A dim sum classic – shumai – is given a Latino makeover with the addition of chorizo and a habanero chile dipping sauce. (Photo/Courtesy China Latina)

Hot Latin restaurant: China Latina

At China Latina in New York City, you can start your meal with tiny shumai dumplings, stuffed with chorizo and served with a fiery habanero chile sauce for dipping. Or you might opt for guacamole, spiked with plenty of fiery wasabi and served with crispy prawn chips. You can then dig into scallion pancakes topped with tender pork belly, chile-cinnamon dusted plantains, black beans and a delicate yuzu reduction or the restaurant’s special chow fun, made with flat rice noodles, shrimp, pungent Mexican corn truffles (huitlacoche), Asian vegetables and a generous drizzle of aromatic truffle oil.

The intersection of Asian and Latin food may seem strange to any who aren’t familiar with the Chinese-Latin fast food joints through New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood (where a common order is pork fried rice served with deep fried, sweet platanos) or Peruvian food aficionados, for whom chaufa – stir fried rice – is a common fixture on the dinner table. But the unique fusion of Asian and Latin flavors is a combination that chef Julieta Ballesteros just happens to adore and one that she’s long wanted to bring to diners across New York.

Her passion project – aptly named China Latina – was two years in the making. Now, with sultry red walls and deeply cushioned seats for 109 diners, the restaurant offers guests unique offerings spanning Korean, Chinese and Japanese influences alongside classic Mexican, Caribbean and South American flavors.

“Both cuisines have big, bold flavors and unique spices,” says Ballesteros of the marriage between Asian and Latin culinary traditions. “We both use vinegars and many herbs, and I think there’s a special affinity for odd ingredients, like the Chinese use of organs and the Mexican love of grasshoppers, that really begs to be brought together.”

Ballesteros – whose refined Mexican food at her restaurant Crema brought her acclaim on New York City’s dining circuit – says that the restaurant has been well received since its October 2012 opening and that some very special dishes have emerged as crowd favorites. There’s the house burger, made with chorizo, topped with wasabi aioli, fried egg and kimchi, served with hand-cut yucca fries (“everyone goes crazy for that one,” says Ballesteros) and low mein made with a mole poblano sauce and chicken cracklings. Every bite tastes as unexpected as it sounds, but Ballesteros says that now’s the time to move Latin food forward.

“Latin food is well accepted now as part of mainstream culture,” remarks Ballesteros. “But I think now’s [the time] to offer people food that acts as an adventure, something beyond the usual carne asada tacos.”

Try Ballesteros’ recipe for an Asian-influenced guacamole, one of China Latina’s most popular appetizers.

Wasabi Guacamole

Ingredients

9 large avocados (about 3 pounds)

1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro

1/2 cup of red onions

1/4 cup of wasabi paste

1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lime juice

1/4 cup sesame oil

1 tablespoon kosher salt

Preparation

Halve the avocados, remove the pits, and scoop the flesh into a large mixing bowl. Mash with the back of a large fork or a potato masher to make a chunky paste.

Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Taste, adjust the seasoning as needed, and serve immediately, garnished with pico de gallo or sesame seeds. Serve with warm corn tortillas, corn tortilla chips and prawn crackers (available at most Asian markets).

%d bloggers like this: