Archive for the ‘Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx’ Category

The good fortune of good food

May 20, 2012

Fortune cookies are not what they used to be. I don’t want advice, I want a prediction, a portent, a promise that something really great is around the corner.

Luckily, this fortune cookie got cracked open after a meal at Grand Sichuan House in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and I couldn’t be too upset because that restaurant is seriously the Bomb.

Sometimes I worry that I’m getting jaded living in New York. We’re constantly surrounded by amazing food, from nearly every corner of the world. The other day, i was working in Rochester, New York, and I ended up eating Chinese food at a restaurant where my meal was preceded by fried wonton strips and a dipping dish of duck sauce. I felt like I had been sucked back at least 15 years in time, because here in New York, we no longer eat “Chinese food.” We eat food from Hunan, Yunnan, Shandong, Shanghai, Canton. I can think of half a dozen Sichuan restaurants of the top of my head in Manhattan alone. I’ll have lunch at a place life Cafe China and think, “Yeah, that’s good enough for a weekday lunch,” but not a weekend dinner.

And then, I eat at a place like Grand Sichuan House, where I have to travel all the way to the second-to-last step on the very slow local R train, and life feels full of possibility and surprise again.

Our favorite was probably the cumin beef.

You know how when you look at great art or the Grand Canyon, the pleasure is so much more when you can turn to a friend and say, “Isn’t that fantastic?” Eating the cumin beef with my friends was not quite like looking out at the Grand Canyon with them, but it might be close to gazing at Bryce Canyon. Salty, chewy, crispy, tingly, it had that peculiarly dry texture of food that’s fried with corn starch. It was endlessly fascinating.

A close second was the Chong Qing chicken. There is chicken in there, buried under the peppers, with a perfect, crisp edge. The tingly, almost sour aftertaste of Sichuan peppercorns was incredibly pleasant, sharp but as pleasant as the smoothness of excellent chocolate or port.

The jellyfish was a particular favorite of mine. Korean-style jellyfish is more elastic; this had a refreshing snap and crunch.

When the waitress took our order, she didn’t quite believe it — the six of us ordered 7 entrees and 4 appetizers. We ended up eating nearly everything.

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The only thing that’s predictable is its decor. It’s bare, with the most earnest effort to decorate represented by a string of chili pepper lights hung up in a corner. While we were there, the TV was showing an extremely depressing Chinese news story on babies in China that are lactating because of hormones in the food and water. And you get the feeling that despite the love it gets on Chowhound, most of its business is takeout “Chinese Food American Style” for the neighborhood.

But we all agreed at the end of the meal that we would like to come back. “You will return”: that would be a good fortune.

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Don’t chew, just swallow

August 7, 2011

It doesn’t seem like a good thing to hear when you’re at a new restaurant trying new food: “Don’t chew, just swallow.”

Last weekend, a group of us decided to go check out Bab Al Yemen, a Yemeni restaurant in Bay Ridge that’s gotten a ton of  press. The advice to not chew, just swallow, accompanied a dish called aseed, essentially a mound of what seemed like uncooked dough  in a gravy-like sauce. It came with two ramekins of some other sauces that we were supposed to pour on top before eating.

To be honest, it tasted as weird as it sounds. I don’t say that lightly. Being a champion of Korean food, and a very personal one at that, has made clear to me that one person’s weird is another person’s staple. I forget sometimes, being surrounded by adventurous friends with very broad palates, how unnerving certain Korean textures and flavors can be to people who are unfamiliar with it. I know I shouldn’t, but sometimes I feel offended when Korean food is described as stinky or slimy.

So it was good for me, in a way, to be tasting something that seemed really strange, and frankly not good, to me. At least one review said we were supposed to eat it with our fingers; another mentioned a raw scallion chase. We saw no scallions, and we scooped up the dough with our spoons. Two friends did like it, but even they couldn’t finish the very generous portion we were served.

But almost everything else we ate there was the opposite of the aseed, a less jarring balance of familiar and new.

The restaurant, first of all, is not as exotic as the reviews would lead you to believe. The space is warm and golden, and there is an artistic flourish that you don’t see in most Middle Eastern restaurants in Brooklyn — the tea kettle faucet in the bathroom is conversation-worthy. But it feels more homey and cozy than sumptuous, and the men digging into the food in the front room looked as comfortable as regulars.

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The meal started with a very simple and delicious salad and soup. The salad was mainly romaine lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and a tangy vinaigrette. The soup, also plain, was earthy and delicious, like lentil soup without any lentils in it.

We ordered something called a Yemeni omelette that came puffy and custardy in a cast-iron pot — this was my favorite. I don’t know how they did it, because the whole thing was very hot and well-cooked, but the yolks were wonderfully runny.

The chicken curry on hummus was another one of my favorites. But that might have only been because it wasn’t lamb.

We had lamb in fattah b’lahm, lamb in haneez (forgot to photograph), lamb in saltah; a hunk of lamb that was served with the dough. Even the omelette was studded with minced lamb.

This is probably how others feel about Korean food: “Wow, there is a lot of kimchi!”

There were a few flavors that were still jarring, like the fenugreek foam on the hot saltah. But everything was obviously made with great care, even the complimentary hot tea, and especially the special dessert called sabaya made of 25 very thin layers of pastry. The crust was almost candy-hard. The menu lists one made with 50 layers for $55; ours had half the layers and cost around $20.

I wish we had gotten to try the “fiery red glabah chicken” mentioned in the New York Times review, but there is no way we could have eaten any more food.

Bab al Yemen isn’t going to replace my Bay Ridge favorite, Tanoreen, any time soon, but it’s a pretty ideal place for a culinary adventure — new but inviting.

Korean-Uzbek food at Cafe at Your Mother in Law

August 4, 2010

I saw the mother-in-law.  She definitely looked Korean.

This NY Times review by Dave Cook of Eating in Translation intrigued me and several of my friends.  Korean-Uzbek food?  At Cafe at Your Mother in Law?  What could that mean?

It turns out that there is a sizable Korean population in Uzbekistan, who call themselves “Koryo saram” which means “Koryo people,” and they have been there for a surprisingly long time.  Korea, especially when it encompassed North and South, isn’t far from Far Eastern Russia.  Ethnic Koreans began migrating there in the mid-19th century.  After years of assimilation and integration into Russian life, the Koreans were deported in 1937.  Most of them ended up in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.  According to this article, many under 30 no longer speak Korean, but “[t]he level of self-esteem and ethnic identity among Korean adults is very high.”  So typically Korean!

So was the food typically Korean?

Some of the dishes clearly had Korean roots, but much of the food was Uzbek or Korean and not really both.

The Uzbek bread was flavorful, and as Catherine put it, sort of like a giant bialy.  The crust was present but pliable at the same time.  The kind of plain food you end up eating way more of than you intended to.

The “salads,” as Dave noted, were like banchan.  This is half a pound of “chim-cha.”  It looks just like Korean kimchi, but it had a much stronger ginger flavor and a rawer, more vegetal taste than I’m used to.

Much more popular with our crowd were the other pickles, the pickled fish and the pickled eggplant.  Eggplant is supposedly made into kimchi in Korea as well, but I’ve never had it.  This was lovely, firm, and tart.  The pickled fish actually tasted more like Korean banchan to me than the “chim-chi.”  It had the toughness I associate with dried pollack, that often gets made into a spicy Korean banchan with vegetables.  We loved this, too.  We were scarfing up these two small dishes, and almost ordered more before we realized we had a lot more food coming.

The lamb in the plov was as fatty as the NYTimes review promised.  Who doesn’t love a plate of greasy rice and meat?

