Pikine

Instagram Post 6/19/2018

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Pikine, a West African restaurant at 243 West 116th St in Manhattan is definitely worth a visit, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with Senegalese food. Portions are large (suitable for two, I’d say) but be forewarned that oftentimes many dishes are unavailable, sometimes because they’re served only on certain days of the week (typical for many African restaurants) but sometimes just because the kitchen reports that they’re out.

We ordered Senegal’s national dish, Thiebou Djeun – spellings vary widely but pronunciation is close to Cheh-boo Jen – and to call it rice and fish is an understatement even though the words translate as rice and fish. It’s made from “broken rice” (easily found at nearby African markets) and if you look closely you’ll see its short grains, but it begins its life as standard untruncated rice that breaks in the field or during processing or milling; the shards are sorted by size and are highly desirable since they cook faster and absorb flavors more readily than whole grains. The rice, combined with chopped onion and garlic, is cooked with tomato paste that lends its deep red color and rich flavor, plus okra, carrots, cabbage (your vegetables may vary) and perfectly seasoned fish.

Our second dish was Maffe (often spelled Mafé), lamb stew with vegetables in a tomato/peanut butter sauce, another Senegalese classic that’s not to be missed.
 
 

Lucky Pickle Dumpling Co.

Instagram Post 6/18/2018

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Yes, Lucky Pickle Dumpling Co. at 513 Amsterdam Ave in Manhattan has dumplings and noodles too, but the attraction for us was the soft serve ice cream available in two flavors, matcha and pickle; of course we went for the pickle since that’s their claim to fame. Perusing my mental catalog of pickle families, I was hard pressed at first to identify its tribe other than cucumber-based. Sour pickle? Not even close. Kosher dill? Nope, no garlic (thank goodness). Then I finally hit upon it: bread and butter pickles! The sweetest in the clan and always welcome at the table. I mean, how else could you get down to the bottom of that cup and not wonder if it would have made a good sundae with a little pastrami topping?

(Remember when a craving for pickles and ice cream was considered a litmus test for pregnancy?)
 
 

Chao Thai

Instagram Post 6/16/2018

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The venerable Chao Thai at 85-03 Whitney Ave, Elmhurst, Queens had always been a standard bearer for Isan (Northeastern) Thai food; since I hadn’t visited in years, I was overdue for a refresher. It’s still good, but there is a lot of competition in that category now, not to mention the burgeoning popularity of Northern and Central Thai cuisines.

This whiteboard special caught my eye so I gave it a try. Called Northern Style Green Chili Dip, it would make a worthy addition to their regular menu. Surrounded by an assortment of fresh vegetables including cucumber, broccoli, long beans, carrots, cauliflower and (happily) Thai eggplant in addition to sweet potato and crispy crackly pork rinds, the zesty, dominant dip was a perfect partner to the gentle, submissive accompaniments.

More posts with more dishes to follow.
 
 

Hong Kong Taste

Instagram Post 6/15/2018

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Hong Kong Taste, 47-21 90th Street at the corner of Corona Ave in Elmhurst, Queens, brings a bright, airy, youthful feel to cha chaan teng (tea restaurant) dining. There are three things I particularly love about this place. First, the vast and incredibly well organized menu of delicious, authentic Hong Kong specialties featuring everything from congee to dumplings to fried popcorn chicken along with an abundance of soups and rice and noodle dishes, not to mention milk teas and the like.

Second, and perhaps their claim to fame, is their Cart Noodles 🍜. It’s a mix and match bonanza where you get to choose your noodle from among nine styles (thin, thick, wheat, rice, egg, etc.) and then top it off with your choice of 26 add-ons including curry fish ball, chicken wing, pork hock, fried wonton, radish, fried egg and lots more. Here’s a bowl loaded with Hong Kong style thick noodles plus beef tendon ball, beef brisket, radish, and beef omasum (aka book tripe).

Which brings me to my third favorite aspect of Hong Kong Taste. Every table is provided with a sea of condiments, of course, but two are not to be missed: their homemade curry sauce and garlic sauce. These were truly remarkable. And sure enough, when I looked closely at their menu later that day, I saw that they sell them by the quart to take home. Guess I have to go back!
 
 

Bake Culture

Instagram Post 6/14/2018

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As I continue to update my Manhattan Chinatown ethnojunket, I find that there’s always a new bakery that has popped up, and although they sell many similar items, there are often a few surprises. Bake Culture at 48 Bowery has a branch in Flushing and its roots in Taiwan and presents a clean, sleek image to its millennial customers. The brainchild of three Taiwanese boy band members, they offer items that are touched with whimsy like Seashell Bread, Chocoholic Bread, Hot Dog Bunnies, and this Chocolate Dipped Coconut Sheep Bread. It’s actually not bad; chocolate dipped horns and candy eyes with a tasty version of that eggy yellow coconut filling that you’ve probably sampled before.

Photo #2 – To reacquaint yourself with the filling.

Photo #3 – They simply call this one German Pudding, a common name in Singapore for this kind of custard tart; it sports a crust that’s a bit more sturdy and flavorful than a standard Chinatown dan tat and a filling that’s a little lighter and less dense than others I’ve tried around these parts. Good stuff!

