Flushing Food Festival features neighborhood’s best nosh

Photo courtesy Flushing BID
By Joe Anuta

The Flushing Food Festival’s first year going public was so successful that the 450 lucky ticket holders devoured the entire stockpile of curries, noodles, sandwiches and sushi before the event was scheduled to close last Saturday.

By noon, gourmands hoping to pick up unclaimed passes lined up at the door of the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel ballroom since the Downtown Flushing Transit Hub Business Improvement District had already sold out of tickets.

Those who were authorized to enter found some of Flushing’s best food gathered in one room.

Restaurants representing China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Japan all had their own unique dishes on display.

One of the most distinctive was beef tripe from Cheng Du Tian Fu, a small food stall in a subterranean food court, at 41-28 Main St.

The prevalence of stomach and intestine in Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine can test the limit of many adventurous eaters. But rather than build around the tripe or highlight it, the culinary minds at the restaurant, named after the capital of Sichuan Province, seemed to put the flavor of the thinly sliced, tender offal on equal footing with other ingredients — peanuts, cilantro and herbs cooked in what appeared to be sesame oil — making for a balanced and surprisingly refreshing concoction.

It was liberally spiced with the region’s distinctive Sichuan pepper, which induces a tingling or numbing sensation in the mouth while simultaneously imparting heat.

Mamak, a newly opened Malaysian restaurant, at 35-20 Farrington St., was spooning out halal cuisine straight from the country’s Panang region.

Mamak’s fare toed the line between Indian- and Southeast Asian-style cuisine, since both are prevalent in the melting pot of Malaysia. On one hand, owner Nani Yusof Hughie whipped up lamb and chicken curries so hearty they seemed to defy the laws of gastronomy. On the other, Mamak was offering a sweet dessert called cendol. It is a coconut milk-based liquid containing beans, palm sugar and a special plant called the pandan leaf often found in Thai cooking. In the restaurant, it is poured over shaved ice.

Pho Hoang, at 41-01 Kissena Blvd., returned this year with wildly popular Vietnamese ban mi sandwiches, which often include pork, cucumbers and heavy doses of cilantro — making them one of the best sandwich-related innovations since the invention of the handheld meal itself.

Also back at the festival was 101 Taiwanese Cuisine, at 135-11 40th Road, this time bearing zongzi, traditional Taiwanese sticky rice made with peanuts and pork. The culinary staff also served three-cup chicken, a savory and garlicky dish accented with basil.

After a closed trial run last year, the festival was opened to the public for a $5 fee, according to Dian Yu, executive director of the improvement district.

“The people who wanted to come really surpassed the number of tickets we had, which just shows that there is a market. People are interested in trying different food,” he said.

The best part of the festival was hearing from ticket holders who discovered a new restaurant or style of cooking that made them want to go to the actual location and have a proper meal, telling friends about it in the process.

“Those experiences, that is what we are aiming for,” Yu said. “Our goal is to promote the local businesses, which really helps the local economy.”

Yu predicts the festival will only return bigger and better next year. Check out flushingbid.com for a list of participating restaurants and other suggestions for eating out in the neighborhood.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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