“We don’t eat pork or drink alcohol,” some guests on a Flushing Chinatown food adventure told me when asked about dietary restrictions for their upcoming tour. “Perfect time to check out that oyster omelet at the Fujianese joint in the New York Food Court that Dave wrote about,” I thought to myself, for you see, I don’t like to put anything on my tours that I haven’t vetted myself.
Oyster omelets are a hawker food eaten throughout Southeast Asia, but most famously at Taiwanese night markets. The first time I ate a Taiwanese one I had a raging hangover and couldn’t really stomach the gloppy consistency from the sweet potato starch. I wasn’t sure to what to expect of Minnan Xiaochi’s Fujianese version.
Unlike its Taiwanese cousin, the Fujianese version was almost paper thin and super crunchy from the egg itself as well as the plenty of green onions that were fried until crispy. What starch there was wasn’t gloppy so much as a binding agent. Hai li jian as it’s known in Southern Fujian made for a fine meal with a bowl of rice and an especially novel stop on a food tour.
Minnan Xiaochi, No. 13, New York Food Court, 133-35 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing
As many C+M readers know, I love Asian snacks and chips—some more than others—and some less. There’s even a Chinese Lays potato chip taste-off on my food tours of Flushing Chinatown. We walk down the third snack aisle—yes there are three—of the vast Jmart Chinese supermarket until we hit the Lay’s lineup.
“Does that logo look familiar?” I ask as everyone’s eyes go wide with wonder over flavors like numb & spicy hot pot, pickled fish, spicy crayfish, and beef noodle soup.
Usually we’ll pick three or four to try, some savory and/or spicy and some downright strange, like the one I like to call “mystery fruit.” My friend Daniele and her husband, Christian who run Arthur Avenue Food Tours, know a thing or two about Italian food, so when they joined a recent adventure, I insisted they try the “Italian Red Meat Flavor,” .
“It tastes like barbecue sauce,” Daniele exclaimed after a few bites. Everybody really liked the Sichuan-inspired hotpot crisps, which sung with the signature ma la flavors of Sichuan peppercorn and chili. (For the record Sichuan peppercorn is listed on the ingredients, along with sesame and artificial flavors.)
“It tastes like bubblegum,” said another guest who gave a thumbs up to the mystery fruit, but I think he was just goofing around for the camera.
I’ve always suspected that the mysterious fruit was some type of berry. When I sent her a picture of it my Chinese speaking IG pal heyheyyuchen excitedly told me that it is yangmei or Chinese bayberry and that the packaging reads sheng jin yangmei or “mouth watering Chinese bayberry.”
Truth be told, these pink speckled treats are no more mouthwatering than other potato chip, perhaps even less so. I think they taste like Sweet Tarts, which I rather enjoyed as kid, but not so much in a chip. The only potato chip stranger than this one that I’ve tasted is Lay’s Do Us Flavor Cappuccino.
It’s been a little hard for me to muster up the enthusiasm to write about food finds these days, especially since my ideal subject is something so good I have to tell everyone about it more or less immediately. It’s a high—some would say unsustainable—standard. Nevertheless here are two things I simply have to share with the world. The first is a cheffed up fried chicken meal and the second an equally soigné soup dumpling.
I’m not one to wait on line for food fads or join waiting lists to score fancy pants pizza, but when I heard about the chili fried chicken dinners from Eric Huang’s Pecking House, I knew I had to have one. For one thing he was a sous chef at Eleven Madison Park, plus he was keeping his folks’ restaurant Peking House in Fresh Meadows, Queens, afloat with this new venture. So winner, winner fried chicken dinner!
Ordering from Pecking House takes some patience as one must first send a DM to their Instagram account @pecking_house, or in my case, several DMs. Finally they got back to me and provided me with a password an ordering slot. From there it was pretty easy and on Sunday night Eric himself delivered the meal straight to my door.
After a brief reheat the craggy red crusted chicken was ready to devour and devour it I did. It was crunchy, juicy and had just the right amount of spice. Huang wouldn’t divulge too much about his process, but he did reveal that the bird is soaked in buttermilk and that the spice mix includes Sichuan peppercorns and Tianjin chilies. It was so good I might have to get two orders next time. Dessert was peanut butter pudding with pretzels atop a layer of grape jelly. I don’t recall ordering two, but it gave me the opportunity to try one frozen, which I highly recommend.
As I mentioned the other really great thing I ate recently was a new soup dumpling from Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao. Part of the Three Treasures XLB series created to celebrate the one year anniversary of the restaurant’s rebirth the red and white swirled dumpling is made with a very special ingredient, aged Chinese ham. The other two treasures were green, filled with braised abalone, and black, filled with spiked sea cucumber.
Thanks to my adventures in the world of charcuterie I’ve become something of an expert on aged hams, but I have little experience with Chinese ham. Clearly I need to eat more of it because these dumplings knocked my socks off. I was expecting a salty smoky meatiness and to be sure that was there to a degree, but what really struck me about these new XLB, was a deep funkiness that called to mind cheese. I cannot wait to try them again, especially since I’m told that they are looking to make this already amazing dumpling even better.
Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao, 39-16 Prince St., (718) 321-3838 Pecking House available for order through IG: @Pecking_House
BapBap’s rolls include one featuring grilled squid with peanut sauce, another sporting smoked brisket, and a DIY bowl that features Angus short rib, brisket, and summer corn.
There are so many places in the further reaches of Flushing to score Korean BBQ and kimbap—the sushi-like rolls that feature ingredients like spicy tuna and cheese—I like to call it K-tropolis. BapBap, the latest Korean spot in the nabe, takes it cue from these classic Korean specialties as well as Manhattan’s temples of gastronomy. That’s because it was created by two fine dining vets, Nate Kuester—who was a sous chef at The Cecil and cooked for three years at Aquavit—and Jason Liu, who was Aquavit’s service director and was most recently general manager at Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare.
While at the Cecil Kuester learned to smoke brisket under the tutelage of Chef JJ Johnson. At BapBap, he smokes brisket and features it in a Bap Roll. Other rolls include spicy tuna and squid, a trio makes make a nice lunch for $12. That smokey meat is excellent in the roll, and even better when combined with angus short rib, in the grilled kalbi ssambap, which also features grilled summer corn all over a bowl of rice. It comes with sheets of roasted seaweed, so you can roll your own ssam just as you would at a Korean BBQ joint. The combination of Korean BBQ and low and slow American cue is a tasty homage to Kuester’s Korean-American heritage. (more…)
Top: yen su ji, Taiwanese fried chicken, found at the otherwise deserted New World Mall. Bottom: Corner 28 may be shuttered, but sister restaurant Shanghai You Garden is now serving the famous duck buns.
It has been two months since I’ve been to America’s Greatest Chinatown, aka downtown Flushing. Normally, I’m there several times a week, whether I have a food tour to lead or not. A combination of sheltering in place and sadness over the state of affairs have kept me away.
Yesterday though, I had a doctor’s appointment in downtown Flushing, so naturally I had to find some lunch. Many of the restaurants on the strip of 40th Road—including Corner 28, a favorite for their Peking Duck buns—were closed. Then I noticed a tent in front of Shanghai You Garden, Corner 28’s sister restaurant, which lies across the street.
Installed in the front of the restaurant was a window with a sign that read “Peking Duck $1.50.” It sat above a realistic looking diorama of several ducks roasting over a glowing wood fire. I waited my turn while watching the face shield clad duo assemble the pillowy little sandwiches and then ordered two. They were as good as ever.
My spirits buoyed by this light lunch, I checked out another of my food tour haunts, the New World Mall Food Court. I expected the subterranean wonderland to be closed like many of the neighborhoods other purveyors of xiao chi, or small eats but was surprised to find it open.
Once downstairs though it was truly eerie how empty it was. Only five of the more than 30 stands were open. One of them being No. 27 a specialist in Taiwanese street food whose Chinese language sign features a jaunty chicken, midflight signifying that it specializes in yen su ji, crispy craggy morsels of salty fried chicken that are a favorite in Taiwan and downtown Flushing.
Like the duck, these crunchy nuggets of fowl were just lovely. I lingered a moment in the food court and ate a few. “Taiwanese food, no MSG,” the dude behind the counter informed me. Normally I would have made a comment about stinky tofu in Mandarin, but instead I just thanked him and walked upstairs to ponder the etiquette of removing my bandana to enjoy fried chicken while walking down the street.
Hao Xiang Chi Kitchen, No. 27, New World Mall Food Court, 136-20 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing; Shanghai You Garden, 135-33 40th Rd., Flushing
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.
As the No. 1 food fan in Queens, I was very pleased to learn tennis fans have some Queens-based dining options at this year’s U.S. Open. My favorite Vietnamese sandwich shop, Elmhurst’s JoJu is slinging classic bánh mì as well a bánh mì inspired hot dog and Helen You of Dumpling Galaxy is serving up her signature lamb with green squash dumplings and other goodies. It’s nice to see China and Vietnam represented, but Queens offers food from all over the world so here’s a globetrotting list of 7 of our favorite places from an Argentine steakouse and the borough’s only Burmese to one-of-a-kind only in Queens street foods like Peruvian doughnuts and amazing Tijuana style tacos.
