Friday, April 23, 2010

Warning: This post not suitable for the squeamish or tender-hearted

It would be a stretch and possibly a kind of blasphemy to Italophiles everywhere to compare Flushing’s Chinatown with Venice, but one of the charms of this area is how easy it is to step into a doorway and stumble upon a whole ‘nother world, like making a turn into a narrow little calle in the Serenissima and suddenly encountering a sun-struck square with a plashing fountain….

But enough with the high-toned comparison. The short version is that we took a few steps inside a street-level mall and came upon the Hong Kong Supermarket (37-11 Main Street, near 37th Avenue), the Chinese answer to Whole Foods. Immediately my heart commenced to pound: foreign food markets (as I guess I made clear several posts ago) are one of my favorite things on earth. I have swooned over bottled ratatouille in Dordogne, creamed in my jeans for six kinds of packaged penne in Bologna, and nearly lost it over frozen rabbit in Provence.

We head almost instinctively toward the poultry and meat counters, bypassing stacks and stacks of packaged Asian cookies and crackers. And what wondrous goods await: chicken and duck feet, beef spleen, quail, whole duck, pigs’ snouts (yes, with rosy nostrils intact!), and a peculiar deep purple bird known as a silkie chicken, a scrawny sack of bones with a skin that somewhat resembles an eggplant with goosebumps.

Another shopper notices me examining the package (and Dave snapping away) and begins to sing its praises. “Very good for arthritis, chills, colds.”

I ask how to cook it.

“You make soup out of it,” she tells me. “Add vegetables, noodles. A little whiskey.”


“Yes, or wine, beer….whatever you have on hand.” She nods her head, smiling and smiling.

We forgo the chicken for this trip, but I have to admit that I’m intrigued.

At the end of the aisle we encounter the seafood section, possibly one of the finest in town, if you are a connoisseur of fresh fish, fish still alive in tanks, snails, giant and razor clams….and oh no! oh no! cover the little ones’ eyes! Live frogs and turtles! Stacked in buckets, flailing on their backs, tiny feet pumping, sharp tongues darting….It’s almost a little too much when a friendly eel pokes its head from a tank just in time for Dave to get a shot. Walt Disney would be rolling in his grave.

I scurry for safety toward the frozen food section, where you will find about 25 different kinds of dumplings, at least, along with many varieties of egg rolls, spring rolls, noodles. This is also the place for medicinal tea. I could not begin to count the different varieties. A tea for pimples, one for cramps, another for menopause, tea for your liver and stomach, tea for your cheating shit-brained husband….a tea to cure whatever ails you. And all very reasonably priced, generally less than three or four bucks for a box of 25 bags.

And let’s end in the produce section, where bitter melon, all manner of mushrooms, lychee clusters, bok choy, lemongrass, long beans, yam and bean leaf, tong ho, taro root, and other exotic vegetables jostle their American cousins, and all at very good prices (like $3.99 for a quart of strawberries, the same brand as is sold in my local d’Agostino at $3.79 a pint, or $1.99 for a one-pound bag of small shallots).

As we exit this post and the market itself, we move into the high-priced real estate: abalone, scallops, stomach (of what we could not find out), crocodile, and something called Fish Sharles at up to $289 pound. It's hard to discover what this stuff is for (but you can always try googling), since it seems almost no one but an occasional shopper speaks much English.

If you are a food-store freak, the Hong Kong Supermarket is well worth the half-hour trip from Grand Central on the #7. (I recommend an afternoon of shopping, followed by a drink at the Sheraton….or fortify yourself with lunch at the Golden Mall and head over to the market.)

I will be back. That night I dreamt of silkie chickens simmering in a bourbon-laced stew.

IF YOU GO: Take the #7 train from Grand Central. The ride is 20 to 30 minutes, depending on whether you catch the express (which runs only during rush hour). The Hong Kong Market is at 3711 Main Street, inside the mall, and about two blocks from the subway stop.


D said...

Yes, Patagonian Toothfish are endangered--and I'm still puzzled by the serving of Falklands Toothfish which are not so considered by even the rigorous standards of Lindblad Expeditions which has a long list of fish "no no's" and won't serve any kind of shrimp, for example. The prominent display of swordfish in Palermo's market last week was sad since it's one of the most abused.

Nice to hear of others who like Taam Tov!

Anonymous said...

This is fucking brilliant!!! Incredible writing. New York Mag should pick this up in a heartbeat.I laughed and cried it was so good...those poor sharp-tongued turtles (and frozen rabbit!)and LOVED "tea for your cheating shit-brained husband."

MORE, please. What a unique, fascinating approach to Gotham.

Ann said...

Thanks to all, but I sure wish Google could fix the problems with punctuation.

Joyce said...

It is a real problem to get Google to fix commas and quotation marks. Some megamillion internet entities are just plain stoopid.