Just when you thought the East Village Chinese food scene can not possibly get any better, or lacking in any area, comes Jiang Diner representing Xinjiang province. Its beginning to look a lot like a Chinese geography lesson, and the formation of the East Village silk road that strongly resembles the real thing. Roughly between 5th and 12th street, one can now visit Xinjiang, dose on lamb and cumin in Xi’an, and bath in the silky noodles of Dunhuang. I may be missing a place or three in the plethora of Chinese eateries in the area, but this pilgrimage alone should keep your belly happy for a few hours.
Its geographically fitting that Jiang on 5th st is the first stop. The province of Xinjiang after all, was one of the first stops on the silk road. Specifically the westernmost (or one of) city of Kashgar which is home to the Turkic Uyghur minority. Long time EWZ readers and those that took my Brooklyn tour know my fascination with Kashkar Cafe in Brighton Beach, our truest representation of the Uyghur cuisine. But while you can taste some of that muslim influence at Jiang, its quite different than the Brighton legend. Kashkar leans toward the cuisine of Uzbekistan where its owners moved like many others, while Jiang is undoubtedly Chinese.
Jiang is far removed from a “diner”. No parm, no bacon, lacking a waitress named Louise who works there for 47 years, and as far as I know no coffee refills. Well, there’s no coffee, period. But this being East Village, you can get a decent espresso with a side of risotto next door at Risotteria Melotti (I forget that this place exists). Jiang is bright, colorful, and so far on all my visits, fairly empty. Judging by the food however, that may change. Or not. It doesnt have much in the way of looks, sex appeal or trendsetting dishes. Its signature dish is the “Big Plate Chicken With Bone”, and its second signature dish is “Big Plate Chicken Without Bone”.
Always, always go “with bone”, whether its chicken, fish, or anything in life really. A block away east at Hunan Slurp, one can get an outrageous bony fish plate. The only time I’ve seen The Big Plate of Chicken in NYC is at Spicy Village in Chinatown. Heaps of delicious chopped dark meat over thin soft noodles, potatoes, and a sauce you want to secretly pour into your empty water bottle and ask for more. But this is not even the first sauce I’d steal here.
The Big Plate of Chicken comes in two sizes, small and large. I’ve had both. The small can easily feed two, and the large 3-5. The three of us still working on it after I brought it home yesterday. Ordering the big plate in the small size is like ordering the small size of the “Medium roast of the day” at some coffee shops. When I said “medium small please” at the Porto Rico Coffee Company at the new Essex Market, I inadvertently created an Elvis and Costello routine and ended up getting a “medium medium”.
Try the Lamb Shumai. Thats where that Uyghur influence comes through. While it doesnt look anything like the Uzbek Manti, the flavors reminded me of those large steamed dumplings. Jiang’s version are easier to eat. The Steamed eggplant may be even better. It comes almost pureed, and its garlicky scallion dressing reminded me of Danji’s famous tofu dish. The stewed lamb ribs seem expensive when compared to the rest of the menu, and at first taste even bland. But once you sprinkle some of the accompanied cumin seeds and homemade chili paste, its quite good, albeit fatty. The chili paste reminds me of some of the better Israeli S’hugs (yemeni hot spread) out there. I can, and did, eat this stuff with my chopsticks. Next time I’m bringing a small jar. This is a Go!
309 E 5th St (1/2), East Village
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Big Plate of Chicken, eggplant, lamb shumai