1. Tijuana style Birria tacos at Beefrr-landia
Dozens of taco trucks and carts line Roosevelt Avenue as the 7 train rumbles overhead transporting tennis fans to the Open, but there’s only serving Tijuana style tacos: Beefrr-landia. The truck’s signature beef birria taco is filled with a ruddy beef stew scented with cumin, cinnamon, paprika, bay leaves, cloves, and a good dose of chilies. For a real treat get a side of consomme—a heady scarlet soup featuring more beef—and dip your taco into it. Beefrr-landia, 77-99 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, 347-283-2162
2. Burmese at Asian Bowl
Despite its generic name and a menu that features such American Chinese standbys as General Tso’s chicken this spot run by Kyaw Lin “John” Htin and his wife, Aye Thida, has the distinction of being the only Burmese restaurant in the World’s Borough. Among the list of 13 thoke find the famous latphat thoke, or tea leaf salad, as well as the lesser known gin thoke. The latter is a tangle of shredded cabbage, ginger, and tomato shot through with briny dried shrimp and crunchy broad beans resulting an explosion of texture and flavor. It’s great paired with the crispy beef, which has been fried with onions and chilies until it shatters. Asian Bowl, 101-11 Queens Blvd., Forest Hills, 718-275-1888
3. Chinese Breakfast at Joe’s Steam Rice Roll
This breakfast specialist whose Chinese name translates to Stone Milled Rice Roll King, is located just one subway stop away from Arthur Ashe Stadium. It’s a well-deserved moniker, owner Joe Rong and his crew make the lightest rice rolls around thanks to the fact that the grind their rice in a stone mills to create fresh batter daily. Fillings include shrimp, pork, beef and an assortment of veggies. The crown jewel at the King Joe’s though is the shrimp and egg topped with curry fish balls, soy sauce and peanut sauce. It’s even better with the complex homemade chili oil. Best of all Joe’s is open all day not just for breakfast. Joe’s Steam Rice Roll, 136-21 Roosevelt Ave., #A1, Flushing
Leading culinary excursions through Flushing, Queens, is often hungry work, so I like to reward myself with a post food tour treat, sometimes sweet and sometimes savory. Last Sunday, I shepherded a largish group of 10 folks through the bustling streets of America’s Greatest Chinatown and found myself hankering for something substantial afterwards. Which is how I wound up at the neighborhood’s newest fried chicken purveyor: Bone Man.
Despite the joint’s name I opted for boneless nuggets instead of the bone-in options, including regular old wings, chicken wing roots (wing tips), and chicken middle wings. I didn’t ask whether the folks behind the bird here are Taiwanese, but Bone Man distinguishes itself from most of the hood’s yen su ji joints by making a bird with a craggier, crunchier crust. The juicy chunks were sprinkled with red pepper and an aromatic spice mix that I’m pretty sure was just five spice, salt, and MSG. (more…)
Downtown Flushing’s Chinese nougat man plying his wares on a hot summer’s day.
I can count the number of times I’ve added unknown foods to my Queens culinary walking tours on the fingers of one hand. This reticence to try new things with guests stems not from a lack of adventure, but rather the “all killer no filler” approach I take to the foods I showcase on the tour. Most of the time, unknown quantities prove to be severely lacking, but every now and then I come across a gem. Such a diamond in the rough appeared in the form of a streetside sweet on yesterday’s Flushing Chinatown food tour.
My guests and I were en route to the subterranean Golden Shopping Mall food court when I spied a Chinese gentleman with a streetside stand with a bunch of other Chinese folks surrounding him. I peeked over their shoulders, to see what I first thought was dragon beard candy because of the clouds of confectioners sugar, then I realized it was giant spiral of stretchy, sweet nougat. For a buck a pop the gent, who turns about to be from Fujian Province, stretched out the elastic peanut-filled sweet and then cut a fat finger sized length off with kitchen shears. It’s pretty tasty, but truthfully I was more amazed by finding a new street food than the flavor per se.
After my guests and I said our goodbyes, I hung out for a while and watched him ply his craft.When asked him his hours he shrugged and said he didn’t know. I bought a few more pieces to give my friends at Chengdu Tian Fu. I emerged from Golden Mall on to the street and went to say goodbye to the taffy master, but he was gone.
“Wow that was quick,” I thought giving myself a healthy mental pat on the back for having tried it. As I made my way northward on Main Street who should I see but my new friend posted up underneath the Long Island Railroad Station, with a small crowd around him. He hadn’t left, but had moved on to a busier spot. My new motto is Carpe Via Cibus—Seize The Street Food—for you never know when it’s going to be gone.
All of this brings me back to the titular question of this post, what’s your favorite Queens street food these days? Let me know in the comments.
A refreshing bowl of Korean sea squirt at Murray Hill’s newest seafood spot.
Saturday was the one-year anniversary of Anthony Bourdains’ death. As is the case with many Saturdays lately, I had a food tour of downtown Flushing’s Chinatown scheduled. What I like to call America’s Greatest Chinatown remains my most popular culinary adventure. It’s a good thing I love the neighborhood and its food, although leading tours does present such challenges as navigating crowded streets and the occasional guest who arrives an hour late because they thought the tour was in Manhattan’s Chinatown. At the end of most tours I treat myself to a dessert, sometimes even a full meal.
After Saturday’s tour I was in need of something, but I wasn’t quite sure what, maybe dessert, maybe company, maybe an answer to why Bourdain and others are no longer around, so I took a long walk down Northern Boulevard.