There’s probably a restaurant serving every cuisine in the world in New York City, but making authentic curry, dumplings, clotted cream or injera bread in your own kitchen gets tricky without the right ingredients. We go on a shopping spree for some of the more unconventional grocery list items at New York’s ethnic markets, starting with Asian groceries. (more…)
No matter how “multicultural” or “mixed” the German capital may often be described as in the media, Berlin’s ethnic reality for the average pedestrian does not inevitably evoke the idea of a big melting pot like New York, London or Paris. But if one listens closely, the colloquial nickname for the street Kantstraße, “Kantonstraße”, is the first indication of a deeper story.
Beyond the Turkish neighbourhoods (Kreuzberg, Neukölln, Moabit, Wedding) that are now part of Berlin’s main attractions, few people know that Berlin has one of Europe’s largest Asian communities. Even more interesting is that this settlement began when the city was still divided, on both sides of the Wall.
The first Chinese visitors in Berlin arrived in the 1820s and the first Chinese settlements began in the 1920s, but it is in Berlin’s post-war history that the actual development of the Asian community began. A large number of Vietnamese workers – and a few Chinese – came to work in East Berlin’s factories (known as contract workers or Vertragsarbeiter), whereas Chinese, Thai and South Vietnamese migrants came to West Berlin. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, some Vietnamese from East Berlin came to the western part of the city in the hopes of improving their situation, and the community steadily grew in the area. (more…)
With a hurricane behind us and the prospect of a frozen New York winter looking mighty good, I have finally decided to return to my beloved Chinatown. The confusing smells of summer on Canal street are long past, and one of Chinatown’s best cold weather dishes has been lodged in my mind for weeks. I’m talking, of course, about wonton soup.
Wonton soup is the stuff of legend. It works much like the best winter jacket you can think of, except on the inside of you. In short, you’ve waited far too long to try it out (or in, I suppose). When you’re ready, head to New H.K. Wonton Garden.
New H.K. Wonton Garden can be found on Mulberry Street, just a stone’s throw from the impassable crowds of Mott and Canal Streets. The restaurant, like most here, is extremely small, meaning you’ll almost certainly be waiting on a Saturday or Sunday. This is fine. It’s New York, and if you haven’t learned patience by now, you’re probably not living here anymore.
If it’s midday Saturday or Sunday, or anytime for that matter, start by exploring the restaurant’s Dim Sum menu. Wonton Garden is known for having the best vegetarian dumplings in town, and though I don’t typically associate with our green friends from the ground, I couldn’t miss the opportunity. And they were absolutely delicious. Stuffed with an array of finely diced vegetables that I couldn’t begin to identify, the dumplings (6 for $5.00) manage to hold everything in with an impossibly thin dumpling wrapper.
Do yourself another favor and order a plate of boiled pork and chive dumplings (6 for $5.00) along with a pair of fresh, steamed pork buns (2 for $2.50) They were the first I’ve had in Chinatown to recall the flavors found in the underground food stalls in Flushing, my absolute favorite place in New York, and in fact the earth so far.
Once you’ve had your fill of dim sum, it’s time to turn your eyes (and the remaining space in your stomach) toward Wonton Garden’s namesake dish. Wonton soup is deceptively simple – boiled wontons, microscopically thin noodles and your protein of choice bathe together in a hearty soup broth. However, each bowl you’ll find at Wonton Garden offers a completely different experience.
The standard, and probably the most highly recommended option based on the research we did prior to Sunday is the beef stew and wonton noodles ($6.25). Massive, tender chunks of beef will greet you in a dark, savory broth hiding a bed of noodles beneath. It was everything we expected it to be.
If you’re looking for grossly disproportionate amounts of flavor, order the sweet and sour sliced pork wonton soup ($6.25). Stringy bits of pork are doused in a thick, highly flavorful sweet and sour sauce. With a few added drops of hot chili oil, it’s one of the most complex soups you’ll find in Chinatown.
Finally, if you’re looking to try what many non-regulars would consider “weird,” ask for the beef tripe and wonton soup ($6.25). As is standard with stomach, the honeycomb tripe was almost alarmingly fatty. However, for those who have never tried the stuff (cow stomach, as it were), you’re in for a fantastic experience. Dense, chewy and subtly flavored, tripe is the perfect addition to Wonton Garden’s hot, soupy broth.
As is typical with our favorite dishes in Chinatown, there are few words to describe H.K. Wonton Garden’s soups. They are instead something that needs to be experienced. Lucky for you, Wonton Garden offers the perfect venue to hide away for an hour or two with friends, order as much as you can, and share what can only be shared in Chinatown. Be wary of gruff and reticent waiters with uniforms of oddly enough, hawaiian shirts. Not unkind however, they will speak when necessary, such as to check that the non-Chinese visitor is aware what tripe is. Good luck!
Friends of Chinatown! It’s been two long weeks, I know, but I had good reason for staying away from Canal Street last Sunday. Delirious from a cocktail of Vicodin, Amoxicillin and non fat Greek yogurt, I was hardly in a position to eat anything that couldn’t be spoon fed to me in between bouts of unstoppable drooling. My wisdom teeth (or lack thereof) situation has improved, however, so I eagerly made the trip this week.
