Gong xi fa cai!

September 2, 2011 in Restaurants, Vegetable Dishes, Weird food we love

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恭喜發財!

Congratulations and be prosperous, now give me a red envelope! – Chinese New Year’s greeting

For those who don’t live in a multi-culti city like New York, it’s possible you were blithely unaware that Chinese New Year began yesterday.

This is the Year of the Rabbit when we’re supposed to eat carrots, hop around, and have sex as often as possible. I don’t know if any of that’s true, but I just added it to Wikipedia for the heck of it.

Now in 50 years, we’ll all know when Chinese New Year is because, by then, the Chinese will rule the world – if not the universe and most of the alien galaxies – which means it’s only a matter of time before we’re counting on abacuses, silverware as we know it will have disappeared, and our grandchildren will be speaking to us in Mandarin so that, not only won’t we be able to hear them, we’ll have no idea what they’re saying.

To give those of you who’ve never experienced Chinese New Year a 50-year leg up on the competition, I’m sharing photos of what it was like yesterday in New York City’s faux Chinatown; I mean faux only in the sense that, in the real China, people probably don’t hawk “I Love New York” T-shirts alongside their black market “Black Swan” DVDs.

The air was chill that morning, but the streets felt warm as we wandered among crowds dressed in bright colors, some beating on drums. Policeman stood by while firecrackers popped and cracked. Even they had no intention to stop the fun.

Firecracker droppings

Dragons shook and danced their way into stores, sending New Year’s greetings and asking for gifts. Store owners obliged by giving the dragons money in small, red envelopes. I’m told it goes to the benevolent associations and not the gangsters. Hey, what can I say? I’m cynical. I live in New York City.

Dragons roam the streets.

My co-workers and I celebrated by having lunch at Joe’s Ginger, the country cousin, though no less delicious, version of Joe’s Shanghai.

Joe's Ginger at 25 Pell Street

My co-worker, also named Joe, suggested we order soup dumplings. I’d never had one before. They sounded scary.

Filled with fat mounds of pork with soup snuggled inside – all of it held together by a spiral twist of sticky dough – soup dumplings pop a dollop of liquid in your mouth if you’re not wise to the fact before biting down. Joe advised we poke a tiny hole in the sack to let a little juice slip out first. Ha! I’m no fool! I knew to tuck a napkin under my chin to prevent squirtage.

Plate o' soup dumplings

Then we shared plates of cold noodles with sesame sauce and Shanghai-style eggplant with garlic. The eggplant had a little pork too. It was an awful lot of pork in one day for a nice Jewish girl like me, but I didn’t want to be rude so dug in with the others. Of course, God punished me later that day by having me lose my subway Metrocard. Darn you, God!

After lunch, and despite being stuffed as dumplings, we went scheming for dessert. First we hit the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, but the scoops were expensive – $3.75 for flavors like green tea, lychee, and almond cookie – so we kept walking.

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory at 65 Bayard Street

Heading back to the office, we found many shops closed for the holiday, but luckily one of our favorites was opened: EVERYTHING FROSTED! And whether you like cupcakes or not, you have to admit it has the best name in the whole, wide world.

John Wu, owner of Everything Frosted at 105 Mosco Street

The owner, John Wu, makes cupcakes in exotic flavors like pink champagne and tiramisu and in Chinese flavors like jasmine with vanilla bean frosting and green tea with black sesame frosting. He trained under the Executive Pastry Chef at the White House. Do you think that means they served cupcakes for dessert at the recent White House dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao?

Joe liked the cupcakes so much, he bought six. Each one cost $2.50. A lot less than that $3.75 ice cream cone!

Now $2.50 times six equals…uh…uh… Well, if I was one of those whip-smart Chinese kids, I’d have figured it out by now. Too bad I’m just a dumb-ass white lady licking frosting from my fingers, when I should be using them to count!

Joe’s Ginger, 25 Pell Street, 212.285.0333
Chinatown Ice Cream Factor, 65 Bayard Street, 212.608.4170
Everything Frosted, 105 Mosco Street, 212.227.9828

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