As cool as that Alton Brown grilled cheese video that’s been making the rounds is I think this video love letter to a Mumbai grilled cheese is even cooler. Before anyone asks, yes such a sandwich is available in the fair borough of Queens, at Mumbai Express. The sandwich in Chowder Singh’s video looks even better than the one I’ve had in Queens though. It comes from a streetside stand at Mahalaxmi Race Course in Mumbai. The combination of bread slathered with butter and green chutney and topped with cucumber, green chili, tomato, red onion, and a blizzard of cheese looks amazing. And Singh’s closed-caption commentary is priceless: “Ze tomato expertly sliced. More butter. OOF!” I am by no means a vegetarian, but I’ll bet this grilled cheese is as tasty as the kimchi grilled cheese at Queens Kickshaw.
“Sure I eat with my hands,” you say. “Fried chicken, burgers, tacos.” Let me clarify, do you eat South Asian food—Indian, Tibetan, Bangladeshi, Pakistani—with your hands? I’ve tried it a couple of times with Nepalese food at Dhaulaghiri kitchen. In theory and practice I understand that it’s tastier that way, but since I was raised using a knife fork to eat rice I’m self-conscious and almost always opt for utensils.
Arun Venugopal on the other hand was raised with the Desi tradition of eating with his hands and discusses it in the wonderful WNYC Micropolis video above. He makes the point that in Indian restaurants, people don’t eat with their hands, saving that secret practice for meals at home with family. Based on what I’ve seen in Queens I’d say that’s not the case among South Asians, but that’s only because they feel so at home when eating in the borough’s ethnic enclaves.
“My Dad’s attitude is, it’s just very impersonal to eat with a fork or knife or chopsticks,” Venugopal says. “One of his sayings is, ‘the hand is our God given fork.’” So here’s what I’d like to know, have you tried eating south Asian food with your hands? Did you like it, or did you find it off-putting? Do agree with Arun, is it the secret to everything tasting better? Let me know in the comments.
China’s Hunan province is renowned for its fiery cuisine, so much so that’s there’s even a classic folk song “La Mei Zi,” or “spicy girl,”from the region. A savvy C+M reader tipped me off to this rousing video by superstar Chinese soprano Song Zuying. Much as I enjoy hearing her sing the title refrain I am even more amused by the proliferation of hot peppers and the reckless abandon with which they are handled. There’s enough chili peppers in this video to keep the Sriracha plant in business for a year.
Last winter I took Andrew Zimmern on a tour around the world from Tibet to Liberia with intermediate stops in Ecuador, Nepa, and Pakistan all, without ever leavings Queens. I had a blast and the crew were super-cool to work with. There was only one thing Andrew didn’t like, butter tea. “It’s good during winter,” I said as I sipped a cup. I believe his response was something like, “Nope, this is never good.”
There’s one dish we pretty much had the same visceral reaction to and that’s the pepper crab and shrimp combo ($20) at Maima’s Liberian Bistro. The scene of us eating it didn’t make the Queens episode of Bizarre Foods America, which aired last night. I am especially proud of my tour de force reaction to this dish’s blistering heat level at 1:00.
“My lips, my fingers, my tongue, my gums are kind of on fire,” Zimmern said. “This is the hottest thing I’ve eaten all week. You don’t want to bring people here who are afraid to eat. I can tell you that.” Amen to that brother.
I’ve been off the sandwich circuit this past week largely because I have been consuming mass quantities of chicken soup due to a cold from outer space. That’s no reason to deprive you of Sandwich Wednesday though. So please enjoy this Abbott & Costello routine about splitting a turkey sandwich and a pair of twin waitresses who make the boys nearly lose their minds. For the record there is only one turkey sandwich that truly gets me going. And that is the magnificent specimen to be found at Parm on the fringes of Little Italy. It is so good that I would never consider splitting it with anybody.