Not too long ago in Morocco, I had the extreme displeasure of devouring a sheep’s rich, flan-like breast. It’s a memory seared into my synapses like grill marks on a burger. So imagine my fear when my friends suggested we travel to Flushing, Queens (home to New York City’s largest Chinatown), to feast on a breast of lamb.
“It’s not the same thing; it’ll change your life — in a good way,” my intrepid friend assured me as we drove to Fu Run. The lively, frill-free restaurant focuses on the cookery of northeastern China’s Dongbei region, which extends from Siberia to Beijing and abuts Mongolia and the Korean peninsula. With Dongbei food, expect plenty of pickled veggies, lamb dumplings dunked in black vinegar, chunks of taro, or sweet potatoes encased in caramelized sugar, hearty meaty soups and crispy, cumin-covered lamb.
My crew of diners took a seat at a table topped by a lazy Susan and ordered a plate of tiger vegetables, country-style cucumbers and what the menu described as a “Muslim lamb chop.” “That’s the breast of lamb,” my friend told me. I shuddered, reliving memories of that spongy mammary from northern Africa. The veggies came first. Rough-cut cuke cubes were coated in enough garlic to stop the True Blood cast at 50 paces. The tiger vegetables were a tangle of sesame oil–slicked cilantro and scallions. These dishes were a summery pleasure, worthy of any picnic. Once I’d chopsticked up the last green sliver, the waitress slid the monstrous lamb platter on our table.
“Holy sweet heavens,” I muttered, gazing upon the glistening flesh encrusted with cumin seeds, crushed chilies, and black and white sesame seeds. This was unlike any mint jelly–topped lamb chop or breast I’d ingested. It was actually a slab of ribs, akin to beef short ribs. Marinated, slowly braised, and fried crisp, Fu Run’s breast of lamb was transcendent enough to turn a vegetarian into a carnivore. Speckled with luscious fat, the lamb slid from the bone like the finest Memphis ’cue. The crunchy, aromatic cumin balanced the gently gamey, red-hued meat, creating a combination as addictive as any street drug.
One bite, and you’ll be a lamb-breast man too.