WATCH: It's Just Offal: a Memorable Food Tour Through NYC's REAL Chinatown
Here’s the thing about New York that a lot of people don’t know: You can travel the world without ever leaving the city. For many immigrants, New York City is their first port of entry. Many of them, not speaking the language and feeling alienated, tend to seek out others from their home countries — which is why you can go to parts of the city and be immediately transported to India, Mali, or China.
While millions of tourists visit the kitschy Chinatown in Manhattan, the real Chinatown of New York City is across the East River in Flushing, Queens. Here, all the store signs are in Chinese, few people speak English, and every dish is authentic. Sometimes, as I found out last week, a little too authentic, even for a gastro-tourist like me. Because, unlike Americans, the Chinese eat every part of the animal — nothing goes to waste. All those bits and bobs we throw out (or put into hot dogs), they lovingly prepare into elaborate dishes that would make even Andrew Zimmern think twice.
In preparation for a trip to China I’m planning for later this year, I decided to call Joe DiStefano, who runs the foodie site, Chopsticks and Marrow and does ethnic food tours throughout Queens, to take me on a tour of the real Chinatown. Joining us were my food-obsessed friends Andrew Gottlieb and Jon Hsia, who lived in China and is an expert on Chinese food. in the car ride over, Jon warned me, “Listen, in China, anything with four legs but a table and anything with two legs and not a person we’ll eat it.”
I started wondering just how long it was going to be until I broke down on the ultimate game of food one-upmanship and started screaming for pork fried rice.
Out first stop was J Mart, the Asian supermarket in the middle of the New World Mall. On the upper floor we found a vendor who allegedly sold beef heart. Joe picked out a solid looking heart for $5. Check out the tour through J Mart and the “beef heart” (which turned out to be a shin), below:
Our next stop was the cafeteria in the basement of J Mart for some lamb spine found at the Nutritious Lamb Noodle Soup shop (Stall 28) in the back corner.
"You have to ask for it specially because it’s not on the menu," Joe explained. The girl behind the counter handed us the lamb spine with some plastic gloves (so you don’t get your hands too messy) for $10 and we went to town.
"As I predicted, it’s a lot like oxtail," Andrew said.
"Delicious," Jon agreed.
As for me? Well, it was fine. Good, even — once I got over the fact that it was a lamb’s spine I was shoveling in my mouth. I just got a little grossed out when Joe went for the spinal cord. Watch here:
"Spinal cord is the strangest thing I’ve eaten in a while," Joe said.
"I wouldn’t mind a pot sticker at some point," I said.