I’ve been so good. Utterly restrained. I’ve actually kind of surprised myself. I’m just slightly obsessed with Asian cuisine. All sorts, but I especially adore Chinese, Thai and Korean. My counterpart, Seoyoung, is quickly teaching me everything I never knew about Korean. Thai food is one of my loves because I’ve spent a good amount of time eating in Thailand. And China…I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve been dreaming of visiting the country for years, eating my way through all the provinces. But in the meantime, I’ve been satisfying my travel bug both in New York’s and LA’s Chinatowns.
I’ve sublet my apartment for the month of October. I’m in California for a week, and then am traveling the east coast with a friend for a few weeks. I had to get a quick C-town fix before I left, so I met my friend Kyle at New Yeah Shanghai yesterday afternoon. I’ve eaten xiaolongbao (Shanghai soup dumpling) at all the recommended places: Joe’s Shanghai, Jing Fong, Shanghai Cafe, and many other little shops that sell these porky delights. New Yeah Shanghai has some of the best. For $4.50, a bamboo tray of eight steamed stickers is delivered to your table. It is necessary to take precautions when eating these dumplings. The liquid is scalding hot and you can easily burn your tongue on the first one…and no one wants that when you have seven little bao’s waiting to be devoured! The trick is to bite the top of the knot, leaving an opening for the liquid to cool. Pour in a bit of the vinegar and eat in one bite, careful not to lose any of the porky broth. Kyle and I inhaled the dumplings and then moved on for some bubble tea.
After tea time, my adorable Australian subletter met me in Chinatown for a quick tour. I showed her my favorite markets, the best durian vendor, and my butcher that transports me to Hong Kong when I walk through their dimly lit and sawdust filled shop. I promise to introduce you to the juiciest pork potstickers and the pork bone soup noodle restaurant (that doubles as entertainment when the man pulls noodles behind the bar). But I can’t give all my secrets away at once!
I landed today in Burbank and stepped off the plane into warm, breezy weather. My pops was waiting for me, with a list in hand, of restaurants for me to choose from. He knows exactly how to get to my heart! My friends were all so envious that I was going to eat tacos today (because we all know that New York’s Mexican is a bit lacking). But I chose the Szechuan restaurant over the Mexican, Austrian, Japanese, Southern comfort food and Pizza places. Oops. I have a weakness for Chinatowns. Shoot me.
We sat down and immediately ordered six cold appetizers: spicy chicken feet, green bean noodles, spicy beef tendon, sesame cucumbers, chicken bits, and seaweed. All were very nice, but the green bean noodles knocked my socks off. They looked like broad rice noodles, but had more of a bite. They were intensely seasoned with chili, sichuan peppercorn and cilantro. Simple flavors that when combined create a sensation bomb. Szechuan food is known to be heavily seasoned with chilis–dried chilis, fresh chilis, chili pastes, chili oils–and combinations of all these varieties. The peppercorn is a special heat that creates a tingly sensation and slightly numbs the mouth. I love the tingle and the heat isn’t overwhelming. Also, drinking a glass of cool water after eating these peppercorns feels like electricity sparking over your tongue. Your mouth is overwhelmed with a buzzing sensation, and the water almost tastes citrusy. Go out and find yourself a sichuan peppercorn and brace yourself for a tongue twisting experience. Or, search out a Sichuan button. An incredible little bloom that will surprise your tongue with the same force as the peppercorn…or an AA battery.
When I step into Chinatown, whether it’s on the east or west coast, I immediately feel as if I’m transported. The throngs of tourists, the hawkers pushing ‘Gucci, Chanel, Prada” can all be a bit overwhelming. But the further I explore, the more I fall in love with the chaos of people: jostling for fish, seeking out the best steamed pork buns, and throwing elbows while rummaging through bins for the freshest water spinach. Chinatowns, in all their craziness, are a bit of a vacation from the everyday for me. I love them, and plan on making you fall in love with them too.
In Manhattan, try the Shanghai dumplings for $4.50, or the pork and eggplant dish, at New Yeah Shanghai 65 Bayard, cross street Mott.
In Los Angeles, seek out Szechuan’s Best at 621 W. Main St., Alhambra. Try any or all the cold appetizers. Do not miss the green bean noodles. Two appetizers for $4.25. Also, try the white fish in hot red oil for $9.95.