The Asia Market Guide to the Lunar New Year

About three blocks east of Union Square stands Asia Market, the unassuming retail branch of Chinatown’s Asia Market Corp, a largely wholesale operation that has long served as a chef favorite with their comprehensive lot of food products culled from East and Southeast Asia. Naomi Kwong, the 26-year-old granddaughter and daughter of the original owners, had the idea for the new store, which officially opened last May. “This neighborhood has a lot of memories [for my family],” says the NYU graduate, who attended high school in the neighborhood while growing up further downtown in Chinatown. “It’s not like all the hustle and bustle of [other parts of] NYC—it’s all locals, and everyone’s super friendly and welcoming.”

The original Asia Market Corp opened in 1988—an auspicious year, as the Chinese word for “eight” rhymes with the word for “wealth”—and quickly established itself within the restaurant industry, making twice-daily deliveries throughout the city. Kwong’s grandfather and father emigrated to the Lower East Side from China in 1966, and backed the original market for an uncle to run, with her parents taking over in 2006.

Naomi Kwong, proprietor of Asia Market in Gramercy Park

“You know the traditional [immigrant] parents where they work really, really hard for their kids?” asks Kwong. “I wanted to step in and help them. I was working at this hotel near Central Park, and I felt I was plateauing there, so I quit my job. I really feel this place has a lot of potential. Up here [in Gramercy], it will hopefully be a shop for everyone to gather, for the locals.”

Soursop leaves are Kwong’s pick for the next big health drink. The antioxidants found in the leaves, used to make tea, are believed to fight the production of cancer cells and boost the immune system.

Kwong’s previous experience in hospitality comes in handy in guiding customers through the otherwise mystifying riot of condiments, snacks, and exotic ingredients lining the shelves. “I even taught one grandma how to text her daughter an image,” she says. It’s easy for the most accomplished cook to find themselves overwhelmed, considering the options here—there are fish sauces from Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines, and even a newer brand called Red Boat, which Kwong decided to bring in after fielding multiple requests for it down in Chinatown. “It’s supposed to be the purest fish sauce out of all of these,” she says.

As knowledgeable as she is, Kwong’s always on the hunt for products customers might not find elsewhere, although the chances are pretty good she already carries it. “Next door at the dry cleaners, there’s an Indonesian person, and he came in and bought a drink that he loves, Mogu Mogu (a fruit juice with coconut jelly). He came up to me and asked, ‘Do you have Indomie?’ I instantly knew he was Indonesian, as Indomie (a popular brand of instant noodles) is very popular there. He’s become a repeat customer.” And if you fancy yourself a sriracha fan, she’ll try to steer you toward the real stuff from Thailand: “The Thai restaurants, they prefer the Shark brand,” she says. “It’s not as acidic, it’s smoother,” she says, comparing it to the ubiquitous rooster-adorned brand produced in California.

This OG Chinese vinegar makes for an excellent dumpling dipping sauce, either on its own or mixed with some soy sauce.

If bright packages of Asian snacks are as enticing to your palate as they are intimidating, Kwong is an essential advocate to understanding what lies within. “This is my favorite wall right here,” she says, gesturing from behind the register toward the opposing wall neatly organized with row after row of packaged sweet and savory snacks. “I wanted to bring things that some people were familiar with and also things that they never tried, so hopefully we can broaden their horizon and get them willing to try new things”—she smiles at the wall, just the slightest bit embarrassed—“I know all these snacks.”


February 16 marks the start of the Year of the Dog—or more accurately, it’s the 4,715th year according to the lunar calendar. Kwong selected products—a lucky cluster of eight—that should please any unfamiliar palate.

1) Tean’s Gourmet Crispy Prawn Chilli, $4

“This hot sauce is like a savior. If any of your meals are boring, just add this, as it’s really yummy. A lot of hot sauce is really acidic, like sriracha, or very liquid-y. This one’s more solid, and I like that it’s not as oily and gives a great crunch to every bite.” Try these on scrambled eggs or steamed vegetables, then go crazy from there.

