Exploring Sunset Park’s Less-Traveled Chinatown

Unlike Manhattan’s touristy Chinatown, the Chinese neighborhood in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, is first and foremost for Asians—a quality that makes it perfect for a culinary exploration.

We started at Golden Forest Chinese Restaurant with the lychee pork over rice, a dish that is rarely found in the city’s more mainstream Chinese restaurants. The dish is a specialty of China’s Fujian Province, which was once home to many of Sunset Park’s residents. It’s also easy to like—even for Chinese-food novices.

Crispy fried chunks of pork are served with red peppers and onions in a sauce reminiscent of that old Chinese-American standby, sweet-and-sour pork. But the lychees gave it more pronounced tangy and fruity—almost plumlike—flavors.

Lychee pork over rice at Golden Forest Chinese Restaurant. Photo by Stuart White.

Lychee pork over rice at Golden Forest Chinese Restaurant. Photo by Stuart White.

Golden Forest’s menu also features duck tongues stir-fried with green chilies that are similar in appearance to jalapeños but with a less formidable burn.

The tongues’ texture reminded us of escargot, while their flavor straddled the line between chicken thigh and mushroom. We had no complaints about the taste, but it was tricky to eat, thanks to the mostly inedible vein of cartilage running down the center of each tongue.

Cartilage and other often-overlooked animal parts were also on the menu at the other Sunset Park restaurant we visited, Lucky Eight Restaurant, where we tried the beef navel and vegetables on rice.

Beef navel and vegetables on rice at Lucky Eight Restaurant. Photo by Stuart White.

Beef navel and vegetables on rice at Lucky Eight Restaurant. Photo by Stuart White.

“Beef navel” is something of a misnomer. As we found out, the dish wasn’t exclusively comprised of navels but also included the fatty, less desirable parts of a cow’s stomach. The plated pile that arrived at our table resembled gristle tossed with pot roast.

However, the dish was miraculously tender—alternately meaty and gelatinous, tasting deeply of beef and Chinese five-spice. The more recognizable chunks dissolved with little resistance, while those intimidating tangles of gristle turned out to have the consistency of firm Jell-O.

My Chinese dining companion, who had tasted the dish in other restaurants, was impressed. When not well-stewed, she explained, the dish is extremely chewy and unappetizing.

Lucky Eight also wowed us with its rendition of pork bong and sour cabbage on rice. “Pork bong” is the more pleasant name for the large intestine of a pig. But despite the meat’s somewhat scary provenance, the dish was surprisingly enjoyable. It had a sweet tang from the sour cabbage and a texture akin to slightly crispy chicken skin.

Pork bong and sour cabbage on rice at Lucky Eight Restaurant. Photo by Start White.

Pork bong and sour cabbage on rice at Lucky Eight Restaurant. Photo by Start White.

Next up: dessert. For those with a sweet tooth, the Brooklyn outpost of Egg Custard King offers surprisingly airy, individual-size custard pies for less than a buck a pop. The egg-yolk version stood out with its bright yellow custard, subtle sweetness and distinctly yolky flavor. Like many East Asian sweets, it was very light—low on sugar and devoid of cream or other heavy dairy products.

Custard pies at Egg Custard King. Photo by Stuart White.

Custard pies at Egg Custard King. Photo by Stuart White.

Custard King also serves an interesting array of beverages, like a combination of coffee, black tea and milk known simply as #37.

We couldn’t resist checking out the unusual and colorful display of Asian candies at the Fu Chun Supermarket. One, which was called Corn Flavor Jelly, resembled a tiny ear of corn—both in taste and appearance—and had a tooth-sticking chewiness that would put any gummy bear to shame.

Corn flavor jelly candy at Fu Chun Supermarket. Photo by Stuart White.

Corn flavor jelly candy at Fu Chun Supermarket. Photo by Stuart White.

Sunset Park’s street vendors also serve up some unusual fare. One food cart parked at Eighth Avenue, between 56th and 57th streets, sells the aptly named stinky tofu.

Stinky tofu at a food cart parked at Eighth Avenue between 56th and 57th streets in Sunset Park. Photo by Stuart White.

Stinky tofu at a food cart parked at Eighth Avenue between 56th and 57th streets in Sunset Park. Photo by Stuart White.

Covered in a slightly sweet hot sauce, the tofu’s namesake odor didn’t become apparent until forkfuls were already en route to our mouths. While the tofu has a pronounced funk, the flavor was mild—much like that of regular fried tofu but with a subtle note of decay at the finish.

Our last stop was the Hong Kong Supermarket, where the offerings included preserved duck eggs, shrimp chips (a vaguely marine-tasting Cheeto-like snack) and even a crate of live frogs.

Live frogs at Hong Kong Supermarket in Sunset Park. Photo by Stuart White.

Live frogs at Hong Kong Supermarket in Sunset Park. Photo by Stuart White.

Golden Forest Chinese Restaurant, 4915 Eighth Ave., 718-686-1633

Lucky Eight Restaurant, 5204 Eighth Ave., 718-851-8862

Egg Custard King, 5317 Eighth Ave., 718-438-6808

Fu Chun Supermarket, 5114 Eighth Ave., 718-686-6622

Stinky Tofu food cart, Eighth Avenue between 56th & 57th streets

Hong Kong Supermarket, 6023 Eighth Ave., 718-438-2288

  2 comments for “Exploring Sunset Park’s Less-Traveled Chinatown

  1. August 3, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    The Eighth Avenue Chinatown doesn’t really do Taiwanese fare…in fact, most of anything Chinese in Brooklyn is Cantonese — so the stinky tofu isn’t likely to be how it should be!

    Too bad the restaurant “The Island of Taiwan” (reviewed in the Village Voice for, among other things, its stinky tofu) is no more. It used to be on Eighth Avenue as well until late last summer — apparently shut down by the health department!

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