Sichuan Chengdu

I took a short break for the holidays, a break from writing about food that is. I was too busy cooking and eating plenty of it. It’s going to take me a while to catch up, so let’s start here. Maybe you read in Time Out New York last week in their 100 best things we ate last year issue about the dandan noodles at Sichuan Chengdu. It was kind of hard to miss, because it was #5 on the list, with a photo of the noodles. The small feature said the restaurant was in a mall in Flushing, Queens. I’ve been known to venture out to Queens quite a bit. I’m originally from Flushing, believe it or not. Flushing has changed since then, a lot. It’s basically all Chinese, Korean and Indian now. Back in the old days, there was a Jewish community there too, among other races. I’m not complaining or anything, because it’s a real hotspot for food. You just have to have a little patience with the #7 train, which never seems to be running express when I’m on it.

Back to the story, these are the noodles, but they weren’t easy to find. Let me preface all of this by saying that the owner of Chengdu said he lost his lease and will be closing in a few days. So by the time you read this, you may already be out of luck. It’s a real loss, and I’ll be curious to know if it moves some place else. Back to the story again… first take the #7 train to the last stop and walk south on Main Street. If you’ve been to Flushing Mall and think you know what to expect, you can forget about that. I don’t know how J&L Mall is considered to be a mall, but here’s a Google map to help you find it. You almost don’t notice the front door when you pass it. Once inside, you find about 7 food stands and one DVD shop. Except for the very first food stand, everything is written in Chinese, and you’re unlikely to see anyone but Chinese people inside. How Time Out expected anyone to figure out which stand is Sichuan Chengdu is beyond me. I walked around for about 15 minutes, checking the health inspection signs on the walls, hoping to figure out what was what. Then I got really lucky and found someone actually speaking English. She pointed me in the right direction (thank you!!!). She even ordered the noodles for me. Three bucks later, I sat down, snapped the photo above, and was ready to dive in. That’s when the chef came out from behind the counter, stopped me, took the chopsticks out of my hand, and stirred up the noodles. Seriously. Then my noodles looked something like this.

If you’re thinking that looks like quite a bit of chile oil in the bottom of the bowl, you’re beginning to get a sense of what’s in store. These noodles are incredibly spicy. I enjoy spicy food, even when I’ve got nothing to drink, as was the case today. But spice is only half the story. The finely chopped pork and fermented vegetables were like nothing I’ve ever tasted. Nothing. My mouth was tingling with a vengeance. I wasn’t sure if I was having an allergic reaction to the food, or if this was intentional. I was getting bitter, acidic flavors that almost crossed the line from intriguing to gross. I said almost. I kept eating. Honestly, this food was difficult to eat. Here is a snapshot of me about half way through. This is me “enjoying” food like I’ve never tasted before.

I almost finished my noodles before I felt completely overwhelmed. If your a hardcore foodie who ventures out to Queens on a regular basis, the only way I can describe it is if you combined the stinky tofu at Spicy & Tasty with the hottest dish you’ve ever tried at Sripraphai, and then, to quote Emeril, kicked it up another notch. I’m really glad I made the trip and found these noodles, but this place is strictly for the most adventurous eaters only.

I had to eat something to give my tastebuds a break. I headed over to 39th Street and walked east into the more Korean neighborhood to a favorite bakery, Koryodang. It looks sort of like a regular French bakery. The prices are cheap, with almost nothing over two bucks. Then you take a closer look and find that the fillings are a bit more Asian than you’d expect. I ordered three different kinds of pastries with red bean paste filling.

The fillings were just about the same, and they all looked sort of like cream-filled doughnuts from the outside, but the pastry was varied. From left to right, one was like a regular doughnut in texture; one was cakey and crumbly; and the last one was gummy, probably made from glutinous rice. The first one was the best — I wish I’d ordered three of those, but the taste test was fun. More holiday stories coming soon…

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