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New York

Chinatown/Koreatown - Flushing, Queens, NY.
Ulle Trautvag

I rush to take the #7 subway train in order to make lunch at East Buffet and Restaurant in Flushing, changing at Queens Plaza to the express that will let me off at Main Street, the last stop. The trip takes about 15 minutes and as we approach Willets Point Boulevard station people excitedly point at Shea Stadium where a baseball game is in progress.  American flags fly from the top of the Stadium and I glimpse the roaring crowds.  The excitement is infectious!

East Buffet is a few blocks south of Roosevelt Avenue on Main Street, between Franklin and Maple Avenues.  I'm ushered to a window table and told that a soda comes with the $12.99 lunch buffet.  The eight varieties of soup don't hold any interest, nor does the salad bar:  I'm here to sample food that I cannot find in the many Chinese restaurants dotting Yorkville, my Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan.
In addition to familiar Chinese dishes such as General Tso's Chicken and several varieties of pork chops and beef, my first foray materializes a green sticky bun filled with bean paste from the dim sum bar, Szechuan shrimp, small deep-fried fish (too fishy) and excellent mustard greens with mushrooms. "Spicy Beef Intestine," "Pigs Internal Organ" "Spicy Cold Bean Jelly," and spicy baby octopus present different degrees of chewiness and all are tasty.  I ignore the sushi station and head for the Peking Duck bar where the duck is carved to order, topped with hoisin sauce and placed in a pancake. "East Wind Snail" beckons and I pick up a couple of them – they are actually two-inch long conchs.  I begin to extract the first and discover a surprise: a tiny, perfectly preserved hermit crab, cooked lobster-red, is impaled on my fork.  I study it and then pop it into my mouth.  Its fragile exoskeleton brittles immediately.  But what a wonderful taste!  Is it the crab or is it the sauce in which it was cooked?  The second shell holds conch meat and I'm disappointed.  This, too, is fishy tasting.
After three trips to the buffet I'm stuffed and end my meal with strange-tasting "Chocolate Jelly," in addition to good lime and mango custards.  I don't have room for the cakes, cookies and sweet red bean and green bean soups. I've tasted about 50% of what is offered and make a mental note to return with my friend Forklift, so named because he eats industrial amounts.
Sunrise Kitchen and Hardware Supplies is just north of East Buffet and I note the variety of knives, cleavers, pots and pans.   I enter Maple Supermarket, which is well stocked with vegetables, all types of frozen dumplings and fish.  The frozen fillets sold in Manhattan's Chinatown as flounder are here called Frozen Channel Fillet, two pounds for $5.  This is a firm white-fleshed fish, good sauteed in a combination of olive oil, lemon slices and capers.   Last year I ventured into a nearby market that displayed a whole roasted pig's head in its window for $2.75.  I was tempted to buy it for the hell of it but it probably would have been too heavy to lug around.  And what if I were in an accident and it rolled out of the shopping bag?
A lone Irish bar keeps vigil on Main Street between Maple and Sanford Avenues.  A couple of months ago I needed to use the ladies room and entered only to confront a crazy scene!  The front was filled with men betting loudly on a basketball game, the rear was betting on horses.  The Chinese bookie in the back was very busy, indeed; the Irish bartender drank along with his customers.   As I left I noticed that I was the only woman in the place with the exception of a Chinese woman who entered with several food deliveries.
The north side of Sanford Avenue, west of Main boasts a block of hair salons where nine months ago Forklift and I were enticed into Ya Qin Beauty Salon.  I was given an almost dry shampoo as I sat in front of the mirror and after a quick rinse, a basic haircut.  Forklift had no shampoo; we each paid  $6.
Fay Da Bakery Corp on Main Street sells a good sponge cake reminiscent of Angel Food cake for 85 cents.  Lettuce Wrap and Hot Dog and Lettuce Bun are each $1.50, French pastry such as cassis cake $1.75 to $2.75.  A large Black Forest cake is $18.  Further north is Hing Long Supermarket, where I notice a package of frozen Leather Jacket Fish (hmmmm) and Cutlass Fish, also called Belt Fish.  A Vietnamese friend tells me it's good and I'll have to try it.  It's only $1.85 a pound.  This supermarket also has tanks of live lobster, fish, shrimp and frogs, as well as a good selection of fruit and vegetables.
The takeout windows at AA Plaza on Main and 41st Avenue sell 4 steamed buns, filled with minced pork, ginger and water chestnuts for $1 and 2 spring rolls for $1.  I buy these for Forklift.  Around the corner the competition sells the same for 75 cents.
Just west into 41st Avenue is the staging area for mini buses serving the Flushing and Manhattan Chinatowns.  I pay $2.50 and get into the filled bus.  As we begin to depart, a woman rushes up and the driver immediately pulls out a folding chair and puts it in the aisle for her.  I notice other chairs discreetly folded next to each row of seats.  There are no legal capacity issues here. We approach Shaolin Temple Kungfu and make a left onto College Point Boulevard, passing Super Rave KTV and a huge Western Beef Supermarket.    Flushing Meadow Park and the 1964 World's Fair grounds are on my right.  I'm relieved that traffic is heavy because I would have worried for the woman in the chair.  We enter Brooklyn and soon the East Williamsburg Industrial Park appears on my right.  It's ugly but the view is mitigated by Manhattan's skyline in the distance.  Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz' pride is evidenced in a sign that proclaims:  "Leaving Brooklyn. Oy Vey " as the bus rolls over the Williamsburg Bridge and onto Delancey Street in Manhattan.  The final stop is on Division Street near Catherine Street in Chinatown, opposite Oriental Wedding Studio of NY.  Ahead of me a bus waits to make the return run to Flushing.  This trip took 40 minutes, but I've done it in 20 minutes, traversing three boroughs. 
© Ulle Trautvag June 2007

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