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.
While it’s tempting to think of samosa chaat as an Indian version of loaded nachos, it’s really its own thing as Sonny Solomon the man behind Astoria’s Kurry Qulture, told me over a cup of chai last week.
“It’s a very, very popular street food in North India, but now it’s all over India,” Solomon said. “People love it!” And it’s all over Queens too. At Raja Fast Food, always a stop on my Himalayan Heights food tour Vikh and his crew make a psychedelic supersized version consisting of several of the veggie turnovers showered with all manner of sauces and chutneys. (more…)
Behold, the mighty Tortas Chivas, CDMX’s answer to the NYC breakfast sandwich.
“They’re all pretty big,” I said to two recent guests on a World’s Fare Eating Along the 7 food tour. We were about an hour into our trek and had already enjoyed delicacies from Joe’s Steam Rice Roll and Soybean Chen and had just arrived at Tortas Neza, which specializes in comically huge Mexican sandwiches. I was doing my best to steer the two ladies toward a carnitas taco, but l knew they really wanted a sandwich.
The gargantuan 7-ingredient Tortas Puma named for the owner’s favorite Mexican soccer team was out of the question. So I scanned the roster of 20 creations, each named for a different team, and settled on the Chivas, which listed only three ingredients: huevo, quesillo, and chorizo.
As Galdino “Tortas” Neza prepared the sausage omelet on the plancha I told the guests it represented just one component of his biggest sandwich. “We can handle this one, it’ll be like a Mexican breakfast sandwich,” I said with a chuckle. (more…)
Ma po pig brains are an offal lover’s version of the classic Sichuan dish.
As a rule I never put new, untried dishes on a food tour except when I choose to break that rule. On those rare occasions, the new item comes from a trusted vendor. Like the other day when I took my friend Giuseppe Viterale chef-owner of Astoria’s Ornella Trattoria on a culinary research tour of downtown Flushing’s Chinatown with the aim of showing him how the Chinese eat pork offal. I had blood, feet, and ears covered, but wanted a larger dish to share at the end of our gastronomic adventure. So before I met up with Giuseppe I stopped in Szechuan House to see if my friend Linda and her husband had anything that might fit the bill.
Among a baker’s dozen new dishes I hit paydirt in the form of No. 5, listed in English as “ma po brain flower.” Surely this is a mistranslation I thought to myself, but Lisa informed me otherwise. “It’s like ma po tofu, but we use pig brain instead.”
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.”
The question I get asked most about my Queens food tours—besides “How do you stay so skinny?”—is “Do you give tours of Astoria?” I’m always somewhat ashamed to say. “No, just Flushing, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and the entire 7 line.” Sometimes even the Culinary King of Queens needs to turn to an expert, or experts, and such is the case with Astoria. And the experts in question are my good friends Greg and Jumi at Food & Footprints, who did a video a while back that covered Greek Astoria and just dropped another one of an awesome late night tour of the Middle Eastern offerings along Steinway Street. Oh, and in case you are wondering this dynamic dining duo also leads food tours.
Top row: raw puerh tea from 2017, bottom the prized 1976 raw puerh.
Fang Gourmet Tea is one of my favorite places to take food tour guests when exploring the bustling neighborhood that is downtown Flushing. It’s a great way to get to know my new friends. Plus, they’re always surprised to find the oasis of calm lying at the back of a minimall, just steps away from the often chaotic energy of America’s Greatest Chinatown. The puerh tea that I typically order—Little Brick—is great for the digestion, and it’s always neat for my guests to see the bullion-sized break expand over the course of five steeps. (more…)
It’s not a Pop-Tart, but it makes a great breakfast.
Sun Mary Bakery lies across the street from Golden Shopping Mall and the Q-58 bus, which takes me from my home in Rego Park to America’s greatest Chinatown in downtown Flushing. On food tour days, I pregame there with a pineapple bun, so named for the sugary crust’s similar appearance to the tropical fruit.
In a lot of ways Sun Mary is a typical New York City Chinese bakery. The shelves are lined with buns filled with pork floss, and come fall there’s plenty of mooncake, but it also has a small sideline in Taiwanese treats, notably feng li su, or pineapple cake. Unlike its Chinese cousin, the golden brown buttery treat does contain fruit. Sun Mary sells the tiny pastries in little golden boxes, making them a perfect parting gift for food tour guests. Sometimes, they even have one with salted egg yolk.
“No more,” the lady behind the counter told me about a month ago when I asked for feng li su, indicating that they wouldn’t be back until next fall. Two weeks ago I noticed a flat pastry sitting in the spot on the counter normally reserved for the pineapple cake. Turns out it is gigantic version of the Taiwanese treat. Since I have no idea how long it will be around, I have taken to eating one after every Flushing tour.
Sun Mary Bakery, 133-57 41st Rd, Flushing, 718-460-8800
The fig and rosemary latte from Toby’s Estate Coffee Roasters.
I’d just wrapped up a rather epic food tour of the entire 7 line in Long Island City. Before parting ways with one of my guests we had a brief chat about overpriced coffee in L.I.C. and how he never patronizes the local cafes. After we parted ways I proceeded to one of the aforementioned cafes, Toby’s Estate Coffee Roasters for an espresso.
When it come to highfalutin java I’m an espresso man, or if I’m feeling kind of fancy a cortado. I hardly ever get lattes, and certainly never flavored ones. But when I saw the sign on the counter for a $5 seasonal fig and rosemary latte, I couldn’t resist. If I’m going to overpay for a coffee, it might as well be a fancy one.
Thankfully both the rosemary syrup and fig preserves were on the light side, but it was definitely a sweet drink. In any case I’m sure it was way better than the ubiquitous pumpkin spice latte. So here’s what I like to know friends, what’s your favorite fall beverage? Let me know in the comments below.