03/10/15 10:17am

People who are familiar with festival-style Indonesian food in New York City have probably visited the outdoor food bazaar held in the rear parking lot of Astoria’s Masjid Al-Hikmah, which usually begins with the first warm weather in April and runs through October, or possibly one of the one-off events such as 2013’s Forest Hills Indonesian Food Bazaar. Longtime Masjid Al Hikmah attendees were dismayed last year when the mosque didn’t manage to put together an event until September 21st and then tacked on two more in quick succession, October 12th and October 26th. I attended them all, of course.

Event Organizer Fefe Anggono

Event Organizer Fefe Anggono

The innaugural edition of the City Blessing Church Indonesian Food Bazaar, which is being planned as an (at minimum) monthly event, took place on the last Saturday in February, 2015 in Woodside, Queens. The organizer, Fefe Anggono, owned and managed a restaurant in Long Island for seven years and started this event as a way to not only bring attention to the church and its rental space, but also to provide an outlet for vendors left out in the cold by the mosque’s inconsistent event-holding policies. (more…)

10/17/13 1:05pm
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Do they know they’re standing in the epicenter of ethnic food?

I am more street food connoisseur than street art aficionado. That didn’t keep me from jumping on the Banksy bandwagon though. No, I was not fortunate enough to purchase a $60 “spray art” canvas in Central Park. When I read on Monday that the British street artist had put up a piece in Queens as part of his monthlong New York City residency I hastened to a block of 69th Street in Woodside’s Little Manila not far from the rumbling 7 train. I couldn’t help but wonder whether the crowd of camera toting street art fans had any idea they were standing at the epicenter of ethnic food in New York City.

“What we do in life echoes in eternity,” it read in Banksy’s signature stenciled script. Well, almost, that last word was cheekily in the process of being obliterated by an old-timey looking character. (That’s a quote from the film Gladiator, by the way.) Having partaken of some culture in the form of art—and Instagrammed, Tweeted and Facebooked it—I took off in search of food culture.

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09/05/13 10:36am
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Clockwise from top: crab, crispy pata, ukoy, longanisa, and tuna belly.

Americans traditionally mark Labor Day weekend with one last summer backyard barbecue with friends and loved ones. I too celebrated with friends, in traditional Queens fashion. That is to say by embracing the traditions of another culture, specifically Filipino. On Saturday my friends Kaori and Stella joined me for a traditional salu-salo sa bilao fiesta at Papa’s Kitchen in Woodside. Salu-salo bilao loosely translates to a gathering over a bilao,or banana leaf-lined basket overflowing with goodies. It’s an informal affair where all the food is eaten with one’s hands.

Chef Miguel prepared quite a spread. One tray held crab; crispy pata, a whole foreleg of pig fried to a shattering crunchiness; the shrimp and veggie fritters known as ukoy; longganisang hamonado, a lovely sweet pork sausage; tuna belly; and Papa’s signature spicy dynamite spring rolls. Everything was quite tasty,but we all agreed the salty, fatty tuna belly was spectacular. Stella, who is Filipina, schooled me in the proper way to eat with my hands. On the few occasions when I’ve eaten South Asian food with my hands I’ve felt self conscious most likely because the food is usually very saucy. At Papa’s I felt especially relaxed, and not just because we had the place to ourselves.   (more…)

09/04/13 1:02pm
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A bumblebee’s eye view of Jollibee’s entire sandwich menu.

C+M’s sandwich coverage has included everything from West Indian fried fish to gargantuan Mexican tortas. Lately I’ve been feeling a bit jaded, so for this week’s Sandwich Wednesday I undertook the journey to one of Queens’ most exotic dining establishments,  Jollibee.  After all I liked the spaghetti and fried chicken combo at the Filipino fast food spot so I figured why not try their new $1 Little Big Bites. I mean you can’t go wrong for a buck. Then again maybe you can . . .

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The corned beef is slightly reminiscent of barbecued beef brisket.

The menu at the home of the psychedelic bumblebee offers two types of tiny sandwiches, Spam and corned beef. Both are served on squishy slightly sweet buns with a generous slather of mayo. Spam is best served well-fried. So the floppy, somewhat slimy rectangle of mystery meat lolling out of the bun did little for me. The corned beef on the other hand was kind of tasty, calling to mind barbecued beef brisket. (more…)

05/21/13 2:30pm
Slices of mango surround an oval ofgreen-hued sticky rice laced with pandan.

Slices of mango surround an oval of green-hued sticky rice.

Tea Cup Cafe, a quirky Thai coffee shop with a sideline in street food, has become one of my favorite places for Southeast Asian snacks. Good as they look I have yet to try the various cupcakes and other confections. When I’m in the mood for something sweet at Tea Cup, I always get the same thing, mango with sticky rice ($5). Slices of ripe orange fruit fan out around an oval of green-hued sticky rice. The whole affair is lashed with sweetened milk and showered with sesame seeds. The first time I had this dessert I wondered what was up with the green rice. Then I took a bite and realized it was flavored with the sweet bready extract of pandan leaves. I’m told  it’s a popular street sweet in Thailand. I’m just glad to have found such an artful version of it here in Queens.

