I’m not sure whether the catfish pad prik khing from iCook Thai Cook falls under what’s sometimes referred to as Thai Royal Cuisine. What I do know is I can’t resist a punny headline. Nor can I resist Boonnum “Nam” Thongngoen’s vibrant Thai cooking. So I was very happy to hear her Elmhurst restaurant, which shares a space with the hotpot restaurant iCook, reopened on Friday for outdoor dining.
Like a lot of things these days, P’Nam’s menu has adapted. The major change is the addition of a half dozen $15 set menu items that I call Thai happy meals, each served with soup and rice. That’s where I found catfish pad prik khing.
“I have order envy,” my dining companion said eying the translucent fried basil leaves and curlicue of green peppercorns adorning the ruddy catfish. It tastes even better than it looks, thanks to the curry paste that hums with the warmth of chili and ginger and the perfume of galangal, lemongrass, and lime leaves. The fried catfish is lovely, and, like the paste itself, unabashedly spicy. So I was glad for the rice as well as a mellow bowl of kai pa lo, egg and tofu in a sweet five spice broth.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that in addition to offering extra rice, the waiter encouraged me to finish my soup. Welcome back P’Nam and company!
“It’s all gone. You should call ahead next time and pre-order,” my friend Elvi at Indo Java Groceries said the other day when she read the disappointment on my face. It was scarcely 1 p.m. and they were all out of the soup I’d planned to have for lunch.
I’d learned about the soup—whose name is lost in a fog of COVID anxiety—from looking at the store’s Instagram page, which I dutifully checked last night to reserve a plate of lontong cap go meh. Longtong, a pressed rice cake is often eaten with satay and in a spicy soup, but I’d never had this version. Chef Rebecca of Mamika’s Homemade Cuisine told me lontong cap go meh is a Central Javan specialty eaten on the 15th day of Lunar New Year.
It was sold as a kit of sorts at the shop. One compartment of the plastic takeout box was filled with chewy lontong topped with the ground soy bean that Rebecca characterizes as “a must,” and other devoted to a giant bag filled with a broth of chayote cooked in a chili-laced coconut milk broth. The last compartment was occupied by opor ayam—chicken cooked with onion, garlic, coriander powder, turmeric and coconut milk—and sambal goreng ati ampela, spicy chicken livers and gizzards. All in all it made for a very satisfying late lunch.
Like Fefe Ang of Taste of Surabaya, Rebecca is helping to feed workers at local hospitals. And like Fefe she delivers, just send a DM to her Instagram account. So even if you can’t make it to Indo Java, you can have a taste of Indonesia come to you. But if you can, you might want to stop by on Saturday’s when the market is stocked with all sorts of dishes trucked in from Philadelphia. Talk about brotherly love.
A weekend special of xian da xia chow fun at Elmhurst’s Little House Cafe.
Little House Cafe, a gem of a Malaysian restaurant masquerading as a Chinese bakery, is one of my all-time favorite spots in Queens. Located on a stretch of Corona Avenue in Elmhurst that features several Chinese businesses it’s always a stop on my Elmhurst food tours, usually for the amazing chow kueh teow. The tangle of stir fried noodles shot through with all sorts of goodies—shrimp, squid, and fish cake to name a few—arrives at the table alive with the energy, flavor, and color of wok hei.
When I find myself in the neighborhood solo, I pop in to see what’s on the rotating menu of weekend specials. Which is exactly how I came to be eating a $12 plate of salted egg prawn chow fun for breakfast yesterday. Actually I suppose breakfast was the Malaysian style brown sugar cake and iced coffee that I sipped while waiting for my noodles. (more…)
It’s early days in 2020, but I’m confident to go on record that the Kashmiri lamb ribs that Chef Chintan Pandya just put on the menu at Adda Indian Canteen in Long Island City are the best lamb dish I’ve eaten this year. I am of course partial to the musky meatiness of lamb ribs, and still bemoan the loss of Peng Shun’s cumin-encrusted Muslim lamb chop.
There’s something about the combination of cumin, chili, and musky lamb that’s just perfect and Pandya’s lamb ribs are no exception. The two meaty specimens—available for $23 only at dinner—are stained red from a spice blend that includes cumin; red chili powder; and amchur, or dried mango powder. The combination of crunchy spice crusted mantle and tender meat is mindblowing. I gladly ate them as is, but the mint chutney did provide a nice cooling counterpoint.
“It is a very simple process to cook it’s just time consuming,” Pandya modestly says of his new creation. Part of that time is a leisurely simmer in a secret elixir for six or seven hours. Pandya says the inspiration for the dish is a Kashmiri classic called tabak maaz, where the lamb is first cooked in milk and then browned in butter.
