(Updated, once again, with prospective IDs and more photos.) Not long after my latest visit to Singapore, I began to search New York's various Chinatowns for creditable renditions of my favorite Singaporean dishes.
This no-frills bakery makes my current favorite mochi, filled with a mix of ground peanuts, sesame seeds, and granulated sugar and rolled in shredded coconut. A second style, filled with red bean paste, is distinguished by a red dot. They're not much bigger than a golf ball, and they begin to lose their shape even as you peel back the paper wrap. That's good: It's evidence of the extremely supple glutinous rice dough. (Compare the firm appearance of the mochi at Mango Mango.) And there's no beating the price: three for $1.25.
A tip of the hat to LauHound, who seems to have scoped out Chiu Hong's entire stock in trade, and who pointed me this way.
Chiu Hong 161 Mott St. (Broome-Grand Sts.), Manhattan 212-966-7664
In cross-section, a ripe eggfruit ($6 per pound, about $2 each) typically reveals a pair of chestnut-brown seeds, set in flesh that's often likened in texture to a hardboiled yolk. Canistel is the common name for varieties that are cultivated (or that grow wild) in Florida and Latin America; these were imported from Thailand, the vendor told me. Whatever their name or provenance, they must be untinged with green, and soft but not mushy, to show off their full flavor. Ultimately, this Christmastime purchase wasn't ready to be "unwrapped" until early in the New Year.
Produce stand Near the southwest corner of Mulberry St. with Canal St., Manhattan
Kam Hing became New Kam Hing, it seems, when the Chinese owner retired and a Mexican-American staffer took up the mantle. Little has changed. True, the steamed, eggy specialty of the house is now also prepared in newer, pricier, flavored variations — subtle green tea, overambitious chocolate chip — but the original is as good as ever. Sponge cake (70 cents).
New Kam Hing Coffee Shop 119 Baxter St. (Canal-Hester Sts.), Manhattan 212-925-0425
The current, Chinese-owned grocery looks out on a high school and on Sara D. Roosevelt Park. It's a good bet that if you step inside (I didn't), you'll still find chocolate, java, and pop, and many more packaged snacks and soft drinks, too. The grocery's much older predecessor, whose surviving signage can also be glimpsed at the far left of the first photo, may well have been a pizzeria. The curve, below and to the left of the "big cans" sticker, turns out to be a capital "C" when the deteriorating facing is bent back (it doesn't bend far). C-a-l-z ... "calzone".
Some Fujianese moon cakes approach the size of a personal pizza; most are too filling to tackle on your own. These single-serve squares ($1 each), though apparently cut from a sheet, probably feature ingredients much the same as in the circular cakes they're sitting on. The add-ins aren't particularly bountiful, but the heft is sufficient for a few bites now, a few more later.
Q.S. Grocery 99 East Broadway (Pike-Forsyth Sts.), Manhattan
Even at a seafood restaurant, leafy greens are a familiar part of a family-style Chinese meal, the cloudy yellow liquid, perhaps less so. This tangle of spinach (lunch special, $5.75) was stir-fried with fermented bean curd, which adds a slight funkiness to complement the ginger and garlic. Water spinach often receives the same treatment from Vietnamese as well as Chinese cooks.
Sing Kee Seafood Restaurant 42 Bowery (Bayard-Canal Sts.), Manhattan 212-233-8666
Last year Min Jiang briefly occupied the former home of Yun Nan Flavour Snack, in Sunset Park, Brooklyn; this year it left one Fujianese neighborhood for another, in the eastern reaches of Manhattan's Chinatown. From outside, the cafe's current storefront is not nearly as gaudy as before, but inside, it offers tables and chairs, not merely stools tucked under a ledge. There's elbow room aplenty to admire the virtues of overpackaging in a Shaxian-style soup ($3), whose ten pork-filled wontons, made with extra-large wrappers, sport their own built-in broad noodles.
Shaxian, if you were wondering, is a county in the western reaches of Fujian province. Fuding — which at the cafe denotes a soup, with or without noodles, filled with rough-cut meatballs — is a small municipality on the province's northeast coast. Min Jiang's use of the names suggests the attainment of a Fujianese critical mass in New York, thanks to which the preparation of provincial specialties is commercially viable. Now not only can recent immigrants find the big-city cuisine of the capital, Fuzhou, but also some hometown cooking, too.
Min Jiang Mini Cafe 67 Eldridge St. (at Hester St.), Manhattan 347-446-6658