I spend so much time prowling the grotty halls of the Golden Shopping Mall that I’ve thought about sneaking a cot in to catch some shuteye between snacking binges. So I was glad to run across a brand-new food court located just down the street from the outstanding Sichuan spot Little Pepper. The sign says Roosevelt Food Court, but the Chinese (Xin Lian He Mei Shi Cheng ) means something like New United Beautiful Food City, or so I was told by Jennifer 8. Lee.
But Chinese food wasn’t what made me do a double-take outside Roosevelt Food Court on Sunday. It was a guy manning the grill behind a window plastered with pictures of food, and a sign reading “KEBAB, ROASTED MEAT” with an Arabic translation. I didn’t know whether I was in Astoria or Flushing.
Looking up only confused the situation. A string of Chinese characters sat above a picture of a bridge, with platters of kebabs superimposed on it. Something clicked in my brain when I saw the kebabs though. I looked down at the guy in the black and gilt hat doing the grilling, and then it hit me. He was straight out of one of the kebab joints that dot my native Rego Parkistan. I walked in and he was speaking fluent Mandarin with potential customers. The only phrase I could pick out was hao chi, or delicious.
Polu Eyili style pilaf is a dead ringer for plov, the pleasantly greasy mixture of rice, carrots, spices and meat found in Central Asian joints throughout Rego Parkistan. I couldn't wait to taste the skewers from Eyili Kabab King. My appetite was further peaked when the man behind the grill told me Eyili lies within China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which is famous for its kebabs. Sadly the ox and lamb liver skewers were underdone and the lamb kebab was tough and under-seasoned. The gent running the show should head over to the Traditional Xinjiang Barbecue cart on 41st Avenue off Main Street to see what he’s up against. His samsa were standard fare, but the deep-fried ones were pretty tasty. After a little googling, I’m pretty certain the dude is from the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture. I wish him luck. Odds are he’s the first non-Chinese Central Asian kebab man in Flushing.
Jenny Lee tells me that the name of this Taiwanese mini-restaurant is Wojia Shifang. In English that’s “My Family's Eating Place.” Their kids were super-helpful when it came to translating names of dishes, so the name's pretty fitting.
I have little or no experience with Taiwanese food, but these finger-shaped guo tie, or pan-fried pork and leek dumplings, were awesome. Dumplings fashioned into open-ended tubes are a new one on me.
Ever seen Taiwanese edamame? Me neither. Nonetheless there they are. Vibrant green pods flecked with coarse black pepper, bits of garlic and, of all things, star anise. They’re called mao do, and they’re magnificent—fragrant, spicy nutty and slicked with sesame oil.
These fish dumplings, or xian yu shiu jiao, were made fresh. The delicate wrappers are packed with fish, ginger and scallions. It’s pretty easy to polish off an order of 10.
When I pointed at this in the case, I had no idea what cold veggie dish I was ordering. Thankfully the vegetal tubes dressed with cilantro, sesame oil and slivers of green and red pepper were delicious. And their shape was strangely familiar. These gien shun, or young bamboo shoots, had the same morphology as lucky bamboo plants. Two ladies next to me, who had just finished sharing a plate from Eyili Kabab King, saw me eating them and got up to order some. “Very good for the health,” one said with a smile.
Opposite the Taiwanese dumpling specialist is Han Song Ting which offers sushi, Korean soups and bing, or fried Chinese breads. Without a translator I couldn’t discern where these folks were from, but after poring over some Chinese characters, I think the name means South Korean Pine Tree Pavilion.
This jian bing is swimming with grease, but it’s the good, or rather, the tasty kind, The circular gut bomb is filled with pork and cabbage, and comes with a saucer of hot sauce mixed with soy for dipping.
And now for some Korean soup: On myun is a bowl full of slippery glass noodles awash in a beefy broth bobbing with veggies, plenty of red pepper and ground beef. It’s like a warm version of naeng myun, the chilled beef noodle soup that I saw a lady at the counter enjoying. It looked great, although instead of Asian pear there was a slice of red apple in the chili-spiked broth.
Another Taiwanese vendor sits at the front of the narrow lane of eateries. The only thing I understood on the Chinese menu was the stall’s name, Temple Snake. This pair of hong gwei gao might be slippery, but there’s nothing snaky about them. These ornate pink desserts are embossed with Chinese characters. One’s filled with black bean and the other has sweet peanut paste inside. They’re great in that sticky glutinous rice dessert sorta way.
In case anyone’s wondering, I didn’t eat all this stuff in one day. I’m not some sort of regional Chinese glutton. That said, a team of dedicated eaters could sample something from all 12 stalls in one day. With the exception of the Taiwanese dumpling stall there’s no English on any menu here, but don't let that deter you.The old point-and-ask method works pretty well. That’s how I did it.
When I walked in around 3:00 p.m. on Monday and saw many gates rolled partially down, I thought Roosevelt Food Court had gone the way of Shi Hong Mall within days of being open. Turns out that it was the first DOH inspection for the entire mall and the stalls had to remain closed while being
sentenced evaluated. Most reopened, but the Sichuan one and a few others didn’t. I’m sure they’ll be up and running soon. Here’s hoping that this motley crew will soon boast just as much character and deliciousness as the Golden Shopping Mall.
Roosevelt Food Court
135-28 Roosevelt Avenue, Flushing NY 11354 (map)