Forget Manhattan’s Chinatown: Its Flushing counterpart is cheapskate-grub paradise, packed with pork-and-chive dumplings, ma po tofu, hand-pulled noodle soups—and nary a tourist searching for knockoff Louis Vuitton.
Armed with $10 on a balmy afternoon, I bike to Flushing’s bustling thoroughfare, Main Street, and park beside Corner 28 (40-28 Main St. at 40th Road, 718-886-6628). It’s a tiny takeout counter where a gloved woman gleefully rips flesh from a Peking-duck carcass.
She chucks duck chards into a rice wrapper, then adds garlic chives and hoisin sauce. The ersatz duck taco is moist and crisp, sweetened by the hoisin and the 75-cent price tag.
Emboldened, I shuffle past tchotchke vendors and, beneath an LIRR station, discover AA Plaza (40-40 Main St. at 40th Road). Behind a row of smudged windows, a man griddle-cooks $1 scallion pancakes as seriously as a scientist. I order a hot beaut: It’s vellum-thin, the onion’s crunch contrasting the warm dough.
My belly anchored by carbohydrates and grease, I enter multifloor Sunflower Delight (40-46 Main St. at 40th Road, 718-359-6655), which offers 10 percent off roasted meats, tureens of congee and 99-cent “sticky rice chicken.”
“Sticky,” I tell a waif-like woman, who passes me a leaf-wrapped square of rice that’s like sweetened Elmer’s Glue. But like buried treasure, its center contains soft chicken—veiny meat, rubbery skin and inedible cartilage included.
“Chewy,” I say, as my nose leads me around the corner to a cacophonous dumpling stall (41st Ave. between Main St. and College Pt. Blvd.) located across from Starbucks. There’s no English name for the red-awning shack, but a sorta translated menu lists vegetable-pork buns for a paltry 60 cents. The bun’s as big as my fist, and jammed with pink pork, green onion and zingy greens: a trio as addictive as cigarettes.
Know what I’ll never be addicted to? The 99-cent Prunella tea I discover inside Hing Long Supermarket (41-22 Main St. at 41st Road, 718-961-6128), a grocery selling live bullfrogs and mushrooms alike. The herb Prunella treats bleeding ulcers and excessive menstruation. It also tastes like Band-Aids mixed with dirt.
I ditch it and descend to Golden Shopping Mall’s underground food court. I snake past gurgling pots and soup-slurpers and find Dumpling and Noodle House (41-28 Main St. at 41st Road, downstairs, 718-930-6000).
“Hellloooooooo,” says a diminutive lady, resting her arms on a flour-smudged counter.
“Hellloooooooo,” I respond. “Big buns.”
“No big buns,” she says. “Small buns.” She passes me four steamed pork buns ($1), which I coat with chili oil. They’re a juicy, incendiary porcine pleasure.
By contrast, the four-for-a-dollar dumplings tonged from the steam table at closet-size Super Snack (41-28 Main St., on 41st Road, 718-886-2294) are cold and gummy. They’re like meaty Bubble Yum. Trashing them, I investigate Golden Mall’s main entrance.
Past a shoe-repair shop wallpapered with German-shepherd posters, there’s a glassed-in counter (no English name, 41-28 Main St. at 41st Road, main entrance) filled with circular sesame-seed bread ($1). It’s flaky and dense, fatty and desert dry. I’m no fan. Someone is.
“Where’d you get that?” asks a frizzy-haired lady.
I point, and she dashes away like an excited dachshund.
I stumble off like a bloodhound, sniffing out smoky meat at the Tian Shan Shish-Kebob cart (corner of Main St. and Maple Ave.). Charcoal-sizzled skewers—cooked by a mask-wearing woman—of corn, chicken or lamb are $1. I order lamb.
“Spicy?” the woman asks.
I nod. She coats my browned meat with red flecks, scissors off the stabby end and I chomp the lamb like a lollipop. The flesh is gamy and slightly gristly, but miles better than Midtown street meat.
By now, I’ve OD’d on flesh. I need a sweet end. I need Fay Da Bakery (41-60 Main St. at Sanford Ave., 718-886-4568). The squeaky-clean bakery offers inexpensive weirdoes such as corn buns, taro-puree puffs and “green tea sticky balls,” but I’m gaga for sweet, pillowy bread topped with coconut. It’s sliced down the middle and filled with thick ribbons of bone-white cream (80 cents).
I bite greedily and cloud-like cream oozes around my lips, making me appear like a scandalous porn star. I consider napkining off the wayward cream, but I paid good money for this sugary bliss. I lick my lips, then my fingers, trying not to waste a single delicious cent.