Last Tuesday I was on my way back from my weekly foray to Warung Selasa when I noticed a smiling Chinese man waving to me outside Broadway Food Mart. For a moment I didn’t recognize him. Then I realized it was Soybean Chen, the cheery face behind Flushing’s only spot for fresh creamy dou hua—silken tofu—and fresh flowers. The creamy, comforting pudding like tofu has long a staple of my food tours. I was curious what brought Uncle Chen to Elmhurst.
Soon he and his son Jimmy told me that they were opening a tofu stand in Queens’ second smaller Chinatown. Just like the original Flushing location, Soybean Chen’s Elmhurst satellite offers sweet ginger syrup and Chen’s spicy topping of pickled veggies, baby shrimp, and chili. It’s also added a few new toppings, including boba in ginger syrup, which I tried the other day.
I’m so glad that Uncle Chen’s tofu is now a mere 10-minute walk from my apartment. It’s sure to become part of my breakfast rotation as well as my Elmhurst food tours. By the way I have started giving tours to small groups once again. Please click here for more details.
One of my favorite things to do after leading a Chinatown food tour on a steamy summer’s day is to walk westward down Roosevelt Avenue and cool off by sampling frosty treats from various cultures. My first stop is the Dominican shaved ice at 98th Street and Roosevelt Avenue known as El Bohio. The bodega that the place takes it name from is long gone, but the frio frio man along with his gigantic block of crystal clear ice and his multihued syrups remain.
Leading culinary excursions through Flushing, Queens, is often hungry work, so I like to reward myself with a post food tour treat, sometimes sweet and sometimes savory. Last Sunday, I shepherded a largish group of 10 folks through the bustling streets of America’s Greatest Chinatown and found myself hankering for something substantial afterwards. Which is how I wound up at the neighborhood’s newest fried chicken purveyor: Bone Man.
Despite the joint’s name I opted for boneless nuggets instead of the bone-in options, including regular old wings, chicken wing roots (wing tips), and chicken middle wings. I didn’t ask whether the folks behind the bird here are Taiwanese, but Bone Man distinguishes itself from most of the hood’s yen su ji joints by making a bird with a craggier, crunchier crust. The juicy chunks were sprinkled with red pepper and an aromatic spice mix that I’m pretty sure was just five spice, salt, and MSG. (more…)
The Thai desserts at Elmhurst’s Khao Nom are so good that there’s a bit of a running joke between the ladies at the counter and me that all I eat is sweets. Truth be told, my Southeast Asian Elmhurst food tour usually ends there with dessert, but every now and then I find myself at Khao Nom alone craving something savory.
Such was the case last week when I tried the shrimp paste fried rice (khao klup kapi) with sweet garlic pork. The mound of rice—stained brownish-red from being fried with the funky kapi—was topped with two fried chilies and ringed with diced shallots; strips of omelet; chopped green beans; slices of fresh chili pepper; a wedge of lime; dried shrimp; cucumbers; and, of course, the bowl of sweet and garlicky stewed pork.
This DIY fried rice is one of my favorite ways to eat. Mix it all up and as little or as much of the dried peppers—in my case both—to the lot. The combination of sweet pork and shrimp infused rice shot through with veggies and burst of spice and the crunchy brine bombs of baby shrimp is particularly restorative on a hot summer’s day. Plus it comes with a sidecar of broth. Not a bad deal for $10.
Downtown Flushing’s Chinese nougat man plying his wares on a hot summer’s day.
I can count the number of times I’ve added unknown foods to my Queens culinary walking tours on the fingers of one hand. This reticence to try new things with guests stems not from a lack of adventure, but rather the “all killer no filler” approach I take to the foods I showcase on the tour. Most of the time, unknown quantities prove to be severely lacking, but every now and then I come across a gem. Such a diamond in the rough appeared in the form of a streetside sweet on yesterday’s Flushing Chinatown food tour.
