Don’t Know Jack About This Fruit?

Then allow me to introduce you to jackfruit!

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Possibly my favorite fruit, it’s quite easy to find fresh this time of year. Jackfruit is the largest tree fruit and can be roughly two feel long or more; it sports a greenish brown bumpy shell, a white core, and contains dozens of fragrant, yellow pods. Each pod encases a single large seed and even the seeds can be consumed boiled, baked or roasted; their taste is not unlike chestnuts – in fact, I’ve developed a few recipes for them.

You’ll see this tropical fruit at sidewalk stands and markets, whole, halved, or quartered; you’ll also find the sweet pods picked out and packed into plastic containers for munching convenience as you wander the streets of Chinatown.

I’ve been known to buy a half or a quarter and break it down myself, but the procedure involves removing the pods leaving behind a white latex-like substance – and trust me, it’s a tacky mess. If you insist on going DIY, wear plastic gloves because no amount of soap and water or alcohol will rid the sticky stuff from your hands easily. (Those in the know oil their hands first which seems even messier but less gooey.) Personally, I think it’s worth the trouble because the price per pod plummets and I have plenty of time on my hands. (Although maybe that’s the gummy stuff and not time.)

Green unripe jackfruit can be found canned in Asian markets; it’s used for its meaty texture in numerous dishes like Indonesian rendang and other vegetarian specialties.

The fresh pods range in hue from pale canary yellow to bright Crayola yellow-orange; the deeper the color, the sweeter and riper the fruit. The first photo shows the ideal shade of gold (the last chance moment before they become overripe), but even a lighter version will be rewarding.

Jackfruit is at peak ripeness now, so please go out and support your local Chinatown – and reward yourself with a delicious treat in the process!
 
 

Stalking the Wild Lychee

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About two weeks ago, I was discussing the ins and outs of selecting fresh lychees with one of my delightful ethnojunket guests.


We were in a market that had a pile of lychees on display that looked faded, for lack of a better word, and I suggested that, although it’s not foolproof, deep red lychees would probably be a better choice. We weren’t in Chinatown, however, so that was the only offering.


But this time of year in Chinatown, every street vendor will present multiple options and it’s a safe bet that at any given stand, price will be an indicator of quality. Pallid, less expensive lychees just can’t compete against those selling at three pounds for $10 (or $4/lb) – and that’s certainly a reasonable price for a sack of summertime sweetness.


Now let’s dig a little deeper: lychees that are still clinging to their stem will be fresher and juicier than loosies that have gone rogue.


And then you might spot some bright red beauties for $10/lb and their ostensibly identical bright red neighbors at $20/lb both attached to their stems. The difference, although not always clearly noted on the sign, is the size of the seed – and size matters! Smaller seeds (known as “chicken tongue”) yield more fruit inside the thin, textured shell so what appears to be a steeper price evens out when you take into consideration the amount of actual fruit per lychee – not to mention that this variety excels in sweetness.

My vendor of choice is Muoi Truong who has held court at the southeast corner of Canal and Mulberry for over 25 years (as long as I’ve been going there). Top notch produce at competitive prices – and she never fails to greet me when I arrive!

It’s said that New York City boasts at least nine Chinatowns (and perhaps a few more depending upon your definition of what constitutes a Chinatown) and since most specialty fruits are coming into season, this is the perfect time to visit one of them.

More to come….
 
 

Crunch Berries

In a manner of speaking.

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These are Bingtang Hulu (aka Tanghulu): fruits, in this case strawberries and Chinese hawthorn (haw), coated with a crisp sugar shell and impaled on a bamboo skewer. The literal meaning is “sugar calabash” because its shape resembles that of a calabash, the curvy bottle gourd. Think of it as China’s answer to the candy apple.

Haw, traditionally used for these treats, is sweet, tart, tangy and crunchy-apple-firm; nowadays the options are more diverse. [Personal note: As a kid, haw flakes, dried thin discs that come in a diminutive cylindrical pack, were the second Chinese candy I tried; the first was White Rabbit, of course!]


