02/11/14 11:03am

DIY Thai takeout via Elmhurst.


On weekend mornings the counter at Sugar Club, a Thai grocer/video store, is lined with dozens of containers of prepared foods. Many of these come in the form of a kit to be assembled at home. Last weekend kao krup kapi ($7) caught my eye. Onions, sliced raw green beans, and Thai chilies occupied one side of the container. Slivers of unripened mango and a tangle of sliced omelet and dried shrimp filled the other quadrant. Reddish rice and a baggie of sweet pork formed the base. I could hardly wait to assemble this DIY Thai takeout. (more…)

01/08/14 10:22am

It’s offally delicious!

Almost every ethnic group residing in the multicultural culinary wonderland of Queens has its own take on tripe. From sheets of omosa floating in Vietnamese pho to fiery Sichuan fu qi fei pian to Filipino goto, I love them all. The other night I found myself in Himalayan Heights and decided to have a plate of dhopa khatsa, a spicy Tibetan preparation.

When the dude at Namaste Tashi Delek Momo Dumpling Palace, a spot that serves food from Nepal and Bhutan as well as Tibet, brought over the steaming tangle of guts flecked with red pepper I dug in with gusto. As my palate warmed and my brain thawed out, inspiration struck. “Can I have a tingmo?” I asked. When he brought over the steamed white bun, I proceeded to cut it in half and assemble the first ever Tibetan tripe sandwich in New York City. It was a nice idea, but after the first bite or two the bun gave weigh under its offal-laden freight. The pillowy tingmo ($1) made for  a good textural contrast to the chewy ribbons of dhopa khatsa ($6). And the swatches of dough were great to swipe through the fiery sauce.

Namaste Tashi Delek Momo Dumpling Palace,, 37-67 74th St., Jackson Heights, 646-203-9938

10/07/13 12:30pm

Like a Big Mac, but much spicier and much, much more kosher.

The last time I ate a kosher burger was more than five years ago. It was such a disappointment I’ve given  little or no thought to repeating the experience. That is until I came across Burgers Plus out on Union Turnpike in the part of Flushing locals call Hillcrest. Still dubious I asked my pal Meir—my go-to guy for Israeli grub—about it. “It’s really good,” he enthused. “We should have lunch there.”

The menu at Burgers Plus lists four burgers, including a 220-gram lamb number ($10.95) that the grill man said was his favorite. In 2013 Burgers Plus seems to be the only the burger joint that has caught onto the metric system.  I followed Meir’s lead and ordered the 150 gram (5.2911-oz.) house spicy beef burger ($7.95). The burger is also available in a non-spicy version, given the option I always choose spicy. (more…)

07/18/13 11:55am
There's no need to add extra hot sauce.

There’s no need to add extra hot sauce.


Yesterday the high temperature in Monrovia, Liberia was 83. Queens was substantially hotter than West Africa,  the mercury hit 97. And the heat from the pepper shrimp ($12) at Maima’s Liberian Bistro was at the same constant lip-blazing level it always is, approximately Fahrenheit 451. Maima’s is my type of place. The city’s only Liberian eatery is presided over the grandmotherly Maima. Many of the restaurant’s patrons call her mama. (more…)

07/01/13 10:28am
Bhutta (Spicy Grilled Corn on the Cob). Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

The food vendors at Mumbai’s Juhu Beach could teach the world a thing or two about corn on the cob.

Grilled over coals until the sweet kernels are nicely blackened and then rubbed with lime juice and a potent mixture of spices, corn on the cob (bhutta in Hindi) is a popular street food in India. It’s an irresistible combination of sweet, tangy, smoky, and salty-spicy flavors. (We love you, elotes, but bhutta is better!)

Like most New Yorkers, I have neither a grill—nor a place to cook outside. (Fire on a fire escape, anyone?) Instead, I grill corn on the cob over the gas range in my kitchen. (more…)

02/26/13 2:02pm
Japanese shishito peppers, mellow by any true chili-heads standards.

Japanese shishito peppers, mellow by any true chili-head’s standards.

As the old Power Station hit goes, “Some like it hot and some sweat when the heat is on/Some feel the heat and decide that they can’t go on,” I fall squarely in the chili-head camp, gleefully slathering Israeli schug on shawarma and perking up ceviche with Peruvian aji verde. Iindulge in fiery fare from Sichuan to Liberia and points in between. Sometimes, though, I can’t stand the heat. Take Thai spicy, please, as in, “Take it away.” After one too many experiences with the sensation of receiving a tongue tattoo with a hot needle I have given up ordering food “Thai spicy.”

