An especially happy Thai meal from Khao Kang. Clockwise from bottom left: fish with eggplant and green beans, spicy pork ribs, and caramelized pork with fish sauce.
Elmhurst, Queens, my fair borough’s second, smaller more Southeast Asian Chinatown—after the sprawling wonderland of deliciousness that is downtown Flushing— is slowly awakening from pandemic slumber. In addition to Chinese, Indonesian and Malaysian restaurants and shops, the neighborhood is home to the largest concentration of real deal regional Thai cuisine in all of New York City. Many of the shops and restaurants that have been regular stops on my food tours over the years are starting to reopen for takeout and delivery.
Two of my favorite Thai spots Khao Kang—a rice and three steam stable specialist where the offerings are indeed very special—and sister restaurant Khao Nom which excels in desserts as well as savory dishes recently reopened. Khao Nom has been offering set rice plates. I got there a little late today, so they were out of crispy pork, so I opted for dessert instead, more on that later. (more…)
Sunnyside’s Butcher Block sells Irish candy among many other things.
I hope everyone is managing to stay safe and sane amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to be of service, I present this roundup of markets from some of Queens many culinary cultures. Some of my favorites, notably Patel Bros. in Jackson Heights, as well as some of the Chinese markets in Flushing and Elmhurst have temporarily shuttered, but as of yesterday all of the following were open. That said you should call ahead to check their status. Please stay local if possible, and let me know how you’re doing–and what you’re eating–in the comments.
1. IRELAND Butcher Block, 43-46 41st St., Sunnyside, (718) 784-1078
In addition to a wide selection of Irish chocolate bars and crisps this Sunnyside shop sells prepared foods such as roast beef and sausage rolls as well as black pudding if you want to whip up an Irish breakfast at home. Hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
2. ISRAEL Carmel Grocery, 64-27 108th St, Forest Hills, NY 11375, (718) 897-9296
A local friend tells me that this market/coffee roaster was one of the first to sell Israeli foods in Forest Hills. I’m not sure about that, but I do love their homemade dips, especially the hummus, white bean dip, and tabouleh. Right now my fridge is stocked with all of them. There’s also all manner of Middle Eastern breads and goodies like halvah. As of now they are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and do not offer delivery.
3. JAPAN Sakura-Ya, 73-05 Austin St., Forest Hills, 718-268-7220
Hello Kitty chopsticks, Vermont Curry mix, furikake rice seasoning, okonomiyaki sauce and the slimy fermented soybean delicacy known as natto are just a few of the items to be found in this tiny market. Grilled mackerel, sashimi grade tuna and when it’s in season creamy steamed ankimo, or monkfish liver, can also be had. Come early if you want to grab one of their excellent bento boxes. Open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., delivery minimum $50.
4. THAILAND Thai Thai Grocery, 76-13 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, 917-769-6168
Noi Sila is a fixture in the bustling Little Bangkok that runs along Woodside Avenue and Broadway in Elmhurst. Her shop stocks all sorts of ingredients, including curry pastes and other spices as well as kitchen equipment like sticky rice cookers and Thai style mortar and pestle. Hours for now are 1 p.m. to 7 p.m, although she is wisely limiting access to the shop. “I have to take care of the community,” Sila said. Delivery can also be arranged.
5. GREECE Titan Foods, 25-56 31st St., Astoria, 718-626-7771
For more than 30 years this colossus of a supermarket has been serving Astoria’s Greek community, offering everything from Ouzon (ouzo-flavored soda) and religious incense to fruity Greek olive oil and canned grape leaves. Just inside the door there’s an entire counter devoted to flaky cheese and spinach pies, including the spiral skopetiliki spanakopita. Feta is a mainstay of the kasseri counter, with more than a dozen types, including creamy Bulgarian, salty Arahova, and slightly funky goat feta. Hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
6. KOREA Han Yang Mart, 150-51 Northern Blvd, Flushing, N718-461-1911
If I Iived closer I’d do all my shopping, pandemic or not, here. The aisles are stocked with all manner of Korean ingredients—an entire case is devoted to kimchi and banchan—and there are kits to cook Korean barbecue and other dishes at home. Preppers take note they have canned silkworm and tuna fish. Last I checked they were still open 24 hours.
