In one little block on Kissena Boulevard, we did some grocery shopping for our own New Year's celebration, looked at the Chen Family shrine (actually Gong's family name), ate dim sum, and went to a traditional Chinese bakery. Whew. Plus got leftovers for dinner tonight and snacks for several days to come.
As always, the grocery store was packed. Stores in Flushing, in my experience, are always packed. And I'm always the tallest, whitest person there. It's not a shock like it used to be--if you're Caucasian, how often are you the only one? Sure, it happens to Mama everyday in Connecticut but never to me. Years and years ago, I used to feel very out of place, very unwanted, very in the way, and very sure that whatever I was doing was a complete social offense. Now, not so much. I realize I'm just not that important. And I'm good at staying out of the way. Other things about Chinese groceries I've been to: there are always very strong scents, usually from the open-air fish market, but also from the row after row of mounds of vegetables. We bemoan American love of processed food, but the Chinese have packaged crap in spades. Also, today, I noticed three different packages with the same cathedral on the front . . . . cathedral?? I think it was to denote that the snacks inside were European in some way (they were all cookies, though a couple were traditional Chinese cookies.) Interesting. The kids picked up lots of foods they like--dried seaweed, udon and soba noodles, lychee gummies, Pocky, lychee drink, coconut gels, Asian pears, dried squid, prawn chips. Mama also restocked our pantry with soy sauce, noodles, and other things for new year's. I picked up some snacks--dried persimmons and those Chinese "cathedral" cookies--for a New Year's party I've been invited to in a few weeks. It's the Year of the Ram, so Ma bought us Ram decorations for the house.
Then we went to lunch. I've posted about dim sum before and the foods were much the same, though now the kids know what they like. Sis loves shumai and fried dumplings, lotus buns and custard buns, mango dofu, and don tot (custard tarts.) Bud likes shumai and chicken feet and various rice noodle and tofu skin wraps with various fillings. Mama eats all that, plus tripe soup! I had boiled greens, steamed chive dumplings, steamed vanilla cake, almond dofu, and coconut dofu. And we took home a little of all of it.
For any of you who might be going to China, some dim sum tips:
- First, I don't know if mainland dim sum is anything like American dim sum, so watch others and follow along;
- tables are big and round and unless your group is big, if the restaurant is crowded, you'll be seated with others;
- hold on to that little "scorecard." The staff will stamp it with a different stamp for each basket you buy. If you wander the restaurant to look at items on the sidelines, like stews, take the card with you;
- feel free to point and stare and sniff and then refuse the item, or take it, as you desire;
- things aren't always what they seem--there's always an almond-coated ball that looks like a sweet to me, but contains fish. There's lots of fish and even more shrimp, in everything;
- sweets and savories all come around at the same time, so if you want it, TAKE IT WHEN YOU SEE IT, because lots of times, you might not see a dish again;
- if you run out of tea in your pot, turn the lid upside down on the top and put the pot near the edge of the table;
- tapping on the table with two fingers (index and middle) is the sign for thank you (for example, if someone pours you tea--the youngest pours--you tap your fingers next to your cup);
- usually, they'll give you to-go boxes--if the food is on your table, it's yours.
You'd think that was enough food, but after lunch, we went to the bakery. It's self-serve, with a paper-covered tray and tongs for you to select coconut cream buns and poundcakes, lotus buns and "pineapple" buns (called that for the scoring on the outside.)
Pretty soon afterwards, we headed back to Ma and Gong's house . . . to digest all of that food! Which the kids did by learning some of Ma and Gong's Tai Chi Fan forms!