At first glance the brownish slabs in the basket looked like pottery. “It’s chocolate,” the dude behind the counter at Los Paisanos told me. Chocolate for drinking that is. Mexican hot chocolate is one of my favorite treats in the dead of winter. The tablet like slabs of chocolate at Los Paisanos are organic Ecuadorean and will run you $10 a pound. Five bucks bought a nice-sized piece that should keep me well-supplied with hot chocolate in the next few weeks. As I found last night it is unsweetened. I am still perfecting my hot chocolate technique. Last night I melted the chocolate in a cup of milk in saucepan while stirring. Next time I’m going to try melting the chocolate a bit and then adding the milk. I’ve a feeling it will result in a smoother texture. I might even invest in one of those little cappuccino frothers. Viva el chocolate!
Los Paisanos, 79-16 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights,718-898-4141
A small army of mithai awaits hungry Diwali revelers at Maharajah Sweets.
If you have never experienced the pre-Diwali rush in New York’s South Asian sweets shops, you have two more days to partake of mountains of sugary, nutty, dairy-rich mithai (sweets, in Hindi).
In North India, Diwali (aka, the Hindu “festival of lights”) is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil in the Ramayan, a famous Hindu epic. Families gather to share special meals, clay lamps (diyas in Hindi) and firecrackers are ablaze everywhere, and countless boxes of sweets are exchanged. (more…)
The Arepa Lady’s cart drew Smorgasburgesque lines.
After a week-plus on jury duty to say I was psyched for last Friday’s Viva La Comida festival is the height of understatement. The night be before I was like a child on Christmas Eve. Visions of street food—Peruvian tamales, Mexican sandwiches and tacos, Puerto Rican lechin, Tibetan dumplings, Indian chaat, Colombian arepas, Filpino BBQ, and Irish drunk food—danced in my head. The festival which took place on 82nd St. between Baxter and Roosevelt in Jackson Heights was curated by my fellow fresser, Jeff Orlick who knows a thing or two about street food in the Heights and elsewhere. (more…)
I should really stop eating, do some stomach stretching exercises, or hit the gym real hard today. I say this not out of any desire for physical fitness, but because I feel ill-prepared for Viva La Comida! The street food festival being held tomorrow from 4 p.m.to 10 p.m on 82 St. between Roosevelt and Baxter Aves., promises a dozen undersung street food superstars from Queens and beyond. Street foods of many nations will be represented, including the supersized Mexican sandwiches of Tortas Neza to Tibetan momos from the Potala cart. I am most impressed by the fact that festival curator Jeff Orlick has been able to lure Lechonera La Piraña away from the Bronx. The machete-wielding Piraña makes the best Puerto Rican roast pork I’ve ever had. (more…)
Mumbai’s famous beach snack, bhel puri, is easy to track down in Indian chaat shops in New York City. But other snacks from Maharashtra—the state on India’s western coast that is home to the megacity—are much harder to find on this side of the world (though not impossible).
Maharashtrian food is amazingly flavorful—drawing on staple ingredients that impart bold flavors: peppery curry leaf, ginger, cilantro, tangy tamarind, jaggery (unrefined cane sugar), fragrant coriander seeds, savory cumin, and coconut. I love this cuisine and wish it were more prevalent in restaurants. (more…)
Gaajar burfi, a carrot-based Indian sweet from Maharaja Sweets in Jackson Heights.
Sweets made with milk, nuts, lentils, and spices are an important part of religious festivals in India. Later this week, Hindus will observe Raksha Bandhan–or Rakhi, for short–a Hindu festival celebrating relationships between brothers and sisters.
The sweets (mittai, in Hindi) eaten at Rakhi represent the sweetness of the bond between siblings. On the morning of Rakhi (Aug. 21) a sister ties a decorative red thread on her brother’s wrist, signifying her hope for his well-being. In return, a brother gives his sister gifts of sweets and money, signifying his promise to always protect and care for her.
Laddoo, jalebi, gulab jamun, and rasgulla are especially popular, but I prefer less common Indian sweets like milk cake, gaajar burfi (made with carrot), and anjeer burfi (made with fig). You can find all of these at Maharajah Sweets on 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens—my go-to source for Indian sweets in New York City. (more…)
Phayul’s momo took home the prize after a three-way tiebreaker.
Forget the James Beard Awards. When it comes to recognition in the culinary arts I’m all about the Golden Momo. Yesterday was the Second Annual Momo Crawl in Jackson (aka Himalayan) Heights. The object of the event organized by Jeff Orlick was to find the best momo of the 20 places in the hood. I am still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that there are 20 places offering the beef dumpling beloved by Tibetans and Nepalese, I thought there were a dozen at most. I was unable to attend the crawl as I was giving a food tour of Elmhurst, but judging from the activity on the Twitter machine, the rain did not keep folks away.
One of Phayul’s momo maestros with the coveted trophy.
Late yesterday evening I learned that Phayul took first prize after a three-way tie-breaker with Ganjong Kitchen and Lhasa Fast Food. I was pleased to hear this as Phayul is one of my favorite Tibetan spots, so much so that I took Andrew Zimmern there. So I jumped on the 7 train to get a glimpse of the coveted Golden Momo and help my friends at Phayul celebrate.
The Dalai Lama flanked by a basketball trophy and the Golden Momo.
