The American palate has expanded by leaps and bounds in the last couple of decades, thanks mainly to the tastes of other ethnic groups that came to this country with their homelands’ culinary achievements firmly in hand.
Born from this influx of cultural diversity is a glorious array of restaurants and supermarkets, each delivering a colorful spectrum of tastes and textures that we otherwise might never have had the pleasure of experiencing. Flushing, Queens, is probably one of the clearest examples of this foodie phenomenon—with some deeply entrenched and globe-trotting eaters commenting that the borough’s neighborhood supersedes Manhattan’s Chinatown in flavor, variety and authenticity.
But in recent years, other enclaves have popped up to the delight of adventurous eaters everywhere, and some much closer to Nassau County. For example, Mineola is no stranger to diversity. The bustling town has been known for decades as the Portuguese center of Long Island, with large communities, restaurants and businesses featured throughout the neighborhood that claim Portugal as the origin of its lineage. But true cultural diversity knows no favorites, and it is in that spirit that we celebrate Super FL Mart, a Chinese-owned supermarket in Mineola on Jericho Turnpike.
Super FL Mart is a sprawling grocery store specializing in Chinese products normally not seen in typical Long Island food stores. The seafood section is emblematic of the kinds of variety at the store, boasting multiple live shellfish waiting to be plucked out of tanks; whole live fish swimming in yet more tanks; mollusks we never see here, like razor clams; and an entire section of tanks filled with the likes of jellyfish, live shrimp and even live frogs. That same level of variety is seen in the meats, produce and packaged products as well.
But true enlightenment lives in Super FL Mart’s food court, a long counter of authentic, as well as Americanized, Chinese preparations that run the gamut from standard to enticingly unusual. Of course, you can get the classic General Tso’s chicken, sweet and sour pork, and beef with broccoli, but where this food court truly shines—and what makes it such a welcomed addition to the area—are the dishes that you don’t normally get a chance to order from your favorite Chinese take-out restaurant. The fish in chili sauce packs a numbing punch, and features delicate white fish prepared with whole chilies, seeds and all. Meanwhile, the preserved vegetable with pork belly delivers a pungent, fermented flavor with thick slices of pork belly that are at once meaty and gelatinously fatty. Chili makes another appearance in the chili chicken, which showcases small morsels of deep red chicken, accompanied by a mix of vegetables and those uniquely spicy chilies.
You might be asking yourself, did he really order three entrees? That must have cost him well over $20. Well, you are half right. The food court’s combo allows you to order three sizable scoops of an array of dishes, along with rice and a soup for about $10. That is a sweet deal no matter where you call home. But the menu continues. Order a roast duck or roast pork meal for an extremely reasonable $7 or dive deep into the food court’s fiery hot pot for under $10, depending on which protein you choose.
One of the most wonderful features of Chinese cooking is their willingness to prepare parts of the animal that most people in this country refuse to eat. Please allow me a moment to editorialize in the middle of this food article: There is absolutely no reason to fear the cuisine of other people. The world is inhabited by billions of individuals, all trying their best to get through their day—and sometimes a big part of coping is eating food that perhaps you find a bit off-putting. That’s OK. However, as passengers on this planet, it is all of our responsibilities to not only accept the differences of others, but also make an attempt to understand the things that make them happy.
It is in that spirit that I implore you to sample some of the less-than conventional food items at Super FL Mart. Start simple. Tell the woman working the counter that you would like try a few items, and she will gladly heap some spoonfuls into a container and charge you a meager fee. On this recent trip, I sampled the pig ear and beef tripe—both served cold, but both incorporating that immediately noticeable numbing heat of the chili peppers. The first thing you might have to try to overcome is the texture, which is far different from what you are used to. But the flavors are fresh and clean, with a hint of the animal of origin. Other items I will return soon to try include the pork tripe and the duck chins.
Super FL Mart is an entire world unto itself. One could easily spend a number of hours there exploring and sampling. Take a trip out of your personal comfort zone—and maybe try a durian fruit, a squid-flavored potato chip or one of many culturally expansive offerings.
Super FL Mart, 52 Jericho Tpke.; Mineola; 516-873-0888