Afraid to dive into the fried bits of Chinatown’s food scene too soon, we settled on something much safer – hand pulled noodles. Our destination was Sheng Wang – a tiny underground noodle shop I’d heard whispers about before. Once again, we would braving the world east of Bowery. And once again, it was totally worth it.
You’ll find Sheng Wang hidden away on Eldridge street just south of Canal Street. It’s sandwiched between plenty of other competing hand pulled noodle shops, but trust us… this is the place you want to be. Head downstairs, grab a table, and take your time with the menu. You’ll realize quickly that a ten dollar bill will take you farther than you probably imagine.
Since this is Chinatown, and I’d never forgive you if you didn’t, start with an order of steamed dumplings, just $3 for 10. They’re served with a house made dumpling sauce concoction, but you’ll want to wait until you get your noodles. They’re best dipped in both before they disappear forever.
Next up came the fish balls. You’ll get 8 for another $3, so don’t hesitate to order them as soon as you sit down. Stuffed with just the right amount of seasoned pork and outfitted with exquisitely subtle hints fish, you’ll have a difficult time restraining yourself with these babies. If you have the self control, try to save a few for the hand pulled noodles. More on that later.
The first dish of the night was the Roasted Duck Hand Pulled Noodles ($5.50). Below a veritable glacier field of succulent duck (still on bone), you’ll find some of the chewiest, bounciest hand pulled noodles in town. For the best results, pour plenty sriracha sauce and chili oil into the mix. A bit of seasoned vinegar won’t hurt either. The result is some of the most flavorfully filling cuisine we’ve had east of Bowery.
If you still have dumplings and fish balls left (I told you to save some), let them join the party. Dip the dumplings in and fill the fish balls with the broth, and you’re guaranteed an out of body experience.
If you’re looking for a darker meat and a lighter broth, order the Mutton Hand Pulled Noodles (also just $5.50). There’s a lot more bone in the dish, so you’ll have to work for your protein, but trust us – it’s worth your time. The bone adds tons of flavor to the broth, which is neither too salty nor too bland. It’s literally just right. For those who frequent noodle shops often, you know how difficult this is.
The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into Sheng Wang is that much of the food is prepared right in front of you – literally. Its chefs are constantly at work hand crafting food you’re not likely to forget anytime soon. Our meal was just $20 total, and our best estimates suggest we had between 6 and 8 pounds of food each (it certainly felt like it). So take the jaywalk of faith across Bowery and give Sheng Wang a shot.
I had originally intended on beginning this piece with a “Welcome back, friends of Chinatown!” until I remembered that it was me who abandoned you. For that, I apologize. Taking a summer sabbatical from Chinatown was not an easy decision, but it was a necessary one.
Well, after weeks spent traveling Europe and the Northeast United States, I have made my return. So, let’s talk about tacos.
Wait! Do not fret. Sunday in Chinatown has not taken a turn for the confusing and nonsensical. I originally discovered Diamond Hill’s hook, Asian-inspired tacos, from a bout of Foursquare exploration. After weeks at the top of my “to eat” list, I headed there with an impressive group of more impressive folks, one of whom was celebrating a birthday (and what better way? Happy Birthday Connor!).
Diamond Hill sits right next to the Fung Wah bus station on the corner of Bowery and Chinatown, and couldn’t look more out of place. Modern, clean and inspired, it’s easy to spot, and even easier to be drawn into.
For frequent flyers of taco purveyors Chipotle, the setup will make complete sense to you. Follow the guy down the line, and load your tacos (or burritos) up with anything you could ever imagine (well, we actually cannot guarantee this).
The inspiration hits you right away — you’ll have your choice of grilled teriyaki chicken, Chinese sweet bbq pork, grilled Korean galbi beef, slow cooked braised duck, and something called “tofu.” If the choice is as impossible for you as it was for me, get one of each of the meats (you’ll pay an extra $2.50 for the fourth taco”¦. just do it).
A check-in on Foursquare will score you an order of Japanese sweet potato fries, so don’t be afraid to flex your smartphone. Finally, a green tea or red bean milkshake will ensure you’ll barely be able to move on your way out the door.
Our favorite of the night was the Korean galbi beef taco with kimchi salsa, an incredible blend of spicy, sweet, and savory. A few hours in the slow cooker did the duck taco well – it tasted exactly as we hoped it would, and recalled some of our favorite duck dishes in town. The sweet bbq pork was perhaps the most complex of the bunch, while the chicken teriyaki served as the most “accessible.” It’s truly a feast for the senses in every way, so be excessive.
Though we couldn’t figure out what made our sweet potato fries “Japanese,” we loved them all the same. If potatoes are grown in Japan, it’s news to us, but we’re not concerned enough to check. Those fries can call themselves whatever they like.
Discovering restaurants like Diamond Hill in Chinatown is wildly exciting to me. The idea of modern fusion is largely unknown to the traditional, steam-laden windows of Canal Street and Bowery. But Diamond Hill has proved that it can be done both deliciously and cheaply. Here’s to hoping that it’s the first of many to transform the neighborhood’s restaurant scene into one that’s as complex, eclectic and surprising as the people who call it home.