Although I’ve lived in Manhattan for over 3 years now, I haven’t actually been to many of the hallmark sites that are synonymous with “New York”. I’ve never been to the top of the Empire State building, and the Statue of Liberty was only a spot on the horizon I’d admired from a distance until recently. I actually try to make it a point to avoid places like Times Square and Canal Street when I can, because it’s always such a huge mess of tourists.
I’m not sure if it was the back-at-home-blues or the nice weather, but I decided to be a tourist in my own town weekend. Still, the New Yorker in me guffawed at the thought of boarding one of those tacky blue double deck buses, so strapped the camera around my neck and put my walking shoes on. I started out walking north from my downtown condo up to City Hall, then over the Brooklyn bridge to DUMBO (Down Under The Manhattan Bridge Overpass) where I checked out the flea market (and winter home of the Redhook Ball Field vendors). To get back to civilization the city, I headed back over the Manhattan Bridge to the “real” Chinatown.
The “real” Chinatown, you ask? Chinatown is actually a huge part of Manhattan, extending far beyond the stalls of faux Rolex watches along Canal street. During the 1980’s it went through a huge expansion, absorbing most of Little Italy, as well as swaths to the east and south, making it the largest Chinatown in the western hemisphere. While cheaper than shopping at Wholefoods, I’ve always thought that the areas around Mott and Bayard were more expensive than ethnic enclaves in other cities.
Like a culinary Shangri-La, I’d heard rumors of a “hidden” Chinatown under the Manhattan Bridge where prices were supposedly far cheaper, but I’d never ventured that far east to find out. Since I was on foot, and hadn’t planned dinner yet, I figured this would be a perfect opportunity to vet these rumors. As I got off the bridge and doubled back along its northern perimeter, I came across a dozen makeshift stalls selling produce at wholesale prices. A box of honey mangoes was going for $5, and other produce like green beans and bok choy were going in 5 and 10 pound increments. None of it looked stellar, but at the prices they were going for, I’d consider going back if I were cooking for a large group of people.
Continuing east, I came to an underpass and noticed an entrance on the east side of the street to a “mall” under the bridge. The mall consisted of a bunch of prepaid phone card vendors, but as I emerged from the other side, it was like I’d come through a portal to some dimly lit alternate reality. There were crates of produce at obscenely low prices, leading to a vinyl strap doorway which housed a large grocery store.
It was there I found these live Jonah crabs along with a bunch of lemongrass, garlic chives, fresh ginger, cilantro, bulk pack of garlic, and box of Ziploc freezer bags. On check out I thought I heard wrong so I double checked the green LCD readout that confirmed my total came to $6.34. If you remove the $3 box of ziploc bags, and all the extra ingredients I’ll be using for other things, this tasty crab dinner came out to about $1.00 per person! Who else would pay a dollar to have a meal like this?
I’m not going to make any authenticity claims here, but it’s Asian and it’s delicious! The sauce is sweet and spicy with a terrific zing coming from the grated lemongrass and ginger. The crab, while a bit harder to eat than Dungeness, was supple, moist and very flavourful. The best part was the garlic chives, which soaked up the flavor of the crab and the spicy sauce. Since I only used the white part of the lemongrass in the sauce, I cut up the top part of the stalk and added it to the rice before I cooked it, making for the perfect accompaniment to this dish.
- Mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl. Trim the tough stems off the garlic chives and cut into 2" lengths. Cut the scallions into 2" long pieces.
- Clean the crab by scrubbing it under cold water then cut it up by first pulling the legs and claws off, then separating the body from the top shell by pulling apart the back of the crab. Remove the feathery gills from the body and cut it into a few pieces with a cleaver. Crack the claw segments with large pliers or a nut cracker.
- Heat a wok or large stock pot on high heat until hot. Add 2 tablespoons of oil then add the crab, tossing to coat the crab with oil. Add the sauce then toss to coat evenly. Add the scallions and garlic chives then cover and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the crab is red and cooked through.
- This is great served with rice that's been cooked with the green parts of the lemon grass stalk.