In the past when I have ordered a dish “Thai spicy” the server usually approaches, filling my water glass and asks, “Too spicy? Are you okay, sir?” “Oh, no this is good,” I’d gamely respond eyes tearing, nose running, and lips burning as I tried to power through an incendiary meal. It’s been about two years since I’ve uttered the words, “Thai spicy.” Thankfully I can always adjust the spice level of Thai dishes by adding pickled chilies or dry roasted chili powder from the condiment caddy that graces the table.

Here’s what I’d like to know: What’s the spiciest thing you’ve ever eaten? Where do you draw the line? And when you’ve crossed it, how do you cool down? Tell me in the comments or hit me on the Twitter, @JoeDiStefano.

01/28/13 12:00am

In about two weeks it will be Chinese New Year, specifically the Year of the Snake. Around C+M headquarters I have taken to calling it the Year of The Snack. It’s with great pleasure that I introduce a new column, Midnight Snack. Sometimes I think that I eat meals between snacks, instead of avoiding between-meal snacks as I was told to do in grade school. Often these treats fall into the category of irrestible international junk food. That’s certainly the case with today’s entry, Kurkure. Think of it as India’s answer to Cheetos. I think Frito-Lay may have discontinued the Kurkure Extreme flavor. Not to worry, the flavors that are available—Masala Munch, Chilli Chatka, and Hyderabadi Hungama—with ingredients like ginger powder, black salt, and chili powder are plenty extreme,with a great crunch and serious heat level.  I score mine at Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights, Queens,  but you can find the this unique Midnight Snack at any decent-sized Indian grocer.

 Patel Brothers, 37-27 74th St., Jackson Heights, 718-898-3445

01/17/13 11:12am

Legions of Gastronauts stormed Sik Gaek for a seafood feast.

When it comes to dining out I’m not one for the communal table, I prefer to dine in small groups, or alone an eating army of one if you will. And as far as eating clubs go I take the Groucho Marx approach.  That said I make an exception for The Gastronauts. The club for adventurous eaters was started by Curtiss Calleo and Ben Pauker over a Malaysian meal seven years ago and the ranks have swelled to 1,300 folks eager to try everything from goat’s eyes to horse meat. As I mentioned I have no need to be in a club to be an adventurous eater. An affinity for the nasty, squirmy, and often spicy bits is an integral part of my genetic makeup. And it doesn’t get any squirmier and spicier than the seafood feast some 50 Gastronauts gathered at Sik Gaek in Woodside on Tuesday night to enjoy. That’s because one of the eight courses was san nakji, or live octopus.

For whatever reason a meal at the soju-drenched Sik Gaek always begins with eggs cooked over a table top grill. This was followed by a grilled mackerel whose skin was so crisp it tasted like it had begun to confit in its own Omega-3 rich fat. Then came the live octopus. Truth be told it was some of the sleepiest live octopus I have ever encountered.

Surely this must be the Octopus’ Garden that Ringo Starr sang about.

Surely this must be the Octopus’ Garden that Ringo Starr sang about.

Octopus and lobster, both still very much alive, were the centerpiece of the next course, a Korean bouillabaisse of sorts. Clams, abalone, mussels, baby octopi, prawns,shrimp, calamari, and plenty of veggies bubbled away in a spicy broth. The steam that billowed forth was like spicy seafood aromatherapy. And the broth was quite simply one of the best seafood soups I have ever had. Once the lobster was cooked our waiter came over and cracked it open, and we all greedily dredged the pan for the precious flesh.


01/15/13 10:39am
Hly's version. XXXXXXXX

Hly’s fu qi fei pian is quite the harmonious marriage of offal.


With its ribbons of tongue and tripe slicked with chili oil and romantic back story, fu qi fei pian is one of the most intriguing and delicious cold Sichuan dishes out there. I honestly forget whether I read it in one of her books or whether she told me on a visit to Golden Shopping Mall, but Fuchsia Dunlop says it gets its name, “husband and wife offal slices” from an especially happy couple who created the dish many years ago in Sichuan.

It is commonly listed on menus as ox tongue and tripe in pepper sauce, perhaps to avoid tasteless jokes about cannibalism. There are almost as many versions of this dish in Flushing’s Chinatown as there are Chinese restaurants. The one that makes me happiest these days can be found at at Hly, a newish spot on the southern end of Main Street. Strewn with peanuts and bits of greenery it is plenty spicy but not ridiculously so. Consider it a more refined take on a Chengdu street food classic. Or perhaps an offal lover’s version of the American Chinese stir fry, Happy Family.

Hly Chinese Cuisine, 43-23 Main St., Flushing, 718-353-0278