Ma po pig brains are an offal lover’s version of the classic Sichuan dish.
As a rule I never put new, untried dishes on a food tour except when I choose to break that rule. On those rare occasions, the new item comes from a trusted vendor. Like the other day when I took my friend Giuseppe Viterale chef-owner of Astoria’s Ornella Trattoria on a culinary research tour of downtown Flushing’s Chinatown with the aim of showing him how the Chinese eat pork offal. I had blood, feet, and ears covered, but wanted a larger dish to share at the end of our gastronomic adventure. So before I met up with Giuseppe I stopped in Szechuan House to see if my friend Linda and her husband had anything that might fit the bill.
Among a baker’s dozen new dishes I hit paydirt in the form of No. 5, listed in English as “ma po brain flower.” Surely this is a mistranslation I thought to myself, but Lisa informed me otherwise. “It’s like ma po tofu, but we use pig brain instead.”
Many guests on my food tours of America’s Greatest Chinatown—aka downtown Flushing—have had soup dumplings. Xiao long bao virgins get a quick tutorial. Since the wrappers at my favorite spot in New York Food Court are super thin, I encourage people to avoid using chopsticks and gingerly pick up the package from the top with their fingers and place it on the spoon.
They may or may not choose to cool their dumpling in the accompanying black vinegar, but the next step is always the same: “Bite a tiny hole in the side like a vampire and slurp the soup out.”
Mohinga as served by the newly revamped Asian Bowl, the sole Burmese restaurant in Queens.
I suspect I’m not alone as a food writer in having guilty pleasures I never write about. One of my favorites is the Singapore mei fun from Asian Bowl, a takeout pan-Asian spot next to an Uzbek kebab parlor, around the corner from my house. I’m well aware that there is little or nothing Singaporean about the tangle of yellow noodles, shrimp, pork, and egg, but that doesn’t stop me from eating it at least once a week.
The other night I stopped in to get my mei fun on. The place seemed different, for one thing the lights were turned up high and there were new tables. “Are you open I asked?” of a guy who I’d never seen working the counter. “Yes, but we’re under new management,” he said after taking my order. “We are going to start serving Burmese food and sushi too.”
“If you make mohinga I’ll come every day,” I responded. “How do you know mohinga,” he said quickly grabbed my hand and kissing it in a fit of pure joy because I namechecked the fish noodle soup from his homeland. (more…)
The question I get asked most about my Queens food tours—besides “How do you stay so skinny?”—is “Do you give tours of Astoria?” I’m always somewhat ashamed to say. “No, just Flushing, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and the entire 7 line.” Sometimes even the Culinary King of Queens needs to turn to an expert, or experts, and such is the case with Astoria. And the experts in question are my good friends Greg and Jumi at Food & Footprints, who did a video a while back that covered Greek Astoria and just dropped another one of an awesome late night tour of the Middle Eastern offerings along Steinway Street. Oh, and in case you are wondering this dynamic dining duo also leads food tours.
Stephen Yen, executive chef of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill is a pretty busy guy, so I’m pretty glad he found the time to answer Seven Questions. Not only was Chef Yen born in Queens, he was born in the Year of the Pig. Chef Yen will be preparing a very special roast pork bao at Charcuterie Masters on February 23.
1. Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in Queens?
I was born on Main street in Flushing. The hospital was called Booth Memorial back then. My mother’s OBGYN, Dr. Uma Mysorekar, is now president of the Hindu Temple Society in Flushing. I have a special place in my heart for Flushing. I was raised out on Long Island in a small town about an hour from NYC, been back in queens now for about 7 years.
2. I’m excited to have you roasting a pig at Charcuterie Masters! Tell me a little bit about the process?
We are going to brine the little piggie using fish sauce in the brine, this is something I learned from Robbie Richter at Fatty ‘Cue. Nowadays its common practice in most kitchens. The sodium content is where you need it to be, plus you gain all the umami! We are going to then roast the pig in a La Caja China. It’s a roasting oven that simulates the old way of burying a pig and keeping the charcoal on top. The box makes it easier for us, we don’t have to dig! I’ve used a La Caja China before and they are awesome! I usually end up throwing some seafood on top of the charcoals to snack on while we wait for the pork. (more…)
I’ve been passing Moo Thai Food and its logo of a silhouetted black pig for months. The other day I finally tried it for lunch. Despite the name this tiny new spot from the owners of neighboring Eim Khao Man Gai makes only one type of Thai food, khao moo daeng, or pork and rice.