These are manti, which tasted distinctly of lamb, served with a dollop of sour cream.  The sour cream is very not Korean.  But the Central Asian word manti may have morphed into the Korean word for dumplings, mandu.  These were absolutely delicious.  Thankfully, there were five, one for each of us.

Stuffed cabbage.  Also very lamb-y.  I love lamb.

The bowl of “kuksu,” which is Korean for noodles, was probably the most Korean-Uzbek dish of all.  The broth was tangy and sweet, not unlike naengmyeon, with plenty of lightly pickled cucumbers and shredded cabbage, as colorful as all Korean dishes aspire to be.  But there was quite a lot of dill, a flavor that is distinctly un-Korean.  As refreshing as Korean cold noodles.

The “fried chicken” was actually broiled or pan-fried and nothing to write home about.  (“Dear family in Korea, in Uzbekistan, we are eating chicken, but we miss dakdoritang!”)  Better to save stomach space for the meat crepes, which Mark saw being delivered to another table and quickly added to our order.

These were my absolute favorite.  The crepes were similar to blintzes, eggy and just slightly sweet.  The filling was, yet again, lamb spiced with cumin or another fragrant spice.  These were emphatically not-Korean, and I was glad that my people, somewhere far away, had come to claim these as their own.

Take a closer look.

We washed it all down with Russian beer and vodka, courtesy of Mark and Morgan and At Your Mother In Law’s BYOB policy.  That is very Korean, and I’m guessing, also very Uzbek.

Afterward, we sat on the beach and ate Russian pastries I’d bought earlier from La Brioche.

Russians, like Koreans, clearly believe quality in a bakery is indicated by a French name.

The best one looked like a Korean walnut cookie, except it was almost crunchy and filled with caramel.

Brighton Beach is a magical place.  You can find dumplings by the pound in a freezer case.

You can find wafer cookies called “Kindly Advice.”

Not to mention psychic solutions.

But is there any better evidence of magic than Korean-Uzbek food in New York?

Cafe at Your Mother in Law, 3071 Brighton Fourth Street (at Brighton Avenue), Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, NY, (718) 942-4088.


All-American Cobbler

July 5, 2010

Hope you all had a good Fourth of July!  The Americans, at least.

I made a peach-blueberry cobbler, which was beautiful and delicious if I say so myself.  I added blueberries to this recipe and increased the topping by 50%.

We ate it on the roof of my sister’s place.  We were too far east for a great view, but it was still nice.  I love fireworks.

A busy month

June 20, 2010

Despite all my whining about eating Korean food all the time, I get to eat plenty of other delicious things.  I went to the Indonesian Food Bazaar at the Masjid Al-Hikmah mosque in Astoria, where there was no shortage of fried foods.  I love fried foods, even when they are greasy and at room temperature. Highly recommended, with the warmth of a Midwestern church picnic, but with gado-gado salad instead of Jello with ham.

I was hoping these were sweets flavored when anchovies, but they really were just salty, fishy, tasty crackers.

And then a week or so later, a group of us stuffed our faces at M&T Restaurant in Flushing, a Chinese place specializing in Qingdao food.  I loved everything we had, but this was the best surprise: Qingdao people eat fern bracken (gosari in Korean), too!  The Chinese name is better: 拳頭菜 (Quan Tou Cai), meaning “closed fist vegetable.”  Unlike Koreans, who eat it as a mainly vegetarian-mountain-Buddhist dish, the Qingdao version is dotted with pork.  Delicious, of course.

Qingdao food was revelatory, light and clean without any compromise in flavor.  The fern bracken reminded me of Korean food, as this, a cold jelly similar to Korean muk.

The “sea intestines,” the waitress assured us were not actually intestines.  Like that would have stopped us.  Also sometimes known as “sea worms,” they’re chewy like squid and pretty delightful with chives.

We ate a lot more, but I won’t bore you.

