China, I have three words for you: Go to Flushing.
Forty-three percent of Flushing is Asian, including South Asian and Korean populations, according to the latest census figures. And Flushing's Chinese population has doubled since 1990, to an estimated 58,000. All of these fresh arrivals -- not just from the traditional Cantonese areas but from all over China -- have created a market for cheap, delicious and unflinchingly authentic regional chow.
The Chinatown in Manhattan is still largely for tourists, but the Chinatown in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens is a dreamland for brave foodies, with eateries representing the provinces of Fujian, Henan, Hubei, Sichuan, Yunnan and Xinjiang, the cities of Beijing, Lanzhou, Shanghai and Xi'an, and the island of Taiwan.
So pull on your eating pants and comfortable shoes and get to LaGuardia. From there, it's a $2 bus ride on the Q48, or you can splurge for a $10 cab ride (for two) to Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue. During my 48-hour eating spree there with a companion, we paid for no further transportation. Everything is in walking distance. And believe me, you'll need the exercise.
Here are 10 must-try stops for an authentic Asian weekend. If you don't speak Mandarin, prepare to do a lot of pointing. But that's half the fun of travel.
1 Breathtaking Shanghainese soup dumplings (xiao long bao) cost $4.50 for six at Nan Shian Dumpling House, 38-12 Prince St. (718-321-3838). When the dumpling is cool, place it in a soup spoon, nibble a hole in the wrapper, slurp out the rich broth, dip the remaining soupless meat dumpling in vinegar and soy sauce, and chow down. If there is a long line, try nearby Joe's Shanghai at 136-21 37th Ave. (718-539-3838).
2 Grab cuminy lamb kebabs from China's western Xinjiang region from a stand on 38th Street west of Main Street.
3 Try savory beef tendon in red chili sauce ($7.95) and fiery dumplings in red chili sauce ($3.50) at Sichuanese Spicy and Tasty, 39-07 1H Prince St. (718-359-1601).
4 Eat a northern Chinese-style breakfast of fresh sweet soy milk ($1), savory crullers ($1), fried dumplings ($4.95) and flaky radish pie ($2) at No. 1 East Restaurant, 41-27 Main St. (718-460-8686).
5 Check out the Handmade Noodle booth at Flushing Mall food court, 133-31 39th Ave., where, in a flash, a chef creates a nest of fresh handmade noodles from a ball of dough.
6 Descend into the grubby Golden Mall, 41-28 Main St., where you'll find the best dish in the state, cold Xi'an-style rice noodles called liang pi ($3.50) in an awesome spicy, sour sauce.
7 Savor crisp, fatty duck sandwiches topped with hoisin sauce and scallions ($1) from the window at Corner 28, 40-28 Main St. (718-886-6628).
8 Then sing off the calories at an ultramodern karaoke house that transports you to Asia with fragrant teas and private rooms with Chinese singing machines featuring some English songs too. Di Yuan Karaoke, 133-35 Roosevelt Ave. (718-539-6666). A room for four costs $18-$36 per hour depending on time of day.
9 Indulge in a Chinese foot massage, which requires you to remove socks and shoes and includes foot soaks plus massages on the feet, legs, shoulders and arms. Normally men massage women and vice versa, but request otherwise if this freaks you out. Also, let the specialist know about particular aches that they can ease through foot reflexology. One-hour massages cost $28 at 88 Massage, 133-56 41st Ave. (718-762-5666).
10 Chill at Spa Castle, 131-10 11th Ave. (718-939-6300; nyspacastle. com), featuring five levels of indoor and outdoor Asian whirlpools and saunas lined with jade, gold, infrared light, salt, LED lights and soil. A single price ($35-$45) grants you all-day access to pools, steam, sauna and a relaxation lounge. Free shuttles leave from inside the Flushing Municipal Parking Lot at Union Street and 39th Avenue every 30 minutes on the 10s and 40s. Get there early (open 6 a.m. to midnight) to soak up the peaceful vibe and build your appetite.