11/29/21 7:48pm

Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas with Chef Bimla and the belt, this year’s map, and a bowl of buffalo johl momo.

“I can get momo any time. It’s just too much of a scene for me,” is usually what I say when asked about the Momo Crawl. “I prefer to pay my respects to the winner afterwards.”

“You could say it’s the SantaCon of momos but I prefer to say it’s the WrestleMania,” tweeted Jeff Orlick founder of the annual event, which brings hundreds of fans hungry for Himalayan dumplings, to the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Woodside, in a reference to the coveted Momo Crawl trophy, which is modeled after a championship wrestling belt.

For the past four years that trophy has graced the wall of Nepali Bhanchha Ghar, thanks to Chef Bimla Hamal Shreshtha’s piping hot momos, served in a fiery jhol broth humming with ginger, chili and other spices.
This year though not only did I pay my respects to the winner, I attended the crawl itself, and I’m glad I did. I ran into many dear friends old and new and frankly felt a sense of liberation despite my general distaste for crowds.

I tried only four of the 29 places on the crawl and couldn’t make sense of Momo Crawl mastermind Jeff Orlick’s map. “It’s a real Jeff Orlick special,” my pal Drew said with a chuckle. Later we sampled the winning momos from Nepali Bhanchha Ghar, which proved to be the hottest and freshest of the ones I tried, with lots of variety. I went for a trifecta of beef, buffalo, and goat with plenty of broth. The broth proved too spicy for my sweetheart Hannah’s daughter Vera, but that didn’t deter her appetite for more of the dumplings. In fact if she had her way I think she’d have done at least a half dozen more stops.

“They try very hard to win, and that makes a huge difference,” Orlick said of this year’s winner. “People seemed very happy to be there. Being outside also gave people some relief from being so concerned about coronavirus.”

This afternoon I took a long walk through the Heights to work up an appetite for a bowl of Chef Bimla’s momo. I opted for the buffalo. With a nip in the air and the second snow of the season falling it seemed like a perfect choice. Congrats again to Chef Bimla and Nepali Bhanchha Ghar, but most of all to Jeff Orlick for showing this sometimes jaded culinary king the joy of community in action.

Nepali Bhanchha Ghar, 74-15 Roosevelt Ave., (917) 745-0533

08/10/21 5:02pm
The mighty wontons in chili oil at Beijing Dumpling House.

A case could made for my performing meaningful civic duty for the World’s Borough of Queens, New York City. After all what higher service is there than spreading the word about all manner of diverse Queens delicacies from Mexican birria tacos and seafood cocktails to Tibetan momo dumplings and subterranean Burmese hotspots? When it comes to more conventional civic duty I vote and have even served on a grand jury for several weeks. Despite having literally written the book on Queens I’ve never done jury duty service at Queens Civil Court in Jamaica, until today that is.

The main question I had was are they really going to send me to jail or fine me thousands of dollars if don’t show up where to eat? I vaguely recall a pupusa place and I know that the Hillside Avenue location of Sybil’s Bakery is nearby, but beyond that I was at a loss. So I turned to the newest expert on Queens cuisine my good friend Drew Kerr, who has been documenting chefs and their beloved objects from Rockaway to St. Albans since February, for The Queens Chef Project, a truly uplifting photographic and audio tribute to the chefs and food workers of Queens, who have made it through some of the most difficult times, that debuts this fall. Drew’s counsel was to hit up Beijing Dumpling House, an authentic Chinese spot just steps from the courthouse.

As I sat in the Room 173 straining to hear and see the video about jury duty service, I was eagerly thinking of lunch. And then they dismissed us at 10 a.m., making it my shortest jury duty stint.

“I guess I’ll have to eat at Beijing Dumpling House another time,” I mused as I exited the building to walk to the subway. It’s a good thing I looked up, I might have missed the fact that Bejing Dumpling House was open. After introducing myself to Pei Na “Sabrina” Zhang and learning that she and her mother, Yan Mei “Amy” Zhang, the head chef, hail from Guangzhou I started peruse the menu. Fried and steamed dumplings are a focal point, along with more than three dozen dishes, including noodle soups and the Sichuan specialty dan dan mian. I almost ordered the latter, but decided on another Sichuan delicacy, hong you shui jiao, listed on the menu as “wontons with spicy sauce.” Sabrina told me that the plain are spicy already, but for an extra buck I doubled down with the addition of garlic, cilantro, and more chili.

In a few minutes Sabrina presented me with a bowl packed to the brim with wontons showered in garlic, cilantro, and red chili. There were so many wontons into the plastic soup bowl that for a minute I couldn’t see the red oil beneath. Each dumpling was packed with pork, shrimp, and vegetables. Unlike traditional wontons, whether H.K. or White Bear style, these were huge. I don’t know if the size is due the fact that Chef Zhang makes hundreds of crescent-shaped jiaozi dumplings a day or her generosity. I suspect it is a combination of both.

It was the best Chinese breakfast I’ve had in some time and the certainly the best and only jury duty breakfast. I don’t have to do jury duty for another six years, but I plan to return to Bejing Dumpling House well before then.

Beijing Dumpling House, 88-38 Sutphin Blvd., Jamaica, 718-297-2935

05/30/19 1:02pm

Kin Khao’s Pretty Hot Wings.

I have been friends with Pim Techamuanvivit on Facebook for years, so I had a feeling that on a recent trip to visit family in the Bay Area I’d wind up at her one-star Michelin restaurant Kin Khao in San Francisco.

