“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 visit to Joe’s Sicilian Bakery during somewhat happier times.
March 19 was scarcely three weeks ago, but it feels like years because of the soul crushing COVID-19 pandemic. My friend Robbie Richter and I took a ride to Bayside to Joe’s Sicilian Bakery for St. Joseph’s Day pastries. Social distancing was in effect on the line and in the shop itself, and we observed it, though at the time it seemed like an overabundance of caution. I’ll cop to having had a cavalier attitude toward the Corona virus, including posts on social media that made light of not being able to catch it from a walk through Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
A few days ago I visited Robbie after taking a hike through Forest Hills. We maintained our distance and he even gave me a mask. At the time I scoffed, now I wonder how to wear it without fogging up my glasses.
Everybody—and everything—has come untethered. Social media teems with jokes about days blending in to each other, I call it yestermorrow. In a quest for comfort and normalcy some bake bread and some watch Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefings. Every sniffle, ache, and the slightest respiratory difficulty prompt the question: “Do I have it? Or it just my seasonal allergies and my new demanding home fitness regimen?” Friends have lost their sense of taste and smell; I pray it’s all they lose. Several times a day I huff peppermint oil to make sure my olfactory receptors still function.
Chef Binder Saini (left) and Sonny Solomon are doing their part to feed hospital workers in Queens.
March 23 was supposed to be an epic Indian feast at Sonny Solomon’s Astoria restaurant, Kurry Qulture held by Queens Dinner Club. Instead Solomon shuttered his restaurant and has been working out of a commissary kitchen with the restaurant’s Chef Binder Saini to feed health care workers at Mount Sinai Hospital in Astoria. Along with Jaime-Faye Bean, my good friend Jonathan Forgash, a co-founder of Queens Dinner Club, has launched an effort called Queens Together. It’s working to keep numerous local restaurants afloat—including Ornella Trattoria Italiana, Bund on Broadway, Sac’s Place, Dino’s, Chakra Cafe, FireFly Petit Café Bistro, Cooldown Juice, Ricas Pupusas & Mas, Tangra Asian Fusion, and The Queensboro—by giving them the opportunity to feed doctors and nurses at hospitals throughout Queens.
Feeding the ‘epicenter of the epicenter.’ Top, Fefe Ang delivering home-cooked Indonesian fare; and Michael Mignano of Farine Baking Co. providing comfort food classics.
Others are doing their part too. Josh Bowen of John Brown Smokehouse has been feeding hospital workers across New York City, including those at New York Presbyterian in Flushing and has set up a GoFundMe. Chef Michael Mignano of Farine Baking Company in Jackson Heights is working with Queens Feeds Hospitals to prepare meals for Elmhurst Hospital, where he was born.
“As Chefs, our job no matter what is to feed people and bring comfort where we can through a great meal. I would love for our health care heroes to know that we appreciate them and understand the unrealistic challenges they have to face everyday. And I hope they can take 10 minutes out of the craziness to enjoy a thoughtfully prepared meal,” Mignano says. Fefe Ang, founder of Elmhurst’s Indonesian Food Bazaar and operator of Taste of Surabaya has been feeding workers at the “epicenter of the epicenter” as well. “I’m volunteering cooking Indonesian food not for looking popularity, but for humanity and thankful to all doctors and nurses. Just please pray for us,” she wrote on Facebook.
I awaken daily wondering what’s next for me, you, and Queens. And yet there is hope, nobody seems to have told the irrepressibly peeping birds and the blossoming dogwoods and magnolias about the pandemic.
In case you are wondering Joe’s Sicilian Bakery remains open for business from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will have St. Joseph’s pastries for sale until the week after Easter. Stay safe, dear friends.