When I got to Phayul it was crowded—not with the 80 momo crawlers that had roamed the streets earlier in the afternoon—but with the usual mix of Tibetan families and young people all eating momo. I shared a table with a couple who each had an order of momo ($5). They were amazed both by the Golden Momo, and the fact that I was thoroughly enjoying their national dish. As I slurped a complimentary bowl of beef stock, the Nepalese gent next to me asked if the restaurant was given the award last year. “No, earlier this afternoon,” I replied. “It’s one of my favorite place for Tibetan food.” Oh and if Phayul isn’t your favorite momo place, don’t worry there are 19 other joints to choose from.
Phayul, 37-65 74th St, Jackson Heights, 718-424-1869
A Mexican cocktail of a different kind for Cinco de Mayo.
Sometimes I’m convinced that Cinco de Mayo was invented by Cervecería Modelo to promote Corona. That’s just one reason why I’m spending it in the Bronx eating Bengali food. For those of you who don’t have plans yet or don’t like drinking frozen margaritas and dining on rice, beans, and mystery meat covered in cheese I have a suggestion. Grab a few friends and take a nice walk in the spring sunshine on La Roosie, as the locals like to call the stretch of Roosevelt Avenue that runs through Jackson Heights and Corona.
Start out with a Mexican style ceviche from La Esquina de Camaron Mexicano, Roosevelt Ave. and 80th St. Watch as Pedro the ceviche mixologist fills a plastic cup with your choice of seafood: shrimp, octopus, or both. To the protein he adds a pour of a tomato-based concoction, olive oil, diced onions, avocado, salt, and hot sauce. Don’t forget to crumble some saltines over the top before digging in. If ceviche, or a “coktel,” as Pedro calls it, isn’t your thing head over to the nearby Taqueria Coatzingo, 76-05 Roosevelt Ave. for a weekend special: barbacoa de chivo, slow roasted young goat available in a taco or a platter with consommé and rice and beans. Stop by Panaderia Coatzingo next door for a cinnamon and sugar dusted concha to munch on your walk.
Sweet and cold, El Bohio’s shaved ice is a harbinger of even warmer days.
As you continue down La Roosie with shafts of light dancing on the street from the elevated train you’ll soon enter Little Ecuador. Its epicenter is Warren Street and Roosevelt Avenue, right by the Junction Boulevard stop on the 7. The corner and Warren Street are lined with food trucks and carts offering a staggering amount of pork, both roasted and fried. The ladies who run the cart called La Esquina del Sabor—the corner of flavor—will gladly offer up a sample of fritada, toothsome fried pork. Ten bucks buys a plate of pork with potatoes, fat starchy kernels of mote corn, and crunchy toasted maiz cancha. Need to cool off? Hit up El Bohio, 98-17 Roosevelt Ave, Corona, for an old school Dominican shaved ice. My go-to is the fresa or raspberry ice ($3.50 for a large cup) with leche condensada. If you’re still in need of refreshment there’s a Dominican dude who hangs out around 104th St. selling fresh tropical fruits and drinks. These include ginormous young coconuts ($5) that he will gladly hack open with his trusty machete. (more…)
Meat maven Josh Ozersky and pitmaster Robbie Richter parade a barbecued ewe.
I’ve just about recovered from what I’ve taken to calling ‘Mini-Meatopia.’ For that’s exactly what Monday’s pop-up at Alchemy, Texas BBQ was. Meat maven Josh Ozersky and pitmaster Robbie Richter teamed up on a menu that included everything from short rib to a grass-fed Vermont ewe, all cooked in Alchemy’s gigantic smoker. It was the first of hopefully many pop-ups. It was a very special night for barbecue and Jackson Heights with a globe-trotting menu that spanned from Jamaica to Uzbekistan.
First up: bulgogi tacos,with gojuchang aioli.
For the past few years Richter has been moving away from American barbecue and experimenting with Asian flavors, notably at Fatty Cue and the upcoming project Roadhouse L.A. with the Umami Burger crew. So it’s not surprising that the evening’s meaty offerings started with bulgogi short rib tacos. They were served with kimchi, and a zippy aioli made from the Korean fermented bean and chili paste, gochujang. My one complaint was the flour tortillas. That did not stop me from eating two tacos, though. (more…)
Som tum, the Thai papaya salad, really a slaw of sorts is a favorite of mine, crunchy spicy, and often possessed of formidable level of spice. As with most Thai food I prefer to eat it where Thai folks gather, specifically Zabb Elee. I like Zabb because it’s open late and because they have seven types of som tum. These range from a pretty standard Thai version with dried shrimp and peanuts ($8) to the Lao style som tum poo plara ($8). The latter is notable not only because Lao grub is as rare in this town as a humble Yankee fan, but because it does not hold back on the fishy, funky, fiery flavors of Southeast Asia.
Half of a preserved blue crab—salty and funky yet still sweet and juicy—sits atop a tangle of crunchy papaya, long beans, hemispheres of Thai eggplant, and, for added crunch, Thai chicharron. The whole affair sits in a shallow pool of liquid that’s a study in fishy, spicy, and citrusy flavors. It’s best ordered spicy with a side of kao neaw, Thai sticky rice ($2). I like to roll the sticky rice into balls and use it to sop up the liquid. Don’t be surprised if your waitress asks if you’ve been to Thailand when she sees you eating like a local.
Zabb Elee, 71-28 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights, 718-426-7992