The ladies behind the counter will load up your bowl with goodies.
I’m often asked, “Have you traveled in Asia?” My typical response: “No, just Queens.” It’s possible to eat foods from Thailand’s northeastern Issan region,Tibet, and China’s Dongbei region all without ever leaving the borough. One thing you can’t find in Queens though is a proper night market. The closest thing is the late night (4 a.m. to 11 a.m.) soup and noodle counter at Malaysian spot Curry Leaves in Flushing.
Walk up to the counter and one of the ladies will ask what type of broth you want. I always get kari laksa, a fiery coconut-enriched broth. The next question is what type of noodle; I always get yellow, presumably wheat, noodles. Now comes the fun part, choosing from the dozen or so items to add to your bowl. These include fried tofu, several types of fish cake, long green hot peppers stuffed with fish paste, fried wontons, char siu, shrimp, veggies, and bitter melon. No matter how many items you add it’s unlikely that the bowl will run over ten bucks. It makes for a hearty late-night snack, or breakfast.
The best time to eat there is half an hour or so before dawn. Watch the sun rise from the bottom of a soup bowl figuratively speaking. After an iced coffee and pandan gelatin to calm the kari fire, walk out into the early morning light and check out the live fish delivery trucks as they make their rounds on Main Street.
A quick and easy way to get a Singapore curry la mian fix.
One of my favorite Southeast Asian dishes is kari laksa, a spicy and creamy soup enriched with coconut milk, popular in Singapore and Malaysia. I like to get it at the “night market” counter at Curry Leaves in Flushing. Sometimes I don’t want to get up at 6 a.m. for noodle soup, though. That’s why I’m glad that I picked up a package of Prima Taste Singapore Curry La Mian at Old Town Asia Market.
The la mian kit contained two brown packages “(A) Curry Paste” and “(B) Curry Premix.” The instructions said to add (A) to the water first. When I saw the vibrant orange paste, I knew was in for a treat. Even uncooked it had a distinctly funky aroma of curry, shrimp paste, and other SEA aromatics like ginger and lemon grass. Envelope B contained a white powder which I soon learned was dehydrated coconut milk. After some stirring and letting it come to a boil, I added the noodles. For the last few minutes of the boil I added some prepackaged tuna fish. (more…)
One of the reasons I love Curry Leaves apart from the fact that it’s the closest thing Flushing has to a Malaysian night market is all the snacks and desserts that line the counter. The other day I spotted a package labeled “spicy shrimp knots.” Inside the clear plastic container were dozens and dozens of tiny wontons tied in knots. “It’s for Chinese New Year,” the lady behind the counter said as I handed her $8.
The delicate fried bundles have a shatteringly crunchy skin filled with intensely shrimpy dried shrimp. There’s just a hint of chili heat. Crunchy, salty, fishy they are in my Malay junk food wheelhouse. For the first few days I controlled my appetite for these intensely flavored treats. “They’d make a great topping for soup,” I thought to myself, being sure not to polish off the container. Tonight I threw self-control to the wind and polished off the rest. I will probably check back at Curry Leaves this week to see if they have anymore. If not I’m sure I’ll find some other form of Malaysian munchables.
There are many wonderful things to eat at Flushing’s Curry Leaves, including an entire hawker style soup service that runs from 4 a.m. to 11 a.m.. One of my favorite things is a psychedelic green and white pandan confection. I don’t know whether to call the mostly green parallelograms pudding or gelatin. One thing’s certain, they are delicious, sweet with just a hint of savoriness. The sweet comes from the green portion and the savory from the thin white layer, which tastes of coconut and a whisper of salt. The cool pandan pudding is a fine snack on its own. It also makes for an especially welcome finale to the often fiery fare here. Four of the wobbly scalloped-edge blocks and an iced coffee will set you back a mere $4.50.