The moment you step off the 7 train and onto the street in Flushing, you feel very far from New York City.
The towering signs are mostly in Mandarin or Korean, and the intoxicating scent of noodles and sizzling meat wafts through the air. Right by the Long Island Rail Road entrance, groups of people huddle by stalls, slurping long noodles from Styrofoam containers, tucking away steaming scallion pancakes and plopping dumplings into their mouths.
It’s not surprising Flushing feels so foreign: about 47% of Flushing’s residents are Asian, according to a 2011 report from the state comptroller’s office.
At first glance, the food stands, rows of shops, bountiful grocery stores bursting with exotic fruits and vegetables and the sheer number of people can prove intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be. We’ve broken down this vibrant neighborhood into an easy-to-do day trip, or two or three.
Flushing is ripe with Buddhist temples, and for a little peace and tranquillity, visit the Shaing Guang Shan Monastery and Guan Yin Temple (43-35 Main St., Sgs-wbcjc.org). The monastery originated in 2000 under the guidance of Venerable Master Ch’an Yun, from the World Buddhist Ch’an Jing Center, and they open their doors and service to the public on Saturdays and Sundays.
Another form of tranquillity can be found at nearby Spa Castle (131-10 11th Ave. College Point, Spacastleusa.com), a giant, multilevel Korean spa perfect for a dose of relaxation. Like getting off the train onto Roosevelt Avenue, this mega-spa feels a bit daunting at first. Fear not, it’s simple in the end. First, you head to your respected changing room where you can pick up a uniform, which you have to wear in the co-ed areas, just make sure it’s your size. Then you can frolic free around the four floors, dashing into one of the eight saunas, the nap room, pool bar and the rooftop hot tub and massive Jacuzzi pool (bring a swimsuit).
For a dose of culture, Flushing Town Hall hosts the Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts (Flushingtownhall.org) in its 1862, Romanesque Revival-style building. There they showcase artists, lectures and live music, including the free jazz festival on Saturday, April 27 at noon.
You could go to Flushing every day for a month and barely scratch the surface of the food served there, even if you just focus on dim sum and dumplings. One of the best places to try to get a range of flavors and foods is in the Flushing Mall (133-33 39th Ave.), where numerous food shops have taken up residence. There, on the first floor, try any of the dumplings from Chinese-Korean Noodle and Dumpling, then head to Chengdu Snacks for a spicy bowl of dan dan noodles. For dessert, get sweet beans and mango on top of a refreshing bowl of shaved ice from S&C Shaved Ice.
Owned by Jason Wang, the man behind the popular Xi’an Famous Foods, another favorite spot to get a steaming bowl of hand-pulled noodles laden with spicy and tingly beef, or sizzling cumin lamb burger, is at their newer spot Biang! (41-10 Main St., Biang-nyc.com).
Unlike many of the cheap, and delicious, dumpling shops, the setting here is more modern-chic, and is a great place to have a sit-down meal.
After a mouth of spice, head to Iris Tea & Bakery (3907 Prince St.) for a violet cream cake, apple bun, coconut toast, or take a mocha red bean cake home and indulge in Flushing well after you get off the 7 train.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the 7 train or the Long Island Rail Road to Flushing Main Street.