10/02/17 10:55pm

It’s been a big week for Ms. Tjahjadi as The New York Times called my dear friend Chef Dewi in last week’s Hungry City. Chef Dewi formerly of Java Village now cooks at Indo Java a small Indonesian grocery store in Elmhurst, Queens. Every Tuesday afternoon you can stop by for lunch, usually with a choice of a dish or two, served up by Dewi. This pop-up, affectionately called Warung Selasa (Tuesday “Food Stall”), is perhaps the best way to experience Indonesian food in New York, according my local Indonesian food guru Dan Hill who was kind enough to interview Chef Dewi between bites of his bakso mangkok.

When did you start cooking?
I started cooking from home in New York in 2003.

You didn’t cook in Indonesia before you moved here?
No, never. I worked as a secretary. Cooking wasn’t a hobby of mine. I learned how to cook when I moved to New York. I helped my mother cook at home as a child, but that was it.

Do you remember your favorite cooking of your mother’s when you were a child?
No, but I learned from my Mom that if I wanted to eat something, I had to make it from scratch. I had to prepare all the ingredients and cook everything. So I remember the cooking process, but I never cooked. For example, if I wanted to make lontong sayur. I would have to make the lontong by cleaning the rice and making the lontong. The vegetables I would have to cut, like the chayote . . . and at that time there wasn’t grated coconut, so at that time we had to grate the whole coconut by ourselves. So everything had to be done from the beginning.

Bakso mangkok, literally a bowl of beef meatball soup inside a bowl made of beef itself.

So you knew how to do all these things, but you didn’t like cooking?
No, I didn’t like it. I liked making cake. I liked baking, but I never did that either! [laughs]  (more…)

09/05/17 4:46pm

Short rib soup, fried tempeh, and a refreshing longan iced tea.

Lately when people ask what my favorite food or restaurant is my answer besides, “Depends on my mood,” is Awang Kitchen. Since April the Indonesian spot has been in heavy rotation on my dining roster. Good thing Indonesian cuisine is so varied! When I first wrote about Chef Awang’s restaurant I made much about him bringing the flavors of Jakarta to Elmhurst, but the truth is the menu, particularly the specials, ranges all over Indonesia, including Sulawesi and Java.

I am slowly making my way through the wonderful, complex soups and stews that cycle through the specials board, including a grand version of soto mie jakarta, complete with a fresh spring roll filled with vermicelli and baby shrimp. What brought me there the other day though was the promise of  sate ikan hiu, or baby shark satay, a Sulawesi delicacy. Sadly they were out of it by the time I got there, so I had to opt for one of my favorite appetizers, tempeh mendoan, which transforms the otherwise odious fermented soybean product into scrumptious fritters. Crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside with just a hint of fermented tang, they’re great dipped in the sweet kecap manis. (more…)

08/14/17 12:03pm

As a friend likes to point out, summer—with its steamy humidity and lazy beach days—is far from over. With that in mind here are seven of my favorite international frozen treats from Indonesian and Thai shaved ices and South American slushies to old-school American ice cream for you to enjoy

1. Pitaya nieves, Los Poblanos Grocery
Nieves, literally snows, are a wonderful frozen Mexican treat. With flavors like lip-puckering tamarind; refreshing melon; and jamaica, or tart hibisicus flowers, it’s easy to think of them as a frozen version of the auguas frescas that many vendors lining Roosevelt Avenue sell. There are many nieves sellers on La Roosie, but thankfully my peeps at Food & Footprints turned me on to one the best, Los Poblanos Grocery. On my first visit I had a jamaica, scarlet and refreshing and on my second, I had pitaya, better known as prickly pear. The tart red snow was shot through with crunchy seeds making it even more fun to eat.  Los Poblanos Grocery, 92-19 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights

2. Naem kaeng sai, Teacup Cafe
When I was a kid I was always jealous of one of my cousins who had the Snoopy Sno Cone machine. We never played with it, no doubt because the novelty had worn off. I trace my fascination with shaved ice to that unrequited desire for frozen confections. Now that I’m all grown up, there’s no better way for me to fulfill that childhood wish than Thai shaved ice or naem kang sai. As served at Teacup Cafe, it has enough sugar and toppings for a kid’s birthday party.