7. RUSSIA & FORMER SOVIET UNION NetCost Market, 97-10 Queens Blvd., 718-459-4400
The façade of the only Queens location of this sprawling supermarket chain depicts a globe in a shopping cart, but the shelves are mostly devoted to imports from Russia and the former Soviet Union, like caviar and Slivochniy Sort, an 82.5-percent butterfat sweet cream butter from Ukraine. The bakery counter abuts a seafood station with a staggering selection of smoked fish — from whole Norwegian semga, better known in the States as steelhead trout, to cold-smoked buffalo fish and hot-smoked paddlefish — and several types of salmon caviar. Hours are 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. for seniors with a closing time of 7:30 p.m.
For years the running joke about this Italian-American boy’s love for Asian food has been that I’ve forsaken my pasta and red sauce roots to slurp noodles in the basement of what my dear departed friend Josh Ozersky lovingly termed “ethnic hell holes.”
Noodles—be they Thai, Chinese, or Indian, cold, stir fried, or in soup—are one of my favorite foods. The other day I had a Thai noodle dish—black ink spaghetti with nam prik ong—that seemed to have more in common with Bologna than Bangkok. (more…)
The Thai desserts at Elmhurst’s Khao Nom are so good that there’s a bit of a running joke between the ladies at the counter and me that all I eat is sweets. Truth be told, my Southeast Asian Elmhurst food tour usually ends there with dessert, but every now and then I find myself at Khao Nom alone craving something savory.
Such was the case last week when I tried the shrimp paste fried rice (khao klup kapi) with sweet garlic pork. The mound of rice—stained brownish-red from being fried with the funky kapi—was topped with two fried chilies and ringed with diced shallots; strips of omelet; chopped green beans; slices of fresh chili pepper; a wedge of lime; dried shrimp; cucumbers; and, of course, the bowl of sweet and garlicky stewed pork.
This DIY fried rice is one of my favorite ways to eat. Mix it all up and as little or as much of the dried peppers—in my case both—to the lot. The combination of sweet pork and shrimp infused rice shot through with veggies and burst of spice and the crunchy brine bombs of baby shrimp is particularly restorative on a hot summer’s day. Plus it comes with a sidecar of broth. Not a bad deal for $10.
As a white dude who’s made a career eating through the many Southeast Asian eateries of Elmhurst, Queens, I lack the same perspective on the food as those born in Thailand, or in this case Indonesia, and sometimes stay away from what I mistakenly perceive to be boring homestyle dishes. When I saw a picture of “Thai scrambled eggs” on the Instagram feed of my friend Nigel “Moon Man” Sielegar, who hails from Indonesia, I knew I’d be heading to Teacup Cafe soon to try this classic Thai comfort food. Sielegar and I are so likeminded or likestomached that our respective Instagram posts often spur one of us to try a meal—Southeast Asian or otherwise—that the other has posted. (more…)
Fare from Tibet, Xinjiang, and Thailand make it the most diverse food court in New York City’s most diverse borough.
Like many of my fellow Queens food nerds I’ve been eagerly awaiting the opening of HK Food Court in Elmhurst. It’s been in the works for so long, that I didn’t think it was going to happen especially since the owner also operates a less than stellar food court in the basement of Hong Kong Supermarket in downtown Flushing.
Then last Saturday my buddy Ron and I poked our heads in to see almost all the booths set up. “Come back Monday,” a worker told us. So I came back. In fact I’ve been back four times so far. You might expect to find HK food, but the name refers to the fact that the culinary wonderland is built on the former site of Hong Kong Supermarket’s Elmhurst location.
The Chinese name “xiang gang mei chi cheng,” actually translates to “Hong Kong Gourmet Food Court.” Even thought it’s not even fully occupied I haven’t been this excited about a food court since I took Fuchsia Dunlop to Golden Shopping Mall. “It’s one thing to have to go to Main and Roosie for something like this, but to have this around the way is amazing,” I overheard someone say to their tablemate. Indeed! Here’s a look at what I’ve eaten so far.