2) Wangderm Sriracha Sticks, $4.25

“These keep selling out like crazy,” Kwong says. She now keeps these arranged on the snack wall closest to the front door, for repeat customers who need their fix—party snack and discussion piece, all in one.

3) Jack N Jill Ni Mang Juan Vegetarian Chicharrones, $2

“I opened up a bag of these to sample out, and I sold out of them like that.” Dehydrated green peas with the flavor of salt and vinegar create a texture indeed reminiscent of their animal product namesake.

4) Garden Pop-Pan Curry Crackers, $2.85

Another bestseller at the store, these thin, buttery crackers deliver a smooth, strong punch of  spicy curry notes.

5) Combine Thai Foods Chopped Pickled Radishes, $2

These minced pickles are served often as a topping for congee, as they’ll liven up the texture and flavor of any mild, bland foods, including scrambled eggs and rice.

6) Sun Ming Jan Taiwanese Sausage, $6.25

The best introduction to Asian cured meats, these addictive sausages are sweet and savory, with a chew reminiscent of hearty slab bacon or dried chorizo. After cooking, try them thinly sliced on their own.

7) Spring Home Glutinous Rice Balls with Sesame Filling, $2.15

The Chinese version of mochi, tan yuan are chewy rice balls filled with a decadent black sesame filling that fans of halvah will swoon over. Sold frozen, they’re a quick dessert simply boiled in plain water and served like a soup. Tan yuan are often served at Chinese New Year family dinners, as—written out—the characters resemble the characters for the word “union.”

8) Jufran Banana Sauce, $1.45

A bit sweeter than regular ketchup and with a spicier option as well, banana sauce is the Filipino version of ketchup. “They didn’t have a lot of tomatoes in the Philippines, so they use bananas as a substitute.”

Red is the official color of luck in Chinese culture, which might explain the “Lucky Candy” name bestowed on red-and-gold-wrapped strawberry cream-flavored hard candies.

Best Weekend Food Events: Scrabble and Sazeracs, the Cider Rider, and Culinary Kids Weekend

Scrabble and Sazeracs, Botanica, 220 Conover Street, Brooklyn, Friday, 7 p.m.

Spell out the words Valentine’s Day and you might just walk away with a bottle of bourbon. Botanica is hosting Scrabble night. The highest score of the night receives a bottle of bourbon from Red Hook’s Widow Jane distillery.

Caribbean Valentine Pop-Up Dinner, Happy Lucky No.1 Gallery, 734 Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn, Friday, 7 to 9:30 p.m.

Heat up Valentine’s Day weekend with Scotch-bonnet pepper sauce and other West Indian favorites at this five-course dinner at the art gallery. Guests will enjoy vegan and nonvegan courses paired with a signature cocktail. Dishes will be served family style. Reservations are $53.74 and include all food and drink; reserve here.

Chinese New Year, Fung Tu, 22 Orchard Street, Friday and Saturday

Say a festive goodbye to Chinese New Year at Fung Tu, where the offerings will include a few special dishes in honor of the Year of the Monkey. Dishes like scallops wontons in mushroom-celery broth and chestnut mooncakes with cashew ice cream correlate with traditional signs of prosperity, as do special cocktails like the Chang Pau, named after the golden robes of Buddhist monks.

The Cider Rider, Penn Station, 234 West 31st Street, Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Looking to escape the city this weekend? Hop aboard a hard cider tour of the Hudson Valley. And yes, drinking starts on the bus! Guests will visit Bad Seed Cider, Pennings Farm, and Doc’s Draft Hard Cider at Warwick Valley Winery. All transportation, tastings, tours, and lunch are included in the cost of a ticket ($150 per person). Reserve here.

Culinary Kids Weekend, New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Families are invited to learn the science behind kitchen chemistry with recipe demonstrations, activities, and tastings. Workshops include kid-friendly recipes and learning how to use kitchen tools, with a focus on healthy dishes. Tickets are $20 for adults and $8 for kids from 2 to 12 years old; reserve them here.