(I guess this is how these former musicians are making their bread these days! 😉)
 
 

Al-Mazaq Restaurant and Bakery

Instagram Post 6/13/2018

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An Iraqi (🇮🇶 – not often do I get to use that flag!) meal at Al-Mazaq Restaurant and Bakery at 46 East Railway Ave in Paterson, NJ turned out to be a novel experience. Al-Mazaq (المذاق) is the Arabic word for taste and I assuredly tasted some flavors I hadn’t come across before. A family operated business, our food was appropriately homespun and humble, elevated by the charming assistance of sisters Riyam and Hiyam.

[1] From the breakfast side of the menu, we ordered the Bagila Platter, seasoned broad beans (bagila) with eggs served over a foundation of Iraqi bread, languishing there to soak up every bit of flavor. But what was that vaguely familiar but elusive dusty seasoning?

[2] The mystery close up. Many questions and a lot of research later yielded the answer: البطنج – butnij, or crushed, dried river mint, a first for me.

[3] Next up were gaymar, a homemade fresh cheese supplemented with clotted cream and “black honey”, [4] and its accompanying kahi, squares of syrupy bread; dishes that when consumed together were elegant in their simplicity but ambrosial in their lusciousness. I found a similar cheese in a nearby market and intent upon reproducing this delicacy at home, tried numerous permutations of honey, pomegranate molasses, and date molasses along with clotted cream and heavy cream. Alas, I never even got close.

h/t Dave Cook, @eatingintranslation and by extension, Peter Cucè, @baoandbutterblog
 
 

Qada

Instagram Post 6/11/2018

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Somewhere between a cookie and a pastry, Qada, one of my favorite treats, is always rewarding, especially with a cup of tea. This one came from Georgian Deli & Bakery, 2270 86th Street in Gravesend near the border of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where they execute a particularly appealing version of this Georgian delight.

Qada (pronounce the Q like a K but in the back of your throat – uvular as opposed to velar for you linguistics aficionados) can be found in two forms, savory or sweet like this one with raisins. The dough is cut, rolled, and glazed with a shiny egg wash then baked to GBD* perfection. Dense, soft, a little crumbly, sweet but not cloying, buttery but not unctuous, it was the perfect culmination of that day’s quest for something to satisfy my sweet tooth.

Second photo: what it looked like during the few seconds after I bought it and before I cut into it.

*Golden Brown and Delicious
 
 

46 Mott Street

Instagram Post 6/10/2018

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46 Mott Street. That was the only name. A holdover, perhaps, from Manhattan Chinatown’s early days when businesses were sometimes referred to only by their addresses? I thought the venue looked familiar, but I didn’t recall that name. Then I remembered the former occupant of that space, Fong Inn Too, the oldest and much beloved independently-run tofu shop in the US as well as the controversy surrounding its space, the particulars of which I won’t detail here, except to say that I fondly remember the warm douhua (tofu pudding) they scooped from huge bins.

A message hand-sketched in streaky yellow paint (see photo 3) graced the new proprietors’ window: “Welcome to 46 store” so I decided to check it out. They still feature soy milk and tofu products, steamed sweet and savory cakes, as well as some other prepared items like these two: (photo 1) Representing the sweet division, thick, chewy glutinous rice dumplings filled with chopped peanuts and coconut, and for the savory side (photo 2) crispy fried fish skins with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce. Betcha can’t eat just one!
 
 

Golden Pillow

Instagram Post 6/9/2018

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If having fun with food is for kids, then set your inner child free on this one:

Here is the bread,

Sliced without worry.

Open the doors

And see all the curry!

Curry Chicken with Potatoes, that is. This is the mammoth curry chicken bun, identified as Golden Pillow on the menu, that you may have heard about and it’s as tasty as it is fun; remember that you need to order it a day in advance. (Note: we removed the curry chicken from the plastic and foil cooking pouch for the final photo; it made for easier dipping!) Little House Café at 90-19 Corona Ave in Elmhurst, Queens is an Asian fusion venue with a few tables and a delicious way with Malaysian food; I’ve raved about their Curry Mee with Young Tao Fu as well as their colorful multi-layered taro cake previously. When you go, don’t neglect their great baked goods and desserts to round out your meal or to take home for a midnight snack.
 
 

Hom Sui Gok

Instagram Post 6/6/2018

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A favorite dim sum treat that always touches my heart is Hom Sui Gok (咸水角). These crescent shaped fried dumplings are savory and sweet, chewy and crispy all in the same bite. Shaped a little like a three-inch football with turned up corners, this delicious filled dumpling is easy to find in many Chinese bakeries and restaurants.

Recipes vary, but the filling is primarily pork, sometimes with the addition of dried shrimp, plus mushrooms and scallion (savory) that have been cooked in a sweet soy sauce/oyster sauce based medium (sweet). The thick dough is mostly glutinous rice flour (chewy), similar to Japanese mochi. The dumplings are deep fried to golden brown perfection (crispy) on the outside while still leaving plenty of chew surrounding the salty sweet goodness within.

Shown here are samples from four of Manhattan Chinatown’s bakeries.

Second Photo: If you do what I did and head to a number of venues in an attempt to discover your favorite, you too might decide that there is no “best”, just different: one is sweeter, one crisper, another more fully stuffed, another (the pinkish one) redolent of dried shrimp – each with its own flavor profile.

The cool part is that I’m not alone in my passion: there’s actually a #homsuigok hashtag! 🇨🇳