Moo, whose name means pig, offers several types of pork: sweet sausage, red tinged slices that call to mind char siu, and slabs of fried pork with incredibly crunchy skin. Both my dining partner and I chose Set 1, which combines all three. It’s served with a sweet, pork-enriched sauce, egg, and some cursory greenery. The sidecar of soup, which I suspect is the same broth used at Eim, rounded it all out for a nice lunch.
When it comes to roast pork and crunchy pork the first two cuisines I think of are Chinese and Filipino. Thanks to Moo I can now add Thai to that mix when the pork craving hits as it so often does.
Top-flight Hainanese chicken has landed in a neighborhood better known for bulgogi.
I first noticed Yummy Tummy Asian Bistro back in the fall. I was slightly bemused to see such Singaporean classics as chili crab and Hainanese chicken alongside seafood pasta in butter lemon sauce and kimchi fried rice with bacon and Polska kielbasa on the menu of a restaurant in the heart of a neighborhood better known for Korean food than Southeast Asian cuisine.
I forgot all about Yummy Tummy until a friend raved to me about the Hainanese chicken last month. “It’s the best in New York City,” he crowed. “They do it the right way, the skin is so supple.”
So just after New Year’s I trekked down Northern Boulevard to try the chicken and a few other dishes with a friend. The bird was lovely, silky of skin, the tender meat was full of flavor. The accompanying chili sauce and pesto were great, but the bird was better on its own. That’s because Singaporean Chef Richard Chan takes great care and pride in its preparation, starting with the fact that the fresh killed bird doesn’t get chilled until an hour-long ice bath, which is preceded by a leisurely 45-minute simmer in chicken broth whilst stuffed with ginger, garlic, and spring onion. There are also two massages involved, one with salt before cooking and another with salt and sesame oil after the ice bath. (more…)
Winter calls to mind warmer times—with plenty of good old-fashioned BBQ and cold beer to wash it all down. Which is why this month’s Queens Dinner Club will be a down-home Nepali style BBQ feast at Bajeko Sekuwa on January 28. Tickets are $52 and may be purchased here.
The new spot in Sunnyside whose name means grandpa’s BBQ was started by Dinanath Bhandari who used to grill sekuwa skewers at a hawker stand on the road to the Kathmandu airport. His once humble stand has grown into a mini-empire with 14 locations in Nepal, and just one in the U.S., in Sunnyside, Queens. (more…)
Soup and a sandwich via Lhasa, Elmhurst, and Instagram.
There are some who say Instagram—with its over the top milkshakes, noodle pulls, and levitating food—along with Yelp and the other usual suspects—is just another sword in the slowly dying animal that is food writing. I am of the opposite opinion, if you know where to look Instagram is actually quite inspiring. Which brings me to the subject of this post, a beefy soup and sandwich combo inspired by Tibet and one of my favorite places to look: self-proclaimed prolific eater @nigelsie. (more…)
Meaty pork spine lurks beneath a blanket of green chilies.
It’s no secret Arada Moonroj, the lady who brought Lanna cuisine to Elmhurst’s Thai Town is a fan of the pig. The menu at her restaurant Lamoon features every part of the beast, from brain and blood to belly and bits of ear in the sai aua sausage. The latest addition? Spine as featured in leng zabb, a spicy soup of slow-cooked meaty ribs and vertebrae.
The bones are stewed for hours until they give up their marrow and collagen and the whole lot is finished with fish sauce, fresh lime and showered in green chilies, cilantro, and garlic. The menu describes it as “brutally spicy,” but I wouldn’t characterize it as a challenge dish along the lines of the phaal at Brick Lane Curry House. It certainly got my attention and gave me the sniffles, but it’s more of a bright chili heat than the incendiary burn often associated with the phrase “Thai spicy.”
It was quite satisfying to suck every last but of meat and marrow from the bones, but it would be nice to have had some plastic gloves to aid in wrangling the bones. One thing’s for sure though, the lime juice, chili, and garlic should spell the end of this lingering midwinter cold.