For a long time, Cantonese cooking, or an Americanized version of it, anyway, was the only Chinese food many New Yorkers knew. That’s no longer the case, as local dim sum and hanging-roast-meats enthusiasts can attest of the many regional Chinese cuisines to gain prominence in New York City over the past few decades: Fujian, known for springy fish balls and sweet, sticky sauces; the often aggressively spiced food from Hunan; and Sichuan, with its tingling, numbing peppercorns and fiery chiles. But the hearty, heartwarming cooking of the country’s three Northeastern-most provinces, together known as Dongbei, hasn’t caught on quite like these others. To wit: There are only a handful of restaurants in the city (all but one of which are located in Flushing, Queens) representing this vast tract of land flanked by Siberia, Mongolia, and North Korea, which was formerly called Manchuria and is colloquially referred to as China’s Rust Belt. For a taste of what the region has to offer, one of the city’s best representatives now has a new home and name.
Squeezed between a liquor store and a supermarket along Flushing’s Kissena Boulevard, Xing Shun Da announces itself to the thoroughfare behind a bright-red awning framed in color-changing LED lights. Known as Rural Restaurant for more than half a decade, it used to occupy a snugger space a block over on Main Street. In the move, the owners — who hail from Liaoning Province’s coastal capital city, Shenyang — dropped the English translation in favor of a phonetic moniker. Thankfully, that would appear to be the biggest change the restaurant made since relocating last year.
Noodles of all kinds shine, including a generous $10 plate of chewy dried tofu skins cut into wide ribbons and studded with green hot peppers and gnarled shreds of pork. It’s like a trendy pasta dish for the gluten-averse. Thinner, springier strips of the same dried bean curd are served cold for an $8 appetizer, pungent with fresh chiles, garlic, and cilantro. Just as bracing is naengmyeon, a chilled noodle soup listed on the extensive menu here as “Korean cold noodles” ($8). The strands of buckwheat, as thin as angel hair, are twisted into bundles that sit submerged in icy beef consommé slicked with chile oil. And as someone whose childhood food memories are peppered with homemade chicken and vegetable broths chock-full of tiny, star-shaped pastina pasta that turned paunchy when cooked, this critic found ample comfort in bowls of blotch soup ($9 with seafood, $8 with pork), the “blotches” being mian geda, tiny, doughy morsels, like miniature German spätzle.
Xing Shun Da’s front windows are hung with splashy picture menus boasting of house specialties like sweet razor clams doused in scallion oil ($33), wobbly stacks of jellyfish ($15) perked up with black vinegar, stir-fried pig kidneys and squid with dried red chile peppers ($14), and rubbery-in-a-good-way sea worms ($32) tempered with leeks. Servers tend to the steady stream of customers, who all seem more focused on their platter-strewn tabletops than to the sparsely adorned walls. Chopsticks and serving spoons in hand, they make their way through banquet presentations of house special fish casserole ($30) and crisp-skinned grilled duck heads ($14). A note to the initiated: Just grab them by beak, and gnaw away.
Prone to long winters, Dongbei has a long history of food preservation. Suan cai, a type of pickled cabbage that’s closer in ferocity to sauerkraut than kimchi, is emblematic of the region, and Xing Shun Da’s superbly fermented stuff is preserved on the premises. Enjoy it combined with ground pork in bulging, thick-skinned dumplings (twenty for $8); seared with shredded pork and vermicelli ($10); or mixed into fragrant, simmering casseroles jammed with slices of pork belly ($13) and jiggling cubes of cooked pig’s blood ($14). Also keep an eye out for raw pickled garlic, which will throw your mouth for a loop, but works when paired with funky slabs of pork ($14) or beef ($16) tripe.
Northern China’s love affair with cumin is also on tongue-tingling display, imparting smokiness to everything from gnaw-worthy cold chicken bones ($6) to resilient pig aorta ($17), to say nothing of the way they suffuse tender slices of beef and lamb (both $15). Spice-bombed lamb ribs are fatty, and liberally seasoned with chiles and cumin. The cumin flounder ($18) is even better, fried until golden brown and blanketed in an aromatic layer of whole toasted spices, chopped dried chiles, and cilantro stems. Cleaved into sections table-side, the meat pulls from the bones with ease, beautifully flaky and tender beneath its piquant crust.
Close things out with fried meringues ($14) filled with red bean paste, or the Dongbei specialty of DIY candied fruits and vegetables ($12–$14), wherein chunks of banana, sweet potato, and taro are served in sticky hot caramel that solidifies into a hard sugar shell when submerged in cold water. The dense, gooey treat is a lingering and most fitting send-off for this resurrected bastion of Dongbei cuisine that remains, blessedly, at the top of its game.
Xing Shun Da
44-18 Kissena Boulevard, Queens