“I don’t call it tabak maaz, I call it Kashmiri lamb ribs,” Pandya says because his cooking method is different. No matter, I call it delicious.
Adda Indian Canteen, 31-31 Thomson Ave., Long Island City, 718-433-3888
Tibetan stir fried beef with laphing conjures childhood memories of chow fun on Mott Street.
“The pork and mushroom was pretty good,” my friend Chef Jonathan Forgash said as we were deciding what to eat at Phayul, a Tibetan restaurant in Jackson Heights. We were at the new location, which sits across from the original second-floor location. For whatever reason they’re keeping them both open, which strange as it may seem businesswise, does means twice as much of Chef Chime Tendha’s delicious Tibetan food.
The menu at Phayul’s new, more elegant digs has several new items, including chicken tangkung, a soup of ginseng and jujubes that is Tibet’s answer to Korean samgyetang. We got the soup that evening, but didn’t order the pork and mushroom, instead opting for stir fried laphing with beef. Both of us are big fans of the slippery mung bean noodles, usually served cold in a sauce of vinegar and garlic, but had never had the hot version. (more…)
Beef sukuti chow mein comes with a sidecar of two-tone hot sauce.
The jhol momo—dumplings in a spicy soul-warming tomato and chicken broth—are so good at Nepali Bhanchha Ghar in Jackson Heights, that I often forget there are other things to eat at the homey spot whose name means Nepali eating house.
For a long time those other things consisted of sukuti thali—a platter bearing a mound of rice and funky goat jerky—ringed by various tiny heaps of pickles, including bitter melon and radish, and a bowl of buttery lentil daal. That and the rice and ghee doughnuts known as tsel roti.
Not onion rings, but rather tsel roti, a rice ‘doughnut’ that treads the line betwixt savory and sweet.
The other day though I found myself at Yamuna “Bimla” Shrestha’s restaurant craving noodles. I’d often seen the cooks frying up batches of chow mein, but ignored that part of the menu due to jhol momo monomania. (more…)
Tong, a tiny festive Bangladeshi food stand, in Jackson Heights has the honor of being America’s first fuchka cart. This post is not about those amazing crunchy orbs though, it’s about aam bhorta, or Bangla style spicy mango.
For some 30 years I’ve been a fan of spicy South Asian pickle. It all dates back to a college roommate, Harold, who was the ringleader in many a Patak’s lemon pickle eating contest. Since then I’ve branched out to mango pickle. I’m especially fond of amba—the tangy Middle Eastern mix of pickled mango and turmeric—on my falafel. So when I learned Tong offered spicy mango, I had to try it. (more…)
Bacon and pork floss, part of a complete breakfast!
For a long time flaky pork pies, char siu bao, and sandwiches of pork floss with whipped buttery spread have comprised the holy trinity of porky breads available at Chinese bakeries in Queens. I’m happy to report the existence of a fourth: bacon bread. Yes you read that right, bacon bread. My admittedly unscientific survey of Chinese bakeries in Queens reveals that this marvel is available at only one shop, New Fully Bakery in Elmhurst.
A peek inside the burnished brown stromboli like wedge coated in sesame seeds reveals a spiral of American bacon interspersed with its Chinese cousin, pork sung. The fluffy slightly sweet bread has a nice salty kick from the bacon and filaments of pork floss. Along with a cup of sweet instant Malaysian coffee it makes for a decadent breakfast. New Fully’s meaty spiral is the savory answer to the over top chocolate croissant from Andre’s Hungarian Bakery. Not a bad deal at all for $1.60.
Incidentally, the Chinese name péigēn miànbāo means quite literally “bacon bread.” If the first word sounds like a transliteration that’s because it is. I suppose it is a good thing that the bakery is a few subway stops away from my house. If I could get away with it, I’d eat this bread for breakfast every day. Then again I could always buy an entire loaf . . .
When it comes to chicken the star of the show at Little House Cafe is surely the jia li mian bao ji, a gargantuan golden brown bun filled with curried chicken. That said, it may have just been eclipsed by a dish that made its debut today, chicken rendang. I learned about it while looking at the restaurant’s Instagram page, which called it dry curry chicken with biryani rice.
I’ve eaten my fair share of both Malaysian and Indonesian beef rendang, a soul warming curry, but had never heard of a chicken version so when I saw the photo of a sunny mound of rice accompanied by a generous portion of curry coated poultry, I knew what was for lunch. (more…)
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…)