Tea Cup Cafe, 76-19 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst

04/29/13 9:44am
Young and old mingle over noodles at the Burmese New Year celebration.

Young and old mingle over noodles at the Thingyan celebration.

It’s Southeast Asian Lunar New Year season in Queens kids. It seems like it was just Songkran, or Thai New Year. Yesterday it was Myanmar’s turn, so my buddy Jonathan and I attended the Thingyan festival in the cafeteria of a public school in Woodside. We stocked up on $1 food tickets; most items were between $4 and $7. Even in the most diverse borough in the universe Burmese food is a rarity, so you can be sure that we ate our fill. The festival was sponsored by Dhamman Ranti Vihara, a local Burmese Buddhist temple.

A potage of curried chicken and torn roti with spicy slaw.

A potage of curried chicken and torn roti with spicy slaw.

Kyat thar palatar was a great way to kick off a day of eating. Think of the bowl of torn roti and chicken curry as Burmese chicken and dumplings. The bits of bread soaked up the curry quite nicely, while a slaw of cucumber, cabbage, mint, and green chili lent some brightness to the bowl. (more…)

04/09/13 12:15pm
Fried chicken and spaghetti, together at last.

Fried chicken and spaghetti, together at last.

When I first saw the spaghetti at Jollibee, the Filipino fast food spot in Woodside’s Little Manila, I wrote it off as a perverse creation that I’d never order. Last night I had a change of heart and gave the Pinoy pasta a whirl. I decided to hedge my bets and order a fried chicken and spaghetti combo. That way if the pasta was totally inedible I could at least munch away on the drumstick.

It’s like a sloppy joe version of pasta.

It’s like a sloppy joe version of pasta.

I was expecting a sodden overcooked mess. The pasta though was surprisingly al dente. Moreover the sauce, plenty sweet and riddled with chunks of sausage, carrots, and enriched with melted cheese was strangely compelling, in a school lunch sort of way. Around the third or fourth bite, I realized that it reminded me of one of my favorite school lunches growing up, sloppy joes. I can see why little kids go gaga over this spaghetti. That bird, or Chickenjoy, as Jollibee calls it was good but not great. When I’m looking for fast-food fried chicken I’ll stick to IHOP or KFC. And when that craving for strange spaghetti hits I’ll know where to go. After last night I should be good for two years.

Jollibee, 62-29 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, 718-426-4445

03/15/13 12:16pm
A sign of the older times.

The sign is gone, but the Cuban sandwich is still as good as ever.

“Oh it’s at my house,” the owner of El Sitio, the wonderful Cuban luncheonette hard by the corner of 69th St. and Roosevelt Ave. said to me about the restaurant’s old sign.  That sign, with its old school lettering that evokes 1960s and 70s salsa music and Don Quixote was a true classic. The piggy in the top hat at right enthusiastically beckoned passerby to try the lechon asado. And in the smallest letters on the sign a humble plug for what is quite possibly this joint’s  greatest achievement, sandwiches cubanos. It’s 2013 and that old school sign has been updated with a flashier, more modern one. Thankfully nothing has changed about the Cuban sandwiches here or the orange formica counter in the front room where they are best eaten. They are still a celebration of porky, cheesy, garlicky goodness. That little guy in the top hat would be proud.

El Sitio, 68-28 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, 718-424-2369

01/17/13 11:12am
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Legions of Gastronauts stormed Sik Gaek for a seafood feast.

When it comes to dining out I’m not one for the communal table, I prefer to dine in small groups, or alone an eating army of one if you will. And as far as eating clubs go I take the Groucho Marx approach.  That said I make an exception for The Gastronauts. The club for adventurous eaters was started by Curtiss Calleo and Ben Pauker over a Malaysian meal seven years ago and the ranks have swelled to 1,300 folks eager to try everything from goat’s eyes to horse meat. As I mentioned I have no need to be in a club to be an adventurous eater. An affinity for the nasty, squirmy, and often spicy bits is an integral part of my genetic makeup. And it doesn’t get any squirmier and spicier than the seafood feast some 50 Gastronauts gathered at Sik Gaek in Woodside on Tuesday night to enjoy. That’s because one of the eight courses was san nakji, or live octopus.

For whatever reason a meal at the soju-drenched Sik Gaek always begins with eggs cooked over a table top grill. This was followed by a grilled mackerel whose skin was so crisp it tasted like it had begun to confit in its own Omega-3 rich fat. Then came the live octopus. Truth be told it was some of the sleepiest live octopus I have ever encountered.

Surely this must be the Octopus’ Garden that Ringo Starr sang about.

Surely this must be the Octopus’ Garden that Ringo Starr sang about.

Octopus and lobster, both still very much alive, were the centerpiece of the next course, a Korean bouillabaisse of sorts. Clams, abalone, mussels, baby octopi, prawns,shrimp, calamari, and plenty of veggies bubbled away in a spicy broth. The steam that billowed forth was like spicy seafood aromatherapy. And the broth was quite simply one of the best seafood soups I have ever had. Once the lobster was cooked our waiter came over and cracked it open, and we all greedily dredged the pan for the precious flesh.

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