Asian Heritage Night at Citi Field
Last Friday I attended Asian Heritage Night at Citi Field. Let me first dispense with the sports news. The Mets, although celebrating the 25th anniversary of their last World Series Championship, played more like the 1962 version of the team, with too many errors to keep track of, resulting in a 7-2 rout at the hands of their arch-rival Philadelphia Phillies. Fortunately, as a long suffering Mets fan (born and bred in Queens), I found solace in the char siu (bbq pork) and crispy skinned roast pork that I had brought to the stadium to celebrate my home borough's Chinese heritage, even if my home team still sucks.
Before the game, my brother (an even longer suffering Mets season-ticket holder) and I met at the base of the LIRR station on Main Street and 41st Avenue in Flushing. Under the elevated train station are windows called simply AA Plaza. The ladies behind the open windows offer a variety of choices including noodles, steamed buns, fish balls on sticks, and sesame pancakes. But the fielder's, I mean foodie's, choice here is the five-spiced deeply fried chicken drumsticks, two drumsticks per order, for $1 per order. The fried chicken made me look at the Popeye's Fried Chicken branch up the street (usually one of my favorites) with disdain.
Directly across Main Street is a street cart labeled "Traditional Xinjiang Barbecue." Over a narrow coal pit built into the cart, a man and woman wearing masks to filter the perpetual sweet smelling smoke, rotated sticks of 12 different varieties of meats ranging from chicken innards, to beef, lamb, and squid. Each stick is priced at, you guessed it, $1. We each had a red pepper-flecked stick of delectable lamb. I then threw my brother a curveball and ordered the one selection that cost a whopping $3 each, the grilled quail. Same hot pepper coating but they split the quail so you actually get two sticks for your three bucks and the quail almost made us forget about the fabulous fried chicken drumsticks we'd just had.
Then it was up the block and down under the sidewalk into the maze-like warren of food stalls inside the misnamed "Golden Shopping Mall." "Grungy Mall" would be more apropos but this is the home to the original Xi'an Famous Food stall discovered by Anthony Bourdain and subsequently visited by Andrew Zimmern, Kelly Choi, and every other famous food celebrity whose photos line the walls like a Food Network Hall of Fame. Such notoriety spawned a chain of Xi'an Famous stores opening in Manhattan, much to the delight of Manhattan-bound Mets and Yankees fans alike. We went for the signature cumin and onion-laced lamb burgers on a flattened crispy mantou bun before hopping to the stall across the way for some shao ya la mian (roast duck in hand pulled noodles in soup) at the equally famous Lanzhou Hand Pulled Noodle Stall.
Next we walked over to Prince Street for some xiao long bao (crab and pork filled soup dumplings) at Nan Shian Dumpling House which rival those at my go-to place, Joe's Shanghai. Unfortunately, it was time to head over to the stadium to endure the inevitable embarrassment of our Mets, but not before getting some sustenance in the downstairs Cantonese take-out section of Corner 28 on the busiest corner of Main Street in Flushing.
By "busiest" in Flushing, I mean take the most crowded city corner you've ever been trapped on and multiply by ten. Think Soylent Green. But far tastier than Soylent Green, is the selection from Corner 28's infinite buffet table including servings of Peking duck for, you're right again, $1 a serving. As I previously mentioned, we took out a platter of mixed char siu and roast pork to soften the agony of yet another Mets defeat.