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.”
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.
A verdant reminder of spring on a cold Elmhurst evening.
Despite all the writing I do about various international cuisines there remains a soft spot in my heart and stomach for pizza and pasta, particularly as served by New York City pizzerias. It’s a rarity to find homemade pasta at the corner slice shop, so I’ve been curious about the homemade pasta at Louie’s Pizzeria for years. The thing is I’m usually too full after eating two or three pieces of their award-winning grandma slice to enjoy it. (more…)
Chen Du Tian Fu, the stall that lies at the bottom of the stairs of Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall has been my favorite Sichuan spot for more than 10 years. I’ve even taken such luminaries as Sichuan food expert Fuchsia Dunlop and Anthony Bourdain there and once ran into Mission Chinese founder Danny Bowien and his staff.
I’ve tasted tremendously good cold noodles, fiery water poached fish, and superb ma po tofu, along with many, many other specialties from the vast menu. There’s one dish that never appeared, kung pao chicken, or gong bao ji ding as it is known in Chinese. (more…)
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
It took me at least three years of attending the monthly NY Indonesian Food Bazaar to get around to trying a stand called Mie Tek Tek. I’d passed Chef Andy Sutanto many times as he tossed noodles and rice in his wok. For about a year one of the only things I ate at the movable Indonesian feast that takes place in Elmhurst’s St. James Parish House was bubur ayam, the rice porridge topped with chicken, crunchy soybeans, and spicy peanut sauce. I also had a thing for Pecel Ndeso’s tripe and other offal delights.
For whatever reason though on Saturday, even though I was really in the mood for soup, I decided to try Chef Andy’s Jakartan style street food. (more…)
Ceviche de pescado—fish, typically corvina in Queens, cooked in lime juice—is such a staple of Peruvian cuisine that until just the other day I’d never tried Peruvian style octopus. Sure, I’ve had pulpo in the exquisite cokteles from La Esquina del Camaron Mexicano. Octopus is probably on the menu of every Peruvian place in Queens, but my eyes skate over it in favor of sexier seafood like jalea, that mountain of fried fish, shrimp, and calamari fortified by planks of fried yucca.
The other day pulpo al olivo jumped off the menu at El Anzuelo, spurring my friends and me to order it. Tender slices of octopus loll in a pool of mauve liquor flanked by some avocado slices and, of all things, five Keebler Zesta brand saltine crackers. (more…)
Pay no attention to the an behind the bamboo curtain!
After trekking out to Bushwick on a raw rainy day to help my friend Cathy Erway kick off the fall 2018 season of her radio show Eat Your Words, I was ready for something hot and brothy.
I always get lost on the way to the Heritage Radio Network studio inside Roberta’s Pizza, even though it’s basically around the corner from the L train. Sunday’s detour took me past Ichiran Ramen where a patient local took pity on my hapless Queens soul to direct me to Roberta’s with his phone. I’d been meaning to try this Japanese import and its ramen isolation booth, so I blurted out, “What time are you open until?” I should point out that the helpful young man was Asian and was sporting a Sriracha T-shirt. “I don’t work here,” he said turning his back to walk into the ramenya, as I spun on my heel to high-tail it to the studio. (more…)
Karl Palma, the jovially brawny dude behind Karl’s Balls, a takoyaki stand that can be found at the Queens Night Market among other places around New York City, has been trying to get me to eat Sichuan food with him for at least three years.
“You gotta come with me to this place, it’s me and my wife’s favorite,” he would crow about Szechuan House, and I would say, “Yeah sure,” while thinking, “I’m a Chengdu Tian Fu man myself.”
I finally caved in. I don’t know why I waited so long. Karl and I ate there a few weeks ago and I’ve been back several times with different friends to try at least a half dozen items, but there is one particular dish that has become the very stuff of my Sichuan food fever dreams, shredded fried beef. (more…)