Kashgar at the beach

kashkarThe Uighur people have been in the news a lot lately, and it hasn’t been good–their home region of Xinjiang, China is mired in a vicious state of ethnic violence. While the thoughts of Uighur immigrants in New York are likely in Xinjiang, their hands are imbued with culinary prowess. Thanks to Cafe Kashkar (1141 Brighton Beach Ave., Brooklyn–map), a trip to Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach means not only a lesson in Cyrillic (Russian immigrants dominate the neighborhood), but also a taste of the lesser-known Uighur culture.

mantyThe fare at Cafe Kashkar is a unique mixture of east Asian and Middle Eastern, natural for an ethnic group of Sunni Muslims living in northwestern China. Bring friends and share, because there’s a lot to choose from. Start with an order of Manty, boiled dumplings filled with ground lamb and a rich, salty broth ($7 for 4 large dumplings), or Samsa, a layered lamb pastry ($2.50 apiece). Don’t be confused by a misnomer on the menu: what they call “hot appetizers” are lagmanactually sizeable entrees. Go for the fried lagman, a traditional spicy noodle and vegetable dish ($7.50). Or if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, go for the gigar–rice with an earthy, sweet mixture of fried liver, bell peppers, eggplant, and more–for $8.50. Round out your meal with juicy kebabs, around $4 each.

A friendly and helpful staff will aid you with pronunciation, while an Uzbek version of MTV serenades diners from the corner. Only in New York can a day at the beach be this deliciously eye-opening.

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Oh, Brothers

dscn3380On a recent trip to my local supermarket, I noticed a new Chinese buffet joint. More importantly, I noticed its Grand Opening Special: four items, fried rice, and a soup for just $4.75. I smelled the potential for a cheap eater’s gold mine, so today I went by Brothers Oriental Express (319 9th St., Brooklyn–map) for lunch. As it turns out, most of what I was smelling was MSG.

Strictly on calorie to price ratio, Brothers does not disappoint. They fill up your styrofoam pan generously–it doesn’t take any stretching to get two full lunches from your $4.75 investment. And the long buffet line offers a wide range of meat, vegetarian, and even a few shrimp choices.

Unfortunately, none of the dishes is very good. Brothers’ food is on par with your typical cheap chinese takeout–sweet, stimulating, and sickening all at once. The egg rolls are a particular disappointment; they’re cold, chewy, and rather empty. At $4.75 it’s tough to complain, but you certainly won’t leave feeling like you underpaid.

TfaB: Dumpling Wars: Conclusion

img_0647Yes, I lined them up like the winners of the Westminster Dog Show.

  1. Prosperity Dumpling (map)
  2. Vanessa’s Dumpling House (map)
  3. Tasty Dumpling (map)
  4. Fried Dumpling (map)

My extremely scientific study shows that unless you have a thing for artificial soccer fields you can skip Columbus Park altogether. Both Eldridge Street shops beat out their Columbus counterparts in texture and freshness, and while the top three are all good enough to put smiles on our faces, Fried Dumpling is all frowns.

Lastly, Eldridge St. is closer to the F train, which brought me home just before I died of a sodium overdose.

Did I miss your favorite spot? Let me know in Comments and I’ll include it in my further research.

TfaB: Dumpling Wars, Part II: Eldridge Street

The second stop on my tour was Eldridge St., home to two dumpling heavyweights.

img_0643First on the list was Prosperity Dumpling (46 Eldridge St., Manhattan—map), the odds-on favorite from all the reviews I’d read and heard from friends. A review in an old Time Out led me to expect a five minute wait; in fact, the wait was under a minute. And img_0641the product did not disappoint. The treasures were plump and delicately fried to achieve the perfect exterior texture. The ingredients on the inside tasted noticeably fresher than either of the joints by Columbus Park, and were so juicy that they dripped onto my pants.

img_06441Two blocks north I made my last stop at Vanessa’s Dumpling House (118 Eldridge St., Manhattan—map). It has the most restaurant-y décor of the four establishments, with a long counter, many wooden tables, and even a restroom. Sadly, their $1 deal only includes 4 dumplings, but img_0645they don’t sacrifice the quality. The dumplings aren’t as intricately wrapped—a club to Prosperity’s hammer—but they get the job done. They’re fat and juicy and the ingredients are just as fresh as Prosperity’s.

Conclusion: If this had been a five-on-five matchup, the decision would have been tough. I think Prosperity would have the edge anyway because of it’s superior texture and juiciness. With Prosperity’s 5-4 advantage, it’s the clear winner in penny for penny value.

Tuck for a Buck: Dumpling Wars, Part I: Columbus Park

The search for elusive $1 food brought me to Chinatown last week to decide, once and for all (or for that day at least), who has the best deal on fried dumplings. My first stop: Columbus Park.

img_0640The woman at Fried Dumpling (106 Mosco St., Manhattan—map) didn’t exactly make me feel at home. When I asked for an order of dumplings, she grabbed a handful, stuffed them in a container and said, “Two dollars.” I pointed out that the sign on the window said $1, and she said, “No, two dollars.” We went back and forth like that for a while, until she opened the carton and pulled out two of the dumplings, then handed the rest to me,img_0637 snatched my one dollar and waved me out of the store. When I sat down to enjoy my quarry, I found that it wasn’t worth the hassle. I did end up with five dumplings as advertised, but they were thin as string beans with very little meat inside. The wrappers were chewy rather than crispy, and the interior was dry.

img_0639I left my park bench and headed to Tasty Dumpling (54 Mulberry St., Manhattan—map). Tasty had a few tables and many more customers, but there was an immediate downside. An order of dumplings cost (gasp) $1.25, $1.35 with tax. I sucked it up for the sake of research. They served me my dumplings quickly and with a smile, and theyimg_0636 were decidedly tastier. They were stuffed with more, and juicier, pork and chive. The wrappers were crispy, if a little over-fried. There was a bit of residue from the deep-fryer lingering on the exterior, which hurt the appearance of the dumplings more than the taste.

Conclusion: Pay the extra 35 cents. I know, it hurts, and it’s not technically Tuck for a Buck, but it’s worth it for the attitude if not for the significant advantage in taste.