A few months ago, I took a waistband-stretching jaunt through Sunset Park, a quiet neighborhood in the southern edges of Brooklyn, eating a bunch of Chinese food (and a stop at a phenomenal banh mi shop as well). Sunset Park sits south of Red Hook and surrounded by other names that do not yet mean much to me, like Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst. I know each of these neighborhoods have long histories of settlement, trade, migration, immigrants, and the attendant richness of food culture that come with tides of people flowing in and out of the region. In recent years, these areas are the landing spots of Chinese immigrants, particularly from my home province of Fujian.
Predictably, I went for the food, and made a list of places to hit up, guided in part by Andy Ricker’s Instagram:
- East Harbor Seafood Palace, for late morning dim sum
- Ba Xuyen, for banh mi and Vietnamese coffee
- Yunnan Flavor Garden, for a bowl of hot and sour dumplings
- Golden Imperial Palace, for some tablecloth’d Cantonese eats
Emerging from the 59th Street N-R station and strolling up and down Eighth Ave, I found a quieter, more residential replica of Flushing, restaurants and shops catering to the Chinese community, shoppers picking their way through crates of seafood, grandparents pushing strollers, the throat-y rap of Fuzhou dialect bursting from dining rooms and cash registers.
The first stop was East Harbor Seafood for some dim sum. For a mid-week morning, the dining room was surprisingly packed with families, including some really big round tables full up with three or four generations, old and young. I shared a table with two ladies talking in a dialect I didn’t understanding, enjoying my personal array of dim sum classics – steamed tofu skin, spare ribs with black bean sauce, shu mai, and a personal favorite, chicken feet, finished with a bowl of fresh silken tofu drizzled with simple syrup:
To get my juices flowing before the next meal, I walked back north, up to the other end of Eighth Ave to a little hole-in-the-wall banh mi shop called Ba Xuyen, which was really stellar. The baguette was crunchy, the pate and sliced meat salty and gelatinous, just a really well-made sandwich – washed down with a cup of strong, sugary Vietnamese iced coffee.
Next up, after a much-needed massage, was a bowl of steaming hot wontons at Yunnan Flavor Garden, which also features one of the region’s specialty dishes, crossing bridge noodles, which is kind of like hotpot version of noodles. I went with the hot and sour dumplings, with a spoonful of chili sauce. It’s a pretty hefty bowl, and while the dumplings don’t necessarily overwhelm you with flavor, they are nice and fresh, soft-skinned and a good balance with the vinegar and chili oil.
The last stop of the day, many hours later, was dinner with a friend at Golden Imperial Palace, a fancier restaurant with a giant LED-lit sign at the south end of Eighth Ave, down an otherwise dimly lit and unpleasant street of warehouse loading docks. The restaurant wasn’t very busy; a few families were eating upstairs in banquet rooms, out of sight of the sparsely-seated dining room. We splurged a little – pork xiao long bao, stir-fried lobster, pineapple beef with macadamia nuts. The food was pretty good, although I can imagine it being better during a busy weekend rush.