New York

Thanks for the Memories, Jing Fong

What the closure of this iconic restaurant means for Chinese-Americans like me.

Photo courtesy of Patty Lee; Image by Maitaine Romagosa
Photo courtesy of Patty Lee; Image by Maitaine Romagosa
Photo courtesy of Patty Lee; Image by Maitaine Romagosa

Growing up in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park-one of NYC’s largest Chinese communities-dim sum was as much a part of my weekly routine as school and Saturday morning cartoons. Every Sunday, I’d eagerly wait for my mom to wake up and dial the number of a family friend to confirm a time and a place. Depending on where this friend lived, we’d meet on a nearby corner and meander our way to the week’s massive restaurant of choice-usually to what’s currently known as Pacificana, but occasionally to Park Asia or the now closed East Harbor.

It’s not an exaggeration to say I grew up in those Chinese banquet halls. With red-paneled walls, soaring chandeliered ceilings, and rows of giant round tables, the bustling restaurants are not only venues for countless celebrations-birthdays, weddings, and babies’ 100-day milestones-but act as a community hub, a place where news and gossip are shared, where introductions between recent and longtime immigrants are made, and where first-generation Chinese-American kids like myself try to maintain the oft-tenuous ties to our roots.

So when Jing Fong-the largest restaurant in Manhattan’s Chinatown that’s also considered a dim sum institution-announced in February that it would permanently shutter its Elizabeth Street dining room after March 7, it hit me harder than any other restaurant closing during the pandemic. It was partly due to timing: The Instagram message came a week after a Lunar New Year lacking in its usual festivities. Jing Fong had been the location of my family’s annual spring festival lunch (which was canceled of course), and that-coupled with news about rising anti-Asian hate crimes-was a stark reminder that Chinatown would emerge from this crisis scarred in more ways than one.

Photo courtesy of Jing Fong
Photo courtesy of Jing Fong
Photo courtesy of Jing Fong

The announcement also came prior to the re-institution of indoor dining for the second time during COVID, but even at the current 35% capacity, according to Jing Fong’s third-generation owner Truman Lam, the numbers wouldn’t make sense. Due to both the xenophobia and dwindling tourism caused by the pandemic, traffic to the restaurant and surrounding Chinatown businesses had begun to dip even months before NYC first went into lockdown. And while Jing Fong’s unionized employees are also currently fighting against the closure, it appears that the legendary eatery dating back to 1978 will offer its last indoor service this weekend, Sunday March 7.

While New Yorkers can continue to order the restaurant’s food for pickup and delivery (Jing Fong’s Upper West Side offshoot will also remain open), the experience will be lacking. Dim sum isn’t really dim sum without the organized chaos and rituals-the jostling with strangers over the last steamer basket of chicken feet, the futile act of making eye contact with a server for your tea refill, or the bumping into an auntie you haven’t seen in years only to be peppered with increasingly invasive personal questions (Did you find a new job? When are you getting married? You’re definitely having a second baby, right?). It’s sad to know that when we’re on the other side of the pandemic, there will be fewer dim sum halls for all of this to happen in.

Over the years, my dad-himself an immigrant restaurant worker-would often remark that Chinatown was changing. What he rarely said, but his tone always implied, was that it was changing for the worse, that gentrification was taking away the Chinese mom-and-pops he knew and loved. There was also the issue of age. As immigrants from his generation who were part of the 1970s and ’80s wave began to retire, they didn’t have anyone to inherit their stores and restaurants. More recently though, there had been some optimism in my dad’s commentary. First-generation kids-the same ones who had been nudged into white-collar careers to avoid the exhausting and low-paying service work our parents did-had returned to take over longtime businesses (Nom Wah‘s Wilson Tang and Sophia Tsao of Po Wing Hong, for example), while others (like 12 Pell‘s Karho Leung) were opening ventures that, while not necessarily traditional, were tied in some way to their Chinese-American and more specifically, Chinatown, upbringings.

Photo by Tae Yoon for Thrillist
Photo by Tae Yoon for Thrillist
Photo by Tae Yoon for Thrillist

Jing Fong’s closing feels like another step back for a neighbourhood that was already trying to navigate a complicated transition. Dim sum halls are a gathering place where Chinese-Americans of all generations could feel comfortable. For my parents and those who made the United States their second home, going to Chinese restaurants like Jing Fong not only brought a sense of familiarity, but also allowed them a sense of ownership and belonging where they could take charge. They have a waiter-friend who can help us skip the line; they can order food in a language they understand; and they know the etiquette and nuances of the experience.

I joined my family’s weekly dim sum sessions well into adulthood and only stopped when I moved away from Sunset Park post-college. I still drop in during special occasions, but dim sum has also evolved into an activity I share with other first-generation Chinese-Americans. Every now and then, when a craving for har gow (shrimp dumplings) and law bok go (turnip cake) hits, a small group of us would head to Jing Fong. We get our childhood favourites; we banter with the dim sum cart ladies; and we reminisce about the hours we spent in high school hanging out at Elizabeth Center across the street.

Photo courtesy of Jing Fong
Photo courtesy of Jing Fong
Photo courtesy of Jing Fong

My last trip to Jing Fong was on January 26, 2020. It was my son Henry’s first Lunar New Year dim sum celebration and little did I know, likely our last at Jing Fong as it once was. But there’s no doubt that once everyone is vaccinated and it’s safe, one of our very first destinations will be a Chinatown banquet hall. My mom will probably find a way to skip the line, we’ll run into neighbours who will ask if I’m going to try for a girl, and my aunts will order more food than our group can finish-just like Sundays used to be.