The most exciting news, though, is that Diane, my co-author, is in town and we have been working hard in between watching World Cup games.  (What happened with the refereeing of the Brazil-Ivory Coast game?!?!?!)  We’ve tested store-bought brands of gochujang (red pepper paste) and doenjang (fermented soybean paste).  We’ve tried out different galbi marinades and rolled out dumpling skins.  We made a miserable failure of gyeongdan tteok or rice cakes stuffed with red beans (I honestly cannot see a path to success), but also made a shiny, syrupy, wonderful pat or red bean sauce for patbingsoo, or Korean shaved ice with sweet red beans.  We ate that for dinner on Sunday.  So lots of news to come.

Overheard in New York

June 3, 2010

mackarus via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

A B&T foodie fights the good fight

My friend Zizou* was standing on line at Artichoke Pizza last night, a cult favorite in the East Village.  Behind her were three girls, clearly dressed up and ready for a night on the town.  This is what she heard.

A: Why are we here?  I wanted to go to Ray’s Pizza!

B: Yeah, I thought we were going to Ray’s!

C: You guys, it’s really good.  I wouldn’t have driven you all the way here if it’s not good.

Several people come out carrying slices of the signature artichoke pizza.

A: What’s that?

C: It’s artichoke.

B: Isn’t artichoke fish?

*Zizou is a pseudonym.  Just in time for the World Cup, Zinedine Zidane reappears on this blog!

Return to Ming Chan Dong

May 24, 2010

For about seven months, discussion on Chowhound has been fervent and enthusiastic about the “Giant Kimchi Buns” of Ming Chan Dong.  After my trip in February, I put in my two cents, which led to bigjeff inviting me to join him and his friend annamatic for dinner  last Thursday.  I brought Salley, who came with me last time, and the four of us feasted on an obscene amount of food.  These are the kind of encounters that make me really love the Internet.  Kindred spirits meeting over plates of offal, lamb, and raw potato salad!

bigjeff has a detailed write-up here, and Anna has much better photos than mine here.  (I’d admired the photos of Korea on her blog before I’d even met her.)  I stupidly arrived at the restaurant with no camera better than my iPhone.  But I do always have to put in my two cents, so here are a couple of my photos and thoughts:

The Offal Three-Ways was just as bigjeff described it, homey and cooked to a nice tenderness.  bigjeff was liberally salting it at the table, but I didn’t find it too bland.

The “hai tu,” which looked like sauteed baby squid, was a waitress recommendation and something we couldn’t find on the menu.  Simple, fresh, and nicely chewy.  I love chewy.

The lamb with cumin was truly “the bomb,” as the waitress claimed.  Firm, spicy, the heady complexity of cumin.  Totally un-Korean, as the only spice Koreans ever really use is cinnamon.

We were also comped a wonderful rawalmost raw potato salad, spicy and sharp with vinegar.  This felt a bit Korean, as it reminded me of classic muchim preparations for salad.

The only Korean-ish dishes we ordered were two bowls of cold noodle soup or naengmyeon, one made out of arrowroot and one made out of corn.

I probably liked the noodles more than anyone else.  The broth was sweeter and more vinegary than I’m used to, but it was still refreshing, and the noodles had a good bite to them.  The corn noodles mystified me.  They were in the same broth as the chik noodles and served with all the classic Korean cold noodle accoutrements, but I have never, ever had or even heard of noodles made out of corn.  Our waitress said their Korean customers are always surprised, and even in China, it is not a common dish.  Rather, it’s unique to the particular part of Dongbei the restaurant represents.

The Chinese on the menu called these noodle dishes “leng mian,” which is pretty similar to “naengmyeon” and very similar to the North Korean pronunciation, 랭면, or “leng myeon.”  On some level, I’ve always known how much of the Korean language borrows from Chinese, but this dinner made it particularly clear.

For example, we also got some “hua juen” (Chinese), which I’ve eaten many times in Korean-Chinese restaurants.  “Hua” or “hwa” in Korean means “flower,” and the Korean word for these buns that fold over and into each other in beautiful layers is 꽃빵, or literally “flower bread.”

