On the wall to your right after you enter Rifu Restaurant is a large framed photograph of a magnificent mountain range. That seems fitting as the interior is like a ski lodge with a timbering emphasis in oaken tones. Rifu (日福 in Chinese and 일복식당－ Ilbok Shiktang in Korean) reflects both Chinese and Korean culture. The owner is a man surnamed Jin (金) and he and most of the staff are from Yanbian, the Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China’s Jilin province. The mountain chain in the photo is known as both the Changbai (Chinese) or Paekdu (Korean) and it straddles the border of North Korea and China; the mythical birthplace of both the Manchu and Korean people. Yanbian was once part of the ancient Korean kingdom of Koguryo that reigned for 700 years. I’ve heard Korean and Mandarin spoken here with a smattering of English.
According to Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, Yanbian is “too poor compared with South Korea and much too rich to be compared to meager North Korean standards.”
After you sit down you are offered cold Barley Tea, a Korean staple. Frosty bottled beers like Bud, Coors, Corona, Heineken and OB Lager from Korea are also available. (OB is brewed from rice, not malted barley.) All of the 7-8 tables are rectangular four-tops.
The menu has about 3-4 pages of Yanbian special dishes. It’s in Chinese, Korean, Pinyin and English. Note that some of the menu items are not translated into English but into Pinyin and Korean only. Thus Cumin comes out as Zilan for some reason.
Over the course of several visits, the following dishes were tried:
Potatoes, Steamed Dumplings - 土豆蒸餃 (Tu3 Dou4 Zheng1 Jiao3) Delicate and unique dumplings made with what appeared to be potato flour. Eat quickly as they stick together fast!
Braised Chinese Cabbage - 紅燒大白菜 (Hong2 Shao1 Da4 Bai2 Cai4) OK.
Chicken Feet - 鳮爪 (Ji1 Zhua3) For some reason this is translated on the menu as Palmatum. Much larger than what you normally see at Cantonese dim sum houses and tougher to eat. You are given plastic gloves to handle these claws.
Fried Matsuma – 炒松(黃)磨 (Chao3 Song1 Huang2 Mo2) I think they meant to write Matsutake but these mushrooms aren't, closer in texture to Sword Belly mushrooms it seems. Pork and hot peppers give up som good zip.
Sausage - 米腸 (Mi3 Chang2) Definitely a Korean dish where it is known as soon-dae. Probably has no right to call itself sausage in the western sense as this is a savory rice mixture (with mint?) surrounded by stomach casing.
Pork with Green Beans 肉炒豆角 (Rou4 Chao3 Dou4 Jiao3) Not bad.
Slate Tofu 石板豆腐 (Shi2 Ban3 Dou4 Fu) Sizzling hot tofu squares atop a black slate. Topped with a dab of hot sauce. Excellent.
Surface Temperature Noodles 溫面 (Wen1 Mian4) Too sweet. Not as good as a version tasted on a Main Street stall.
Potato Cakes - 土豆餅 (Tu3 Dou4 Bing3) Korean Latkes which I think are made with potato flour.
Fried Bracken - 炒蕨菜 (Chao3 Jue2 Cai4) I think this is wild Fiddlehead fern bracken in very long strips.
Kimchi Fried Rice - 泡菜炒飯 (Pao4 Cai Chao3 Fan4) Definitely Korean but delicious and well flavored.
Stir-Fried Tree Ear - 肉炒木耳 (Rou4 Chao3 Mu4 Er3) A whole lot of tree ear, soft and mushy.
Rice Dumplings - 大米餃子 (Da4 Mi3 Jiao3 Zi) Thick dumpling skins.
Seafood Pancake – 海鮮葱餅 (Hai3 Xian1 Cong1 Bing3) Chopped up shrimp and green onions in this dough cake.
Rice Cake - 打糕 (Da2 Gao1) Perhaps like the Korean desert Injolmi? Delicate rice cakes topped with slightly sweetened ground red beans.
Other dishes tried also were the Iron Plate Sheet Iron Ginseng and Fried River Fish, which were rather large dried and crunchy sardines – an ideal bar food we were told and heartily discouraged from ordering.
136-77 41st Avenue
Flushing, NY 11355
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