Flushing’s Chinatown teems with so much deliciousness that I often suffer from culinary tunnel vision. Street vendors hawk everything from freshly roasted Chinese chestnuts and Xinjiang meat on a stick to strings of candied haw fruit. And there’s the Golden Shopping Mall with its cornucopia of regional Chinese fare.
A springtime stroll through the Botanical Garden down the southern end of Main Street, which is more of a Little India than a Chinatown, reminded me of a long-forgotten haunt: Oriental Express Food Garden. With space for only three vendors, it is Flushing’s smallest food court. Intrigued by a sign promising “Sichuan Spicy Food,” I ventured inside and found the newly opened Zhu Da Zi Chengdu Xiao Chi, which translates to "Big Sister Zhu’s Chengdu Snacks."
Don’t let the Chinese menu put you off, there’s also a printed English version. I don’t read Chinese, but based on the cold items displayed and my passing knowledge of Sichuan cuisine, I felt little need to cross-reference the English menu with the overhead signage, but I did so anyway. They appeared to be exactly the same. Then I noticed an off-menu item, a tray filled with offal of unknown provenance. Pointing to the bipartite lobes, I stage-whispered, “testicles,” to Sister Zhu’s son. He thought for a minute and then said, “It’s like a duck stomach. It’s very good.”
Further research reveals that lu ya zhen ($4.50) aren’t duck stomachs, but rather gizzards stewed in soy sauce, sugar and perhaps five-spice powder. Sister Zhu serves them cold and thinly sliced. The chewy savory-sweet ribbons of dense organ meat are quite tasty. And I’m not just saying that because I’m three items away from earning my offal merit badge.
I also tried a bowl of the classic Sichuan snack dandan mian ($3.95). When asked if I wanted it spicy or not, I responded “la de,” which I now realize means something like "as hot as a blast furnace, please" in Mandarin. It was the hottest version I’ve ever eaten. All that red pepper combined with the heat of the noodles soon had me breaking out in a sweat.
Sister Zhu also serves fu qi fei pian or "husband and wife" offal slices. I didn’t try it, but the order she was prepping looked pretty good. In the event that they don’t get their English menu edited, be aware that it’s the item labeled, “XO tongue and triple.” As much as I love the fiery salad that is fu qi fei pian, I can’t help thinking that Sister Zhu should invent a dish that combines X.O. sauce, tongue and "triple."
Sister Zhu Sichuan Food
42-47 Main Street, Flushing NY (map) 646-496-6577
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