This is a Love Letter: disclaimer a place I haven’t visited in awhile (possibly months or a year) but still exists in a place I love dearly but no longer live full-time at the moment – check latest reviews on other sites accordingly as some items might be out of date.
Thought of OK Ryan recently as some of best Taiwanese food I’ve in NYC, including special order dishes for Lunar New Year – actually remembering what a comfort the place was since I was in Taiwan for Lunar New Year a week or so ago. Also, this is one of the few places in NYC to get legit Taiwanese breakfast. It’s in pretty far out Flushing and quite a hike even from the last subway stop into the part of Queens where there are actually strip malls with parking lots, but for me was always worth it to ride out all the way on the 7-Train from where I live in Murray Hill.
I unabashedly love Taiwanese food, a food category that is surprisingly difficult to find in New York City, let alone at a high quality. After trekking across boroughs to the end of the 7 Line, I’ve finally found a favorite destination for this elusive cuisine. Ok Ryan shines in signature Taiwanese dishes, such as oyster omelettes and stinky tofu along with traditional breakfasts…. read more
One of my favorite places to get Taiwanese Breakfast when I’m back in my hometown (San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles specifically, for you New Yorkers it’s like the Elmhurst, Queens of Los Angeles) is Yimei in Monrovia. Specifically, Yimei has my favorite sweet Rice Roll and Peanut Rice Milk (dipping with the Chinese donut). The Sesame Bread Sandwich with Beef （牛肉燒餅）is also good, but not as good as the one at Huge Tree Pastry.
I usually actually order the above, mixing the Peanut Rice milk (米漿）with Soy Milk （豆漿）in that combo (混漿）warm in a bowl. Dip the Chinese donut in it, I like how they make it extra crispy here, although it’s not quite as dense is it might be.
The Sweet Rice Roll （甜飯糰）here is something distinguishing and made uniquely from other places, as per the usual, it’s rice wrapped around Chinese donut, but it has a sprinkling of sweet peanut shavings along with the sugar.
The fresh soy milk is also nice cold with the more savory items.
This place is actually a good twenty-five minute drive from where I usually stay, but I’ll go out of my way if I have slow day when I’m visiting back home.
Din Tai Fung is not a place that needs much introduction, especially in the Taiwanese food world. What is new is its expansion of locations outside of Asia. Started in 1948, Ding Tai Fung gained its fame with perfecting Shanghai Dumplings or xiaolongbao, excellent customer service, and extraordinary consistency.
This restaurant empire stands out from other establishments for making simple Taiwanese staples exceptional. It’s not one of those fancy seafood banquet places but rather has perfected the pedestrian with the best of ingredients, preparation, and hospitality.
What I’m writing about today is what to order other than xiaolongbao – though I’ll say if you have enough diners/appetites with you – get both the pork and the pork with crab.
First, the Hot and Sour soup here is finely made, just look at how delicately every ingredient in this soup has been chopped and prepared. Normally, hot and sour soup can be kind of throwaway dish, but this is one of the best items here:
The Seaweed & Beancurd in a Vinegar Dressing appetizer are another must get item here, a mix of fresh bean curd, seaweed, and sprouts are meant to be a cold dish complement the meal (does it real well).
Another item that I love to get is the Pork Chop. This is ubiquitous Taiwanese staple but done way more upmarket here, your equivalent of getting a burger at a fancy restaurant.
The Noodles with Spicy Sauce, again are simple and delectable prepared with a sesame sauce that would leave you feeling greasy and MSG bloated at other places.
The Shrimp & Pork Wontons with Spicy Sauce has a version in many Chinese provinces, this is the Taiwanese Din Tai Fung version that does not disappointment, with the complex flavor of many aromatics in its preparation.
Dessert is an underrated part of Din Tai Fung, but is probably my favorite part of the meal.
I love love love the Taro xiaolongbao, featuring fresh taro grounded into a sweet paste steamed in the same shell used to make the savory dumplings. I took a Chilean friend here and she called them “Taro dumplings from Heaven.” If you love taro like me, you can’t live without these. It’s probably the most Taiwanese-influenced item on the menu.
Two other desserts I’d get: 1) The Red Bean Rice Cake is a fluffy steamed bread stuffed with red bean that is not too sweet. A lot of non-Asians tend to not like red bean, but it’s because they’ve eaten high fructose corn syrup loaded pre-packaged stuff rather than the real deal like here. 2) The Eight Treasures rice is a true classic of Chinese cooking, a sticky rice prepared with with raisins, dates, red bean, longan, and other dried fruit and nets. This is dish typically eaten during Lunar New Year and other special occasions done masterfully here:
That’s the ideal Din Tai Fung meal for me.
For another look at Din Tai Fung more from a cultural lens similar to mine, check out Eddie Huang’s introduction on his Viceworld show:
We’re Taiwanese-American, and the seafood fried noodles (made with imported Taiwanese noodles), Taiwanese style potato salad (but made with potato salad from Ralph’s with the eggs, apples, and sweet Japanese mayo added to it to save time), and picked hot peppers reflect that.
Also included in that heritage are the dishes that were imported to Taiwan through its colonial and post-colonial history. The sashimi, burdock root, and edamame are a constant presence at meals. The Lion’s Head meatballs and stewed oxtail, with some Taiwanese touches, reflect the dishes of my family from Zhenjiang, where we were from before we became Taiwanese, fleeing at the close of the Chinese Civil War to Taiwan midcentury.
More traditional American side dishes fully adopted are the string bean casserole, the gravy, and a pasta salad along with Kona Brewing Company beer.
For dessert, we had a sponge cake made with mango pudding and taro and drank coffee and tea.
I was inspired to write about this from the NYTime’s amazing feature, aptly named “The American Thanksgiving” showing the dishes and all the roads they travelled to get here, remixed for this holiday. I especially loved the pieces on the Hmong family integrating their traditions around respecting animals they prepare for the holiday, the Italian American family with the double-turkey feature, the rediscovered Norwegian Cake, Jamaican jerk turkey, the cheesy Irish potatoes, and the Soul Food pork neck macaroni. Okay really, I want to eat it all.
In fact, one of my favorite things to do on Thanksgiving is trawl through my Facebook and Instagram feeds and seeing what my friends are eating. I salivate at the pictures of turkey surrounded by food from the world over, combined in ways to celebrate this holiday.