The best, I saved for last.  We wanted to get candied taro or sweet potato, which I’ve had in Korean-Chinese restaurants.  Chunks of sweet potato are fried in a sweet glaze that gets rock-hard, almost hard enough to chip a tooth.  According to bigjeff, the glaze gets hard when it gets dipped in cold water.  I had never had the taro version, and we were all carefully saving room in our stomachs to eat a piece, when the waitress told us they had run out.

We had already made up our minds to stop at another Chinese restaurant to eat it, when she came back and offered “ba si ji dan.”  The Chinese speakers at our table were perplexed, as “ji dan” means “chicken egg,” and we couldn’t imagine how that could be glazed like taro/sweet potato.  It turns out it is totally possible to candy-glaze fried eggs, and that it is absolutely delicious.

It was served with bowls of cold water.  As we pulled the pieces off the plate, threads of sugar followed, but as soon as we dipped the pieces in the water, the glaze turned instantly crunchy and crisp.  Inside, the egg remained tender.  I felt almost a tinge of sadness sitting there and wondering if this would be the only time in my life I would ever eat this particular dish.  Are eggs ever cooked this way?  Would any other restaurant serve it?  Would even this restaurant ever serve it if it had taro and sweet potato on hand?

I realize I have very good philosophical problems.

Labneh love

April 21, 2010

Rosalyn and I went to Mimi’s Hummus last night, a pretty little restaurant in Ditmas Park.  There were two of us; we ordered enough food for four.

Mushroom hummus and labneh and tabouleh, an incredibly bright and delicious cauliflower salad, and a literally honeyed eggplant puree.  I would never have imagined honey could be put on eggplant, and that it could be so good.

If I were not Korean, I would definitely be Mediterranean, and I mean Mediterranean, from southern Spain all the way around the coast to Morocco.

Slowing down the blog, with Southern Spice

March 25, 2010

It is time for me to admit that it’s no longer possible for me to regularly post to this blog, plus finish the cookbook, work my day job, and have a social life, as I really love my social life.  I will post when I can, and probably short, picture-heavy posts like the one below, from a fun group dinner at Southern Spice, a wonderful Indian restaurant in Flushing, Queens.

Squid pakoras, basically Indian fried calamari on the left, with mango chutney on the left, and “Chicken 65” on the right, which are squares of chicken breast fried with hot peppers.  I normally am suspicious of anything made out of chicken breast, but this is one of the restaurant’s specialties and much more flavorful than I would think chicken breast could ever be.

One of the rasam soups, I can’t remember which one came to my end of the table, but regardless, it was sour and peppery and totally invigorating.  This is the kind of soup I’d eat for breakfast, as jolting as my usual cup of coffee.

This was probably our favorite, the nilgiri chicken in a mint curry sauce.  The mint is cooked and melded into the sauce, but it still retains its unmistakable fragrance.  None of us had ever tried anything like this before, which means all our lives were changed by it!

The shrimp biryani.  Very nice shrimp, beautiful presentation.

The tandoori duck Raj was sort of bullied into ordering.  It was very good, but I’m actually not a huge fan of duck unless it’s crispy and Chinese.  Some of my friends would find that blasphemous.  Oh well.

These are the Kerala crab cakes, which we got because the location “Kerala” was in the name.  Southern Spice is a self-declared South Indian restaurant, but it was a little hard for us, even with Raj whose family is from southern India, to figure out what was archetypically South Indian.  Also good, but not as surprising as the nilgiri chicken.

This is the only restaurant I’ve been to in Flushing where the chef’s name was proudly emblazoned on the menu.  The restaurant itself is brightly painted and cheerful, but it looks essentially like the kind of restaurant that has a buffet lunch, which it does. The chef certainly deserves to be given credit.  It would be awesome if more non-Manhattan-style restaurants did this.

Jeremy declared it the best Indian food he’s had in New York.  I haven’t tried enough Indian restaurants here to say the same, but it’s definitely worth the trek, as far as it is from public transit.

Chinese-Korean or Korean-Chinese? An edible mystery in Flushing.

January 31, 2010

SECOND UPDATE: The mystery deepens…our two favorite dishes turned out to be Sichuan.  My friend Sharon works in a lab with people from Dongbei, Hunan, and Guangzhou, and they said these dishes are very popular and common all over China but they are Sichuan in origin.  “Yu hsiang” means “fish-flavored,” although there is no actual fish in the sauce, and recipes for “yu hsiang” pork and “jing jiang rou shi” can both be found in Fuchsia Dunlop’s excellent cookbook, Land of Plenty: Authentic Sichuan Recipes Personally Gathered in the Chinese Province of Sichuan. (I also highly recommend her memoir, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China.)  So a Dongbei cook making Sichuan food for a largely Korean clientele in Flushing, NY.  My favorite kind of multiculturalism.

UPDATE: I’m guest-blogging at ZenKimchi Food Journal!  You can see this same post there.

Flushing, New York is easily disorienting.  It may not be the most ethnically diverse town in the borough of Queens, but it’s definitely one of them.  The sidewalks of downtown Flushing are nearly as packed as in Times Square, with people shopping for durian fruit and eating $1 Peking duck buns.  The dominant Asian ethnicities are obviously Chinese and Korean, except that doesn’t begin to describe who is actually living, working, and cooking in Flushing.  Within blocks, sometimes within a few feet, you can move from Taipei to Chengdu to Hong Kong.

And this past weekend, I ate food from the border between China and North Korea.  Some of what I ate reminded me of Korean food.  Some of what I ate reminded me of Chinese food.  None of it was like anything I had tasted before.

명찬동, pronounced “Myung Chan Dong,” can be found at 36-24 Union St., just south of Northern Boulevard.  The name of the restaurant is written in Korean and Chinese; it’s been written up elsewhere in English as “Ming Chan Dong.”  The outside of the restaurant is plastered with Korean letters advertising things like chive dumplings and boiled dumplings.  The windows are filled with giant buns stuffed with kimchi.  The dough is similar to the kind in Korean “wang mandu” or “giant dumplings,” but with pleating more intense than anything I’ve ever seen in Korea.  (One food writer says it’s like a Klingon forehead.)

Inside, the signs on the walls sport mainly Korean writing—you can get sundubu or spicy soft tofu stew, or sundae, Korean blood sausage stuffed with vermicelli.  At least that’s what I know those words to mean, but since I didn’t order these dishes, I’m not sure that’s exactly what I would get.  The menu is entirely in Chinese and Korean, no English, but not every Chinese dish is translated into Korean.  The waitress greeted us in Chinese, but when I said I was Korean, she switched easily and smoothly into Korean.  Then when she realized my friend Jerome speaks Chinese, she alternated between the two, looking back and forth at us.  (Alex and Salley, who are ethnically half-Chinese and Korean, respectively, understood nothing but ate everything.)  The only other people who came into the restaurant that day were obviously Korean.  I heard one of them order cheonggukjang, which is an especially smelly and intense version of doenjang or Korean soybean paste, that has fermented to the point it tastes like cheese.

And yet, nothing we ate that day was Korean.  Actually, we were served four side dishes of spicy pickles that were very, very, very similar to kimchi.  But otherwise, nothing we ate was remotely Korean or even Korean-Chinese, that sub-cuisine that Koreans love and own as much as Americans love and own pizza.

The first dish to arrive was pork in a sauce similar to jjajiang or black bean sauce, on a bed of freshly shredded scallions, that we were supposed to eat wrapped in paper-thin slices of warm tofu.

