Monday, August 10, 2009

A Fuzhou Supermarket on the Lower East Side

Back in the day (oh, say 1970), NYC's Chinatown was a fairly easily definable area, roughly bordered on the north by Canal Street, east by the Bowery, south by Worth Street and west by Baxter Street.

When we were high schoolers who wanted to come "into the city" to eat in Chinatown, we went to Mott Street, the center of it all. That was Chinatown to we Long Islanders.

Now of course, Chinatown encompasses a much larger area, with no definable borders at all, or at least with borders that are constantly changing. Our building, actually on the lower east side right next to Seward Park, could almost be considered to be in Chinatown...but I prefer Chinatown to be considered in the lower east side. Whatever, it doesn't really matter - because for food lovers like Significant Eater and me, it opens an exciting world just outside our front door - no need to travel halfway around the world, that's for sure. Or even to Mott Street any more.

For instance, just around the corner, near the East Broadway subway station, I came upon this bustling market at the corner of Henry and Rutgers Streets:

Fuzhou is the capital of the province Fujian, from where many of the newer immigrants to Chinatown arrived, and is also the home of one of the four traditional cooking styles of Fujian cuisine, which in turn is one of the eight recognized regional Chinese cuisines - whew - thanks, wiki. From

Generally speaking, Fujian dishes are slightly sweet and sour, and less salty, and often use the red distiller's grain for flavoring.

Whatever that all means, I happen to like the store and it's display of vegetables. Look at those amazingly low prices...

Vegetables like this can even get me into the kitchen on hot, sweltering days (like today), because to cook Chinese doesn't necessarily involve heating up our whole apartment like some other methods might...most of the work is in the prep, the actual cooking can take place very quickly, especially if you're not preparing soups or roasting whole animals.

Whenver I'm getting ready to stir-fry a couple of dishes, I make myself a plate of the holy trinity of Chinese cooking that is garlic, ginger and scallions - now don't show this to Daniel or Eric or any of those other fancy French chefs, because it probably would be tossed, but for SE and me, and you, it's just fine.

For a stir-fry of vegetables, the next step is to heat a wok till it's very hot. Very hot. Then, a tablespoon or two of oil (peanut or something with a high smoke point) is swirled around followed quickly by however much of the 3 ingredients above (a good teaspoon of each is nice) you're using, then the vegetable which is tossed and turned, exposing it all to the heat of the wok. I usually add a little (say, 1/4 cup) of homemade chicken stock seasoned with a bit of soy and sugar and cover and steam the dish for a minute or two. Uncover, let the liquid boil off, and you're pretty much done -here are some of those baby bok choy cooked in just that manner:

To round out lunch for Significant Eater and me, I happened to have some leftover rice in the fridge and that's perfect for fried rice. As a matter of fact, it's really good for fried rice. Along with some wild-caught frozen shrimp and some peas, and starting off the same way with the holy trinity, it's pretty cool living and cooking in "Chinatown!"

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