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New York, Just like I picture it: Skyscrapers, Dim Sum, and everything!
It is good to be in New York at Christmas time. New Yorkers are, contrary to the stereotype, extremely friendly and engaging, and love to start up friendly conversations anywhere, on street corners, on buses, waiting for subways. It always startles visitors who have just come from Hungary, where people tend to keep their comments to themselves unless they have something to loudly denounce or complain about in public (and they do.) Tooling about in the city with Fumie and my son Aron meant having ladies on the bus offer to help Aron dreadlock his hair (thanks for the offer, but it’s just messy…) people commenting on Christmas, cops offering directions… it is my place of birth and if ever I was prone to nationalism, it would be New York nationalism. The crowds are a bit crazy in midtown Manhattan, but we did the obligatory Judeo-Nihonjin midtown pilgrimage (Rockefeller Center Tree, Kinokuniya Japanese book store…)
Earlier in the day we made it to my favorite dim sum hall, the 88 Palace located inside the Chinese mall inside the Manhattan Bridge support columns on East Broadway. This is what I have been waiting for over two years… dim sum heaven for me. The last time we were here it was Christmas day. For those in the know, you want to get to a dim sum hall early in the day… noon is best if you want the good stuff, but the 88 Palace serves dim sum until 4 pm.
For those of you who have been living in a hole in the ground, or are from Austria, dim sum, or yum cha, is the Chinese style of eating small plates of appetizers and dumplings and making it into a full meal accompanied by tea, usually eaten early in the day and often by large family groups. Serving ladies roll carts among the tables, you point at plates, and keep the rhythm going for as long as you can eat. You take chances, and you make pleasant discoveries.
And – if you know where to go – it is incredibly cheap and satisfying, if at times a bit daunting (I like steamed chicken feet… but not today… I was hoping for duck feet) The last time I was here was on Christmas day, and I was bowled away by the chive dumplings with shrimp, which were fried to order from a steam table. I grow Chinese chives on my balcony in Budapest, but we never get enough to go all out and make these dumplings.
These were almost as good, but came off the steam carts. Shrimp wrapped in chee cheong fun rice noodles are a bit standard, splashed with a bit of sweetish soy sauce, but I think I may have a new dim sum love object in these. Very simple, but it brings back the sensation of having discovered chow foon rice noodles for the very first time. Later the har gow shrimp dumplings arrived…. hard to make a judgment between which I like better.
Shiu Mai dumplings are probably the dim sum that everybody in New York tried first, and the version at 88 palce was at the top of the game – big hunks of shrimp in a nearly meatless meatball sheathed in a wheat wonton wrapper.
Dessert is silky fresh douhua “tofu in a light caramel syrup, spooned out from a cart by the woman who hovers around the tables waiting for their slightest sign that you are not stuffed painfully full of steamed black bean pork, taro cake, or shrimp dumplings. When you are served, she stamps your ticket for the eventual accounting.
It’s not cloyingly sweet – and of course the head waitress comes by to offer ice cream if you have any room. Which we didn’t
The best part is the price: three people, multiple plates, stuffed full and the bill came to $28. If you are going out in New York with a large group of people and want to sit at a nice big table and not spend lots of cash or argue about who likes to eat what, this is the place to go.
Dumneazu writes about ethnomusicological eating east of everywhere.His blog can be found here: