By Joe Anuta
Flushing is awash in Chinese restaurants, but on closer inspection many eateries, like Cheng Du Tian Fu, pay homage to the enormous country’s specific regions and cuisines, which can vary widely.
The modest food stall is tucked away in the basement of Golden Mall, on the corner of 41st Road and Main Street, and dishes up expertly prepared cuisine from the SiChuan province, known for its fiery and distinct dishes.
“SiChuan food also focuses on the color and smell,” owner Xie Wen Hong said through a translator. “It smells good, looks good and tastes good.”
The small operation has been family-run ever since Hong and her chef husband set up shop after emmigrating from the region in 2005.
Luckily for Flushing, they brought their culinary know-how with them.
SiChuan cuisine is distinct. The eponymous hot pepper native to the region gives the mouth a tingling feeling along with the heat.
Hong’s shop serves a sizable population of expatriates looking to get a taste of home, but famed dishes from the province are a hit with just about everyone, including a growing number of gourmands who are just getting turned on to SiChuanese-style cooking.
Dan dan noodles are one of the restaurant’s most popular and well-prepared meals, according to Hong.
The chefs pour a liberally spiced sauce into the bottom of a bowl before adding noodles, greens and minced pork to make the hearty, famous dish.
Ma Pao Tofu is synonymous with the western Chinese province, where hunks of tofu are served in a chili and meat sauce.
Another signature meal is Fu Qi Fei Pian, which consists of beef, cow stomach and tendon cooked with more SiChuan-style spices.
Although this might turn off less-adventurous eaters not used to consuming organ meat, the tripe and tendon balance perfectly with the spices, cilantro and peanuts to make a singular entree. The meal was a hit at the second annual Flushing Food Festival over the summer, where Cheng Du Tian Fu showcased its wares alongside some of the neighborhood’s best restaurants.
It can sometimes be difficult for restaurants to make a name in the crowded downtown Flushing area. Just across the hallway from Cheng Du Tian Fu is a restaurant called Xi’an Famous Noodles, written about by many citywide papers and once visited by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.
But Cheng Du Tian Fu has kept quality consistent while churning out some of the tastiest treats along Main Street for more than six years.
The key, according to Hong, is striking a balance by adding just the right amount of unique flair to traditional dishes.
The small shop is expanding, however. Hong recently added a lunch counter in front of the kitchen, where diners can enjoy their food and gaze into a glass case housing an array of cold, SiChuag-style snack foods.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.