I've just gotten back from eating at Emerald Island Restaurant, 135-21 40th Road, Flushing ((718) 888-9080). I wrote this as a letter to friends (which explains the unusual diction), and then decided to post it for you. Although a lot of you have visited Waterfront Int'l, which is also Manchurian, I don't think anyone has gone here, though Hling mentioned it.
The bright red cars of the elevated number 7 train flash across the rooftops of northern Queens, past Turkish restauants, Romanian cafes, Mexican groceries, Filipino bars. They call it the International Express. At the end of the line is Flushing. There's another Chinatown there, smaller and somewhat richer than Manhattan's. It's where Chinese immigrants who make it in Manhattan buy a house and settle down.
I went there a few weeks ago and, somewhat disappointed by what I found, ended up eating at an American style cafe (Accord Cafe, 39-07 Prince St) where Chinese families seeking adventure went to "eat American" -- though the casserole I had was very Chinese. On my back to the train, I passed a restaurant whose sign had the Chinese characters for dongbei, or Eastnorth, which is the modern Chinese name for what was once known as Manchuria. Manchurian food! I decided to return, and tonight I did.
The place was packed. A big boisterous table of twenty in back, a few family groups, a table of four guys drinking beer. Most Chinese immigrants hail from the southern coast...Canton or Fujian or maybe Shanghai. These people were all from the north -- maybe not Manchuria but certainly Peking... and they looked different. When the waiters realized that I spoke a little Chinese and had actually visited Harbin (in northern Manchuria), they were thrilled. "He's been to Harbin!" they told the table of drinkers. "He asked for the toilet in Chinese!"
I know about the food in almost every part of China, but not Manchuria. I tried to research it but found out nothing, except that, to my surprise, fish was a big thing. So I ordered the most unusual sounding fish dish. "Stew miscellaneous fish". I can usually recognize at least some of the characters for most dishes, but the only character I knew here was "fish". One waiter told me it was a specialty of Dalian, a big seaport in Liaoning province, a few hundred miles northeast of Peking. I waited and waited and finally a huge wok was brought. In the bottom, prettily arranged, were six or seven small fish. Not that small, they looked like herrings or mackerel. There was a tiny bit of a thin but very flavorful brown sauce made with star anise (lovely liquorice flavor) and ginger and probably fish stock too, and on top of the fish was a handful of cilantro. Stuck to the top of the wok were eight pieces of fried cornbread. I'm often surprised to find that a lot of Chinese food is a lot like French food, or maybe rural American. If a bunch of guys somewhere in the south went fishing, and built a campfire and cooked up the day's catch, and if they were really good cooks, they might produce something like this.
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