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 year that just drew to close was a year of personal challenges—coping with chemo via congee—and achievements—publishing a guidebook to Queens—all while eating my way through New York City’s most delicious and diverse borough. Herewith, are 17 from 2017.
1. Most Super Soup Dumplings
I’ve been a fan of Helen You’s dumplings since long before she became the empress of Dumpling Galaxy. My favorite at Tianjin Dumpling house in Golden Mall remains the lamb and green squash. Yang rou xiao long bao, or lamb soup dumplings, are one of the off-menu stars at Dumpling Galaxy. The little packages bursting with unctuous lamb broth are so good that they have become a staple of my Flushing Chinatown food tours. Dumpling Galaxy, 42-35 Main St., Flushing, 718-461-0808
2. Choicest Chang Fen
I cut my teeth on Cantonese steam rice rolls at Mei Lei Wah in Manhattan’s Chinatown, so this breakfast staple will always have a special place in my heart and stomach. About a year ago Joe’s Steam Rice Roll opened in downtown Flushing and I knew right away that it was somethings special. For one thing he’s grinding fresh rice as opposed to using rice flour like everybody else in New York City, which imparts a delicate flavor and texture. Turns out that Joe himself went to Guangzhou to learn his craft and brought the equipment back with him. My favorite is the shrimp and egg with green onion. Joe’s Steam Rice Roll, 136-21 Roosevelt Ave., #A1, Flushing
3. Duckiest Thai Arancini
OK fine, they’re not quite Italian rice balls, but the trio of crispy sticky rice balls served with Thailand Center Point’s larb duck with crispy rice ($13.95) do a great job of soaking up the piquant sauce. The shredded meat—mixed with roasted rice powder and shot through with herbs and just the right amount of chilies—is superb. Thailand’s Center Point, 63-19 39th Avenue, Woodside, 718-651-6888(more…)
Umami bombs in the form of dried fish curl in this tangle of fried noodles.
Long before I heard the word “umami” I was addicted to the savory fifth flavor. I blame pouring Accent directly on my tongue as a young boy. Accent has precisely one ingredient: monosodium glutamate. In terms of umami overload, it was the equivalent of Peter Parker’s radioactive spider bite. I’ve had superpowers ever since, OK not really. I did develop a keen palate for umami though, which brings me to the subject of today’s post: the use of umami bombs—little bursts of flavor in two Southeast Asian noodle dishes I ate recently.
The first comes from Thailand via Laos and Woodside, Queens. “Spicy noodle with Lao sausage real Thai,” read the menu at Thailand’s Center Point. (For the record, everything at this place that I’ve been reacquainting myself with of late is real Thai.) The tangle of noodles ($11.50) is riddled with generous chunks of chewy sour sausage and fried dry chilies, a nice touch which enables one to adjust the heat in the dish. There was another component: little almost imperceptible nuggets of fishy flavor.
“Is there pickled fish in this?” I asked the waitress, who looked surprised by my question. Thanks to Instagrammer @gustasian, I now know that the little umami bombs were dried fish. (more…)
Find Thai arancini and duck at this Woodside spot.
Thailand’s Center Point, an adorable restaurant run by Aom “Annie” Phinphatthakul and her family is one of my favorite places to enjoy Thai cuisine. Phinphatthakul possesses a mastery of flavor and a stunning visual sensibility. The dishes here are, “Pride on a plate,” as a friend pointed out yesterday at lunch.
“Where’ve you been everything OK?, Chef Annie asked as it had been a year-and-a-half since I’d eaten at her Woodside restaurant. Based on yesterday’s meal, that’s far too long to stay away from her cooking. Everything we ate yesterday was delicious, but the real standout for me was larb duck with crispy rice ($13.95). (more…)
“Let’s go for Thai,” I said to my pal Adrian the other day. “I’ve got a place over on Woodside Avenue,” he said. Never one to trust another’s taste in Thai, I countered with a better place also on Woodside. “Oh, no not that big place, that won’t do,” he said. “No not Sripraphai,” I said. And that’s how we wound up at Thailand’s Center Point where I discovered something called Over the Rainbow ($13.95).
It had been months since I’d visited Aom “Annie” Phinphatthakul’s cute little spot. And I was eager to see what new creations would be highlighted in multicolored chalk on the specials board. And then I saw it: “Over the Rainbow, diced crispy fish with Thai herbs in special spicy lime.” (more…)
Do they know they’re standing in the epicenter of ethnic food?
I am more street food connoisseur than street art aficionado. That didn’t keep me from jumping on the Banksy bandwagon though. No, I was not fortunate enough to purchase a $60 “spray art” canvas in Central Park. When I read on Monday that the British street artist had put up a piece in Queens as part of his monthlong New York City residency I hastened to a block of 69th Street in Woodside’s Little Manila not far from the rumbling 7 train. I couldn’t help but wonder whether the crowd of camera toting street art fans had any idea they were standing at the epicenter of ethnic food in New York City.
“What we do in life echoes in eternity,” it read in Banksy’s signature stenciled script. Well, almost, that last word was cheekily in the process of being obliterated by an old-timey looking character. (That’s a quote from the film Gladiator, by the way.) Having partaken of some culture in the form of art—and Instagrammed, Tweeted and Facebooked it—I took off in search of food culture.