The best fusion food I’ve discovered are those that are born out of necessity or by accident, when cultures live side-by-side and cuisines naturally intermingle for commerce and localize. Jardin de China epitomizes this collision of Cuban and Chinese, transplanted to Corona, Queens.
First a primer, Americanized Chinese food (think Panda Express) hardly isn’t the only localization and transformation of Chinese cooking, in particular Cantonese cuisine. So of course, Cuban Chinese food would find itself to NYC, a meeting point of remixed identities, cuisines, and cultures - you can find Korean Chinese, Indian Chinese, Malaysian Chinese, Pakistani Chinese, Jamaican Chinese, and likely other variations I’ve never even heard of here as well.
At Jardin de China, dinner starts out with fluffy baguette and butter. I got the chicharron de pollo sin hueso: boneless pieces of fried chicken paired with plantains, delicious pork and shrimp fried rice in an amazing combination. I’d say it’s a drunk person’s dream except that would do a disservice to the food. I’m able to taste the freshness and distinctiveness of each ingredient in my dish, from the green onions and shrimp in the fried rice to the crispy chicken batter perfect with the drizzle of lemon slice that comes with it.
The bistec a la plancha, a Cuban grilled flat steak with onions, had a complex savory flavor that comes from what tastes like the garlic citrus base common in Latin America, paired with tostones, the crispy fried variant of plantains, and moro rice, a lighter variation of rice and beans typically made with a base of garlic, onions, and other aromatics, are perfect together.
Most of the patrons are Spanish speaking from the neighborhood and beyond. I get the sense that Jardin de China is a beloved institution in these parts given the number of families coming for the larger tables, people waiting for booths, and the friendly banter between customers and staff.
The waitstaff at Jardin de China are Chinese folks who speak Spanish, a testament not only to how the Chinese diaspora is spread worldwide, but also how so different people people end up finding their way to a home in New York.
Be warned trendy foodies, this is much more the sort of place with large plates of food and no-nonsense families enjoying a good meal out. Places like these are maligned in the culinary hierarchy, they don’t quite meet the authentic aesthetic for those looking for the “authentic cuisine for Instagram photos”.
Jardin de China serves its cuisine with unapologetically real expression and history. It’s part of the beauty of living a city where culture doesn’t necessarily need to or want to be distilled and disneyfied to the masses.