Friday was the last day of Katie’s spring (hah!) break, and it didn’t take much arm-twisting to persuade her to head back to Sunset Park for one more 8th avenue lunch. This time, we had a specific destination in mind.
Yun Nan Flavour Garden is an old favorite. It used to be called Yun Nan Flavour Snack and occupied a tiny storefront (basically just a kitchen with a narrow counter) around the corner from the commercial avenue. Something about it called out to me right from the start: was it the promise of flavors from an under-represented region? the British spelling? the modesty of its name? Whatever . . . having spotted it on a dumpling outing with my good friend Shelley, I dragged Eric there on one of our bike excursions around town. (Photos exist of me slurping down cold rice noodles while wearing a helmet and padded cycling shorts, but I will not be posting them.)
In the intervening years, Yun Nan moved to more spacious and elegant (big round tables! oversized chandeliers!) quarters directly on 8th avenue, between 51st and 52nd streets. It also upgraded its name, promising full meals rather than mere snacks. The menu at the renamed location is more extensive, although the on-line scuttlebutt is that many of the promised items are perpetually unavailable.
I wouldn’t know about that, because I go there for the stand-by dishes that are always on offer. Cold rice noodles in summer. Rice noodles in soup in winter. And dumplings in hot and sour sauce anytime.
About those dumplings . . . despite the name, this is really a soup. The dumplings float in a chili-slicked broth that’s deep, tangy and sinus-clearing. It’s the soup Katie craves when it’s cold outside, when she’s sick, and when she’s far from Brooklyn. (God help her when all three are true, as was the case earlier this year.) It also brings out her poetic soul. The dumplings, she declared, remind her of petticoats: ruffled and delicate, stretched so thin they’re nearly transparent. It’s a perfect description.
Needless to say, that was Katie’s order ($5.25 for a big bowl).
I got the rice noodles with crispy meat sauce (also a soup) – slightly more expensive at $5.50 for an even bigger bowl. “Have you had this before?” the waitress asked, her expression doubtful.
“No,” I admitted. I knew why she was asking.
“It’s pig intestines,” she clarified.
“That’s OK,” I told her. I’d done my research, knew what I was getting into, and hoped my expression didn’t betray the doubt I was feeling.
I’m here to tell others: do not worry. Stick to your guns and get that crispy meat sauce. What will be set down in front of you is a steaming bowl of broth full of squiggly rice noodles, flecked with cilantro and loaded with cracklings, thin slices of pork and, yes, intensely porky intestines in cross section. (See the picture at the top of this post.)
Katie – truly her mother’s daughter – pronounced them delicious.
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Yun Nan Flavour Garden, 5121 8th Avenue, Sunset Park, Brooklyn 11220