Patty Lee is a Brooklyn native and Thrillist contributor.

New York

Scavenge for Peeps Cookies and More Fun Treats in NYC This Easter

The best Easter desserts in NYC this spring include Easter Bunny Churros and Carrot Cake Macarons.

Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery
Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery
Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery

As spring makes its way through New York City, not only do we get to enjoy beautiful weather, stunning cherry blossoms, and cool activities priced at $Free.99, but it’s also the perfect time for some limited-edition desserts.

With Easter fast approaching, bakeries are filling their shops with tons of chocolate eggs, carrot cake-flavoured everything and all types of flavours that offer both nostalgia and innovation within the city’s dessert landscape. After you’ve picked up a cake from the city’s best new bakeries, from Easter Bunny Churros to Carrot Cake Macarons, here are 8 Easter desserts to try in NYC right now.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Bakery
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Bakery
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Bakery

Magnolia Bakery

Throughout April
Various locations
There’s great news for devotees of Magnolia Bakery’s Classic Banana Pudding: For Easter, the spot is mixing up the iconic dessert’s vanilla pudding with some carrot cake. The Carrot Cake Pudding is filled with freshly grated carrots, coconuts, pineapples, raisins, and walnuts. And if both bananas and carrots aren’t your thing, they’ll be offering their Classic Vanilla Cupcakes in pastel colours with a Cadbury chocolate egg hidden inside.

Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery
Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery
Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery

Funny Face Bakery

Through Easter Sunday
NoHo and Seaport
Known for their celebrity face and meme-worthy decorated cookies, fans of Funny Face Bakery know that a new fun design is always just around the corner. For Easter, they’ve created the adorable Hoppy Easter decorated cookie that resembles a classic box of marshmallow Peeps. Along with that, they also have the return of their fan-favourite Caramel Pretzel Chip cookie flavour, plus a set of three mini-decorated cookies perfect for gifting.

The Doughnut Project

Friday, April 7 through Easter Sunday
West Village
With the ever-changing flavours at The Doughnut Project, it’s super easy to miss out on trying out a new debut. But this Easter weekend, there will be two new flavours available. One is of course, a carrot cake doughnut topped with a cream cheese glaze, and the other is known as the Doughnut Nest-a French cruller “nest” with a cream-filled doughnut hole “egg” in the centre.

Photo by Cole Saladino, courtesy of The Fragile Flour
Photo by Cole Saladino, courtesy of The Fragile Flour
Photo by Cole Saladino, courtesy of The Fragile Flour

The Fragile Flour

Wednesday, April 5 through Easter Sunday
East Village
For stellar vegan desserts this holiday, head to The Fragile Flour, a plant-based bakery and dessert wine bar. They’re known for going all out for each holiday with a variety of new pastry options that you can pair perfectly with a glass of wine. This Easter, they’ll have a whole dessert menu that’s both delicious and gorgeous for posting on IG. The menu includes Stuffed Carrot Cake Cookies, a Lemon Cake (whole or by the slice), some festive cupcakes, and specialty macarons.

Photo courtesy of Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate
Photo courtesy of Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate
Photo courtesy of Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate

Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate

Through mid April
Midtown
For a luxurious take on Easter chocolates, browse the selections available at Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate. You can even pick the Easter Signature Chef’s Selection for a special box curated by award-winning chefs. For something other than chocolate, choose between the Carrot Cake Macarons or the cake flavored Easter Marshmallow Trio, both of which are almost too cute to eat.

La Churreria

Throughout April
Nolita
This churro-centric spot is putting the cutest Easter spin on their crispy cinnamon churros by twisting them up into bunnies and bunny ears. At Churreria, choose from a Bunny Churro Lollipop topped with your choice of chocolate or dulce de leche and sprinkles, or the bunny ear churros in the Ube and Matcha ice cream sundae or the Ube Milkshake, both of which are made with ice cream from il laboratorio del gelato.

Photo by Briana Balducci
Photo by Briana Balducci
Photo by Briana Balducci

Lafayette

Throughout April
NoHo
You’ve surely seen this croissant tons of times while scrolling through IG or TikTok, whether it’s the Pain au Chocolat one or the latest of the month. Known as Supr√™mes, these filled croissants went viral and continue to live up to the hype each time a new flavour comes out. April’s flavour-sour cherry amaretto with a Luxardo custard and toasted almonds. While you’ll have to be super early and wait in line during one of their three drops of the day to get a taste, we promise you it’ll be worth it.

Photo courtesy of Levain
Photo courtesy of Levain
Photo courtesy of Levain

Levain

Seasonal
Various locations
We all know the iconic cookies from Levain-they’re gigantic, perfectly crispy and chewy, and well worth the long lines. For spring, the shop is launching a new flavour: Caramel Coconut Chocolate Chip. Filled with gooey caramel chips, fresh shredded coconut, and melty dark chocolate, it’s one you’ve got to try while it’s still around. To further celebrate the new season, all of Levain’s storefronts will be decked out in spring floral displays, serving as the perfect backdrop for pictures.

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Alaina Cintron is an Editorial Assistant at Thrillist. Her work can also be found in Westchester Magazine, Girls’ Life, and Spoon University. When she’s not at her desk typing away, you can find her exploring a local coffee shop or baking a new recipe.

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