Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"Greens sandwich" and dumpling of disappointment

From Park Slope I headed into Manhattan, getting out at the East Broadway stop for a stroll around Chinatown. As I walked in the direction of the Manhattan Bridge, I remembered Calvin Trillin's famous "greens sandwich," which he writes about in Feeding a Yen:

What caught my eye was a sandwich, tightly wrapped in clear plastic. It consisted of an ordinary Western-style bun—what I assume the Chinese would refer to with some word that translates literally as "the sort of bread foreign devils eat"—and something green peeking out of the middle. I risked a dollar for a taste. Inside the bun was a chopped vegetable that might have been bok choy or mustard greens, flavored with something that tasted like horseradish. I loved it.

Trillin goes on to write that he started stockpiling them and handing them out to friends and acquaintances, like "trophies from an adventure abroad." As I was only a few blocks away from the area, how could I leave without picking one up?

There was only one vendor under the bridge (among several) I saw selling the item, so I assume I had found the right one. I bought one of the sandwiches along with a plastic-wrapped "dumpling" of glutinous yam or tapioca flour dough filled with turnip, both of which I had the next day in my apartment.
Mustard greens sandwich, Chinatown vendor
Before trying the sandwich, I took out the greens and toasted the bun halves in the toaster oven for a bit since the bread had gotten a little soggy. While I liked it well enough, I also wasn't all that impressed. I liked the sharp flavor of the mustard greens, but the bagel-like bread was mediocre and also too hard and chewy for the greens, making for a messy eating experience. Though I guess I ought to eat one fresh before making a conclusive statement.
IMG_1927.JPG IMG_1928.JPG
With the dumpling, when the vendor said "turnip" I had assumed that he meant a filling of salted dried turnips and meat, like Hakka neih ban (anyone know what I'm talking about? I can't find them anywhere!). Instead, it was filled with sweetened shreds of stewed turnip, which I didn't like at all. There was no turnip flavor, just an overwhelming and singular brown sugar taste. I dug out the filling and tossed it, thinking I could just eat the wrapper, but it wasn't all that great either. Maybe someone more into sweets would like this, but not I.
That's the beauty of Chinatown though, I suppose—you never quite know what you're going to find.


  1. whats with you bringing things home and eating them a day later?

  2. 'Cause I've eaten already! But I still want to try stuff....

  3. nothing makes me sadder than a disappointing dumpling.

    okay, that's overstating the case a little. but still, i love a dumpling and would have been just as disappointed as you.

    better luck next time!