The sukati roll’s the very essence of Himalayan Heights.
For as long as I have been eating my way through Queens, Tawa Foods has housed a small battalion of South Asian ladies rolling out scores of paratha and roti. As Jackson Heights has morphed to become Himalayan Heights the tiny Tawa has taken on a co-tenant, the wonderful Nepalese restaurant Dhaulagiri Kitchen.
Nepali in the front and Pakistani in the back Tawa tells the story of the neighborhood. As Nepalese and Tibetans diners seeking a taste of back home tuck into exquisite thalis—mounds of rice ringed with various pickles and curries—South Indians stroll in to stock up on some of the freshest Indian bread in Queens. The space is a fusion of two cuisines that have seldom, if ever, mingled. To my mind this is a great shame. Thus was born the sukati roll.(more…)
Dhaulagiri Kitchen, a tiny Nepalese outfit that’s the latest eatery to take up residence inside roti bakery Tawa Foods, is easily my favorite place in Jackson Heights these days. It’s named for the third highest mountain peak in the world, but as far as I’m concerned the flavors here—fiery pickles; sukuti, an air-dried beef jerky; and spicy chicken choila—are the tops. Lately I have been partaking of this eight-seater’s thalis. Thali literally means plate and it consists of a mound of rice ringed by various accoutrements, including pickles, daal, fried bitter melon, mustard greens, and a center of the plate item like chicken beef, or goat. The rice and the sides are refillable.
One day I was eating a fish thali ($11) whose main attraction was two crisp fried hunks of fish, a nattily dressed gent entered. As I ate my fish and rice while picking at the gudruk, a Nepalese kimchi of sorts, and other pickles arrayed around the circumference of the thali he rolled up his sleeves and washed his hands. And then he got down to business. (more…)
The Himalayan culinary diaspora has moved southward to Elmhurst.
In the days before air flight a journey from Indonesia to Tibet required a boat ride across the Bay of Bengal and a trek through Burma, Bangladesh, and Bhutan, all told a distance of some 3,000 miles. In Queens—where time and space bend in strange, delicious ways—the two countries lie just down the street from one another. Or at least they do now that Himalaya Kitchen opened its doors a few days ago.
I first noticed Himalaya Kitchen the other day on a stretch of Whitney Avenue in Elmhurst better known for serving Indonesian fried chicken than Tibetan dumplings. I was leading a trek of my own, a food tour of Southeast Asian Elmhurst and Himalayan Heights. We’d already eaten plenty, plus the plan was to have those dumplings, or momo, at one of my favorite secret spots in Himalayan Heights. So I made a mental note to return to the new spot, which represents the southernmost Tibetan eatery in Queens. (more…)
Gangjong Kitchen’s Ambassador Plate has several types of momo.
“It’s a combination of Tibetan and European, the chef at Ganjong Kitchen said as he set down a plate bearing three kinds of steamed momo, some daal, bits of grilled chicken breast, and what looked to be a homemade take on a frozen vegetable medley. There was also a side car of broth.
This cross-cultural offering from the Tibetan eatery located in Jackson (aka Himalayan Heights) was part of the Ambassador, a Jackson Heights omakase dreamed up by Jeff Orlick. The two-week old program is simultaneously simple and brilliant. Diners look for restaurants in the nabe bearing a sticker that reads, “Ambassador/Don’t Know What to Try?/Let The Chef Decide/$10/Jackson Heights,” and then simply point to the sticker placing themselves in the chef’s hands. (more…)
Back in February I had the pleasure of taking Andrew Zimmern on a whirlwind private tour of Queens’ culinary gems. Our day started in Himalayan (aka Jackson) Heights and wound up at Maima’s Liberian Bistro in Jamaica. I’m stoked to watch the Queens episode of Bizarre Foods America when it airs next month. What I’m even more excited about though is that the bizarre one went on record in Delta Sky Mag, to declare Queens “the king of the American food scene.” Not only that, Zimmern dubbed me the borough’s “de facto food critic.” (more…)
Phayul’s momo took home the prize after a three-way tiebreaker.
Forget the James Beard Awards. When it comes to recognition in the culinary arts I’m all about the Golden Momo. Yesterday was the Second Annual Momo Crawl in Jackson (aka Himalayan) Heights. The object of the event organized by Jeff Orlick was to find the best momo of the 20 places in the hood. I am still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that there are 20 places offering the beef dumpling beloved by Tibetans and Nepalese, I thought there were a dozen at most. I was unable to attend the crawl as I was giving a food tour of Elmhurst, but judging from the activity on the Twitter machine, the rain did not keep folks away.
One of Phayul’s momo maestros with the coveted trophy.
