I am a 吃货, foodie. There, I said, it, in writing no less. The Chinese phrase suggests though, jokingly, that I may not be good at much else beyond eating. Life here as much as it did in Xi’an, revolves around food. A discussion ensues in person, via text or phone about who will make dinner, and what will be served. When ZJ and I lived in our second story walk-up in the first of two buildings designated for foreign teachers, every meal we ate together, be it lunch or dinner, took hemming and hawing to decide. We mostly ate out so it took deciding whether we wanted to trek downtown, treat ourselves to expensive mediocre “Western” cuisine, or grab a quick and inexpensive bite from the street vendors on 师大路。I blogged about some of our local Xi’an haunts, not really reviewing said establishments.
In Xi’an, we consumed far more bowls of noodles, street food, and authentic Chinese eats. However, there are three restaurants, two of which we have frequented often enough for me to comment on their offerings.
The only redeeming restaurant Wayne has to offer, and it’s Chinese cuisine…I possess good fortune 😄！Located adjacent to the town’s shopping mall, nestled in a strip mall, of all places, the very modest exterior does not prepare you for all the delicacies that await you. They offer up very good 混沌 wonton soup，小笼汤包 soup dumplings，大碗面noodle bowls，凉粉 rice jelly，担担面 dan dan noodles，宫爆鸡 kung pao chicken，回锅肉 twice cooked pork。We have never had a mediocre meal there, and although we have yet to try it ourselves, numerous sources tell me dim sum on weekends rivals the illustrious banquets of NYC. Chengdu is first on the list for its proximity, authentic offerings, and selfishly because I am always able to practice ordering in Chinese. We ordered take out on Thursday, and even over the phone, I brushed off the speaking in 普通话 cobwebs.
Chengdu 23 6 Willowbrook Blvd Wayne, NJ 07470, chengdu23.com
Edison, a multicultural enclave, has an immense selection of Chinese restaurants. Shanghai Dumpling House managed to be a short drive from where we were already situated. As a self-proclaimed dumpling house, and a self-professed expert on 小笼汤包, these not particularly juicy dumplings left me salivating for Chengdu 23 ones and those I gorged on at least once a week in Xi’an. Hoping to finally find an acceptable sesame noodle replacement, I ordered a plate. The sesame sauce had the right flavor: sesame teetering with a hint of peanut butter, but felt defeated with the noodles themselves as they were boxed noodles. ZJ slurped salty beef noodles. We also stuffed our faces with 煎包, the bun’s exterior forcing us to reach for our tea. Speaking of tea, I had a not-overtly sweet red been milk tea, complete with tapioca pearl balls.
Shanghai Dumpling House 1581 Rte 27 Edison, NJ 08817
Whenever we traipse into New York, a place I still fondly call “The City,” as is the case with most residents of New Jersey, ZJ and I never return without having stepped inside one of the six locations Xi’an Famous Foods boasts in Manhattan.
Their menu, as their name implies serves Western Chinese cuisine, and a nice smattering of Xi’an specialties: 凉皮 cold noodles, 肉夹馍 burgers, 汤 soups, 手扯面 hand-pulled noodles, 汤扯面 hand-pulled noodles in soup, 凉菜 cold dishes, 长安豆花chang’an spicy tofu, and 饺子 dumplings.
Our favorites include 羊肉泡馍 lamb and bread soup, 长安豆花 chang’an spicy tofu, 肉夹馍 pork burger, 羊肉面或猪肉干面 lamb noodle and pork noodles dry or in soup, and 炸酱干扯面 “zha jiang” noodles.
Some of their offerings are more spot-on than others, in terms of capturing the cumin, Sichuan peppercorns, and chili flavors melding to create the harmonious foods most reminiscent of the Muslim Quarter.
Beyond their menu, we like it for the casual dining experience where we collect our own order, and clear when finished. This keeps their costs down, XFF locations posted on signs in the seating areas. If you plan on lunching at the 45th St. Midtown location, be prepared to hawk your seat, as the seating is limited, and available on a first come, first sit basis.
Xi’an Famous Foods Multiple locations in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn xianfoods.com
Check out the NaNoBloPoMo challenge so far:
- committing cultural faux pas and language blunders
- covering apple picking of the past
- conversing in Chinese
- clutter or not to clutter, KonMari style
- cataloguing an obsession
- critiquing a memoir