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! 🇨🇳
 
 

Pinas Locas Quetzaly

Instagram Post 6/5/2018

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As summer temperatures grow more intense, so does our thirst for a cold, refreshing beverage sipped as a counteroffensive to the heat. Never satisfied with plain water (yes, I know), I am ever on the prowl for noteworthy libations. On a recent trek through Passaic, NJ, we happened upon Piñas Locas Quetzaly at 80 Broadway Avenue where my quest was more than quenched by their over 32 varieties of tropical fruit drinks. Although armed with a menu replete with vivid photographs, I was nearly stymied with indecision over offerings like Diablito, Remolino, Quetzaraspado, Japones, and Vaso Loco. All of the icy juices are literally bursting with fruit and are often kicked up with chamoy (a Mexican condiment made from tangy fruit juice and spicy chilies) or other spicy embellishments. Many, like this mango and jicama Chamarindo, come equipped with a straw encrusted with chewy chili-tamarind pulp candy (a Mexican favorite).

Second, Fresa Mango, a relatively simple (by comparison) strawberry mango refresher that did the job and then some: be forewarned that it had been our intention to merely grab a quick pick-me-up before our meal, a plan thwarted by the fact that we underestimated just how substantial those drinks would be!
 
 

Miscelanea

Instagram Post 6/4/2018

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Tucked away in the East Village and down a few steps, you’ll discover Miscelanea at 63 East 4th St; they’ve been around for about three years and here’s hoping they stay around a lot longer. A tiny market cum sandwich counter, it serves the neighborhood well with all of the cocina mexicana essentials you’d expect like mole, Oaxacan cheese, fresh nixtamal tortillas and chorizo, canned necessities like huitlacoche and flor de calabaza and bottles of Mexican soft drinks in addition to chapulinas (roasted grasshoppers), sal de gusano (mezcal worm salt) and the like. The menu boasts about eight traditional sandwiches plus snacks and appealing Mexican beverages. Here’s half of a Pollo con Mole torta (shredded chicken breast, mole sauce, crema, lettuce, queso fresco and more), pickled veggies on the side.
 
 

New Flushing Bakery

Instagram Post 6/2/2018

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Chinese Egg Custard Tarts (dan tat, 蛋挞) are ubiquitous in Chinatown, on display in just about every Chinese bakery case and riding on dim sum trolleys threading their way through restaurants at lunchtime. They found their way to China and Hong Kong decades ago by way of Portuguese pastéis de nata and English custard tarts and are available these days in a wide variety of styles: the basic (plain bright yellow surface), brûléed (Portuguese influence), egg white, coconut, green tea, even strawberry, almond, papaya, and the list goes on. Some time ago, there was a bakery on Mott Street that touted dozens of flavors; alas, they’ve since closed, but it appears that New Flushing Bakery has taken up their mantle.

Here’s a sample of their wares: clockwise from upper right, Strawberry Milk Custard, Lemon Egg Custard, Mango Egg Custard (with tapioca balls), and Purple Potato Custard.

Cutaway views reveal purple potato lurking within one and a strawberry layer at the bottom of another.

New Flushing Bakery is located at 135-45 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, Queens.
 
 

He Nan Cuisine

Instagram Post 6/1/2018

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Continuing with Henan and comfort food themes, here’s a dish from He Nan Cuisine aka He Nan Flavor, aka Henan Feng Wei, formerly connected to what is now Spicy Village on Forsyth St in Manhattan. Located in Flushing, Queens at 136-31 41st Ave, it’s easy to miss; you need to descend a few steps to access this old school super casual restaurant. No English was spoken but the menu provided adequate translations of their fare and I was fortunate that on this particular visit one of my dining pals spoke the language.

I’ve enjoyed Kou Wan previously at Elmhurst’s sadly missed Uncle Zhou. Here, there are eight variations from meat ball, ground meat, and chicken to this one, “crisp meat”, all available with or without noodles. It’s a simple, homespun dish consisting of meat that’s been floured, fried, and simmered in a sauce seasoned with star anise and a touch of black pepper. Despite its name, don’t expect a bowl of crisp meat; I suspect that these nuggets had indeed been crispy bits of pork prior to preparation but the end result is soft, succulent and delicious. With so many more promising dishes on the menu, I’m looking forward to a return visit.
 
 

Fuding Wok

Instagram Post 5/31/2018

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I had seen signs touting Fuding Meat at a number of venues in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Since I had never tried it, I was intent upon persuading my dining buddy who was already familiar with the stuff to share a bowl, so we ventured into Fuding Wok at 5216 Seventh Ave. The texture was not unlike a dumpling – not the kind of filled Chinese dumplings you’d find in this neighborhood, but rather more like the slippery, fluffy, slightly chewy pillows that float atop a dish of chicken and dumplings.
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Curious about the ingredients, I tracked down a recipe translated (I’m using that word very generously) into English in a clandestine corner of the interwebs. Fuding meat, named for a county-level city in northeastern China, is composed of pork (cut from the hind leg), pork fat, potato starch plus either cassava starch, wheat starch, or corn starch and a touch of seasoning, emulsified, extruded, sliced, steamed and finally served up in soup. (Don’t try this at home, kids.)
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At least eight condiments including my personal favorite, Laoganma Spicy Chili Crisp, graced each table and provided a playground of flavor combinations to enhance our soup.
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Here’s the aforementioned sign that provides the key to tracking down fuding meat at that location and apparently at other comparable outposts. Since I’m a sucker for comfort food, this handily filled the bill. Best enjoyed on a dreary, rainy day, but don’t let good weather stop you!
 
