Picture this: Sometime this semester, you find yourself on a day trip to New York City. Before you know it, it’s lunch time and you’re hungry. Now tread carefully, you may only have one meal, one opportunity to eat food you will not find in the Deece. It’s make or break and this meal, whether you like it or not, will determine the quality of your day trip, so it better be good. Suddenly, the sheer multitude of different food options you have overwhelms you. You panic. You’re indecisive. You crave the simplicity of the Deece where the limited options feel so lovingly painless. Your wallet wails at the prices of food in Japanese restaurants in the East Village. But if you’re at least half-sane you know not to walk into the very first place you find, blind as a bat. You just need a little guidance, a keen eye, inspiration, even. Well, let me tell you about one of my lunches in Manhattan; perhaps you’ll find it so mouth-watering that you may even try to retrace my steps…
Everyone who has adventured for good food knows that part of the magic lies in that triumphant search for a place to eat and the eventual leap-of-faith-like risk one must take in order to cross the door frame and give oneself up to the cook whom you may never even see. While this leap of faith may seem daunting to some, there are many clues to look out for that can reveal a good restaurant from the outside. One particular day I wanted Chinese food, and I wasn’t going to go anywhere but Chinatown (well, if you have time, go to Flushing—it’s the best). I wanted something cheap, no frills, and most importantly, I wanted it to taste good. So I looked out for three things: signage in Chinese first, then English; a poorly translated or comically bad English name for the restaurant; and lastly, the dirtyest awning known to man. Well, I struck gold, right there on Eldrige street, at a place called “SUPER TASTE,” with the letters printed all uppercase on a pumpkin orange awning with Chinese characters above the English words. Now don’t get me wrong, half the restaurants in Chinatown score three for three on the clues I layed out, but this place advertised hand-pulled beef noodle soup and I have loved that dish for all of my life. I lived the first year of my life in Manhattan Chinatown, and I like to think that beef noodle soup was the first step in my ascension from baby food.
By the time I walk through the door I’m raving, this craving for hand-pulled noodle soup, hidden in my consciousness until now, has blossomed, or perhaps exploded. I sprint across the street, with no regard for my life or safety, and swung open the door to heaven on earth. The place is tiny, narrower than a Cushing double, with at least 10 customers crammed on tiny plastic stools, slurping up soup. No one even noticed me enter because everyone was face down in the broth making love to steamy bowls of noodles. I ordered in Mandarin and stood in the corner jealously watching other patrons eat. Entire families were having lunch, but no one was talking—just slurp, slurp, cough. The kitchen was a frenzy; six cooks at least were packing into what looked like a small sauna of heat and steam, all yelling, frying, tossing noodles, even smoking. In a place like this it doesn’t really matter what you order. The aroma of everything cooking wafts into your food which is probably tended to by every chef at least once as they dance around the kitchen, playing the chef’s version of musical chairs.
When I finally get my food after a painful five minutes, I’m out the door as quick as I came. I’m looking for a spot to sit down and devour my meal. I chose a small park just a couple blocks away. My lunch buddies today are two groups of old Chinese men, all infinitely more interested in their card games than in me. Now to describe the eating process would be gruesome, perhaps a little bit classless and wholly tortuous to any presently hungry readers. But I will say that after five minutes the bowl was empty and nothing remained of the crime but the soupy evidence of the murder stained on my shirt. I also ordered dumplings but figured I should eat them at home because, after all, one should not commit the same crime in the same location twice.
Now this is just one story, hungry reader. I have many more! But so you don’t sulk to the Deece, I’ll stop here and leave you with this: You’re only a two and a half hour train ride, plus a subway ride, plus a short walk away from SUPER TASTE on Eldridge street, and if you somehow make it there you can be guaranteed to experience at least half the joy I have.