The Food Court at Fei Long Market in Brooklyn's Chinatown


Ma la noodle soup with crab. [Photographs: Paul Yee]

Why is it so difficult to decide where to eat in a food court? Perhaps the desperate hunger that drives you to the third floor of the mall also severely impairs your ability to make decisions, leaving you pacing back and forth between Master Wok and Sbarro.

The food court attached to the Fei Long Market in Brooklyn's Chinatown adds an additional layer of uncertainty; the nine stalls that surround the dining area offer distinctly different styles of Chinese cuisine, but offer very little guidance for a less experienced eater.


A butcher at Shall We Eat, Inc.

But some things are immediately recognizable—the incredibly named Shall We Eat, Inc. has a window display of spit-roasted meats that should be familiar to anyone who has ever set foot in a chinatown before. A combo of Two Meats Over Rice ($4.75) might be the best way to quickly cure that aforementioned desperate hunger. Among the siu mei, the velvet soft scallion chicken and roast pig with crisp, brittle skin and melting fat are most memorable; the other hanging meats are solid, if unexceptional. If you're after even more of a value meal, a decent bowl of congee can be had for just a dollar.


Cooks pleating xiao long bao.

Next to Shall We Eat is the Shanghai Dumpling House, where you can watch as cooks stuff and meticulously pleat hand-rolled rounds of dough with various fillings. The thin noodle of the pork Xiao Long Bao ($3.75 for 6) burst with a steaming hot broth that's rich and savory, but doesn't quite make your lips sticky with gelatin as the best soup dumplings will.


Pork xiao long bao.

The pork filling is fairly dense but still a satisfying fatty bite. Their Shrimp Soup Dumplings ($5.75) seem appealing as a lighter option, but offer a flat broth and equally flavorless shrimp.


LaoMa MaLaTang's raw ingredients.

A common sight in the dining area is a group of three or four people sharing out of large wooden bowls from LaoMa MaLaTang, a pay-by-the-pound Sichuan stall with a Subway-esque display of raw ingredients ranging from tripe to tofu skin that are stir fried to your desired level of heat. But Sichuan peppercorn addicts will be disappointed by the lack of mouth numbing. MaLa's noodle soups offer a similar premise, only swimming in a beef broth with glass vermicelli.


Clay pot rice with eel.

Though there is a single stall that scoops and serves gloopy stir-fries over rice, almost every other prepares your food to order. DM Tea, which specializes in clay pot rice dishes, takes a full 20 minutes to get your order on the tray. The starchy crust that forms along the bottom of the pot does well to complement the plump hot rice and the soy sauce-heavy meats on top. It's not quite worth the wait though—between the long cook time and the amount of patience it requires to eat an incredibly hot bowl of rice, you may be in that food court chair for 40 minutes.


Hand-pulled noodles.

Grand Noodle House looks promising as a cook hand pulls noodles in plain sight of the entire food court, but their noodles lack any spring or chew. The least focused stall, Sakura Teriyaki Express, is also probably the most accessible (or least adventurous). Chicken, beef, or shrimp teriyaki over rice with string beans would fit in well at any food court; Sakura's dishes, though, achieve a relatively impressive smoky wok hei. They also offer sushi and fried chicken.

The dining area.

I keep a map of restaurants that I intend to visit all over New York, and over the past ten years, the destinations have started to reach farther and deeper into the boroughs. While I can't say that the food court at Fei Long Market deserves a pin to merit its own excursion, it's certainly worth having on your radar. If you're shopping in the Fei Long market or passing through Brooklyn Chinatown when that irrational hunger hits, let it lead you to the food court.

About the Author: Paul Yee is a Brooklyn-based filmmaker who loves cooking and eating. He also runs the Brooklyn Table supper club..