My usual routine for Songkhran, or Thai New Year, involves a visit to Elmhurst’s home of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Buddha Thai Thavorn Vanaram to partake of the food and festivities. Unlike in years past the weather was quite chilly, making for less than optimal conditions for a holiday that involves plenty of water splashing.
So instead of visiting the Emerald Buddha to ring in the year 2561, I partook of some Thai rubies. Not actual rubies mind you, but rather the Thai dessert called thabthim krub, which translates to crunchy rubies. I’d just polished off three bowls of boat noodle soup at Pata Paplean, when my dear friend Cherry, the cook and ringleader of the weekend noodle popup, dropped a half quart container on my table with the gruff affection she reserves for those she truly cares about. I poured the contents of the container—rubies, emeralds, jackfruit, young coconut, and coconut milk stained red from sala syrup—into a bowl.
The sweet, cold dessert soup was quite refreshing after a few rounds of of spicy noodles. The red and green jewels consist of bits of crunchy water chestnuts encased in tapioca. Even though it was freezing outside it warmed my heart and soul to eat this dessert made by one of the older ladies in the Thai community. Best of all its available every weekend, although I did feel especially blessed to be eating on the day of the neighborhood’s Songkhran celebration. Here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2561.
Until very recently I’ve always thought Little House Cafe—with its yellow and red awning that reads “Bubble Tea. Bakery. Teriyaki Express. Asian Cuisine” —was just another of Elmhurst’s many bubble tea spots. Despite appearances Little House is actually a stealth Malaysian restaurant, with a very big secret, a jumbo curry chicken bun the size of my head.
I learned about it from a breathless Instagram post: “The first unique and delicious handmade ‘Jumbo Curry Chicken Bun’ in the United States- Only from us!!” The other day I stopped by hoping to try the jia li mian bao ji, as it’s known in Chinese. (more…)
Kanom jeen ngaew features pork blood, pork ribs, and ground pork.
Elmhurst’s Little Bangkok is so robust that it can support everything from boat noodle popups to dessert cafes. The latest entrant is Lamoon, the hood’s sole specialist in Chiang Mai cuisine, from Chef Arada Moonroj who learned to shop at local markets and pick lemongrass and kaffir lime from her mother and grandmother back home in Northern Thailand. A profound dislike for the use of MSG in New York City’s Thai restaurants led her to teach herself how to cook by watching Youtube videos.
After cooking for friends she decided to open Lamoon, which is both a play on her last name and a Thai word that is perhaps best translated as subtle, or better yet, soigné. It took over the old Ploy Thai space about two weeks ago and features a decor that combines a feminine sensibility with Thai street art. (more…)
Sariling’s belly lechon is only available on weekends.
Yesterday an article by food writer Ligaya Mishan positing that bagoong—a funky fermented shrimp paste—and other Filipino foods have entered the American mainstream dropped in New York Times Food. No doubt Mishan, who cut her teeth on Filipino food, knows more about it than I ever will, but bagoong being mainstream is a bit of a stretch. As for me, I’m still far too distracted by all of the cuisine’s glorious pork dishes. Which is exactly the position I found myself in on Sunday at Sariling Atin, a Filipino turo turo in Elmhurst.
My jaw dropped when I saw the twin cylinders of porcine goodness—encased in burnished crackling skin—sitting above the steam table. “How much,” I asked once I’d regained my composure. “Sixteen a pound,” the gal behind the counter responded as I stared transfixed at the rolled belly lechon whose inner folds held lemongrass and other aromatics. After forking over $15 for a combo platter—I chose laing, or taro leaves, from the steam table—I took a seat. (more…)
Triple cooked Sinaloan style pork via Elmhurst enriched with chilies among other things.
This past Sunday I had the opportunity to try Queens’ only Mexican restaurant specializing in foods from the Northwestern state of Sinaloa, a state that hitherto I’d only known as the birthplace of Mexican drug lord El Chapo. We only tried one dish from the aptly named Sinaloense, but what a dish. Chilorio estilo sinaloense is a heap of pork that’s been slowly cooked down for hours, then fried in lard, and lastly cooked in a ruddy concoction of chilies and other herbs and spices. The result is some of the most amazing Mexican pork I’ve ever had on Roosevelt Avenue. It had a glorious texture—not quite crunchy and not quite soft—and an amazing depth of flavor with notes of cumin, garlic, chilies and a not unpleasant vinegary acidity. “I’m coming back here for a torta estilo sinaloense,” I said to my pals as I perused the takeout menu between bites. (more…)
It’s no secret to regular readers of this blog that Awang Kitchen is my favorite Indonesian restaurant in Queens. I eat there quite often and write about it almost as often. Here’s the thing though, I’ve become so used to ordering off the specials menu, that I’ve been missing out on some glorious dishes on the regular menu. Dishes like cumi goreng sauce telor asin ($9) or fried calamari in salty egg sauce.
