There are many, many things I love at Elmhurst’s Little House cafe, a Malaysian bakery/restaurant run by Helen Bay and her husband Michael Lee. There’s the giant chicken curry bun; stupendously good chow kueh teow; specials like salted egg chow fun; and goodies baked up by Helen, including the amazing Malaysian style brown sugar cake. In fact there are so many sweet and savory things that the family rotates some of them out. What I love most about Little House right now though is that it’s back open. Well, that and the glutinous rice doughnuts, 夹粽, or kap zhong, that appeared as a special dessert over the weekend.
A while back, Helen’s daughter, Joanne, gifted me a black and yellow tote bag. One seam bears the legend, “Don’t ask just eat.” It’s a slogan I took to heart with the little box of ovoid kap zhong. Soft and sweet with a ring of brown dough enclosing a center of chewy glutinous rice, they’re sugary and oily in the best possible way. They call to mind the zeppole my mother used to fry up on St. Joseph’s Day.
Like many things at this little house that could, these treats, whose name means something along the lines of pressed from both sides, are only around for a short time. But Joanne tells me there will be a fresh batch tomorrow. I’m going to forego them this time, at my age, I can only eat such a thing occasionally. But you should try them while you can. To paraphrase the slogan on the bag: Don’t ask about the calories, just eat them.
Little House Cafe, 90-19 Corona Ave., Elmhurst, 718-592-0888
An especially happy Thai meal from Khao Kang. Clockwise from bottom left: fish with eggplant and green beans, spicy pork ribs, and caramelized pork with fish sauce.
Elmhurst, Queens, my fair borough’s second, smaller more Southeast Asian Chinatown—after the sprawling wonderland of deliciousness that is downtown Flushing— is slowly awakening from pandemic slumber. In addition to Chinese, Indonesian and Malaysian restaurants and shops, the neighborhood is home to the largest concentration of real deal regional Thai cuisine in all of New York City. Many of the shops and restaurants that have been regular stops on my food tours over the years are starting to reopen for takeout and delivery.
Two of my favorite Thai spots Khao Kang—a rice and three steam stable specialist where the offerings are indeed very special—and sister restaurant Khao Nom which excels in desserts as well as savory dishes recently reopened. Khao Nom has been offering set rice plates. I got there a little late today, so they were out of crispy pork, so I opted for dessert instead, more on that later. (more…)
Sunnyside’s Butcher Block sells Irish candy among many other things.
I hope everyone is managing to stay safe and sane amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to be of service, I present this roundup of markets from some of Queens many culinary cultures. Some of my favorites, notably Patel Bros. in Jackson Heights, as well as some of the Chinese markets in Flushing and Elmhurst have temporarily shuttered, but as of yesterday all of the following were open. That said you should call ahead to check their status. Please stay local if possible, and let me know how you’re doing–and what you’re eating–in the comments.
1. IRELAND Butcher Block, 43-46 41st St., Sunnyside, (718) 784-1078
In addition to a wide selection of Irish chocolate bars and crisps this Sunnyside shop sells prepared foods such as roast beef and sausage rolls as well as black pudding if you want to whip up an Irish breakfast at home. Hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
2. ISRAEL Carmel Grocery, 64-27 108th St, Forest Hills, NY 11375, (718) 897-9296
A local friend tells me that this market/coffee roaster was one of the first to sell Israeli foods in Forest Hills. I’m not sure about that, but I do love their homemade dips, especially the hummus, white bean dip, and tabouleh. Right now my fridge is stocked with all of them. There’s also all manner of Middle Eastern breads and goodies like halvah. As of now they are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and do not offer delivery.
3. JAPAN Sakura-Ya, 73-05 Austin St., Forest Hills, 718-268-7220
Hello Kitty chopsticks, Vermont Curry mix, furikake rice seasoning, okonomiyaki sauce and the slimy fermented soybean delicacy known as natto are just a few of the items to be found in this tiny market. Grilled mackerel, sashimi grade tuna and when it’s in season creamy steamed ankimo, or monkfish liver, can also be had. Come early if you want to grab one of their excellent bento boxes. Open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., delivery minimum $50.
4. THAILAND Thai Thai Grocery, 76-13 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, 917-769-6168
Noi Sila is a fixture in the bustling Little Bangkok that runs along Woodside Avenue and Broadway in Elmhurst. Her shop stocks all sorts of ingredients, including curry pastes and other spices as well as kitchen equipment like sticky rice cookers and Thai style mortar and pestle. Hours for now are 1 p.m. to 7 p.m, although she is wisely limiting access to the shop. “I have to take care of the community,” Sila said. Delivery can also be arranged.
