photos by Adeet Deshmukh
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
photos by Adeet Deshmukh
Monday, July 30, 2012
Now for some exercise. We went to Seward Park to climb, play tag, and see how often I missed catching Zoë's new yellow rubber ball. And before going back uptown, I introduced Zoë to the Chinese department store, Pearl River. She didn't know where to begin: "Look, Angry Birds toys! Look, dragons! Oh, I want to show you something really crazy!" The something "crazy" was a waterfall cascading down a wall. I bought her a pair of Chinese slippers that fit her properly and matched her blouse, and then we finally made it to the subway. When I told Zoë to say goodbye to Chinatown, she said she didn't want to leave. I'm sure we can think up a reason for another Chinatown adventure soon. As long as it isn't to find out what a durian tastes like.
250 Grand Street • Manhattan
Sara D. Roosevelt Park
Canal Street, Essex Street, Jefferson Street, and East Broadway • Manhattan
Sunday, September 25, 2011
In college I bought a postcard that declared, “She was often seized with a desire to be elsewhere.” Restless? Yes. Discontent? No. Just curious to know firsthand how people live everywhere else. It’s fitting, then, that I’ve ended up in New York, a city of myriad “elsewheres.”
The five boroughs boast a league of “diminutive” nations, from Little Guyana and Little Russia to Little Sri Lanka and Le Petit Senegal, and more than one Little Italy. When I eat Guyanese doubles in Richmond Hill or varenyky in Brighton Beach, I get a taste, literally and figuratively, of another culture. But just as I start to imagine I’m in another time zone, I catch a glimpse of an NYC landmark or spot a Post headline. However, when I visit the decidedly not little Chinatown in Flushing, Queens, I check twice for a customs agent as I leave the subway station.
I’ve tended to consider food courts a culinary detour, not a destination, but this one dazzled me. I scanned the names of the more than 30 food stalls and happily didn’t spot a single Sbarro or Panda Express. Instead, I found signs advertising “beautiful memory desserts,” “infinite creamy ice,” and “tenderous ribs.” I imagined myself in one of the food courts Anthony Bourdain always seems to be enjoying in Singapore or Hong Kong. We heard little English, and flat-screen televisions played Mandarin-language news broadcasts. Unfortunately, the images on the TVs were all too familiar to us. It was the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, and the program showed footage of the towers collapsing. We chose to focus on our food and were not disappointed.
While Adeet and I decided where to eat, our daughter, Zoë, danced from vendor to vendor and elicited a number of smiles from employees and other diners. We settled on Pho Bac, a Vietnamese stall, where I ordered spring rolls and grilled shrimp on vermicelli (Bun Cha Gio Tom Nuong). Adeet had pho, the traditional Vietnamese soup topped with rice noodles, and Zoë tangled with a plate of sticky vermicelli. For dessert, we skipped the infinite creamy ice, which looked infinitely overwhelming, and chose ice-cream crepes at Mojoilla Fresh. Separately, ice cream and crepes are two of my favorite desserts. However, I quickly learned that an ice-cream cone fashioned from a crepe is better in theory than practice.
A few days after this meal, Zoë and I rode the 7 train back to Flushing and had lunch at the mall’s food court. I carried her past each food vendor while I debated the merits of hand-pulled noodles versus hot pots brimming with fatty beef. I finally decided on a stall called Live Seafood, where my daughter waved to the lobsters bobbing in a large tank. I took my chances that the soft-shell “carbs” would turn out to be crabs, and for $8 I received a plate of crabs, fried rice, and salad. I skipped the anemic looking lettuce and enjoyed the pleasantly ungreasy rice and pan-fried crabs. We went back to Mojoilla Fresh for dessert, but this time we had our ice cream in a cup, not a crepe.
Adeet, Zoë, and I are going back to the food court tonight. We’ve discovered an elsewhere where we might end up staying awhile.
136-20 Roosevelt Avenue • Flushing
photos by Adeet and Kate Deshmukh
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Our daughter, Zoë, recently ate her first solid food. She consumed her rice cereal with such gusto that Adeet and I are convinced she’s ready for culinary school. We snapped photos, shot video, and applauded after she opened her mouth for more after each spoonful. Of course, we were excited that she’s achieved another milestone, but I was especially happy to think that soon she’ll participate in the communal experience of eating. I cherish the bond she and I have established through nursing, but I look forward to the joy she’ll experience when she shares food with others. For me, eating is a social activity. When I recall my favorite meals, I remember not only the food, but also the people who made it or who ate with me.
One recent meal in particular stands out. Earlier this winter, our friend Zaman, who cooks at one of Sammy's award-winning gyro carts, invited us for dinner at his home. We had expected that the food would be delicious, but we were impressed with just how much of it he had made: two kinds of rice, eggplant, salad, chicken, lamb, goat, and ilish, a popular Bangladeshi fish. The kitchen in his studio apartment is smaller than the gyro cart, and yet he had managed to create a feast.
Zaman held Zoë on his lap and wanted to give her a taste of his dinner. She was too young for solid food at that point, but I could understand his desire to share the meal with her. We had all come together that evening because of food—his food—and he wanted her to fully take part in the experience. And he was likely missing his young daughter, who is still in Bangladesh. When Zaman set the dishes on a blanket on the floor, they nearly ran the length of the room. We ate with our hands, which only heightened the pleasure of eating such good food—we could smell, taste, and feel the spices. He watched us carefully and kept track of what we had, or had not, eaten. “You haven’t tried the chicken!” he admonished me. No, but I’d had more than one piece of fish, two servings of each kind of rice, and several helpings of eggplant. But I tried it and was happy that he’d chided me. I don’t eat chicken often, but this was so flavorful and tender that I would happily make a habit of it.
