Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lunch Is Elsewhere

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.

When I step onto Roosevelt Avenue, Chinese shops, restaurants, and newsstands engulf more familiar locations (Starbucks, Duane Reade), and predominantly East Asian shoppers hurry down Main Street. While Manhattan’s vibrant Chinatown is still more popular with tourists than its Queens’ counterpart, Flushing “rivals [Manhattan’s] Chinatown as a center of Chinese-American business and political might, as well as culture and cuisine.”

Until recently my husband, Adeet, and I ventured to Flushing to eat soup dumplings at Nan Shian Dumpling House or to slurp spicy cumin noodles at Xi’an Famous Foods. Then we discovered the New World Mall. The mall, which opened earlier this year, gleams unapologetically next to its stodgier looking neighbor, Macys. Its designers apparently adopted a “more is more” philosophy regarding the number of chandeliers hanging in the atrium, and they didn’t limit the mall’s tenants to clothing and jewelry stores. The New World Mall also houses a 30,000-square-foot Asian grocery store, a karaoke bar, and a dim sum restaurant. But the food court holds the most allure for me.

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.

New World Mall

136-20 Roosevelt Avenue • Flushing

photos by Adeet and Kate Deshmukh


Kelly said...

Nummmmmyyyy... Can not wait!!

Tarte Titou said...

Thanks for sharing your adventures of the New World Mall food court. I really enjoyed reading this post and look forward to following your other posts.