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.


Wayne Parsons said...

I just recently heard about your blog, Ann and Dave, and am delighted to see you intrepid adventurers exploring this fascinating and inexhaustible city --- been here more than four decades myself and still haven’t got it all straight.

Your post about silkies reminded me of purchasing a plastic-wrapped one several years ago in Chinatown. An hour or so in an oven and it was ready to eat, that is, as ready as it would ever be for squeamish Americans unaccustomed to black fowl. As I remember it, the skin especially was black, along with the membranes and connective tissues. My wife took one look at it and decided she wasn’t hungry. I ate mine, though I didn’t think the taste was good enough to justify the considerable psychological discomfort of contemplating it with the prospect of eating it. Admittedly this is a provincial attitude, not much different from the prejudice most of us share against eating insects and many other animals that don’t conform to our notions of food. But these attitudes are presumably culturally determined; most of us eat crustaceans, for example, which don’t look all that different from a lot of insects. Having said that, I’m still not up to chomping down on a chocolate-covered grasshopper or a roasted grub.

Still focusing on silkies, a few years ago I bought a book of photographs titled “Extraordinary Chickens” by Stephen Green-Armytage. Few of realize that there is a subculture of fanatics who breed and raise show chickens. Once you’ve seen the incredibly beautiful birds in this volume you’ll understand why. Show chickens come in a variety of breeds of differing sizes, shapes, patterns, colors, comb structures, etc., all of them fascinating. There are several beautiful silkies in the book (no recipes, though).

Finally, no discussion of birds in Chinatown is complete without mentioning squab (young pigeon). Some restaurants in Chinatown have it on the menu, and if you look long enough you may find it in a market. It’s worth the hunt, as squab is without question the most delicious bird you are ever likely to encounter. I suppose you can find a recipe for a way to fancyfy it, but that’s not necessary. The unadorned bird itself is so flavorful that it doesn’t need anything else. An hour or so in a hot oven and it’s ready. By comparison a Cornish game hen (about the same size) is nothing more than a fraud. Take my word for it! Better yet, don’t take my word, just try it youself!

Wayne Parsons said...
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