My guests and I were en route to the subterranean Golden Shopping Mall food court when I spied a Chinese gentleman with a streetside stand with a bunch of other Chinese folks surrounding him. I peeked over their shoulders, to see what I first thought was dragon beard candy because of the clouds of confectioners sugar, then I realized it was giant spiral of stretchy, sweet nougat. For a buck a pop the gent, who turns about to be from Fujian Province, stretched out the elastic peanut-filled sweet and then cut a fat finger sized length off with kitchen shears. It’s pretty tasty, but truthfully I was more amazed by finding a new street food than the flavor per se.
After my guests and I said our goodbyes, I hung out for a while and watched him ply his craft.When asked him his hours he shrugged and said he didn’t know. I bought a few more pieces to give my friends at Chengdu Tian Fu. I emerged from Golden Mall on to the street and went to say goodbye to the taffy master, but he was gone.
“Wow that was quick,” I thought giving myself a healthy mental pat on the back for having tried it. As I made my way northward on Main Street who should I see but my new friend posted up underneath the Long Island Railroad Station, with a small crowd around him. He hadn’t left, but had moved on to a busier spot. My new motto is Carpe Via Cibus—Seize The Street Food—for you never know when it’s going to be gone.
All of this brings me back to the titular question of this post, what’s your favorite Queens street food these days? Let me know in the comments.
A refreshing bowl of Korean sea squirt at Murray Hill’s newest seafood spot.
Saturday was the one-year anniversary of Anthony Bourdains’ death. As is the case with many Saturdays lately, I had a food tour of downtown Flushing’s Chinatown scheduled. What I like to call America’s Greatest Chinatown remains my most popular culinary adventure. It’s a good thing I love the neighborhood and its food, although leading tours does present such challenges as navigating crowded streets and the occasional guest who arrives an hour late because they thought the tour was in Manhattan’s Chinatown. At the end of most tours I treat myself to a dessert, sometimes even a full meal.
After Saturday’s tour I was in need of something, but I wasn’t quite sure what, maybe dessert, maybe company, maybe an answer to why Bourdain and others are no longer around, so I took a long walk down Northern Boulevard.
While it’s tempting to think of samosa chaat as an Indian version of loaded nachos, it’s really its own thing as Sonny Solomon the man behind Astoria’s Kurry Qulture, told me over a cup of chai last week.
“It’s a very, very popular street food in North India, but now it’s all over India,” Solomon said. “People love it!” And it’s all over Queens too. At Raja Fast Food, always a stop on my Himalayan Heights food tour Vikh and his crew make a psychedelic supersized version consisting of several of the veggie turnovers showered with all manner of sauces and chutneys. (more…)
Behold, the mighty Tortas Chivas, CDMX’s answer to the NYC breakfast sandwich.
“They’re all pretty big,” I said to two recent guests on a World’s Fare Eating Along the 7 food tour. We were about an hour into our trek and had already enjoyed delicacies from Joe’s Steam Rice Roll and Soybean Chen and had just arrived at Tortas Neza, which specializes in comically huge Mexican sandwiches. I was doing my best to steer the two ladies toward a carnitas taco, but l knew they really wanted a sandwich.
The gargantuan 7-ingredient Tortas Puma named for the owner’s favorite Mexican soccer team was out of the question. So I scanned the roster of 20 creations, each named for a different team, and settled on the Chivas, which listed only three ingredients: huevo, quesillo, and chorizo.
As Galdino “Tortas” Neza prepared the sausage omelet on the plancha I told the guests it represented just one component of his biggest sandwich. “We can handle this one, it’ll be like a Mexican breakfast sandwich,” I said with a chuckle. (more…)
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.”
Many guests on my food tours of America’s Greatest Chinatown—aka downtown Flushing—have had soup dumplings. Xiao long bao virgins get a quick tutorial. Since the wrappers at my favorite spot in New York Food Court are super thin, I encourage people to avoid using chopsticks and gingerly pick up the package from the top with their fingers and place it on the spoon.
They may or may not choose to cool their dumpling in the accompanying black vinegar, but the next step is always the same: “Bite a tiny hole in the side like a vampire and slurp the soup out.”