn, Joe, Greg, Diana, and me. Our raging dumpling cravings directed us around the corner to a soup dumpling-less dumpling-erie that was mostly devoid of humans.
Dumpling Heaven! Apparently also known as Dumpling King. But their official name seems to be Best North Dumpling House in case that makes things any less confusing. Nope.
The dumpling stall displays their menu in English and Chinese...unless the Chinese menu is completely different, not that any of us would know because we can't read Chinese. American-Born-Chinese fail, ha...ha.
We settled on two kinds of boiled dumplings ($3.25 each for 10 pieces) to pace ourselves for the afternoon of gorging that was to come.
The pork and fennel dumplings were one of my favorite dishes of the day: juicy, tender, porky, and with a slight herbaceous fennel scent. The filling wasn't too salty (I find that sometimes with pork dumplings—not that that stops me from eating them) and the thin skins were soft with a bit of chew. If you've never had pork and fennel before, EAT IT! I should've stopped here before leaving Flushing to bring some frozen dumplings back home.
The leek and aquatic food dumplings (hey, that's what it says on the menu) were similarly juicy, tender, not offensively seasoned and had the same nice skins, but they tasted more like pork than aquatic.
We continued our dumpling feast at White Bear, a tiny shop that, despite the awning's declaration, doesn't offer ice cream. Or yogurt.
A closer look reveals an even more outdated awning for a travel and realty office.
This sign might say something about dumplings. Or it might say "candy factory." So many possibilities. Don't be put off by the shabbiness—there be dumplings inside, waiting for you.
Step inside and their menu reveals a rather wide selection of wontons, noodles, dumplings, rice dishes, and more, with no dish over $5.95. I'd kill for a place like this near my office. Sigh.
We shared one order of the wontons with hot sauce ($4.50), easily the most beautiful dish of the day. A dozen delicate pork-stuffed wontons neatly packed in a take-away tray, topped with chopped scallion, bits of pickled ginger, chili pepper goo, and lots and lots of fluorescent orange hot oil. Despite the generous oil dousing, the dumplings weren't actually that spicy. I mean, not "burn your mouth off and give you the runs" spicy. But they were really good...for reasons...I cannot explain. And by that, I mean I forgot. All I know is that in the heat of the moment, they were freakin' awesome.
Look at the eaters go! I'm surprised no one suffered from a chopstick stabbing.
Greg made the grand finish by scooping up the gingery-peppery detritus into his spoon alojng with the final wonton and shoveling the whole thing into his mouth.
Xian Famous Foods
Xian Famous Foods may look like just another crowded unkempt stall in the steamy basement (but the most awesome steam borne forth from A GAZILLION FOOD STALLS) of Golden Shopping Mall, but it's not. They have their own website, if that's any indication. It has also been graced by Anthony Bourdain's presence. And for good reason: It's mega delicious.
You have to get the noodle dish liang pi ("cold skin"), the stall's most popular item. I can't describe it better than Joe so I'm just going to rip off his description from Serious Eats:
Liang pi doesn't contain any flesh, though. It's a cold salad of squidgy wheat gluten chunks and wheat starch noodles mixed with cilantro, bean sprouts, a touch of chili oil and some Chinkiang vinegar. And it's one of the best things I've eaten in a long time.
It's one of the best things I've eaten as well. Every mouthful has a bit of squidgy, chewy, spicy, crunchy, and herby. If I ate it every day I'd probably get sick of it, but since I only get to eat it on infrequent Flushing excursions, it retains indefatigable awesomeness. AND IT'S ONLY $3.50.
The stall is also known for their lamb and cumin "burgers." It's too cumin-y for my taste, but still very good because tender, juicy lamb chunks tucked inside crispy and chewy pita-like bread can't be bad. I prefer the spice-less pork burger, which is like a Chinese pulled pork sandwich.
I don't think the lamb face salad is on the menu, but it exists. If you so desire. Face of lamb. Chopped up. In a salad. It has all that refreshingly spicy and raw vegetable action found in the liang pi, but instead of noodles there's...um...lamb face. I got a chunk of something crunchy and cartilaginous. Greg picked up a nugget of something that could've been the lamb's nose, but it was hard to tell. Every bite a surprise that you may or may not want. Definitely a unique dish, if I may describe it in a way that doesn't endorse or vilify it.
The Flushing Mall is probably unlike any other mall you've been to, unless you're Asian. (Something about the bright color palette feels Asian to me. I'm not sure how to explain that, but having been to many department stores in Taiwan and Japan, I'll pretend it's some kind of subconscious reaction.) And what do we love most about Asian shopping malls? Food courts! It ain't stocked with your typical Chinese take-out or Subway-type eateries; it's stuff you'd go out of your way to eat.
It was not my idea to stock up with a plate of carbs—more specifically (according to the receipt), a sesame seed big pancake, Chinese pancake, fried cruller, and beef patty pancake. It was mostly Kathy and Kathryn's idea, for the purpose of doing this:
...wrapping the greasy cruller in the Chinese pancake and dipping the carb-wrapped-carb in a bowl of hot, unsweetened soy milk for a bite of moist, bready goodness dripping with soy squeezings.
I think Kathy enjoyed it more than the rest of us. Not that it was bad—it just didn't hold as much importance to us (also, I was pretty full and fluffy chunks of bread = gutbomb). I did eat crullers dipped in soy milk sparingly when I was little, only when my family would make the special outing to a Chinese restaurant on Route 17 in New Jersey (now a Starbucks, sigh).
My favorite item of the carb plate was the beef patty pancake, thinly sliced beef seasoned with a sweet soy sauce-like sauce, sandwiched in a thin, slightly chewy pancake with scallions. Yet another thing I wish with all my might would escape the confines of Flushing, preferably to somewhere within walking distance of my office.
Diana unintentionally got two large cups of ice cream when all she wanted was the green tea. The red bean became the errant cup after the cashier interpreted "red bean topping" as "red bean ice cream." Oops. But none of us would refuse bowls of creamy deliciousness.
...Except it lay in the shadows of the towering mango shaved ice, a mountain of shaved ice (not the ethereally fluffy sort, but good enough) topped with mango chunks, a tennis ball-sized scoop of mango ice cream, mango syrup, and rivers of condensed milk. I can't imagine you can get a better combination at the shaved ice stall, although they have a gazillion different toppings of various colors and jelly-like substances and syrups and beans-in-syrups to please every palate, especially the ones that love jelly, beans, and syrup.
And then we made it back to Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao to finally get a taste of their coveted soup dumplings. Although we were 250% stuffed by this point, we were determined to fit in just one more dumpling.
The six of us probably looked ridiculous huddled around a too-small table hungrily eying one meager order of pork soup dumplings. But if only the rest of the restaurant had known what substances had already traveled down our gullets that day...if only they knew.
This was probably the biggest, soupiest soup dumpling I had ever eaten—more pouch-like than dumpling-like. I can't find anything to complain about when it comes to thin skins filled with salty porky matter (topped with a spoonful of gingery black vinegar, of course). Is it the best soup dumpling in New York City? I don't know, but it might be the soupiest. (Never ask me where to get the best soup dumplings; I don't know. I like most of them.)
The day almost ended with soup dumplings. But then. It didn't.
Sun Mary Bakery
At Kathryn's request, we headed to Sun Mary Bakery in search of egg custard tarts and whatever other desserts looked good.
From the bakery's window: "Dissimilar season / same good mood." Yeah. That's what I've always been telling people.
Inside, I was most intrigued by the cute cakes. Like Disembodied Panda Head Cake.
And Fat Pig Head Cake.
Their selection was more varied than some other bakeries I had been to (look at Kathryn's review for more info), although I was too full to indulge in the crazy selection. Not even their steroidal chocolate cream puff got my tummy rumbling. (I love that they had to get special dome-shaped packaging just for that puff.) Another unique offering was their fresh pineapple cakes with salted egg yolk-centers, as seen in Kathy's blog.
I picked up a half sugar longan walnut cake to eat later when I would inevitably regain my hunger. Unfortunately. it did little to fulfill my craving for...anything. Not sweet enough to be cake, or even a muffin, and too tough of a texture to be like cake, although it wasn't quite bread either. These could also be reasons to like it—if you want something that's just ever so slightly sweet and not cakey.
But when in doubt, you should probably get an egg custard tart. It tends to be a no-fail food.
UPDATE (6/2): Jessica commented that the egg custard tarts aren't so hot, so it sounds like you should skip them. Aw.
Although I desperately wanted to take a nap when I got back home, I probably spent the rest of my day editing these photos. I HOPE YOU ENJOYED THEM.
Best North Dumpling Shop
135-08 Roosevelt Ave
Flushing, NY 11354
135-02 Roosevelt Ave
Flushing, NY 11354
Xian Famous Foods (basement of Golden Shopping Mall)
41-28 Main St
Queens, NY 11355
133-31 39 Ave
Flushing, NY 11354
Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao
38-12 Prince St
New York, NY 11354
Sun Mary Bakery
13357 41st Rd
Flushing, NY 11355