The Golden Mall, an underground food court in Flushing beloved by locals in New York City and made famous by Anthony Bourdain’s visit to the original Xi’An Famous Foods location for No Reservations, has closed. The building is getting a phased renovation, undoubtedly much needed but sad for those of us that liked how the maze-like building filled with haphazard food vendors was reminiscent of an alley in an Asian city. There was an authenticity to the experience, combined with amazing food at unbeatable prices. It was noisy, it was busy, it was pungent, it was gritty. You could get up close and see your pulled noodles being made, or your dumplings being wrapped. You knew that the locals came here, but you were welcome too.
As an Asian-American, I was given unofficial friendly access to film the vendors in the Golden Mall when I was a graduate student taking a film class at Columbia University GSAPP. We’ve bookended that experience nearly a decade later with a series of photos taken of the Golden Mall, shortly before it closed at the end of July. Eater reports that many of the vendors in the mall will not be returning to the new space, although some like Tainjin Dumpling House are setting up shop elsewhere.
Going to the Golden Mall made me feel I was weaving through a market in the back streets of Taipei, where my family comes from— and I’d always leave with a bag of at least fifty frozen dumplings to bring home. Sometimes we’d sit in one of the restaurants that had booth seating, pouring the homemade hot sauce over our food. Sometimes we’d perch on the little stools at the stands, or sit on the tables in the middle of the food court which you were never quite sure whose stall they belonged to. Even being an environment where people seem like they’re shouting (if you’re Asian, you know this is not quite shouting in the Western sense), was comforting. As an Asian-American that often chose to quiet the influence of the Motherland on my lived experience, every so often I’d have to dig in to remember where I came from. I’d even get to speak some Mandarin, but not my Taiwanese here.
Golden mall exterior building on July 27, 2019
It was always exciting to see the diversity of people that enjoyed the Golden Mall. Filming from the street, it was impossible to miss that as I watched the rapid flow of people going in and out of the door on Main Street and how different they all were. The Golden Mall seemed like it would be one of those places that might be around forever, reminiscent of the Flushing I knew when my parents would drive me in from the Long Island suburbs for various Taiwanese mass get togethers. Food is an essential part of Asian culture, particularly for the Taiwanese, who spend all day discussing what they ate and what they are going to eat. One greeting simply translates to “Did you eat yet?” — which shows how deeply food culture is ingrained even in basic language.
Golden mall interior on July 27, 2019
Unexpectedly, the Golden Mall, in all its unrefined glory, became a launching pad for wildly successful Asian food businesses. Xi’An Famous Foods became a city-wide phenomenon, Dumpling Galaxy is an offshoot of Tianjin Dumpling House, and Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen’s Peter Song cut his teeth at Lanzhou Handmade Noodle.
It’s fairly certain that the vendors that move into the Golden Mall, once renovations are completed, will be more polished, certainly more willing and able to pay a higher rent. Much of Flushing that’s in close proximity to the 7 train has gone this way . But if you go further out, you’ll still be able to find great food, at reasonable prices, probably with menus completely in Chinese.
Next, check out 14 of NYC’s Food Courts for an alternative fix.