 

Macaroons and Macarons: So Close and Yet So Far

The following post is presented as a public service. 😉

There seems to be some confusion regarding these two very dissimilar cookies with very similar names, but oh, what a difference an O makes. Let’s get the pronunciations out of the way first: macaroon rhymes with “black balloon” and if you honk the final syllable of macaron through your nez, you’ll nail the proper French pronunciation of that one.

Were the two cookies once a single biscuit that bifurcated due to some culinary tectonic shift? In search of the proto-macaroon, I consulted my copy of Larousse Gastronomique. There was a macaroon (their spelling) based on almond meal that has been made in a French monastery in Cormery since 791 (no, that’s not a typo) that’s not too different from one half of today’s macaron. I say half because the definition of a French macaron is that it comprises two almond flour cookies joined back to back by a sticky filling like jam or ganache. The seemingly infinite variety of flavors (more about that later) derives from the filling alone, and the coloring is just that: coloring. In my experience, they require the patience of a saint (or perhaps a monk) to produce competently.

Macaroons, in contrast, are quintessentially American; a mounded cookie consisting of shredded coconut, sugar, egg whites and sometimes sweetened condensed milk that in its rudimentary form is so uncomplicated as to make it a good candidate for a child’s first baking experience.

Etymologically, the word “macaron” makes a brief appearance in the writing of Rabelais in 1552. It stems from the Italian word “maccherone” meaning a “fine paste” (consider how the combined ingredients appear before baking) and yes, the word macaroni shares the same root (consider pasta/paste while you’re at it). Subsequently, it shows up in an English language recipe from 1611 that spells it “macaroon” and identifies the word as having been derived from the French “macaron”. So the words diverge centuries before the cookies do and the conflation conflagration begins.

The Renaissance version of the cookie itself was pretty well defined as a “small, round cookie, crunchy outside and soft inside, made with ground almonds, sugar and beaten egg whites” folded together, essentially what we think of as Italian amaretti. And so these macarons/macaroons prevailed for many years – there’s a recipe in Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery – until just before the 20th century when two events occurred that altered the course of cookie history.

At that time, coconut palms were introduced to and cultivated in Florida and their fruit became the darling of the American kitchen. In 1871, Esther Levy published the first Jewish cookbook; it featured a recipe for macaroons in which grated coconut replaced the traditional almond flour. Because the dietary restrictions of the Jewish holiday Passover prohibit the consumption of leavened baked goods, coconut macaroons handily filled the dessert bill and they caught on.

A few years later, the Parisian bakery and tea salon, Ladurée, began selling almond flour macarons in pairs, flat sides back to back, with sweet fillings like ganache to hold them together. So at that juncture, we formally have two different cookies, each with its own proper name.

These days, French style macarons are quite trendy and can be found everywhere from fancy pâtisseries to bakery chains in Chinatown, although obviously the quality varies from venue to venue. This cutaway view shows the fillings inside a couple of macarons and the lack thereof in the standard issue macaroon. (The photo also serves to illustrate the way the cookie crumbles.)

Macarons come in several sizes but are always paired and share the classical puck-like shape. The sheer number of flavors to be found borders on the ridiculous and precludes any attempt at a comprehensive list, but you’ll see fruit flavors like cherry, banana, peach, pineapple, pomegranate, honeydew, coconut, papaya, passionfruit – actually pretty much every fruit you can name; what I’ll call “roasted bean” like coffee, latte, mocha, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate; nuts like walnut, almond, pistachio; boozy specimens like Grand Marnier, Jack Daniels, Baileys Irish Cream, mojito; other dessert interlopers like crème brûlée, salted caramel, praline, Nutella, cotton candy, Oreo cookie (a cookie that’s designed to taste like another cookie?); Asian influences like pandan, durian, candied ginger, thai tea, red bean, mung bean, matcha tea, taro; floral/herbal flavors like lavender, mint, rose; and just plain brazen contenders like fois gras, wasabi, maple syrup & bacon, cheeseburger, bubblegum, Cheetos, and Vegemite. Mon dieu!

Then there are the double combinations like raspberry almond, blueberry cheesecake, lavender honey, white chocolate mint, strawberry kiwi, rhubarb cilantro and the like, not to mention triples like s’mores – you mathletes out there could calculate the permutations and combinations if only the flavor list weren’t infinitely long.

Not to be left out, popular brands of Passover macaroons including Manischewitz, Streit’s and Gefen have entered the fray but with somewhat less rebellious flavors like almond, chocolate chip hazelnut, red velvet, cookies & creme, pistachio orange, carrot cake, cappuccino, toffee crunch, chocolate mint, and purely coconut – again, a list that’s far from exhaustive.

I kind of like the fact that you can get almond macaroons and coconut macarons. Seems right somehow.

Beyond the popular brands of macaroons often sold in cans, I’m also seeing some serious bespoke examples at upscale bakeries. These second generation macaroons, if you will, turned up at April’s incredible World’s Fare in Queens and were crafted by Danny Macaroons: original coconut, peanut butter chocolate, salted caramel, and pineapple-guava filled.

Dedicated holidays cement the distinction: National Macaroon Day is celebrated on May 31; International Macaron Day appears to be tied to the first day of spring, around March 20. (There’s even a Chocolate Macaroon Day on June 3rd but it seems to embrace both macaroons and macarons.)

So armed with this fresh batch of information about the difference between macarons and macaroons, you can officially consider yourself one smart cookie. If you’re anything like me, you’re a fan of both!