10/05/20 11:20pm

Spicy and herbaceous, a contender for Elmhurst’s best chicken feet.

Pata Market, located in the heart of Elmhurst’s Thai Town is many things to many people: a community bulletin board for those seeking apartments and jobs; a source for Thai snacks, including Lays chips; and a place to score bespoke tom yum and prepared foods.

A month ago I moved into the neighborhood and now I find myself at Pata Market more and more, which is how I found the subject of today’s post. When I saw the container marked kanom jeen nam ya pa on the counter whose ingredients included rice noodle and chicken feet, I was wondering where the noodles were, but my friend behind the counter pointed out another takeout container filled with noodles and all manner of herbs. (more…)

08/23/20 10:29pm

The newly opened Yun Café, situated beneath Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights, Queens, serves excellent Burmese fare, including tea leaf salad (left), something of a culinary ambassador, and a less commonly known seafood salad.

They don’t call the open space above the Jackson Heights subway station Diversity Plaza for nothing folks. Upstairs there’s plenty of Tibetan, Indian, and Bangladeshi food to be had, in addition to the S & R Travel Agency, which predates the plaza itself, where one can book a passage to India. For a real gastronomic journey though, head down the subway stairs to Burma. Yes, Burma! Just past the Tibetan handicraft shop, the barbers and across from Jinme & Phuntsok of NYC, which sells lucky bamboo and candy, sits the newly opened Yun Café, surely New York City’s only Burmese restaurant located in a subway station. (more…)

07/20/20 8:35am

These Korean cold noodles are one of my favorite forms of edible air conditioning!

When the dog days of summer have got me panting I seek cold noodles: chilled Japanese soba, Chinese liang pi, Chengdu liang mian, and the chillest noodles of all, Korean naeng myun.

Think of the slippery buckwheat noodles as edible air conditioning. There’s a soup version, mul naengmyeon, which consists of the greyish noodles along with chilled beef broth, often with a small glacier of beef stock; cooling fruits and veggies like sliced Korean pear and cucumber; thinly shaved beef; and a hard-boiled egg. And then there are soupless varieties like hwe naeng myun, topped with raw fish.

I’ve never had the fish version and was eager to try it at New Hae Woon Dae in Elmhurst during what seemed like day 1,024 of quarantine and day 99 of New York City’s heat wave. “We don’t make it anymore,” the server told me, so I opted for the bibim naeng myun, or mixed naeng myun.

So much chili sauce blanketed the noodles that I could barely see them. Slices of daikon, Korean pear, shaved beef, and an egg were relegated to the side of the silver bowl, as if scared of the chili drenched strands.The server used her trusty noodle shears to deftly divide the bowl in four and advised me to add hot mustard and vinegar.

New Hae Woon Dae’s bibim naeng myun comes with a cold bowl of soup on the side to add. Slippery spicy noodles, crunchy vegetables and fruit, and that little bit of meat combined for a satisfying and refreshing summer lunch.

I still can’t wait to try the seafood version though. I’d love to know about your favorite cold noodles and soups. Let me know in the comments.

New Hae Woon Dae, 75-32 Broadway, Woodside, 718-397-5834

07/17/20 11:10pm

Tamarind and chili enriched crab noodles by way of Chantaburi and Khao Nom.

Once upon a time called the late 90s there was a tiny Thai restaurant in Woodside with harsh fluorescent lighting, three tables, and a looseleaf binder of photos that served as a menu. At the time Sripraphai was my kind of joint, a place with food that expanded my mind and my gustatory horizons. Thirty years later it’s three storefronts wide and many say the food has suffered, which is to say it’s not my kind of joint anymore. That’s okay though because in the past decade Elmhurst and Woodside have exploded with all manner of regional Thai specialists, some of whom only operate on weekends. Herewith three of my favorites for you to try.

1. Sen Chan Pad Pu, Khao Nom

76-20 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, 929-208-0108
When this retro looking dessert cafe opened it featured a wonderful noodle dish from Chantaburi, sen chan, a spicy tamarind enriched forerunner of the now shopworn pad thai, which features several meaty prawns. Recently Khao Nom introduced the dish’s crabbier cousin, sen chan pad pu. It’s only available on weekends since that’s when Kukiat Chareonnan has the time to make it. It’s spicy, sweet, briny and thoroughly satisfying.