First choose your syrup—red or green—and then pick from eleven toppings. The red syrup, an artificial take on the sala fruit is floral and ultrasweet as is the green, which resembles cream soda. Toppings include taro, black grass jelly, pudding, corn, mixed fruit, coconut, palm seeds, red beans, toddy palm seeds, jackfruit, and popping bubbles. Three toppings will run you $4, but for the princely sum of $5.50 you can get all of the toppings. The result is an arctic explosion of colors, textures, and flavors. Teacup Cafe, 76-23 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, Phone: (718) 426-2222 (more…)

07/11/17 10:10am

Bandeng presto, a milk fish that’s seen hours in a pressure cooker before deep frying.

I’ve been a fan of the food and chef at Awang Kitchen ever since local Indonesian food aficionado and ace instagrammer @dan.bukit pulled my coat to it a few months ago. It’s no surprise that such a talent would be found in Elmhurst, which is hands-down the best place for Southeast Asian cuisine in New York City. When the boys at Queens Dinner Club and I learned that Chef Awang served liwetan, a festive meal served on a banana leaf rarely seen outside Indonesia, we knew it was going to be the second dinner at our new home, the swanky Bamboo Lounge at Kaufman Astoria Studios. We’re proud to present Awang Comes to Astoria on July 30 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for this one-of-a-kind feast are $45 and may be purchased here.

Succulent roast duck with roasted green chili sambal.

Bandeng presto, a specialty from Southeast java, that involves marinating a milkfish in yeast, shallots, and garlic and then letting it luxuriate in a pressure cooker before a nice hard deep fry is one of many dishes that Chef Awang will be preparing. As with most of his dishes, it comes with a homemade sambal.  Bebek goreng sambel ijo, a succulent fried duck with roast green chili sambal will also be served as will rujak juhi, which combines shredded dried squid with noodles peanut sauce, potatoes, and cucumbers. Check out the full menu here.  

As part of the evening’s festivities, Chef Peter Zaharatos of Sugar Cube will be creating bespoke desserts designed to complement Chef Awang’s menu. We’ll see you there!

06/01/17 4:56pm

For as long as I can remember I’ve been a fan of noodles— whether the fusilli with red sauce and chow fun that I cut my  teeth on—or the tallarin verde of Peru and various culture’s takes on cold noodles that can be had in Queens. This edition of The Seven is devoted to my favorite Asian noodles in Queens, at least as of summer 2017.

1. Tom thuk, Lhasa Fast Food
Anthony Bourdain recently paid a visit to this Jackson Heights momo shop tucked away behind a cell phone store. While the big man tried the hand-torn noodle soup known as thenthuk he did not get to experience its colder, spicier cousin tomthuk. Listed in the menu’s Noodle Zone as beef cold noodle ($6) there’s no forewarning of the twin heat engines of chili and mustard oil. The tangle of chewy noodles interspersed with shredded carrots, cabbages, and bits of ground beef packs enough heat to melt snowy Mount Kailash which looms above the counter. Lhasa Fast Food, 37-50 74th Street, Jackson Heights

 

2.  Yum Dek Sen, Dek Sen
There are many Thai noodle dishes, from funky bowls of blood-enriched soup to those that resemble pork ragu, but Dek Sen is the first restaurant where I’ve seen noodles used in a yum, Thailand’s spicy savory version of the more prosaic Western salad. Yum Dek Sen ($11.95) takes Mama instant noodles and mixes them with squid, shrimp,  minced pork, and two types of fish balls. Served warm the whole lot is dressed in a chili lime sauce. You might be tempted to order it spicy, but medium is more than adequate.  Dek Sen, 86-08 Whitney Ave, Elmhurst, 718-205-5181 (more…)

04/28/17 2:59am
Fried chicken marinated with coconut water.

