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.”
Winter calls to mind warmer times—with plenty of good old-fashioned BBQ and cold beer to wash it all down. Which is why this month’s Queens Dinner Club will be a down-home Nepali style BBQ feast at Bajeko Sekuwa on January 28. Tickets are $52 and may be purchased here.
The new spot in Sunnyside whose name means grandpa’s BBQ was started by Dinanath Bhandari who used to grill sekuwa skewers at a hawker stand on the road to the Kathmandu airport. His once humble stand has grown into a mini-empire with 14 locations in Nepal, and just one in the U.S., in Sunnyside, Queens. (more…)
Meaty pork spine lurks beneath a blanket of green chilies.
It’s no secret Arada Moonroj, the lady who brought Lanna cuisine to Elmhurst’s Thai Town is a fan of the pig. The menu at her restaurant Lamoon features every part of the beast, from brain and blood to belly and bits of ear in the sai aua sausage. The latest addition? Spine as featured in leng zabb, a spicy soup of slow-cooked meaty ribs and vertebrae.
The bones are stewed for hours until they give up their marrow and collagen and the whole lot is finished with fish sauce, fresh lime and showered in green chilies, cilantro, and garlic. The menu describes it as “brutally spicy,” but I wouldn’t characterize it as a challenge dish along the lines of the phaal at Brick Lane Curry House. It certainly got my attention and gave me the sniffles, but it’s more of a bright chili heat than the incendiary burn often associated with the phrase “Thai spicy.”
It was quite satisfying to suck every last but of meat and marrow from the bones, but it would be nice to have had some plastic gloves to aid in wrangling the bones. One thing’s for sure though, the lime juice, chili, and garlic should spell the end of this lingering midwinter cold.
A trio of cold appetizers at Wenzhou Noodle House.
In my perambulations around America’s Greatest Chinatown, aka downtown Flushing, I encounter many, many cold appetizers. One of my favorites can be found at Chengdu Tianfu. Liang ban san su—cold salad three vegetables—consists of seaweed, julienned carrots, and chewy noodles showered in cilantro dressed with roasted chili oil, black vinegar, and a healthy dose of garlic. The other day though I took a dive into the 42-item roster of special cold appetizers at Wenzhou Noodle Restaurant and discovered a trio of new favorites.
Kanom jeen ngaew features pork blood, pork ribs, and ground pork.
Elmhurst’s Little Bangkok is so robust that it can support everything from boat noodle popups to dessert cafes. The latest entrant is Lamoon, the hood’s sole specialist in Chiang Mai cuisine, from Chef Arada Moonroj who learned to shop at local markets and pick lemongrass and kaffir lime from her mother and grandmother back home in Northern Thailand. A profound dislike for the use of MSG in New York City’s Thai restaurants led her to teach herself how to cook by watching Youtube videos.
After cooking for friends she decided to open Lamoon, which is both a play on her last name and a Thai word that is perhaps best translated as subtle, or better yet, soigné. It took over the old Ploy Thai space about two weeks ago and features a decor that combines a feminine sensibility with Thai street art. (more…)
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…)
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
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
In the past six months I’ve come to appreciate Koreanseollongtang, a milky mellow ox bone soup. It’s nourishing and comforting and easy on my digestive system, which has been a bit fragile lately. One can only slurp so much of the same soup before boredom sets in though. So I’ve tried other versions of the long-simmered bone broth soup with various add-ins including chunks of oxtail and medicinal herbs, but none has proved as satisfying as the minimalist seollontang.
The other day I was dining at Tang with Chef Dave of NY Epicurean Events, and he was trying to get me to order soon dae gook ($14), a seollontang spin featuring pork and the Korean pork blood sausage, soon dae. “That looks good,” he said as I proceeded to tell him most variations of the dish I’d tried fell flat. But the promise of offal convinced me to try it. (more…)
There’s a reason they call the British breakfast classic a full English. The army of breakfast meats—bangers, bacon, sausage, and blood pudding—and eggs supplemented by mushrooms, tomatoes, and fried bread is a joy to eat and behold. The best full English this Italian-American boy ever had was at an Italian-run cafe called E. Pellicci in London’s Bethnal Green. It’s been in the Pellicci family since 1900 when Elide and Primo Pellicci opened shop. And so has the recipe for Penne Pellicci—a plate of pasta and pesto—that the waiter Tony drizzled with olive oil when I visited a few years ago. It was a fine carb supplement to an already prodigious feed. (more…)
Like many of the best Korean BBQ’s Majang Dong cooks over charcoal.
The number of places to enjoy Korean BBQ in Queens is staggering. The vast K-tropolis that runs along Northern Boulevard boasts kalbi specialists like Mapo, spots renowned for the fatty ribbons of pork belly known as samgyeopsal, and even all you can eat/grill joint called Picnic Garden. There’s only one that feels like being at an actual picnic though, Majang Dong. To be more specific it feels like a backyard BBQ—and that’s because it is.
Chef Yu and his family run what some might call a Korean BBQ speakeasy. It’s not that one needs a password to gain access, it’s more that if you didn’t know that it was there you could easily pass right by it. 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. (more…)