This funky, tart, and spicy papaya salad delivers flavor and electrolyte replacement.

2. Som tom pu pla ra, Pata Market
81-16 Broadway, Elmhurst, 347-935-3714
Down the road from Khao Nom at Pata Market one can procure bespoke packages of sum tom, or papaya salad. When the weather gets hot and humid my favorite version is som tom pu pla ra, which is made with salted black crab and fermented anchovy. Briny, spicy, and tart it’s like an electrolyte replacement therapy! Best of all the lady behind the giant mortar and pestle lets you taste it halfway through to adjust the flavor. It’s served with noodles, cabbage, a hard boiled egg, and sticky rice making for a nice summer meal.

3. Hor Mok, 3 Aunties Thai Market
64-04 39th Ave, Woodside, 718-606-2523
I’ve been a fan of the gals who run this adorable Thai grocery store in Woodside ever since I found out they sell the most amazing savory rice crackers studded with chili and minuscule shrimp. One Sunday I learned they also have another seafood specialty homemade hor mok pla, a fish custard flavored with red curry, coconut milk, Thai basil, and a hint of lime leaf. Not only is the version they make here delicious, it incorporates steamed cabbage and is gigantic. Best to show up around 2 or 3 o’clock since it takes them a while to cook it.

04/28/20 9:44pm

Chaikhana Sem Sorok’s lovely lagman soup.

“Is Bella Roza open?” my pal Rocky asked about two weeks ago about the Uzbek bakery/restaurant in Rego Park, where many restaurants have shut down due to COVID-19. “Pretty sure they are just closed for Passover,” I replied. Like me, Rocky’s a good—and single-minded eater—so a few days ago he messaged me that Bella Roza was open.

Samsa, plov, and lagman,” he responded when asked what he was ordering. The samsa—meat pies filled with either beef or lamb—are cooked in a tiled tandoor that sits behind the counter. Time it just right, and you can score one fresh out of the furnace.

So the other morning I strolled over to Bella Roza to mimic my pal’s order. The bakery was most definitely open, but it’s now under new ownership and has a new name: Chaikhana Sem Sorok. Other than that things looked pretty much the same, rows of samsa were arrayed in the glass case, and a giant pot of plov sat on the stove. (more…)

03/08/20 11:10am

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…)

12/27/19 4:33pm

Some local scenery, including golden gingko leaves.

As some of you may know last month I took a whirlwind trip to Japan where I visited Tokyo, Hakata, Kurume, and perhaps my favorite destination of all the charming town of Hirokawamachi in the space of four days. The trip was organized by my good friend Kazuko Nagao, the Okonomiyaki Queen of NYC, and sponsored by the local government of Hirokawamachi. I’d like to thank the the Hirokamachi Board of Tourism for their gracious hospitality and the cooking lessons!

After two days of seeing and eating as much as I could in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo it was time to head to the country, specifically Hirokawamachi. The good folks at the local tourism board specifically requested that I visit the week before Thanksgiving to partake in one of the country town’s most beloved traditions, Taibaru Icho Meguri, or gingko leaf peeping, as it was still autumn in Japan.

Since Tokyo’s on the island of Honshu and Hirokawamachi is on Kyushu we took a short flight to Fukuoka and then hopped on the Shinkansen—or bullet train—to Kurume. I was only there briefly, but it’s fair to say Kurume is to Tokyo as Oakland is to San Francisco. It’s also the gateway to Hirokawamachi and no visit is complete without checking out what Kazuko-san likes to call “Kurume Disneyland.”

 

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Rather than a full-blown amusement park, it’s a mechanical taiko drum clock erected in 1999 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of Kurume’s great figures, Tanaka Hisashige, known as “the Thomas Edison of Japan. Every hour it plays a song by a different Kurume composer and gives a little show detailing Hisashige’s contributions. At noon that song is Hachidai Nakamura’s “Sukiyaki,” made famous in the States in the 1970s by disco diva duo A Taste of Honey. (more…)

12/16/19 12:39pm

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…)

10/15/19 12:49pm

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…)

08/07/19 11:42am

Is this plate from a trattoria or a Thai joint?

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…)