One of the highlights of our honeymoon in New York was lunch in Chinatown. We had planned a visit to the area from the outset so after a busy morning exploring the city, we ventured to lower Manhattan to soak up the atmosphere.
Rumour has it that New York’s Chinatown has the largest Chinese population in the Western hemisphere outside Asia. Although the area is sprawling and has, of late, extended North into Little Italy, I found this really surprising. What is clear from the minute you set foot in the area is that this Chinatown is authentic – so many others across the globe feature one or two Americanised Chinese restaurants and the obligatory medicine shop however, in New York visiting the district was like instantly being transported to the other side of the world. Everyone around us was speaking Mandarin and there were relatively few Westerners in sight.
After a stroll around the area and a lot of indecisiveness (it’s what we do best, particularly when deciding where to eat!) we came across Xi’an Famous Foods which had a massive queue out the door. We figured that it must be pretty good due to the amount of people waiting so after a quick perusal of the menu, we decided to grab some food to go.
Xi’an Famous Foods started life in Flushing, New York back in 2005. According to their website, they were the first restaurant to bring dishes from Xi’an, a city in the North West area of China, home to the terra cotta soldiers, to the United States. The small chain is a family owned; initially the focus was of the business was bubble tea with a few dishes from their home city, Xi’an, sold on the side due to the family missing the taste and smell of the “unique cuisine that combines Chinese and Middle Eastern flavours”. Their dishes became more and more popular with many customers taking the pilgrimage to Flushing in order to savour cold skin noodles, lamb pao mo soup and the spicy sauce which has become Xi’an Famous Foods signature. They have since expanded and opened 12 further outlets in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens due to the massive popularity and success of the chain; Forbes reported in 2013 that approximately 140,000 customers per year visit the Midtown location alone on weekdays. Not only do they have a massive Chinese following, they also have tourists and locals alike visiting their restaurants; they have a celebrity following, have featured on several TV shows and won awards from Zagat, New York Magazine and Time Out to name but a few! Obviously we stumbled on an absoloute gem for lunch, completely by chance!
Our order was ready quickly so we took a short walk along to Columbus Park to eat our lunch in the sunshine. It was fascinating to sit there soaking in the culture, watching some fierce games of Mahjong, listening to the Erhu musicians and watching people practicing tai chi and painting; the park is evidently the hub of the local community and the perfect lunch spot to people watch and relax.
On to the food! As we had walked our socks off we were rather hungry so ordered the ‘spicy and sour lamb dumplings’ to share. These were without doubt the best dumplings I have ever tasted, full to the brim with flavourful, meaty lamb with the sauce offering the perfect contrast in flavour. It really doesn’t surprise me that New York Magazine named them New York’s best dumplings! What a treat!
Neil went for the ‘pork zha jiang hand-torn noodles’ whereas I opted for the ‘spicy and tingly beef hand-torn noodles’. Neil’s dish involved minced pork accompanied by cucumber, spring onions, celery and chives. The pork had a slight sweetness to it, such a beautiful flavour, punchy but not too spicy. My beef on the other hand really packed a punch! The chilli sauce didn’t simply offer heat though, it was really tasty, flavoured with Sichaun peppercorns. Both of us thought the noodles were wonderfully silky, fat and not at all stodgy!
We really did have a wonderful meal in Chinatown, it really was one of the highlights of trip. I would thoroughly recommend getting lunch to go from Xi’an Famous Food to enjoy in the sunshine in Columbus Park – it is an experience you will not forget!
Places to visit:
- Xi’an Famous Foods, 45 Bayard Street, New York, New York, 10013