Saturday, July 3, 2010

Manhattan's Chinatown (2)

G is a fount of information on Chinatown and Chinese cuisine. The area around the bakery is heavy Fujian territory, whose cooking, according to Wikipedia, is “refined in taste with no ‘loud’ flavors.” A dish called Buddha Jumps over the Wall is one specialty, red sauce chicken is another (for more about this, see

G also tells us that the oddly shaped, pressed ducks hanging in some windows are known as “peipa” or “mandolins,” after the musical instruments. As we cruise through a small market, he picks up a package of chicken feet, which make the best stock for soup, he claims, because they’re loaded with gelatin (after my disaster with the silkie chicken, several posts back, however, I’m steering clear of weird poultry experiments).

And then we chance on Doyers Street, a charming little alleyway that was once known as the Bloody Angle. “This street has the number-one record for homicides committed in New York,” says G, who seems absurdly puffed-up by that factoid, as though he himself had been packing a Beretta....though given his mysterious history, maybe he was. “More people were gunned down here than in any other place in the U.S.” He points out a movie theater in a mall, which had to close because the gangs kept plugging members of the audience (for more photos and history, go to

With stories like that, of course, our appetites are whetted for some serious dinnertime grub, and we head over to Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant, where one of the specialties is soup dumplings.

These plump, pillowy delights arrive nestled in a bamboo steamer basket. You eat them by scooping one onto a ceramic spoon and pouring a little sauce made from vinegar, soy sauce, and minced ginger onto the dumpling. It’s a messy transaction (beware the tiny cloud of steam), but the reward is a yummy mélange of chewy, sweet, and sour.

We follow that course with platters of crispy pepper-skin duck, calamari with spicy black bean sauce, and mushrooms with bamboo shoots. Way too much for three people, but all tasty and a relative bargain at prices from $9 to $16. The place is immensely popular and fillsl up quickly, so dine early or be prepared for a line (Shanghai Joes, 9 Pell Street; You'll also find excellent video instructions here on how to eat soup dumplings).

A postprandial stroll to a wedge of Mulberry Street with a high concentration of funeral parlors completes our Chinatown tour. We have not quite gone from cradle to grave, but it’s been a fine introduction.

Thank you, G.

IF YOU GO: See the previous post.