What’s Happening This Weekend – 2/7/2014

The work week’s almost over, so start thinking about where to enjoy the next 48 hours of freedom. Here are a few events that you should take into consideration.

First Fridays: Lunar New Years Celebration, Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue, Friday, 6:30 p.m.

The lunar new year parties continue throughout the city, as the Asia Society Museum is hosting a party showcasing culture and cosmos. Free tours of the museum’s Tales of Wonder exhibit will take place at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m., with special cocktails like lychee-tinis on hand for the occasion. A selection of small Asian bites will be available for purchase; a DJ will set the mood for the evening.

Cooking from the Masters, The Brooklyn Kitchen, Gotham West Market, 600 Eleventh Avenue, Saturday, 6:30 p.m.

Open to all levels of chefs, this course will cover global cuisine from one of Fork writer Eve Turow’s favorite reads: Jerusalem, A Cookbook. Instructor Kate Duff will cover the proper use of ingredients like rose water, harissa, and sumac before sitting down to a full dinner. The menu includes potato latkes, spicy carrot salad, and cardamon rice pudding among other dishes, with wine included. Tickets are $85 and can be reserved through the Brooklyn Kitchen’s website.

Everett Scotch Tasting: The Art of Scotch, Everett Pop Up Fashion Gallery
189 Orchard Street, Saturday, 6 p.m.

Peruse an art gallery while sipping fine scotch. For $45, guests will enjoy four tastings from four unique regions of Scotland while learning about the distilling process. Food is included in the cost of a ticket, which can be purchased through the event’s website. Sounds like an ideal date night to us — or even an early Valentine’s Day gift.

The Brooklyn Meatball Takedown, The Bell House, 149 7th Street, Brooklyn, Sunday, 2 p.m.

If you’re still claiming your grandma has the best recipe for meatballs, now’s your chance to back it up. Brooklyn chefs are encouraged to come out and show their borough whether or not they deserve best ball bragging rights for 2014. For $15, attendees can sample varieties like chicken, veal, and lamb among others with a variety of sauces for each. Register by emailing, or reserve your chance to crown Brooklyn’s best ball.



Chinese Lunar New Year Celebration, Chinatown

Prior to the afternoon parade, the floats lined up on Mott Street.

The Chinese Year of the Dragon began Monday, January 23, 2012. The new year is 4710. Today marked the 13th anniversary of the Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade, which has become increasingly popular each year, so that now the streets are thronged with celebrants and observers. Here are some photos from this year’s parade.

Poppers were for sale on every corner …

… leaving sparkles and confetti on every surface.

Frighteningly, one float featured clowns.

There were dragon heads aplenty.

Mott Street was a sea of red — an auspicious color.

Spectators vied for the best view along Canal Street.

The “creamy ham, chicken, and corn spaghetti” I ate for lunch at Coluck.

16 Elizabeth Street


All’s Well, Ends Well

All’s Well, Ends Well is the seventh Hong Kong film to bear that title, the latest in a series of loosely connected romantic comedies that has become a popular H.K. Lunar New Year tradition since the first opened in 1992. As with most serial sequels, the establishment of a “tradition” frees the filmmakers from any pressure to innovate, improve, or otherwise make an above-and-beyond effort to surprise and delight. (See America’s Fockers franchise.) The premise here is that a website allowing women to reach out and contact men on the odd occasion when male help is still necessary has taken Hong Kong by storm. (The girls are invariably competent and knockouts; the men generally boobs.) Four such encounters of convenience set up the alternating stories in 2012 All’s Well: A never-was singer (Donnie Yen) acts as an escort for a has-been pop star (Sandra Ng); a construction worker (Louis Koo) does beefcake posing for a photographer (Kelly Lin); a wealthy lawyer (series regular Raymond Wong) is hired to play daddy to a fatherless socialite seeking a suitable husband; and, in the bit that recurs with the pleasure of a nagging toothache, a homely romance novelist (Chapman To) provides an experience of love to a ravishing blind girl (Lynn Xiong). Taken together, the whole thing is good for approximately one laugh, generated by the shabbiest CGI reptile since Anaconda.