About a week ago I had the honor of appearing on Travel Channel’s Street Eats: U.S.A. for a segment on street foods in New York City. For those who didn’t get to see it and for those who crave more curbside cuisine I’ve devoted this week’s edition of The Seven to street food. Here then in no particular order are seven of my current street food faves. Some appeared on the show, and some some didn’t. Have a favorite street food you think I left out? Let me know in the comments, or hit me up on the Twitter, @JoeDiStefano.
1. Pedro El Cevichero I first encountered Pedro’s sidewalk ceviche outside a market in Elmhurst. His Mexican ceviche mise en place includes olive oil, limes, onions, cilantro, and a tomato-based sauce. South of the Border ceviche is called coctele, as in shrimp cocktail. It’s more of a cold seafood soup than the Peruvian version. Pedro makes it right before your very eyes. It’s like watching a seafood mixologist as you listen to the 7 train rumble by overhead. Shrimp cocteles are available in three sizes ($8, $10, $12). The excellent mixto, shrimp and octopus is ($6, $8, $10). Find Pedro at Roosevelt Ave. and 80th St. from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
2. Baul Daada Jaal Muri Shop This is not so much a shop as a streetside Bangladeshi chaat vendor. As the name implies there’s only one specialty here, jaal muri. Three bucks gets you an order of Baul Daada’sspicy puffed rice. It’s a sensory overload of a snack consisting of puffed rice, kala chana (black chickpeas) chopped tomatoes, cilantro, green chili paste, red onions, crunchy dried soybeans, cilantro, spicy fried noodles, and squirts and shakes from the various and sundry bottles, including some sinus-clearing mustard oil. Find Daada on 73 St. near 37 Ave. from late afternoon to around 10 p.m. weather permitting. (more…)
Morocho’s anticuchos: one of New York City’s top Street Eats.
Way back in July I had the distinct pleasure of filming an episode of Street Eats U.S.A. for the Travel Channel. It was so long ago I almost forgot about it. The crew and I spent three days running around in the heat and humidity filming New York City’s finest street foods. The first two days were spent in Manhattan, which has some surprisingly good street food, especially Morocho Peruvian Fusion. Naturally we spent an entire day in Queens, with stops in Corona, Elmhurst, and Flushing.
You can’t go wrong with duck for a buck.
The show airs on 3/23 at 3 p.m. EST. I would be lying if I didn’t say I was excited about being on the Travel Channel, home to Messrs. Bourdain and Zimmern. I am, however, more excited that some of Queens’ greatest street vendors—Soybean Flower Chen who sells cloud-like fresh tofu; Corner 28’s one-buck duck ladies; and Tortas Neza, Corona’s undisputed king of the Mexican sandwich—all get their turn in the spotlight. Check out a preview clip here kids.
Japanese shishito peppers, mellow by any true chili-head’s standards.
As the old Power Station hit goes, “Some like it hot and some sweat when the heat is on/Some feel the heat and decide that they can’t go on,” I fall squarely in the chili-head camp, gleefully slathering Israeli schug on shawarma and perking up ceviche with Peruvian aji verde. Iindulge in fiery fare from Sichuan to Liberia and points in between. Sometimes, though, I can’t stand the heat. Take Thai spicy, please, as in, “Take it away.” After one too many experiences with the sensation of receiving a tongue tattoo with a hot needle I have given up ordering food “Thai spicy.”
In the past when I have ordered a dish “Thai spicy” the server usually approaches, filling my water glass and asks, “Too spicy? Are you okay, sir?” “Oh, no this is good,” I’d gamely respond eyes tearing, nose running, and lips burning as I tried to power through an incendiary meal. It’s been about two years since I’ve uttered the words, “Thai spicy.” Thankfully I can always adjust the spice level of Thai dishes by adding pickled chilies or dry roasted chili powder from the condiment caddy that graces the table.
Here’s what I’d like to know: What’s the spiciest thing you’ve ever eaten? Where do you draw the line? And when you’ve crossed it, how do you cool down? Tell me in the comments or hit me on the Twitter, @JoeDiStefano.