Fried chicken marinated with coconut water.

When I first visited the Facebook page of Awang Kitchen, the newest Indonesian spot in the Southeast Asian-inflected Chinatown of Elmhurst, it displayed a vast menu, which has seen been edited down to a more manageable size. While the food was delicious, when I visited on opening weekend, the kitchen was moving at a glacial pace. Thankfully the kinks have been ironed out and Awang is fast becoming my favorite Indonesian spot in the neighborhood.

I’m a big fan of Indonesian fried chicken, so when I spied ayam goreng kalasan, a variety marinated with coconut water, I had to try it. It was some mighty fine bird and came with a sidecar of sambal terasi, a fiery red pepper concoction made with terasi, or fermented shrimp paste. It’s one of several sambals that the Jakartan chef-owner Siliwang “Awang” Nln makes in house. (more…)

04/07/17 1:06pm
INDOCROWD

The Indonesian Food Bazaar will be bustling tomorrow.

Queens is fortunate to have two Chinatowns, the bustling downtown Flushing, home to a wealth of regional Chinese cuisine, and the somewhat mellower Elmhurst, which in addition to Cantonese, Sichuan, and Henanese fare, features some of the best Southeast Asian food to be found in all of New York City. That includes Indonesian food, notably the Indonesian Food Bazaar, which takes place tomorrow at St. James Church. What follows is a pictorial guide/plan of attack for eating your way through tomorrow’s festivities, which run from noon to 5 p.m.

indomartabak

Curb your hunger with the Indonesian beef pie known as martabak.

As Indonesian food nerd/Instagrammer @dan.bukit points out it’s best to arrive before 1 p.m. for the greatest selection. By 2 p.m. some of the stands start to run out. Since my eyes are quite often bigger than my stomach, I immediately head over to one of the snackier stands and have one of the Indonesian beef pies known as martabak. That way I can take my time exploring the festival without being hangry. Many folks like to bring a posse of four or five friends to share. I prefer to go it alone, although I usually run into a fellow food geek to share with.

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12/30/16 11:41pm

With 2016 coming to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the year that was. It was a big year for me and for food in Queens, including a feature in Asahi Shimbun and the discovery of the durian pizza. In no particular order here are 16 of the best things I ate last year.

MRCRISPY

1. Best Grilled Cheese
Mr. Crispy, a grilled cheese sandwich served at Astoria Bier & Cheese answers the question, “How good can a grilled cheese be?” with a resounding “very, very good.”  The sandwich of cave aged gruyere, ham and honey mustard is coated in  mantle of white crispy cheese. This coating extends outward into a golden lacy corolla, a veritable halo of crispy cheese. It’s crunchy, sharp, and eminently craveable. I’ve haven’t been this excited about fried cheese since Joe Bastianich’s ill-fated Frico Bar. Astoria Bier & Cheese, 34-14 Broadway, Astoria, 718-545-5588

 

whitspie

2.  Most Fabulous F***in’ Clam Pizza
The salciccia e vongole pizza at Whit’s End is the best clam pie I’ve had outside of Zuppardi’s. Housemade sausage seasoned with clove, star, anise, juniper, and allspice join the Littleneck clams along with pepperoncini and shaved garlic. The combination of the fior di latte mozzarella and  Parmigianno Regianno round things out quite nicely. Whit’s End, Riis Park Beach Bazaar

 

HakkaHotChicken

3. Hottest Off-menu Indian-Chinese Chicken
Nashville may have cayenne-infused hot chicken, but here in Queens we have something I like to call hakka hot chicken. Peter Lo, Queens’ godfather of Indian-Chinese cuisine and founder of Tangra Masala, whipped up a batch for me a while back. The hacked up bits of fried bird sauced in a glaze that marries the flavors of chili, soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic call to mind Dominican style chicharron de pollo with an Indian-Chinese twist. Tangra Masala, 87-09 Grand Ave., Elmhurst, 718-803-2298