I had a rather sizable lunch at Cambodian spot Nyum Bai in Oakland, when fellow food nerd Yamini Eats, a recent S.F. transplant, told me I needed to have a second solo meal at her favorite Thai spot, Kin Khao.

“You should go,” she said spurring me on when I groused that they closed for lunch at 2 p.m. Soon enough though I was on the BART and even sent Chef Pim a note that I might be stopping in. Truth be told I was feeling the need for a long walk and the restaurant was a little too close to the BART to fit that in.

Nevertheless I bit the Thai birdseye chili and made my way over to the restaurant in the Parc 55 Hotel to find it still hopping at 1:30 p.m. Soon I was seated at a communal table perusing Kin Khao’s menu and eying the chicken wings in front of the couple next to me. “They’re really hot,” the dude said of the trio of meaty flappers that the menu dubbed “Pretty Hot Wings.” Moments after that Chef Pim herself stopped by to say hello. (more…)

03/11/19 11:03am

Dumpling Galaxy’s rainbow chicken soup dumplings.

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.”

(more…)

04/13/18 10:48am

Qing tuan, piping hot, each filled with a savory-sweet surprise.

As anyone who talks to me about xiao long bao for more than five minutes knows, my favorite soup dumplings in downtown Flushing can be had at Shanghai specialist Diverse Dim Sum in the New York Food Court. The skin is so thin as to be translucent, and the balance of savory pork and crab broth is perfect, making the little packages a staple on my Flushing Chinatown food tours.

Last week I had a guest with a gluten allergy. I knew the rest of her party would enjoy the soup dumplings, but also wanted to give the gluten-free guest a taste of Shanghai. And that’s where the trio of multihued spheres—purple, green, and yellow—come in. I first noticed them around Easter time and suspected they were a seasonal specialty. Normally I don’t chance trying new things on a food tour, but after learning they were made from rice and various sweet-savory fillings I made an exception. (more…)

01/15/18 10:47am

Dumplings for days, well almost.

I’m not sure why, but it’s taken four decades of eating Chinese food for me to discover the wonders of HK noodles. My introduction to the wiry Hong Kong style yellow noodles began with HK lo mein combo at Shun Wong in Elmhurst. The massive portion of dumplings and lo mein comes with a sidecar of chicken broth as does an equally massive feed I tried at Flushing’s Shifu Chio.

I’ve passed Shifu Chio by hundreds of times, but had only eaten there once before. I scarcely ever look up at the faded red awning, which reads “Prince Noodle & Cafe, when I’m leading tours through the neighborhood.  One day last week after perusing such whimsical menu categories as “Golden Oldies,” which includes fried fish cake lo mein, and “The Conservatives,” a septet of congees, including pig’s belly and liver I zeroed in on HK noodles. (more…)

11/07/17 1:52pm

And the winner is (are) . . . these Nepali jhol momo.

Since I am fortunate to live very close to Himalayan (aka Jackson) Heights I tend to avoid the dumpling extravaganza that is the Momo Crawl. Now its sixth year the festival that Jeff Orlick started featured more than 20 restaurants serving the beloved dumplings of the Himalayan diaspora. Rather than participate in the crawl, I pay my respects to the winner the day after. This year’s winner took home a groovy yak leather wrestling belt that Orlick designed with local artisan Lhemi Sherpa. It features a gleaming momo and a rock from Mount Everest. And the winner is . . .

10/31/17 11:14pm

The most amazing guo tie have returned to Flushing.

For the longest time my Flushing Chinatown food tours included two shatteringly crunchy specialties: the paper dosa from the Ganesh Temple Canteen and otherwordly pork and leek dumplings bound by a crisp sheet of dough from a Henanese stall in New World Mall. And then one day, the guo tie vanished much like the UFO they resembled might. It’s been so long since I’d had these  potstickers that I’ve begun to question whether I had imagined the radial pattern of dumplings beneath a lacy sheet of dough in a foodie fever dream.  (more…)

10/16/17 11:54am

Can’t decide between won ton, roast pork, or noodle soup? Don’t worry Shun Wang’s got you.

I’ve been forsaking my heritage. By that I refer not to red sauce—OK fine we called it gravy—with which my father baptized me every Sunday, but rather the Cantonese food he fed me, thus beginning my lifelong love affair with Chinese cuisine. So when a friend posted a mouthwatering image of the HK lo mein at Shun Wang, I knew I had to try it.

“You know what this is?” the waiter at this Cantonese holdout in the increasingly Thai neighborhood of Elmhurst asked incredulously. “Yes,” I lied. “It’s steamed noodles,” he responded. Up until two days ago my Cantonese noodle knowledge was limited to chow fun and the thicker version of lo mein. (more…)

08/15/17 12:44pm

Steamed veal pelmeni, spa food via Russia and Corona.

There are many, many Central Asian eateries in Forest Hills and Rego Park where one can procure a plate of pelmeni, the pleated Russian ravioli, but there’s none quite like Forest Hills Spa. That’s because the tiny restaurant lies within the only authentic Russkaya banya, or Russian spa, in Queens. Banya—an experience that combines a eucalyptus scented steam room, sauna, and a blistering Russian Room where the temperature hovers around 190F—is a Russian tradition. The banya is just one of many places featured in my new guidebook 111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Miss, which drops later this year.

The menu at the tiny restaurant illuminated by a skylight includes such spa-worthy items as fresh fruit juices, but on both visits I opted for the Russian ravioli. When in a Russian spa, why not eat Russian food? (more…)