The Chinese American Food Emporium was born in the basement of the Chinatown bank where I worked as a teller. It’s a small convenience store with about 30 items (most of which are Asian-flavored) in front. Behind a row of glass displays are what are essentially coffee shops, with offerings from different coffee companies. The most popular item is said to be the kung pao doughnut, a red-and-gold-colored doughnut that’s widely considered the street food of New York’s Chinatown. It’s popular here in New York, and increasingly across America.
The cozy coffee-shop-like atmosphere behind the red-and-gold-colored doughnut is one of the store’s main draws, but the red color, which is used for decorative purposes in the way the “jerky” of Burma is used in Korea, is also suggestive of opium (since heroin is illegal in China), and the red color serves as a reminder of the red carpets of the opium dens, especially in kampungs in Shanghai and Beijing. In New York, where New York values (along with the war-torn political climate) have suppressed much chinese cuisine for decades, traditional Chinese treats are about as cool as tea on a 90-degree day. But the vendors in Chinatown really do come from Taiwan and Hong Kong. The red color of the doughnuts and the associated products (a rice cake or egg cream, or even Sichuan peppercorns) are a reminder of the red carpets and the history behind them. There are also black and red carpeted areas where people conduct ancient traditional Chinese rituals (it is like an inverted al fresco Chinese marketplace in some ways).
Other popular items are to be found on the shelves behind the screen behind which customers are able to buy freshly made mochi, and other pickles and condiments that get used on Chinese culture and cuisine. So I chose from among a dizzying number of different kinds of rice cake. It is the exact type of Japanese tonkatsu pork stomach that is fermented in hot water and then fried to make a sort of translucent sponge or a ball. I can’t remember if it is from Japan or Korea, but it is a unique tasting rice cake. There is a delicious green pepper from Spain, an earthy flavoring the vendor cautions me against eating before I get home because it contains spinach. I have yet to try this but heard good things about it. There are also a number of one-of-a-kind sauces, condiments and condiments, as well as pickles, bok choy, chilies, red chiles, sesame seeds, kimchi, dumplings, bok choy, bananas, and sesame seed balls.
The food really is creative, really delicious and surprisingly affordable — although the “authentic”-looking red carpet itself is 100 dollars. Definitely worth the doughnut price.
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