The first time I tried the Andean delicacy cuy was in a Peruvian joint in the Bronx called Chim Pum Callao. The owners were clearly proud of their product. They had the waiter show us the guinea pig—frozen, butterflied, and flat as a board—in a package emblazoned with the Peruvian flag. What came out of the kitchen was nothing to be proud of though. Little had been done to the critter other than deep frying. What meat there was dry, stringy, and devoid of flavor. Eventually I tried it roasted on a rotisserie at El Pequeño Coffee Shop in Jackson Heights. It was pretty good, almost like a cross between pork and rabbit.
Years later I would see little old Ecuadorean ladies in Flushing-Meadows Corona Park slow spit roasting cuy over charcoal fires. It looked absolutely delicious, like a miniature suckling pig. Once while walking home through the park I encountered a New York Times reporter who did a video interview with me about the delicacy. So when Nathan Vickers, a student at Columbia Journalism School, contacted me to talk cuy and then invited me to eat roast guinea pig at the home of an Ecuadorean family in Corona I jumped at the chance. We hung out with the family and listened to tales of guinea pig smuggling while they slowly roasted the cuy. It had spent the better part of a day in a garlicky marinade so the aroma coming off it as it cooked was incredible. And the end result was truly delicious. It’s experiences like that day that make me glad to live in Queens, one of the most culturally diverse places on the planet.
There’s nothing quite as summery as a nice plate of ceviche.
Ceviche, that refreshing Peruvian concoction of fish cooked in a lime juice marinade is one of my favorite things to eat during the summer, or really any time of year. I am so enamored of it that I used to cop a small plastic container of ceviche mixto from a sweet Peruvian lady who sold it out of a cooler in Manhattan’s Diamond District. She was even kind enough to bring me a block of a Peruvian shortbread confection known as King Kong from her home country.
Last time I checked my sweet streetside ceviche vendor was gone. I’m OK with that though. Here in Queens, there are many places from which to score ceviche, from full-blown cevicherias to coffee shops that have a side line in ceviche. Heck there are two Peruvian restaurants in walking distance from C+M headquarters in Rego Park that serve serviceable versions.
With winter in full effect you’d think I’d be in the mood for soup. The dish I crave today, though is ceviche, spicy and bracing with a side of that steroidal corn and plenty of eye-opening lime juice to slurp down as a chaser afterward.
After ceviche, my next favorite Peruvian food would have to be anticuchos, skewers of grilled beef heart. In my home borough of Queens there are more Peruvian restaurants to grab this carnivore’s delight than once could shake a stick at. The best anticuchos I’ve had don’t come from a restaurant in Queens, though. They come from a Peruvian street cart in Manhhatan’s Union Square.
Morocho Peruvian serves up two skewers, with purple Peruvian potatoes, and the kernels of hominy corn known as choclo for $6. The secret behind these succulent skewers of is that they are veal heart rather than the beef heart found elsewhere. A lengthy marination in Peruvian aji panca peppers, soy sauce and oregano makes them even more toothsome. Though some would say it is not quite as romantic as chocolate, I think this tender veal heart makes for a fine St. Valentine’s Day snack.
Morocho Peruvian Fusion, 1 Union Square West @ West 14th St., 646-330-1951
This aquatic cornucopia will put a panther in your tank!
Ceviche—raw fish that’s been cooked in lime juice—is one of my favorite Peruvian dishes, refreshing and packed with protein. I always feel great after eating it. For a long while I had a thing for leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk. Served in a martini glass it’s so named for the milky liquid, composed mainly of lime juice and chopped seafood. I like to order it spicy and then drain the remaining liquid. Talk about invigorating.
And then I discovered leche de pantera ($13) at Cevicheria El Rey. It makes leche de tigre look a kitten. Like the tigre it has shrimp, half a blue crab, and bits of chopped seafood. That’s just the beginning though. It’s amazing how much seafood you can cram into a martini glass. There were also two baby squids, a mussel, and several clams in there. It gets its color from concha negra. Topped with crunchy maizcancha it’ll put a panther in your tank for sure.