Fried calamari isn’t necessarily the first thing I think of when it comes to Indonesian fare and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of “salty egg sauce,” but after a friend talked it up on Instagram, I knew I’d be trying it. Turns out that salty egg sauce is actually bits of golden salty egg yolk mixed in with the fried garlic and shallots that’s interspersed with the fried nuggets of squid.
The menu listing for this wonderfully salty and crunchy Indonesian take on fried calamari sports two chilies, but only because of the accompanying sambal. It’s great mixed in with the calamari itself as well as the accompanying nonsalty egg.
Winter’s cold and the attendant coughing and sniffling always call for a good bowl of spicy soup, and Thai noodle soup always fits the bill. Today a look at two of my new favorites: one a Japanese take on Thai green curry and the other an everything but the kitchen sink Thai pork soup.
First up the Queensmatic Green Curry ($17) from Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Shack, which is an ajitama’s throw away from where Nas came up in the Queensbridge houses. Shimamoto learned to make a similar green curry ramen while working at Tokyo’s Bassanova Ramen. His curry paste hums with the flavors of lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime and bird’s eye chilies. At first I considered adding some chili oil, but as the heat pleasantly mounted I decided against it. (more…)
The year that just drew to close was a year of personal challenges—coping with chemo via congee—and achievements—publishing a guidebook to Queens—all while eating my way through New York City’s most delicious and diverse borough. Herewith, are 17 from 2017.
1. Most Super Soup Dumplings
I’ve been a fan of Helen You’s dumplings since long before she became the empress of Dumpling Galaxy. My favorite at Tianjin Dumpling house in Golden Mall remains the lamb and green squash. Yang rou xiao long bao, or lamb soup dumplings, are one of the off-menu stars at Dumpling Galaxy. The little packages bursting with unctuous lamb broth are so good that they have become a staple of my Flushing Chinatown food tours. Dumpling Galaxy, 42-35 Main St., Flushing, 718-461-0808
2. Choicest Chang Fen
I cut my teeth on Cantonese steam rice rolls at Mei Lei Wah in Manhattan’s Chinatown, so this breakfast staple will always have a special place in my heart and stomach. About a year ago Joe’s Steam Rice Roll opened in downtown Flushing and I knew right away that it was somethings special. For one thing he’s grinding fresh rice as opposed to using rice flour like everybody else in New York City, which imparts a delicate flavor and texture. Turns out that Joe himself went to Guangzhou to learn his craft and brought the equipment back with him. My favorite is the shrimp and egg with green onion. Joe’s Steam Rice Roll, 136-21 Roosevelt Ave., #A1, Flushing
3. Duckiest Thai Arancini
OK fine, they’re not quite Italian rice balls, but the trio of crispy sticky rice balls served with Thailand Center Point’s larb duck with crispy rice ($13.95) do a great job of soaking up the piquant sauce. The shredded meat—mixed with roasted rice powder and shot through with herbs and just the right amount of chilies—is superb. Thailand’s Center Point, 63-19 39th Avenue, Woodside, 718-651-6888(more…)
A rendang roll, with wasabi,ginger, and spicy mayo, natch.
Southeast Asian restaurants with sushi bars usually raise a red flag, and I tend to pass them by, with one notable exception, Awang Kitchen. Like many of my fellow Indonesian food nerds I’m unabashed in my enthusiasm for this restaurant that opened last spring, giddily eating my through bowl after bowl of various baksos and other Indonesian delicacies. Until just last week though I’ve avoided the chef-owner’s sushi bar, harboring a secret wish it would eventually evolve into a satay station. And them some rolls with a decidedly Indonesian accent began to show up on the specials board.
It began with beef rendang ($10). Tempe, peanuts, anchovies, and of course beef rendang, packed in seaweed with rice and cucumber a bit of peanut sauce and the requisite spicy mayo make up this cross-cultural creation. With the crunch of the dried fish and the candy coated peanuts known as sambal kacang, it’s tempting to dismiss the rendang roll as just nasi lemak in roll form, but it’s really an entirely new animal, a true Indonesian fusion dish. It’s served with the same green horseradish and pickled ginger you’ll find at many other sushi spots on Queens Boulevard, but it didn’t need either. Since the kitchen doesn’t make miso soup, I asked for a bowl of beefy, garlicky bakso broth. (more…)
I’ve been eating at Hug Esan since it opened about four months ago and have tried about 95% of the menu, but there’s one item at the Northeast Thai spot I’ve always been curious about, Nile tilapia. If memory serves it was originally listed on the menu as “tilapia with Nile herbs,” leaving me to wonder what role Egyptian herbs might possibly play in Thai cuisine.
It turns out that the fish in question is actually known as Nile tilapia or pla thapthim in Thai, which translates to ruby fish. Today some friends and I tried larb pla nile krob ($18) as part of a food crawl of Southeast Asian Elmhurst.(more…)