Noodles, baos, and the World's Fair
Hand pulled noodles, the fluffiest baos you'll ever see, and that unmistakable aroma of frying dumplings, all against the backdrop of a collage of hundreds of cluttered Chinese signs and adverts: a Flushing archetype many of us may know well, even without having stepped foot in this bustling hood.
For those who aren't familiar, Flushing is a fascinating corner of Queens at the end of the 7 line - renowned as one of the largest and most authentic NYC China Towns and also making its mark on pop culture thanks to a few notable visits by folks like Anthony Bourdain.
I had visited Flushing a few times before the below trip, once to grab some Bubble Tea and fried Taiwanese goodness for a picnic in at the site of the World's Fair grounds and another time in search of some stellar Korean BBQ a ~15 min bus ride away from the center of things.
Even so, I've found it hard to plan a return trip that was properly comprehensive of some of the unique and less traveled finds in this often blogged about food heaven. I'll blame my lack of language skills and a generally inexperienced Chinese food pallet. Thankfully, Jessie Lin (quite the NYC China Town food expert) was around to give me a tour, tell me what to eat, and describe to me what it was I was in fact eating. Below is a day of food exploring, showcasing our favorite finds in chronological order from the Main Street 7 station + of course the amazing 1964 Worlds Fair grounds at Flushing Meadows Corona Park which is just a bus ride away from the center of the hustle and bustle.
Before we get started, there are three very important things you need to know about Flushing:
1. Everything, and I mean everything, is cash only.
2. Ordering is always better in Mandarin. If you're like me and don't speak the language, you'll be fine without a friend but might not always know what you're eating or get what you thought you ordered.
3. Per the above photo, you'll find some of the most interesting faces and scenes among the chaos. Take the time to people watch and don't lose sight of your friends weaving through the packed sidewalks.
First stop: the Peking Duck stand
This spot is right off the 7 subway station at Main St. and 40th road tucked behind some fruit stands. Look out for the sign below and you can't miss it. For $1 (seriously folks) pick up a fresh crispy duck bun with hoisin sauce and scallions. We may or may not have gone back for seconds, even after 7 other meals. Just sayin'. Its that good.
Next up: The Golden Shopping Mall
Head a block further down Main Street to the corner of 41st Road where you'll find the entrance to the Golden Shopping Mall, a food court to end all food courts and home to some of the best eats in the neighborhood - all crammed into a tiny basement and first floor cafeteria-style space.
Let's start with the basement...
Head down the stairs and you enter a labyrinth of stalls, tables, and plastic stools. To help us out, the brilliant folks at Serious Eats made this hugely informative map of the basement.
Once you turn left at the stairs to walk into the main space, head straight ahead for the stall with the dumplings laid out on its counters: 謝家菜 Xie Family Dishes. This is most definitely the spot to get a steaming plate of pork and chive soup dumplings. Drizzle with vinegar and hot sauce and enjoy!
Then head to the right of the space where you'll find 西安名吃 Xi'an Famous Foods of Bourdain fame and 正宗蘭州拉麵 Lanzhou Handmade Noodles. At both of these neighboring hand pulled noodle spots, you can watch the noodles being made by hand - and boy can you taste the difference.
I'll assume you're stuffed already, but we're not even half way there so maybe a quick climb up the stairs will bring back the appetite.
Head upstairs and into the open hallway to the left of the basement entrance. This is the first floor of the Golden Shopping Mall. Inside you'll find the fluffiest baos you've ever seen and plenty more food stalls for us to explore.
Look up as you walk in to the first level entrance and you should see a white sign with a red arrow pointing to the right. I have no idea what the place is called, but the stall its pointing to is the first one on the right side of the hallway and is seriously worth a visit. First up, pan fried pork and chive dumplings deliberately fried so that they have a crispy bottom layer. Have never had dumplings like this before, but they were pretty delish.
Next up, at the same place, sesame rice dumplings - quite possibly my favorite of all the Flushing eats. If you've had mochi before, the outside rice layer is similar in texture and taste while the inside is full of the most delicious sesame filling I've ever had. This one was a serious winner in our book.
Head back out of the mall and turn right. This little stall pictured below is to the left of the first floor entrance of the Golden Shopping Mall and is technically connected to the bao place we saw inside. We got the egg and chive pancake in the photo below, but there are a ton of other fried things that also looked delish.
Onward to: Super Snack for Sweet Congee
Head back down Main street in the direction you came from originally and make a left on 41st Ave. Super Snack is right across from Sparkling Supermarket (which you should definitely check out as well for all the awesome green tea versions of your favorites - I'm talking green tea Kit-Kats, people.)
For those who aren't familiar, Congee is a rice-based porridge usually full of other savory things like thousand year egg and bamboo shoots. Sweet Congee is a desert variety of the same glutinous rice dish, filled this time with dried dates, nuts and sugar. Pretty tasty, especially if you already like the original.
Thirsty. It's time for: Boba at Kung Fu Tea
Boba, Bubble Tea, Tapioca, Pearls: its all the same thing and its all awesome. Kung Fu Tea is the best Boba I've had outside Hong Kong and Taiwan. And, lucky for us, there's also a location in Manhattan China Town. My favorites are the jasmine green milk tea with boba and the taro milk tea with boba.
Last stop! Dessert at Iris Tea and Bakery
This place has some pretty stellar desserts and is the best bakery of the 5 or 6 we wandered into. Pictured below is the Taro Sesame Bun, but there were all sorts of future favorites like Sesame Panacotta, Taro Tarts, Green Tea Red Bean cakes, etc etc.
Flushing Meadows Corona Park: Site of the 1939 and 1964 World's Fair
Now that you've eaten what is quite possibly 2-3 days worth of food, its probably time to go lie down in the grass in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, or at the very least, take a walk around the grounds so that you can start digesting. Life is hard, folks, but the views are pretty spectacular.
This massive public park is home to the US Open tennis stadiums, Citi Field (home of the New York Mets Baseball team), the Queens Museum, World's Fair relics, and much much more. Neighboring it is also the Queens Botanical Garden, which I haven't yet visited but looks beautiful from the photos I've seen - a sure item on the Flushing bucket list.
Over 44 million people attended the first Flushing World's Fair in 1939, celebrating the spirit of the future and embracing the theme of a "Dawn of a New Day" with all sorts of fascinating exhibits including the first of a series of time capsules.Not to be opened for 5,00 years (the year 6939), the capsules included all sorts of things like a tube containing the writings of Albert Einstein, copies of Life Magazine, a Gillette Safety Razor, a pack of Camel cigs, microfilm, and a ton of other then novel inventions and icons of culture.
So, what is this crazy structure in the photo above, you ask? This massive hunk of steel makes up the Unisphere, a 12 story monolith commissioned to celebrate the beginning of the space age and to represent the theme of the 1964 fair: "Peace through Understanding". Certainly a sight to behold and most definitely worth a visit.
A few of the other remaining World's Fair structures are still around the park, including the 250 foot towers in the picture below that made up the original New York State Pavillion.The place is considered structurally unsound now and is generally not open to the public but is still fascinating to visit and experience from the outside.
Mapping your trip
Getting to Flushing is pretty easy - its a straight shot to the end of the 7 line or you can opt for the LIRR shortcut to save you a couple minutes depending on the train schedule. All the food is extremely concentrated in the area around the Main Street subway station, with of course, plenty of opportunities to venture further past the central commercial hub for excellent Korean eats.