When Zaman set the dishes on a blanket on the floor, they nearly ran the length of the room. We ate with our hands, which only heightened the pleasure of eating such good food—we could smell, taste, and feel the spices. He watched us carefully and kept track of what we had, or had not, eaten. “You haven’t tried the chicken!” he admonished me. No, but I’d had more than one piece of fish, two servings of each kind of rice, and several helpings of eggplant. But I tried it and was happy that he’d chided me. I don’t eat chicken often, but this was so flavorful and tender that I would happily make a habit of it.
We had enjoyed a delicious meal with Zaman, but we’d also learned about his home in Bangladesh, his early experiences in the States, and his take on street-cart politics. And in turn, he was curious to know more about us. I hope that sometime soon our daughters will eat together. Zoë will undoubtedly delight in the new tastes, from coriander and cumin to garlic and ginger. And even more importantly, she’ll savor the company of the person eating with her. In a few weeks, Zaman will take the U.S. citizenship exam. When he gets his green card, he’ll apply to bring his family here. I can imagine the happiness they’ll feel when they eat together again, and I picture Zaman sitting with his daughter and sharing food from his plate.
In a few weeks, Zaman will take the U.S. citizenship exam. When he gets his green card, he’ll apply to bring his family here. I can imagine the happiness they’ll feel when they eat together again, and I picture Zaman sitting with his daughter and sharing food from his plate.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
A dumpling is worth its weight in dough, but a soup dumpling has the added burden of proving its broth is slurp-worthy. Nan Shian’s dumplings excel on both counts. The tender dumpling skins alone would make a delicious snack, but they’re also perfect vehicles for the kitchen’s savory golden broth. The soup strikes a perfect balance of flavor: not bland but not too salty, not watery but not greasy.
Last August, days before I had my daughter, Adeet, my parents, and I took the 7 train to Flushing for soup dumplings. The line at Nan Shian stretched out the door, but I decided to wait. A pregnant woman, especially one past her due date, does not enjoy standing. However, any discomfort I experienced during the wait dissipated with the steam escaping from the first bamboo basket of dumplings brought to our table. And the second basket and the third… Maybe soup dumplings would inspire my baby to make her long-awaited debut.
My parents needed a quick tutorial before eating their first soup dumplings. The rookie mistake is to put an entire dumpling in one’s mouth, which will lead to a burned tongue. Remember that the broth is inside the dumpling. It’s important to vent the dumpling by poking a hole in it with a chopstick or biting off a bit of dough at the top. You can then slurp the broth out of the dumpling. I usually hold my dumpling in my spoon to catch the broth, while Adeet picks up his plate and inhales any spilled liquid. Manners aren’t called into question. The only breach of etiquette would be letting soup go to waste. My parents quickly mastered the art of slurping.
I didn’t go into labor after that trip to Nan Shian, but I did go home very happy.
We hadn’t gone back to Nan Shian since I’d had the baby, and my cousin’s questions had made me hungry. So on President’s Day, Adeet hoisted the baby stroller onto the 7 train, and we took our daughter on her first trip to Chinatown. Once again the line at the dumpling house extended to the sidewalk. Adeet waited outside with the pram, while I squeezed into the restaurant’s narrow vestibule to listen for our turn to be called. I frequently had to flatten myself against the wall as a crush of would-be diners joined the queue. I gazed through the large window separating us from people with tables and eyed their dishes greedily. I wanted to ask them what they were eating. Maybe, I fantasized, they would offer me a taste. One table had ordered plates of long, crispy dough and what looked like an empanada. And almost all of the tables had baskets of dumplings.
I clutched a piece of paper stamped with a “3” and held it up hopefully when the hostess announced a number in Chinese. Success! Fortunately, the crowded restaurant has added another seating area since our last visit, and we were happy to find enough room for the stroller and for us in the new dining room.
As soon as our waitress came to our table, I told her we wanted two baskets of crab and pork dumplings (steamed buns). Then I quickly scanned the menu and impulsively requested an egg and chive fried bun. We waited and waited. And then a fried bun filled with scrambled eggs showed up and turned out to be the “empanada” I’d seen earlier. The hot, crispy pie unlocked my appetite and made me feel hungrier. We asked for some sweet sticky rice, but the waitress told us they had just sold out. Before I resorted to gnawing on my chopsticks, our dumplings arrived. Once again, they were worth the wait.
There are a few things to keep in mind if you visit Nan Shian. First, the restaurant’s name on the awning is in Chinese. Look above it to see a sign in English, or better, just spot the street number and the crowd of people. Be prepared to wait, both in line and after you order. It can take more than 20 minutes to get your dumplings, but know that you will be rewarded with a basket of exquisite steamed buns. Also, the service may seem rushed or even brusque, but the servers are not unfriendly. Pointing to the menu can resolve any miscommunications that might occur. And don’t be shy about slurping.
A few hours after this latest dumpling adventure, I saw my cousin again. She and her husband had also eaten soup dumplings for lunch but were not impressed. They’d gone to Joe’s Ginger in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Next time she should play (my) favorites!
Nan Shian Dumpling House
38-12 Prince Street • Flushing
photos by Adeet Deshmukh
Saturday, August 22, 2009
However, the restaurant didn't find the smart girl they were looking for, as evidenced by this sign a few weeks later: