Queens boasts at least half a dozen momo vendors—ranging in size from carts barely big enough to house a cook to food trucks with full kitchens—specializing in the juicy dumplings popular throughout the Himalayas and India. The lion’s share are located in Jackson Heights, many are excellent, some are merely passable, but there is none quite as good as Basantapur Chowk.
The cart, which opened about a month ago, is located in Woodside outside Thamel NYC, New York City’s only Nepali nightclub, named for a popular hippie destination in Kathmandu. With a gigantic head of Lord Bhairav, the destroyer avatar of Shiva revered by Nepal’s Newari people, towering over the bar and Nepali rock bands nightly, there’s no place quite like it. And really, there are no momo quite like Basantapur’s.
The crescent-shaped momos subtle wrappers enfold beef spiced with a Newari style masala. “Dude is that jhol?” I asked Yogendra Limbu, one of Thamel’s partners. “Yes,” he responded, advising me to pour it over the dumplings. These were not my first jhol momo by a long shot, but they were definitely the first ones I have ever had from a street cart. I’m fairly certain they’re the only jhol momo being served from a cart in Queens. Fried momo, little golden orbs filled with chicken were also excellent. The crunchy little dumplings went well with the jhol too. Both types of momo were also came with a little cup of Nepali hot sauce and another of crushed fried chilies.
In true New York City street food fashion the cart, which is named for Kathmandu’s Basantapur Darbur—a magnificent nine-story pagoda style palace built in 1779—also offers hot dogs. Sadly they were out of the wieners, which come topped with a Nepali style cole slaw spiked with green chilies. The neighborhood surrounding the Basantapur Darbur, it should be noted, is known for Nepali street food, and now Woodside is too.
Nigel “Moon Man” Sielegar is a pretty busy guy. In addition to running the Moon Man Indonesian desert stand at the Queens Night Market, and helming the award-winning Corse Design Factory, he teaches at SVA, and still finds time to eat his way across Queens. Be sure to stop by to say “‘Hello, Moon Man’ this Saturday night!” I’m not quite sure where he found the time to answer Seven Questions, but I’m glad he did!
1. Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in Queens?
I’m originally from Surabaya (for those who don’t know, it’s the second largest city in Indonesia). I moved to United States when I was 18 for college. I lived in Chicago for a good 5.5 years before I moved to New York in 2007. I’ve been living in Queens ever since and I love it here.
2. What do you like most about the neighborhood you live in?
To me personally, Queens (or in my case, the border of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst) is the model of a perfect neighborhood. The diversity of people is unbeatable, within the same block you can hear multitude of languages being spoken by passerby. Race, religion, and skin color don’t matter much. Everyone respects each other’s culture and embrace the myriads of differences. There’s a system of coexistence that you just can’t find in other places.
As it is true everywhere else in the world, when the culture is rich, the food is rich. The choices and quality of food in this neighborhood is incredible, and you can find anything from down to earth dumplings and kebab carts, humble family restaurants, all the way to fancy steakhouses all within walking distance. You can’t find this anywhere else in New York. (more…)
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…)