New York City is a treasure trove of good eats. Like many Manhattan-ites, it feels ‘adventurous’ to escape to Williamsburg, Brooklyn for Smorgasburg or even taking the L train to Bushwick for a sceney block party. In order to legitimately call oneself a foodie, you need to explore, be willing to try everything and sit on the subway for a very long time.
Very few of my friends would willing trek to the outskirts of Queens, let alone venture outside the city to eat duck heads and chicken hearts. Cue Gastronauts. In 2006, a pair of friends started an adventurous eating club, bringing together brave New Yorkers with a shared love for unconventional culinary delights. “The idea behind the club wasn’t to eat Fear Factor stuff, but to get people away from solely eating foods they were comfortable with; we figured having friends along would amortize the awkwardness.”
Once a month, the club meets at various spots throughout the city for nights filled with eating and boozing. My first adventure was completely unconventional. Meeting at an underground mall, in Flushing, Queens. Talk about off the beaten path. I took the 7 train past Mets-Willets Point to the last stop on the line; Flushing-Main Street. When I surfaced outside of the dark subway stop, I found myself in a different world. Signs in Chinese, crowds of people filling the street, moving at a slower pace then typical Manhattan fare. I couldn’t believe for $2.50 and 30 minutes on the subway I could find myself in a completely different world.
The group met inside the Flushing Queens Library to organize, claim our maps and guides and head down the block to the underground food mecca.
No one speaks English here. Pointing, numbers and body language is crucial in ordering the correct thing. Our experience was curated by Joe DiStefano of Chopsticks and Marrow, a Chinese cuisine expert. We had translated guides of each of the stands, filled with suggestions of what to order and details of what it all meant. I had the pleasure of being paired with Curtiss, one of the founders of Gastronauts, who made sure we tried all of the right things; beginning with Duck Heads.
A women stands behind the counter of Tianjin Dumpling House, clever in hand cutting duck heads in half. Her facial expression proves she’s an expert and completely un-phased by the mesmerized crowd.
At Tianjin Dumpling House, try the Duck Heads, Beef Tendon, Pig Ears and Lamb Dumplings with Green Squash. When diving into the duck heads, you need to just go for it, almost like a chicken wing. But be warned, the most difficult part about eating the bird is being able to handle the spice. These are hot, hot, hot. And the spice continues to build with each bite.
Luckily, the mild and addicting lamb dumplings serve as a bit of refuge from the extreme spice. Minced lamb meat, summer squash and scallion fill these sweet, steamed dumplings. I preferred the lamb over the beef, especially considering I’ve really never considered lamb part of typical Chinese fare.
Pig ears coated in chili oil and Sichuan peppercorn have a light crunch and spiciness. They are prepared differently then most pork ears, braised instead of fried, making them a bit more tender then other versions.
Beef Tendon cooked in chili oil are a bit more mild then you would think, gently infusing the offal with flavor. They’re easy to eat, spicy and slightly sweet.
Next, we made our way towards the font of Golden Mall to Chen Du Tian Fu, which serves all types of street food from Sichuan’s capital, Chengdu. These dishes were some of my favorites since the region is generous with their usage of cilantro and peanuts. I also love tongue in any preparation, and the ox tongue and tripe dish was no exception. The creamy bits of tongue, plus chewy pieces of tripe are coated in chili oil. The dish is mellowed out with the peanuts, cilantro and Chinese celery.
Don’t be shy about trying the Rabbit dish. There are little bones in each of the pieces, so eat with caution. It’s spicy, yet balanced and makes you want to have Rabbit on your regular take out menu.
The most well-known stand, Xi’an Famous Foods expanded outside of Golden Mall, but there’s something special about the original. Be sure to try Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger, which is far from a burger expect in title, and Lamb Face Salad.
Once you snagged a table at Xi’an Famous Foods, walk across the way to Lan Zhou Pulled Noodles for ridiculous skewers. Pieces of chicken hearts and squid are quickly grilled and served to the masses. They’re delicious, and while the squid looks creepy and wonderful, the chicken hearts were a favorite.
And no authentic, adventurous meal is fully complete without Chicken Feet. Yup.
So come, be adventurous, explore. Break your comfort zone. It’s easy to stay stuck on the island of Manhattan. So many of us have unlimited MetroCards which acts as our ticket to the city. Try somewhere new. You never know what you might find. And if you’re a little nervous to do it on your own. Join the Gastronauts.
Golden Mall – 41-28 Main Street – Flushing, Queens
Location: Flushing, Queens
Perfect For: Adventurous Eating, Authentic Dining, Cheap Eats, Borough Exploration
Reservations: Not Available
Favorite Dishes: Rabbit, Ox Tongue and Tripe, Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger, Lamb Face Salad