Behold: Elmhurst’s most elusive Malaysian layer cake.
A few weeks ago on the Voyages of Tim Vetter podcast I posited Instagram has replaced Chowhound, particularly when it comes to hyperlocal culinary exploration. Case in point, Little House Cafe. Had I not been seen my dear friends Food & Footprints posting about this Elmhurst bakery/cafe I’d never have known about its giant Singaporean style chicken curry bun and top-notch char kway teow. Nor would I have ever tried the elusive and epic taro pudding cake.
My friends and I first spotted the multilayer creation lined up in the pastry case and didn’t have the appetite for it because we’d just dispatched the aforementioned giant curry chicken bun along with several pieces of Malaysian brown sugar sponge cake and other goodies. When it was described as layers of coffee jelly, pudding, taro cake, and sponge cake we were all quite curious. (more…)
My usual routine for Songkhran, or Thai New Year, involves a visit to Elmhurst’s home of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Buddha Thai Thavorn Vanaram to partake of the food and festivities. Unlike in years past the weather was quite chilly, making for less than optimal conditions for a holiday that involves plenty of water splashing.
So instead of visiting the Emerald Buddha to ring in the year 2561, I partook of some Thai rubies. Not actual rubies mind you, but rather the Thai dessert called thabthim krub, which translates to crunchy rubies. I’d just polished off three bowls of boat noodle soup at Pata Paplean, when my dear friend Cherry, the cook and ringleader of the weekend noodle popup, dropped a half quart container on my table with the gruff affection she reserves for those she truly cares about. I poured the contents of the container—rubies, emeralds, jackfruit, young coconut, and coconut milk stained red from sala syrup—into a bowl.
The sweet, cold dessert soup was quite refreshing after a few rounds of of spicy noodles. The red and green jewels consist of bits of crunchy water chestnuts encased in tapioca. Even though it was freezing outside it warmed my heart and soul to eat this dessert made by one of the older ladies in the Thai community. Best of all its available every weekend, although I did feel especially blessed to be eating on the day of the neighborhood’s Songkhran celebration. Here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2561.
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…)
Khao Nom, the sweeter little sister of wildly popular Thai steam table specialist Khao Kang opened about a month ago with the promise of old school Thai desserts and a short menu of savory items, my favorite being the sticky sweet and spicy chan noodles with prawns. Until recently though, none of the desserts has knocked my socks off. Sure they were good, but nothing revelatory. Dessert epiphany finally dawned the other week when I spied a tiny cake with a golden top and a spongy bottom sandwiching a layer of creamy spheres. (more…)
Elmhurst’s Little Bangkok is the gift that keeps on giving. Khao Nom is the latest entrant in the nexus of deliciousness that radiates outward from the junction of Woodside Avenue and Broadway. When I say latest I mean very latest, as in they opened last Thursday. Food critics normally stay away from a place for several weeks before spilling ink, thankfully as a food writer I have no such constraints. When I first heard about Khao Nom—whose name means dessert—I was told that its mainstay would be old-fashioned Thai dessert. So when I visited on opening day I was surprised to find a six-item menu of savories, including something called chan noodle ($11). It’s a generous tangle of chewy flat rice noodles known as sen chan, flavored with chili and tamarind and surmounted by two huge prawns. It comes with a back story too. My pal Joel, a go-to source for all things related to Thai food culture tells me it’s a forerunner of pad thai that dates back to the time when Siam became Thailand and there was a rice shortage. Prime minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram encouraged the eating of noodles and set up a contest. The story goes that the winner of the contest was sen chan (chan noodles) named after the town Chantaburi.(more…)
As any one who’s talked to me for than five minutes about food in Queens knows, I’m a firm believer that the best Thai food in New York City can be had in Elmhurst. In fact I love the Little Bangkok that runs along Broadway between Whitney and Woodside Avenues so much that it’s the star of one of my food tours. So this month the boys at Queens Dinner Club and I are offering Big Taste of Little Bangkok, on June 22 at 7:30 p.m. at our new home in Kaufmann Astoria Studios. Tickets are $40 and may be purchased here.
The evening’s menu will include some of our favorite dishes from local hot spots Dek Sen, Eim Khao Mun Gai, Pata Paplean and Sugar Club. Dek Sen will be preparing tom yam, the classic Thai papaya salad, and moo ping Brooklyn, savory pork skewers. In case you’re wondering the name comes not from an affinity with the County of Kings, but rather the niece of one of the owners who’s named Brooklyn. As is traditional, both will be served with plenty of sticky rice. (more…)
By my calendar there are only five days left until the start of spring. Winter’s reasserted itself in what some New Yorkers, myself included, deem a rather weak blizzard. Nevertheless there’s plenty of snow on the ground, which means two things: one, tromping around the park, something I’ve been doing for years; and two, making homemade maple taffy/snowcones, something I tried for the first time this past Sunday. (more…)
Last time I checked Rice Krispies weren’t part of the traditional Thai pantry. That doesn’t prevent me from thinking of khao taen—crispy disks of fried rice drizzled with cane sugar caramel—as Thai Rice Krispy treats. They’re a common street food in Thailand. Here in Queens, I found them at Sugar Club.
They’re made with sticky rice as I learned from reading a recipe over at She Simmers Thai Cooking. Truth be told they’re way crunchier than Rice Krispy treats and eminently craveable. I usually buy a box for dessert with Thai coffee after chicken and rice soup at Eim Khao Mun Kai. I always promise myself that I’ll eat only one or two pieces—four at most—but wind up polishing off the whole lot.
Once upon a time there were many places in downtown Flushing to get a slice of pizza, notably Gloria Pizza and Lucia Pizza. The former is long gone and the latter soldiers on in a space flanked by a Chinese food court and a Korean skin care emporium. And then there was T.J.’s, which served a mean kimchi slice. These days it’s easier to find a spiky durian fruit than old school New York City pizza. Enter C Fruit Life, a new Hong Kong style dessert cafe serving “Golden Pillow Durian Pizza,” a decidedly modern fusion pie.
Is jin zheng tou liu lien pi za as it’s known in Mandarin Chinese the strangest pizza I’ve had in Queens? (Yes, the pinyin for pizza is pi za.) Hard to say, after all the borough boasts both bulgogi and falafel pies. It’s certainly one of the stranger uses of the pungent durian fruit I’ve come across. For the record I happen to like durian and think it has a bad rep. (more…)
When it comes to Chinese frozen desserts I’m half traditionalist/half adventurous. Shaved ice gets a resounding yes—whether the granular form or the fluffy one that’s been showing up at spots like Snow Days. Ice rice, which my pal Tyson Ho of Arrogant Swine said seemed disgusting also get the nod. Novelties like the ubiquitous rolled ice cream are simply that, good for Instagram hits and little else. (more…)