Sunset Park is about a twenty minute bus ride from my apartment, a ride that jostles through Bangladeshi, Orthodox Jewish, Chinese, and Mexican enclaves of the borough, You'll pass halal butchers with live birds, kosher bakeries packed on a Sunday afternoon, dim sum joints and dumpling houses easy to miss if you're not looking, tacos stands and mango sliced on street corners with hot sauce. It's a microcosm for all the recent immigrant patterns changing and shifting the food landscape of Brooklyn.
Sunset Park is home to Brooklyn's Chinatown, too. There are two other Chinatowns in New York City of course, the oldest and most well-known Manhattan enclave as well as the currently expanding Queens' community in Flushing. Brooklyn's Chinatown formed in the 1980s with a mix of Cantonese speaking immigrants and more recent Mandarin speakers. It too shares new growth in common with its Queen's sibling.
Walking 8th avenue in Sunset Park centers you on the main thoroughfare of Brooklyn's Chinatown from where you can observe busy cafes, banquet halls, video stores, fishmongers, and grocers where (if you're like me) you can stop to look at prickly durian fruits hanging from awnings with both reverence and trepidation. And of course, you'll pass by many nondescript dumpling restaurants beckoning you to eat more than you'd expected was humanly possible.
I'm not an expert when it comes to Chinese food and Chinatowns--full disclosure--but after reading Edible Brooklyn Dumpling Tour of Sunset Park I thought I'd use dumplings as my guide to eat and draw a day's worth of Sunset Park.
The first stop was Great Taste Dumpling which is supposed to have some of the best and cheapest dumplings in Brooklyn. The inside was sparse and barebones but every seat was taken when we arrived, a testament to how good the owner's 4-for-a-dollar dumplings are. We ordered boiled pork and chive dumplings and sesame pancakes stuffed with pork with several pours of the vinegar soy sauce poured into reused sriracha bottles to make everything that perfect bite of savory and salty. The owner of Great Taste is friendly and fast. I found an article about the dumpling house's purveyor from Open City quite poignant, speaking to the pleasure but obscured hard work behind the food immigrants sell,
Next, we kept our hungry stomaches going by settling down at Kei Feng Fu Dumpling. Similar to Great Taste, this dumpling house was minimal but packed. While we were there a church group ordered around a hundred dumplings which the small staff didn't even blinked at. We opted to try pan-fried pork dumplings and another sesame pancake,. These dumplings were of the cheap 4-for-a-dollar and delicious variety as well.
To change up our the dumpling palate, we ended the crawl at He Yi Xiao Chi, which is hard to recognize as a restaurant with so many car ads plastered to it's outside but don't be fooled, it's worth it. Inside, we ordered six pork ting buns for 3.00. Each bun was light and fluffy on the outside, with a dark savory pork filling inside. Six buns with hot sauce and vinegar soy sauce was more than enough to fill our savory cravings for the day.
Though we couldn't leave without satisfying a sweet tooth so we stopped by a Chinese bakery to grab a slice of honeycomb cake, something I've never tried before but it had an irresistible but strange texture with a deep molasses sweetness.