Judging from the translation of the menu provided by Lau on Chowhound, I think it was the “jing jiang rou shi,” which Lau describes as “shredded meat in Beijing sauce.”  I don’t know what “Beijing sauce” means.  I only know that it was absolutely delicious.  The sauce was slightly sweet, just enough to notice but not enough to be cloying.  The tofu was firm but flexible, and wrapping it around the meat was almost as much fun as eating it.

Because we were planning to eat at two more places that day, I asked her to recommend a vegetable dish.  She suggested eggplant sauteed in garlic, but what we got was so much more.  The eggplant was cut into thick, long pieces, almost like French fries.  It was coated in egg then fried, so that the inside was creamy and the outside crisp, even when tossed in garlic sauce.  The texture, especially with the crunchy-tender wood ear mushrooms, was as surprising and exciting as any dish created by a molecular gastronomist.  We found out from the waitress that the dish was “yuhsiang” (translated by Chowhound Lau as “yu xiang qie zi”).  Jerome said it’s a very common style of cooking, just one step up from “bulletproof Chinese,” but like us, he had never eaten anything like this before.

We also tried one of the giant kimchi buns, which to me tasted dry and not very memorable, but was at least really fun to look at.

My initial reason for wanting to go to this restaurant had been to try the Korean-style jjajiangmyeon and the Chinese-style side by side.  Like taking a slice of American pizza and lining it up next to its Neopolitan ancestor.  The Korean-style, though, looked nothing like I expected.  The sauce was black and there were the requisite shredded cucumbers, but there was no pork or seafood or onions in the sauce.  The sauce had good flavor but the noodles were poor, too mushy to support anything.

To our surprise, the “Chinese-style” turned out to be noodle soup!  Jerome and Salley, who have had “zha jiang mian” said that what they had in mind were noodles with meat and a bit of sauce.  This may have been a mistake in communication, though this blog post on a Dongbei restaurant in Kuala Lumpur makes me think that she was serving us dao shao mian in the way that blogger expected it, “floating around with greens and porky pieces in a rich broth.” The broth was good, as was the pork and greens, but the noodles again fell down.

At the end of our meal, the waitress asked us what we had liked best.  When we told her we loved the pork wrapped in tofu and the eggplant, she said in Korean, “There are dishes that are yummier here, but I thought since you are new to our restaurant, you should try these.  They are cheap.”  She then turned to Jerome and told him in Chinese that the lamb dish was “the bomb.”  For a minute, we considered ordering the lamb right then and there, but we decided instead to push on for Xi’an liang pi noodles and Szechuan wontons in chili oil at the Golden Mall.

(These are famous, especially as Anthony Bourdain is a big fan of the Xi’an food stall, so you can find out more about them elsewhere.)

In any case, I resolved to come back with a bigger crowd and eat whatever she told us to eat.

I think much of the menu is typical of “Dongbei cuisine,” which encompasses three provinces in northeastern China.  From what I’ve read, the cuisine shows the marks of Korean influence—they eat a lot of pickles and food spiked with hot chiles and vinegar.  They are also masters of dough, with wheat taking a more central place than rice.  One of the most intriguing menu items to me was “옥수수냉면“ or corn cold noodles.  Naengmyeon, or cold Korean noodles, are from North Korea, so it would make sense that the Chinese provinces would eat something similar.  I’m dying to know if the noodles are made with corn or if corn is incorporated into the dish in some other way.  Judging from what people have eaten at a self-identified Dongbei restaurant, corn as well as potatoes are staples, which would coincide with what I know about North Korean regional cuisines as well.

Yet it’s clearly not just a Dongbei restaurant.  I’d wondered if it was owned by ethnically Korean people from China, or ethnically Chinese people from Korea.  But it turns out the bilingual waitress is Chinese, has never lived in Korea, and speaks Korean because she was taught it in school.  I guess it doesn’t really matter what we call the food Myung Chan Dong makes.  The restaurant reflects the people who cook and eat there.  No more, no less.  I can’t wait to go back.