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On The Menu: Halal Food

by Harley Spiller

Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods

Winter Volume: 2004 Issue: 11(4) page(s): 10

The editor almost named this article: One restaurant, a double take or called it: A New York Uygur Sampling. Yes, New York now has new Muslim Chinese restaurants, in addition to Café Kashkar, the Uygur eatery on 1141 Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn that was reviewed in Flavor and Fortune’s Volume 11(1) on pages 9 and 10, and 37 and 38. What follows are two views of one of them, and more.

One day I noticed Arabic writing at 133-43 Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing NY. So I went inside to find a new Beijing-style restaurant appealing to a larger segment of Chinese food lovers also offering foods of China's Western and Southern regions. That day I ordered Li Yuan Chun's lamb with pickled vegetables but it was out of season. I opted for what the only other diner in the restaurant was eating, cold spicy noodles. It turned out to be an excellent choice. The noodles were cool and chewy. The meaty, oily sauce thoroughly coated the pasta, yet no extra sauce pooled on the plate. The noodles were quite spicy, and the Sichuan peppercorn's tingling heat took a long time to sneak up on my palate. It took an equally long time for the fine flavors to dissipate.

In subsequent visits I slurped superbly-spicy Sichuan fish flank soup, and devoured entire racks of Uygur-style cumin-dusted lamb ribs that look like they fell off of Fred Flintstone's car. The succulence of these ribs can inspire a modern diner to employ prehistoric chewing and gnawing techniques in order to get every last savory morsel.

Not in English on the in-house menu, though it does appear on their take-out menu, Li Yuan Chun's highlight dish is whole Beijing Duck, prepared by a chef from Beijing's most famous purveyor. The soft yellow skin is not brown like I am used to seeing on soy-marinated poultry, and the cooking technique seems to preserve rather than render the duck fat, making for plenty of lip-smacking delight. Pancakes are freshly hand-made and the sauce seems darker and more savory than hoisin. Unfortunately, when I tried a half-duck for lunchtime, it had been reheated and was thoroughly disappointing--it may be that the special chef works only at night.

On my first visit to Li Yuan Chun, I had chatted with the other diner, and mentioned Café Kashkar. "Kashkar was not authentic Uygur food," he advised, "but rather they offer a translation of Uygur cuisine by Jews" he went on. In any case, Kashkar has yet again added items to their small menu including what looks like large samosas. These are not meaty as expected, but full of light and tasty vegetables. Kashkar's Lagman Noodles are excellent and prepared exactly the same way on three separate visits. This time, the salads were a thing to behold. Perfectly fresh, there were five or six of them lined up like jewels in a case, as beautiful as when Jackie Newman first described them in the issue mentioned above.

"I am Uygur," the sole diner at Li Yuan Chun proclaimed. He continued to report that Li Yuan Chun and another restaurant could not be deemed authentically Uygur simply because they served a few Central Asian plates. Ten, he sent me to what he said was the only real Uygur restaurant he knows in New York, a place with Arabic and Chinese language but next-to-no-English. I can not even report its name. It is a tiny lunch stall on the southwest corner of 41st Road and Main Street in Flushing NY in a mini-mall on the street level above a superb Northern Chinese eatery at 41-28 Main Street. Walk inside the small warren of shops, past watch, shoe and cell phone merchants, past Shandong Dumpling, no slouch itself mind you, and on the right hand side you will see two more tiny Chinese stalls. One of them has an Arabic sign on the wall and specializes in lamb.

A clear and spry lamb broth is served with a wide variety of thinly-sliced lamb organ meats. The broth makes an excellent palate cleanser for what seems to be a house special, mahogany-brown braised shanks of lamb on the bone. There are several unusual dips on the tables, including a dark green pungent paste that might be made of ground garlic shoots and/or chives.

Flaky round rolls come piping hot out of the oven for half-a-buck apiece and hungry customers grab them up immediately. The rolls are slightly scented with cinnamon and delicious enough to turn the Pillsbury Doughboy green with envy. There are other dishes and plenty of breads and rolls left to try. That means, I am looking forward to a lot of finger pointing and experimenting to get to the bottom of the offerings at what may be the only authentic Uygur-run restaurant in New York City.

Your editor did visit and report that on both coasts of the United States and places in between there are many more varieties of Chinese food now than ever before. No longer is this country a three, four, or five Chinese food-type place. Even though China has more than a dozen Muslim populations, until recently, their food was close to invisible. That is changing rapidly. This past July, LI YUAN CHUN Restaurant at 133-43 Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing NY 11354; phone: 718/939-7788 did finaly open. They serve Islamic food, Beijing style, and offer music on the side, another Chinese cultural item.

The name of this restaurant can best be translated as 'Home of Artists' and the owners are just that, a very talented group of friends who make music, dance, sing opera, and perform acrobatics. One of the bunch, Bao-an Cao, is Executive Director of the CBA Culture and Arts Center, Inc., a training and performing facility. It is dedicated to the development of traditional Chinese arts. There are many very talented members of this group equally talented in their culinary arts.

Hanging on one wall of the restaurant are gorgeous musical instruments. If not already filling the air, ask them to play some tapes of their music while perusing their menu. Hear any one of the instruments solo or listen to Beijing Opera, the background effect is beautiful. CBA and its members are dedicated to the development of folk flavors in traditional Chinese arts, and to fine Islamic food to feed body with soul.

At this lower level restaurant, the owners envision performances during some late evenings. Call for details about them and their other performances all over the United States. Come here to enjoy their high-level culinary artistry, eat Halal food, and taste Beijing Muslim food.

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