Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Dim Sum for Christmas: 88 Palace Restaurant, Chinatown.
It is a long standing factor of New York Jewish identity to celebrate Christmas by eating at a Chinese restaurant. For one thing, Chinese restaurants are open, and they offer a refuge from the never ending barrage of Jingle Bells and Santa Claus is Coming to Town that infest the airways of just about every other public space in America. In an effort to improve on the tradition, Fumie and I decided to go one step further - to eat where the Chinese eat on Christmas. Dim sum at the 88 Palace, located on the top floor of the East Broadway Mall - right inside the support structure of the Manhatten Bridge that houses the local Chinese bus station. (88 East Broadway 212-941-8886)There are a lot of Dim Sum places around Chinatown but the most recent immigrant influx - mostly people from Fujian Province, a bit north of the traditionally Cantonese core of Chinatown - have colonised East Broadway and Division Street around the Manhatten Bridge. Fujian food is big on seafood, and we were seated at a huge table alongside two familes who were demolishing platters of black bean sauce clams - which are one of the high ticket items that go for about $4 a plate.If you haven't eaten at a Dim Sum hall, the drill goes like this. You share tables, and women push carts around containing dishes or small bamboo steamers full of things that you would never have eaten when you were a kid. You point at a dish as the cart goes by, the woman stamps your bill, and when you are all done your waiter tallies up the bill. Fumie and I ate until we were stuffed - a huge and perhaps obscene feast even by our insane standards - and our bill came to $33 for two of us. Not bad for what was basically a twelve course meal.At 88 Palace there is also a buffet table line for items like soy sauce chicken feet, stewed garlic and ginger tripe, blood jelly, and clams. Below is the dumpling lady, frying chinese chive dumplings alongside sweet lotus root jelly squares. You can tell that families have been developing little strategies to make sure they get the prime stuff from the buffet tables as soon as they arrive - lookouts, grandsons sent to stake out places in line. Nobody stands between me and my steamed duck feet!These were some of our favorite chinese dumplings, packed with shrimp, pork, and chinese chives, crispy on one side, juicy on the other.The next pass of the steamer carts brought tofu-skin wrapped spring rolls with meat and shrimp, some kind of giant fish ball - gefilte fish chinese style - and garlic pork ribs. Each serving here is $2. The stamps on our meal ticket shocked us into ordering more... more... always more...The classic dim sum dish is siu mai, pork and shrimp dumplings. These were some of the best we ever tried. We will probably spend the winter in Budapest trying to recreate these at home... probably unsucessfully. Some things are simply best eaten when somebody else prepares them for you. Such as dim sum.Another classic dim sum is har gow, shrimp dumplings in translucent rice wrappings. No sharing here - we each grabbed our own private steamer basket.And here is the graceful Princess of Tokyo attacking the remains of a lotus root jelly cake... eyes closed, glasses on the table, determined to clear the plates before the next steam cart rolls by.The Ultimate. Bacon-wrapped shrimp paste. Fried. This Hong Kong specialty goes against every religious and health teaching that has ever been invented to prevent me from biting into something. Deep fried bacon-wrapped shrimp balls are something that both Rabbi Aron Soloveichik and Oprah Winfrey could both agree on - don't eat it! When the Book of Life is opened to the page with my name on it and the Angels see what I was noshing on, I can't really see explaining this one away by ignorance. Bacon. Shrimp. Deep frying. Put it all together and it simply yells treyf! "Well, at least I didn't try the sea squirts!"But damn... it tasted good. Fumie and I have decided we have to continue investigating the Dim Sum parlors of east Broadway until we are so sick of dim sum that we can safely return to Budapest, a town in which the best chinese food are the street stalls in the endangered Four Tigers Market or at the Lang Zhou Chinese resturant on Luther utca. Hungary has no Fujien or Cantonese population to speak of, and therefore, no dim sum. East Broadway hosts several dim sum parlors, including one very nice Restaurant...After a belly stuffung dim sum lunch a walk around should help the digestion... what on Earth does this shop specialize in? Fumie translated the Chinese language sign, and yes, it offers exactly what it says in English... Was there a meeting of the business owners to agree on a name? "What do you want to call the business?" "How about Health Food Store" "No, sounds too boring. Hey, I have an idea!"Almost made me feel the need to shell out for a bottle of this: