Dim Sum, Durian and Dragon Fruit
Recently at Hofstra University, I was talking with my colleague, Eric Davis. In addition to being an excellent French Horn player, he is also an avid foodie. Our conversation quickly turned to the topic of favorite restaurants. I mentioned to Eric that I was interested in checking out Sunset Park in Brooklyn. It turned out that this is one of his favorite destinations for both Chinese and Mexican food.
After Hofstra auditions for incoming students in early February, I look forward to a trip to Flushing, NY in Queens for Soup Dumplings. This year I decided to explore Sunset Park in Brooklyn which also has a large Chinese population. Eric suggested several restaurants that specialize in Dim Sum: East Harbor Seafood and Pacificana.
Until the 1960’s, Sunset Park was mostly populated by Irish, Italian, German and Nordic American immigrants. These groups began to leave the area and were replaced by new immigrants from the Dominican Republic and other Latin American and Caribbean countries. By 1990, the population of Sunset Park was 50% Latino. In the 1980’s Sunset Park became the borough’s first Chinatown and it has quickly attracted a large number of Chinese immigrants. The main area of Sunset Park's Chinatown is from 8th Avenue and 42nd to 68th Streets.
I first walked along 8th Avenue and saw many authentic grocery stores, Buddhist temples, bakeries, Chinese bookstores and restaurants. I saw stands of exotic vegetables and fruits including dragon and durian fruits. Durian has a reputation for smelling and tasting like old socks (or worse), but seems to have a devoted following.
I decided to try Pacificana on 8th Ave & 55th Street. It is a large dim sum palace with a huge selection, and I found that the servers were eager to show me all of the different selections from their carts.
Usually it is fun to eat dim sum with a group of friends, so one can sample many different dishes. This day it was perfect to sit silently and to have the opportunity to observe the wonderful surroundings.
The enormous room was filled with Asian families celebrating together around large round tables. The effect of hundreds of voices of children and grownups speaking Chinese was like listening to a beautiful symphony of words. As the sounds of high and low pitches washed over me, I thought about the relationship between language and music. I happily settled in with a pot of jasmine tea, taro & shrimp dumplings, stuffed bean curd skin and sauteed Chinese broccoli. The dessert cart soon rolled around and I tasted delicious sesame glutinous rice flour balls stuffed with black sesame paste. This delicacy is called Jian dui and is made with a sticky rice flour that becomes moist and sticky when cooked.
Each year, my husband Paul and I host an International Dumpling Party. For this year’s festivities, I have decided to try to make Jian dui. This will be the perfect way to help celebrate the Chinese New Year which is on February 16th. But first, I may have to make a quick return visit to Sunset Park to purchase some of the ingredients!
Recipe for Jian Dui
1 ½ cups glutinous rice flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water or 1 ½ teaspoon more for adjusting (include the water for small dough)
½ teaspoon baking powder (optional)
1 cup roasted white sesame seeds
1/4 red bean paste or other filling
water for dipping
more glutinous rice flour for dusting
oil for frying
Prepare the small dough
In a small bowl, take around 2 tablespoons of glutinous rice flour out and mix with around 2 ½ teaspoons water. Knead until smooth.
Bring some water to boil and then cook the small dough for around 2 to 3 minutes. Prepare a bowl with cold water on the side. When the small dough is ready, remove and soak with cold water to cool it down.
Prepare the main dough
In a large bowl, mix the remaining flour with the sugar and baking powder. And then add the small dough in. Mix it by hand and slowly stir in water. Continue kneading until smooth dough forms.
Shape the dough into a long log and then divide into 20 equal portions. Shape each portion into a round ball.
Assemble the sesame balls
Shape the small glutinous rice balls into a bowl and then wrap around 1 teaspoon red bean paste in. Seal completely and shape into a round ball again.
Prepare two bowls: one with clean water and the other with sesame. Take one ball with one hand, quick dip with water and then roll the ball in sesame bowl with another hand. This is a personal tip to make the process easier. Press the balls several times so the sesame seeds can stick to the surface. Repeat to finish all the sesame balls.
Frying the balls
Heat enough oil (to cover the balls) until 248 degrees. Carefully add the sesame balls, lower the temperature immediately and slowly deep-fry the balls until slightly golden brown. Remove from heat and place the balls on paper towel to absorb extra oil. Cool for several minutes before serving.
Enjoy and Happy Chinese New Year!
Judith Dansker - February 15, 2018