Late yesterday evening I learned that Phayul took first prize after a three-way tie-breaker with Ganjong Kitchen and Lhasa Fast Food. I was pleased to hear this as Phayul is one of my favorite Tibetan spots, so much so that I took Andrew Zimmern there. So I jumped on the 7 train to get a glimpse of the coveted Golden Momo and help my friends at Phayul celebrate.
The Dalai Lama flanked by a basketball trophy and the Golden Momo.
When I got to Phayul it was crowded—not with the 80 momo crawlers that had roamed the streets earlier in the afternoon—but with the usual mix of Tibetan families and young people all eating momo. I shared a table with a couple who each had an order of momo ($5). They were amazed both by the Golden Momo, and the fact that I was thoroughly enjoying their national dish. As I slurped a complimentary bowl of beef stock, the Nepalese gent next to me asked if the restaurant was given the award last year. “No, earlier this afternoon,” I replied. “It’s one of my favorite place for Tibetan food.” Oh and if Phayul isn’t your favorite momo place, don’t worry there are 19 other joints to choose from.
Phayul, 37-65 74th St, Jackson Heights, 718-424-1869
Sukuti hanging in the window makes Tawa Food seem like a Nepali salumeria.
Recently I had the pleasure of showing Elyse Pasquale, aka Foodie International, around what I like to call Himalayan Heights. We went to several of my favorite places, including a stop at Merit Kabob & Dumpling Palace for some dropa khatsa, or spicy beef tripe. We also visited Tawa Food. For years myself and other Chowhounds were fascinated by what was essentially a paratha and roti factory staffed by a legion of South Asian grannies. These days the small shop is even more fascinating because it tells the story of Jackson Heights, a symbiotic relationship between the relatively new Himalayan (Bhutanese, Nepali, and Tibetan) community and the long-standing Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi communities. The front of a shop that was once nicknamed “Pakistani bread ladies,” is now occupied by a family turning out some really wonderful Nepali food. I knew it was something special was going on at Tawa when I saw all the sukuti, a spicy beef jerky hanging in the window.
Even on a snowy night people line up for momo at A&G Himalayan Fresh Food.
Momo—the beef dumplings beloved of Tibetans—are everywhere in Himalayan Heights. So popular are the crimped top little packages that I have taken to calling the neighborhood’s Tibetan restaurants momo parlors. For more than five years there has been a lone food cart stationed underneath an Indian jewelry store where momos were steamed day and night. In that time halal food carts and trucks have proliferated along 73rd St., but for the longest time there was just that one momo cart.
During the first snowstorm of winter I discovered that another cart, A&G Himalayan Fresh Food, had set up shop right across the street from what had been the hood’s first and only momo cart. It’s run by two brothers Amchu and Gyatso who hail from Amdo in Central Tibet. In addition to momo the brothers also sell a traditional flat bread called baklep. A small one, slightly larger than an English muffin goes for a $1, while the dinner plate-sized version will set you back $8. I am told baklep is typically eaten with tea. Why there is a photo on the side of the cart of a container of Philadelphia Cream Cheese beside the bread remains a mystery.
Rapping about food has been a hiphop staple since the Fat Boys filmed the video for “All You Can Eat,” at the Sbarro in Times Square. And the song that put rap on the map Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight is replete with food references, including “collard greens that don’t taste good” and “chicken tastes like wood.” The gastronomic theme is also liberally sprinkled throughout gangster rap—Biggie’s sardines for dinner—and continues with rapper-chef (or is that chef-rapper?) Action Bronson whose rhymes are more food filled than Josh Ozersky’s dreams. So I present two decidedly more far-flung food rappers, one from Tibet and another from Xi’an, China.
Karma Emchi better known by his nom du rap, Shapaley is half Swiss and half-Tibetan. His stage name comes from the Tibetan beef patty that’s available in many of the momo parlors in Himalayan Heights, as I’ve come to call Jackson Heights, Queens. The message behind the tune Shapaley is equal parts national pride and equal parts filial piety. You don’t hear lines like this in American rap: “If your grandpa tells you to pass him his walking sticks you’d better do it…If you don’t wait a minute, I’ll make the dough, put meat on it, fry it in oil and there it goes.” And: “Mother and father if your kids don’t behave just call me up. I’ll be there in a minute and give them shapaley.”
Cao-Si hails from Xi’an, China. The ancient Chinese city is widely known as the home of the terra cotta warriors. In Queens it’s better known as the city that gave birth to the cumin-laced lambcentric fare of Xi’an Famous Foods and its upscale sister restaurant Biang! Cao-Si can rhyme. He shouts out dozens of local specialties. Translated into English they no longer rhyme, but they sound delicious: “Garlic dipped noodles are hot, your tongue might be on fire.” Jason Wang, the younger half of the father and son team behind XFF once told me that he was a B-boy in college. Now it makes sense. Talk about local flavor!