Lamb ‘polo’ by way of China’s Xinjiang Autonomous region and Elmhurst.
Xinjiang House (No. 17) sits between one of the food court’s numerous Thai vendors and the sole Vietnamese outfit. It specializes in fare from China’s Xinjiang autonomous region. The Chinese name “Hui Wei Xinjiang” translates to “Xinjiang Muslim taste,” and the bill of fare features plenty of lamb. I tried a lovely Xinjiang lamb pilaf ($7.99), or polo as as the gent behind the counter called it. The fat grains of rice were shot through with fatty chunks of lamb, raisins, and barberries and just enough carrot for sweetness. Next time, I’m getting the spicy lamb feet ($15.99).
On the day I tried Xinjiang House I took a peek at Khao Ka Moo NYC, a Thai pork specialist to the left. A burnished pork shank redolent of five spice and other aromatics sat luxuriating in a steam table with eggs and greens. I was already full, but plotting my return.
Stephen Yen, executive chef of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill is a pretty busy guy, so I’m pretty glad he found the time to answer Seven Questions. Not only was Chef Yen born in Queens, he was born in the Year of the Pig. Chef Yen will be preparing a very special roast pork bao at Charcuterie Masters on February 23.
1. Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in Queens?
I was born on Main street in Flushing. The hospital was called Booth Memorial back then. My mother’s OBGYN, Dr. Uma Mysorekar, is now president of the Hindu Temple Society in Flushing. I have a special place in my heart for Flushing. I was raised out on Long Island in a small town about an hour from NYC, been back in queens now for about 7 years.
2. I’m excited to have you roasting a pig at Charcuterie Masters! Tell me a little bit about the process?
We are going to brine the little piggie using fish sauce in the brine, this is something I learned from Robbie Richter at Fatty ‘Cue. Nowadays its common practice in most kitchens. The sodium content is where you need it to be, plus you gain all the umami! We are going to then roast the pig in a La Caja China. It’s a roasting oven that simulates the old way of burying a pig and keeping the charcoal on top. The box makes it easier for us, we don’t have to dig! I’ve used a La Caja China before and they are awesome! I usually end up throwing some seafood on top of the charcoals to snack on while we wait for the pork. (more…)
I’ve been passing Moo Thai Food and its logo of a silhouetted black pig for months. The other day I finally tried it for lunch. Despite the name this tiny new spot from the owners of neighboring Eim Khao Man Gai makes only one type of Thai food, khao moo daeng, or pork and rice.
Moo, whose name means pig, offers several types of pork: sweet sausage, red tinged slices that call to mind char siu, and slabs of fried pork with incredibly crunchy skin. Both my dining partner and I chose Set 1, which combines all three. It’s served with a sweet, pork-enriched sauce, egg, and some cursory greenery. The sidecar of soup, which I suspect is the same broth used at Eim, rounded it all out for a nice lunch.
When it comes to roast pork and crunchy pork the first two cuisines I think of are Chinese and Filipino. Thanks to Moo I can now add Thai to that mix when the pork craving hits as it so often does.
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.
My friend Cherry—the bundle of wacky energy that is the creative force behind Elmhurst’s best Thai boat noodles—has been saying I should stop by her joint Pata Cafe when she’s there cooking on Tuesdays. I’ve been there before, but since the cafe, part after school hangout with French fries and part Thai hawker food, was just given a Michelin Bib Gourmand, I figured a return visit was in order.
When I arrived, she reminded me of a special chicken dish, gai tod hat yai, that she had started making according to the recipe of Sunisa Nitmai who runs the kitchen at Pata Cafe. Named for the Southern city of Hat Yai where it first became popular, it is indeed quite special, crunchy and flavorful thanks to a marinade that includes coriander, coconut milk, cumin, and black pepper among other things. It’s served with a sweet chili sauce and nam jim jaew, a spicy funky mix of fish sauce and chili bolstered by roasted rice powder. It needs neither.
“The trick is you have fry them and make sure it’s crispy and not overcooked,” Cherry says, making it out to be far easier to make than it is.
Pata Cafe, 56-14 Van Horn St., Elmhurst, (347) 469-7142