 

4. Best Breakfast Sandwich
I count myself a big fan of the classic bacon egg and cheese, but my favorite breakfast sandwich of 2017 contains no swine whatsoever. The breakfast sandwich at Roast n Co combines organic eggs, tomato jam, and Cabot white cheddar on a brioche make for one of the best egg sandwiches ever. Since Roast n co is run by Tunisians you have the option of asking for a sidecar of harissa, a lovely concoction of chili peppers, olive oil, and paprika. It’s an option you should exercise. Roast n Co, 100-12 Queens Blvd. Forest Hills, 718-263-6000

The action at Majang Dong takes place out back.

5. Most Secret Korean BBQ Garden
Korean barbecue always brings to mind happy memories of backyard barbecues. At Flushing’s Majang Dong the Korean BBQ that takes place in an actual backyard. Chef Yu and his family run what some might call a Korean BBQ speakeasy. Sure there’s a storefront and inside you’ll find a restaurant, but the real action takes place out back in the shack and garden. Say you’re there for BBQ,  and Mrs. Yu will walk you out the back door into a Korean BBQ wonderland. Pork kalbi and pork belly are both lovely, and there’s eel and octopus for seafood lovers, but one of the best meats is grilled pork intestines. With a crunchy exterior and chewy interior, the fatty rings eat like an offal lover’s version of pork cracklins. Majang Dong, 41-71 Bowne St., Flushing, 718-460-2629 (more…)

12/21/16 4:41am
thaicongee

Sugar Club added Thai style congee to the menu just in time for winter.

Like much of New York City, Queens is now in winter’s icy grip. Unlike most of the rest the city though we have two Chinatowns and the most robust K-town in New York City, which is all a very long way of saying that there are many many options when it comes to Asian soups. Here are our seven of our favorites.

1.  Thai Congee, Sugar Club
“Thai people like the pork one,” the kid behind the counter responded when asked which variety of Thai congee was better. Earlier this week Sugar Club started selling the rice porridge, known as jok in Thailand, just in time for winter. The shop’s version ($6.50) of the ubiquitous Asian breakfast porridge features an egg stirred in, mushrooms, and a tangle of noodles. As for the pork it turns out to be lovely little meatballs. Doctored up with chili flakes and salty Golden Mountain sauce this combination porridge/noodle soup its a great way to ward off winter’s arctic chill. Sugar Club, 81-18 Broadway, Elmhurst, 718-565-9018

beijinglamb

This lamb spine’s mighty fine.

2. Lamb Hot Pot, Beijing First Lamb Shabu
I’m no fan of Chinese style hotpot, but the stuff they’re making at Beijing First Lamb Shabu, (Lao Cheng Yi Guo in Chinese) is truly special, mainly because the specialty of the house isn’t traditional hotpot, but rather a rich lamb stew. Upon entering the Flushing branch of this Beijing chain I was floored by pervasive aroma of gamy lamb and five spice.  Like many hot pot joints there’s a ballot-like menu with all sorts of add-ins and soup bases. The difference here is that all of the soup bases feature a combination of mutton ribs and spine in a rich heady broth. Lao Cheng Yi Guo thoughtfully provides gloves so you can pick up the vertebrae and get at the ridiculously tender bits of meat that cling  to the lamb spine.  Someone once told me that eating lamb spine is a fertility tonic for men. I’m not sure about tha,t but Lao Cheng Yi Guo certainly put a smile on my face and warmed me up. Lao Cheng Yi Guo, 136-55 37th Ave., Flushing

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10/24/16 4:30pm
A double barrel of old-school congee toppings!

A double barrel of old-school congee toppings!

When I was a kid the old man would return from Chinatown laden with hong bao, lucky red shopping bags. Usually these were filled with dried mushrooms, superior soy sauce and other ingredients. There treats were for me and him—lo mai gai, packets of sticky rice—and treats of a sort for my Mom, notably congee.  (more…)