As a white dude who’s made a career eating through the many Southeast Asian eateries of Elmhurst, Queens, I lack the same perspective on the food as those born in Thailand, or in this case Indonesia, and sometimes stay away from what I mistakenly perceive to be boring homestyle dishes. When I saw a picture of “Thai scrambled eggs” on the Instagram feed of my friend Nigel “Moon Man” Sielegar, who hails from Indonesia, I knew I’d be heading to Teacup Cafe soon to try this classic Thai comfort food. Sielegar and I are so likeminded or likestomached that our respective Instagram posts often spur one of us to try a meal—Southeast Asian or otherwise—that the other has posted. (more…)
Fare from Tibet, Xinjiang, and Thailand make it the most diverse food court in New York City’s most diverse borough.
Like many of my fellow Queens food nerds I’ve been eagerly awaiting the opening of HK Food Court in Elmhurst. It’s been in the works for so long, that I didn’t think it was going to happen especially since the owner also operates a less than stellar food court in the basement of Hong Kong Supermarket in downtown Flushing.
Then last Saturday my buddy Ron and I poked our heads in to see almost all the booths set up. “Come back Monday,” a worker told us. So I came back. In fact I’ve been back four times so far. You might expect to find HK food, but the name refers to the fact that the culinary wonderland is built on the former site of Hong Kong Supermarket’s Elmhurst location.
The Chinese name “xiang gang mei chi cheng,” actually translates to “Hong Kong Gourmet Food Court.” Even thought it’s not even fully occupied I haven’t been this excited about a food court since I took Fuchsia Dunlop to Golden Shopping Mall. “It’s one thing to have to go to Main and Roosie for something like this, but to have this around the way is amazing,” I overheard someone say to their tablemate. Indeed! Here’s a look at what I’ve eaten so far.
Lamb ‘polo’ by way of China’s Xinjiang Autonomous region and Elmhurst.
Xinjiang House (No. 17) sits between one of the food court’s numerous Thai vendors and the sole Vietnamese outfit. It specializes in fare from China’s Xinjiang autonomous region. The Chinese name “Hui Wei Xinjiang” translates to “Xinjiang Muslim taste,” and the bill of fare features plenty of lamb. I tried a lovely Xinjiang lamb pilaf ($7.99), or polo as as the gent behind the counter called it. The fat grains of rice were shot through with fatty chunks of lamb, raisins, and barberries and just enough carrot for sweetness. Next time, I’m getting the spicy lamb feet ($15.99).
On the day I tried Xinjiang House I took a peek at Khao Ka Moo NYC, a Thai pork specialist to the left. A burnished pork shank redolent of five spice and other aromatics sat luxuriating in a steam table with eggs and greens. I was already full, but plotting my return.
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.”
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.
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.
A verdant reminder of spring on a cold Elmhurst evening.
Despite all the writing I do about various international cuisines there remains a soft spot in my heart and stomach for pizza and pasta, particularly as served by New York City pizzerias. It’s a rarity to find homemade pasta at the corner slice shop, so I’ve been curious about the homemade pasta at Louie’s Pizzeria for years. The thing is I’m usually too full after eating two or three pieces of their award-winning grandma slice to enjoy it. (more…)
My friend Cherry—the bundle of wacky energy that is the creative force behind Elmhurst’s best Thai boat noodles—has been saying I should stop by her joint Pata Cafe when she’s there cooking on Tuesdays. I’ve been there before, but since the cafe, part after school hangout with French fries and part Thai hawker food, was just given a Michelin Bib Gourmand, I figured a return visit was in order.
When I arrived, she reminded me of a special chicken dish, gai tod hat yai, that she had started making according to the recipe of Sunisa Nitmai who runs the kitchen at Pata Cafe. Named for the Southern city of Hat Yai where it first became popular, it is indeed quite special, crunchy and flavorful thanks to a marinade that includes coriander, coconut milk, cumin, and black pepper among other things. It’s served with a sweet chili sauce and nam jim jaew, a spicy funky mix of fish sauce and chili bolstered by roasted rice powder. It needs neither.
“The trick is you have fry them and make sure it’s crispy and not overcooked,” Cherry says, making it out to be far easier to make than it is.
Pata Cafe, 56-14 Van Horn St., Elmhurst, (347) 469-7142
It took me at least three years of attending the monthly NY Indonesian Food Bazaar to get around to trying a stand called Mie Tek Tek. I’d passed Chef Andy Sutanto many times as he tossed noodles and rice in his wok. For about a year one of the only things I ate at the movable Indonesian feast that takes place in Elmhurst’s St. James Parish House was bubur ayam, the rice porridge topped with chicken, crunchy soybeans, and spicy peanut sauce. I also had a thing for Pecel Ndeso’s tripe and other offal delights.
For whatever reason though on Saturday, even though I was really in the mood for soup, I decided to try Chef Andy’s Jakartan style street food. (more…)