A Taste of Tianjin
"Gimme a pig foot, and a bottle of beer" at Tian Jin Chinese Restaurant
Sometimes known as the Shanghai of the North, Tianjin is a city-state (part of no province) that lies just east of Beijing. It's also known as the Granary of China, since wheat and other grains have been stored there at least since the days of Kublai Khan.
Our first exposure to the cooking of Tianjin was at the now-defunct J & L Mall, where specialties offered at the Tianjin stall included puffy, humongous steamed buns called bao; long, deep-fried crullers; and jian bing--a fried bun thrust inside an egg wrapper, and smeared with a spicy, bean-based sauce, a popular street snack in Beijing.
Our second exposure was stall 38 in Flushing's Golden Mall, which is still open and doing business. Tianjin is apparently known for the healthfulness of its food, and as if to confirm this, stall 38 offers salads featuring such fresh ingredients as Chinese celery, toasted peanuts, and various forms of pressed and smoked tofu. The stall also makes small round dumplings stuffed with pork and leeks, and serves a garlic sausage that tastes suspiciously like kielbasa.
Lo and behold, another Tianjin institution has appeared in Flushing, this time with its own storefront, albeit a narrow one. Apparently, there are a significant number of immigrants from Tianjin in Queens.
Flying in the face of the other Tianjinese institutions, Tian Jin Chinese Restaurant specializes in charcuterie, though the product is of a far different sort than you'd find in a southern Chinese charcuterie (ducks, roast pork, etc.). The place is not really much of a restaurant, since there's no seating, but the display of animal flesh in the glass case is amazing, if not always enticing. Pride of place goes to braised pig feet, neatly lined up like soldiers on the way to battle. The braising liquid certainly includes soy sauce, sugar, and sherry wine, and five-spice powder provides further oomph! Yes, the feet are rubbery, and it's hard to get at the meat, fat, and skin wedged between the bones, but the taste is pretty damn good, if you've got plenty of patience.
Also lined up are braised kidneys and pig hearts, anatomically perfect and worth studying before you wolf them down. Less challenging, perhaps, are the braised pullets -- small chickens that look delicious in the glass case. Other organ meats are on display, but you'll have to go there yourself to identify them. (Note: Entrance around the corner on Prince Street). 135-02 Roosevelt Avenue, Flushing, Queens, no phone