detour: on a far east food tour

New York City is home to many ethnic enclaves but none may be as vibrant and other-worldly as Flushing’s Chinatown. A trip to the neighborhood in the borough of Queens assaults the senses and transports visitors  deep in the heart of China and the Far East. While the Chinese population is currently the most prominent, Korean and Taiwanese communities are quickly growing in size.

The neighborhood resembles the communities homeland, with street side carts, stalls and restaurants serving up authentic bites to those aching for a taste of home. Traditional pharmacies provide ancestral remedies for a variety of ailments and supermarkets import the freshest of goods from China and beyond.

A trip to Flushing is almost as good as a trip around the globe and a great way to escape the typical New York hum drum. Even if you can’t make it to Flushing anytime soon yourself, take a tour of neighborhood through the images below.

Welcome to Flushing. To get here from Manhattan, take the 7 train into Queens and ride it til the last stop.

Chuar, the Chinese version of a shish kebob, is a popular street side snack. In my opinion, the lamb version is the best.

Streetwise Tours guide Alex, an American who came to love chuar while living in China; Lamb chuar close-up.

The grill masters at work whipping up batches of grilled goodness for the Flushing masses.

Flushing is a foodie haven. Stall after stall offer fresh snacks to be eaten immediately or to take home, all with the traditional flavors and brisk service of their Chinese counterparts. Prices are similar to those in China as well, with the majority of street cart offerings coming in at around $1. The busier the stall= the better you can bet the food will be.

Street side carts are only one of the many places to sample beloved Chinese bites. At Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao, waiters serve up Michelin recommended dim sum.

The specialty of the house? Shangai style soup dumplings.

No foray into Chinatown would be complete without Chinese delicacy Peking Duck. This stand and restaurant serves up a popular rendition.

Peking Duck on a steamed bun close-up.

American Chinese food lovers may think they know what the cuisine is all about. Most of the Chinese food in America is accommodated to the Western palate and includes a variety of dishes from mostly the Hunan, Szechuan and Canton provinces. Xi’an Famous Foods serves up flavors from its’ namesake ancient capital in Western China. Situated on the Silk Road the food from this region is original fusion, blending the flavors of the Far East with those of the Middle East.

If all the food sampling has done a number on your stomach, not to worry, Flushing’s Chinatown is also home to a number of traditional pharmacies stocking ancestral remedies for any ailment imaginable.

Chinese medicines and tonics straight from China. The pharmacist here will prescribe a series of elixirs that promise to make patients feel better in no time.

Traditional remedies are not the only thing to be imported from the mother country. Supermarkets import the freshest of local ingredients from the region for local community members looking to purchase a piece of home.

Supermarket madness as patrons dash around to purchase coveted goods from their homelands.

Some of the seafood available for purchase, much of it live as is the preference of the local community.

No tasting tour is complete without traditional sweets. While the foods in Flushing’s Chinatown tend to lean towards the savory, the New World Mall food court has options for those with a sweet tooth. Taiwanese snow ice is a popular choice and a delight for those looking for a sugar fix. Shaved ice is doused with flavored syrup and served with ice cream, beads of agar agar and fresh fruit. The ending result is a soupy mass of sugary amazingness that will surely be cause for a smile. Above from left to right are the strawberry, mango and black bean versions.

Just a few stops on the 7 train and New Yorkers can find themselves a world away. The scents, tastes and traditions of the Far East are hard to ignore here, and instead become an all encompassing escape.Ethnic enclaves like Flushing’s Chinatown allow the local community to maintain a cultural bond with ancestral lands and foster cross cultural interaction between those who visit and those who live in these spaces.

Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao (aka Nan Xiang Dumpling House), 38-12 Prince St, Flushing, Queens, 718 321 3838, Mon-Sun 8 AM- 5 PM

Xi’an Famous Foods, 41-28 Main Street Bsmt #36, Flushing, Queens, Mon-Sun 10:30 AM- 9:30 PM

New World Mall Foodcourt, 136-20 Roosvelt Ave, Flushing, Queens, 718 353 0551, Mon- Fri 9 AM- 10 PM


As always, thank you Andrew, Alex and the entire Streetwise New York Tours team.

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