5. GREECE Titan Foods, 25-56 31st St., Astoria, 718-626-7771
For more than 30 years this colossus of a supermarket has been serving Astoria’s Greek community, offering everything from Ouzon (ouzo-flavored soda) and religious incense to fruity Greek olive oil and canned grape leaves. Just inside the door there’s an entire counter devoted to flaky cheese and spinach pies, including the spiral skopetiliki spanakopita. Feta is a mainstay of the kasseri counter, with more than a dozen types, including creamy Bulgarian, salty Arahova, and slightly funky goat feta. Hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
6. KOREA Han Yang Mart, 150-51 Northern Blvd, Flushing, N718-461-1911
If I Iived closer I’d do all my shopping, pandemic or not, here. The aisles are stocked with all manner of Korean ingredients—an entire case is devoted to kimchi and banchan—and there are kits to cook Korean barbecue and other dishes at home. Preppers take note they have canned silkworm and tuna fish. Last I checked they were still open 24 hours.
7. RUSSIA & FORMER SOVIET UNION NetCost Market, 97-10 Queens Blvd., 718-459-4400
The façade of the only Queens location of this sprawling supermarket chain depicts a globe in a shopping cart, but the shelves are mostly devoted to imports from Russia and the former Soviet Union, like caviar and Slivochniy Sort, an 82.5-percent butterfat sweet cream butter from Ukraine. The bakery counter abuts a seafood station with a staggering selection of smoked fish — from whole Norwegian semga, better known in the States as steelhead trout, to cold-smoked buffalo fish and hot-smoked paddlefish — and several types of salmon caviar. Hours are 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. for seniors with a closing time of 7:30 p.m.
A weekend special of xian da xia chow fun at Elmhurst’s Little House Cafe.
Little House Cafe, a gem of a Malaysian restaurant masquerading as a Chinese bakery, is one of my all-time favorite spots in Queens. Located on a stretch of Corona Avenue in Elmhurst that features several Chinese businesses it’s always a stop on my Elmhurst food tours, usually for the amazing chow kueh teow. The tangle of stir fried noodles shot through with all sorts of goodies—shrimp, squid, and fish cake to name a few—arrives at the table alive with the energy, flavor, and color of wok hei.
When I find myself in the neighborhood solo, I pop in to see what’s on the rotating menu of weekend specials. Which is exactly how I came to be eating a $12 plate of salted egg prawn chow fun for breakfast yesterday. Actually I suppose breakfast was the Malaysian style brown sugar cake and iced coffee that I sipped while waiting for my noodles. (more…)
Bacon and pork floss, part of a complete breakfast!
For a long time flaky pork pies, char siu bao, and sandwiches of pork floss with whipped buttery spread have comprised the holy trinity of porky breads available at Chinese bakeries in Queens. I’m happy to report the existence of a fourth: bacon bread. Yes you read that right, bacon bread. My admittedly unscientific survey of Chinese bakeries in Queens reveals that this marvel is available at only one shop, New Fully Bakery in Elmhurst.
A peek inside the burnished brown stromboli like wedge coated in sesame seeds reveals a spiral of American bacon interspersed with its Chinese cousin, pork sung. The fluffy slightly sweet bread has a nice salty kick from the bacon and filaments of pork floss. Along with a cup of sweet instant Malaysian coffee it makes for a decadent breakfast. New Fully’s meaty spiral is the savory answer to the over top chocolate croissant from Andre’s Hungarian Bakery. Not a bad deal at all for $1.60.
Incidentally, the Chinese name péigēn miànbāo means quite literally “bacon bread.” If the first word sounds like a transliteration that’s because it is. I suppose it is a good thing that the bakery is a few subway stops away from my house. If I could get away with it, I’d eat this bread for breakfast every day. Then again I could always buy an entire loaf . . .
When it comes to chicken the star of the show at Little House Cafe is surely the jia li mian bao ji, a gargantuan golden brown bun filled with curried chicken. That said, it may have just been eclipsed by a dish that made its debut today, chicken rendang. I learned about it while looking at the restaurant’s Instagram page, which called it dry curry chicken with biryani rice.
I’ve eaten my fair share of both Malaysian and Indonesian beef rendang, a soul warming curry, but had never heard of a chicken version so when I saw the photo of a sunny mound of rice accompanied by a generous portion of curry coated poultry, I knew what was for lunch. (more…)
The Thai desserts at Elmhurst’s Khao Nom are so good that there’s a bit of a running joke between the ladies at the counter and me that all I eat is sweets. Truth be told, my Southeast Asian Elmhurst food tour usually ends there with dessert, but every now and then I find myself at Khao Nom alone craving something savory.
Such was the case last week when I tried the shrimp paste fried rice (khao klup kapi) with sweet garlic pork. The mound of rice—stained brownish-red from being fried with the funky kapi—was topped with two fried chilies and ringed with diced shallots; strips of omelet; chopped green beans; slices of fresh chili pepper; a wedge of lime; dried shrimp; cucumbers; and, of course, the bowl of sweet and garlicky stewed pork.
This DIY fried rice is one of my favorite ways to eat. Mix it all up and as little or as much of the dried peppers—in my case both—to the lot. The combination of sweet pork and shrimp infused rice shot through with veggies and burst of spice and the crunchy brine bombs of baby shrimp is particularly restorative on a hot summer’s day. Plus it comes with a sidecar of broth. Not a bad deal for $10.
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.”