There are a few stands in Flushing that sell these confections and, needless to say, they’re a stop on my Snacking in Flushing – The Best of the Best ethnojunket. Check it out here and sign up to join in the fun!

[And maybe we’ll even pick up some haw flake candy!]
 
 

One Fatir’s Fate

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This past weekend, I conducted an ethnojunket to Brooklyn’s Little Odessa where I purchased a fatir, still warm from the oven. This flaky layered bread often partners with Middle Eastern dips but also figures into qurutob, the bread salad that’s the national dish of Tajikistan.

But upon arriving back home, neither of those ideas resonated for me, so I decided to experiment in the kitchen with my customary reckless abandon. I sliced off a wedge, separated the layers, and contemplated their fate.

I decided to soak the flakes in beaten eggs like French Toast (or Matzo Brei!) and fry them up with some enhancements. I seasoned the eggs with salt, black pepper, and a generous amount of cumin, then sautéed onion, a little garlic, and some greens (I had cilantro and scallions on hand) and finally, when the fatir flakes were thoroughly saturated, I added them to the pan and continued to sauté. I garnished my invention with sour cream, cilantro, nigella seeds, and sesame seeds and served it with sliced tomato.

Closeup of a very successful forkful, if I do say so myself.

Seems like ethnojunkets, in addition to offering lots of tasty international food plus entertaining and educational fun, also are pretty adept at providing delicious inspiration!

So if you have an appetite for delicious inspiration, check out my ethnojunkets page and sign up to join in the fun!
 
 

On the Road to Shabaley

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These Tibetan stuffed pastries are called shabaley (you might see sha phaley, shabhalep, or other spellings – sha means meat, phaley means bread) and they’re tastier than you’d imagine from a quick glance at their pedestrian exterior. The pockets are prepared by deep frying, shallow frying, or even steaming like dumplings.


Shapes can be circular or semicircular, and in this case the shape and outer edge crimping identify the filling: chicken, beef, and veggie. Tibetan food generally isn’t spicy, but if you don’t want to walk on the mild side, they arrive accompanied by sepen, a flavorful and fiery hot sauce.

Of course, you don’t have to journey to Tibet to sample these! Simply join me on my Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst ethnojunket. Check it out here and sign up to join in the fun!

(And if any of you get the pun in the title of this post – which has nothing to do with Mandalay – we can be BFFs. 😉)
 
 

Behind the Wheel

The story behind the Wheel Cake is that it made its way from Japan to Taiwan when it was under Japanese rule during the late 19th and early 20th century; its prototype was imagawayaki, a Japanese sweet. Essentially a hand-held pie, the outer crust is formed from two halves made with a batter similar to pancake batter but thinner; fillings range from savory to sweet.

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Shown here are wheel cakes from Money Cake in Tangram Food Hall: Taro from the Taiwanese Classics section of the menu, Custard representing team sweet, and Custard with Mini Taro Balls from the Fire and Ice Series.


A noteworthy part of the experience is watching as they’re being crafted by skillful hands coaxing batter up the sides of a special griddle with a wooden tool – and that’s a good thing because it gives you something to do while you’re waiting in line.


I haven’t tried Chocolate with Ferrero Rocher or Pepperoni Pizza (a “New York Exclusive”) yet, so join me on my “Snacking in Flushing – The Best of the Best” ethnojunket and we can taste test them together!
 
 

The Fifth Question

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On a very recent visit to Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach, I stopped by a modest bakery and was surprised to see that they were displaying their own rendition of what appeared to be chocolate coated matzos. I knew chocolate coated matzos to be a Passover specialty that always came in a box branded Streit’s or Manischewitz – which prompted me to wonder, “Why is this chocolate coated matzo different from all other chocolate coated matzos?”

So I bought one to take home.

In deference to the holiday season, I will avoid the word “miraculous” but it was unexpectedly delicious. So much so, in fact, that I returned the next day to purchase another four – in case of breakage in transit, I told myself, but I wasn’t fooling anybody.

And the answer to the fifth question?

The first bite communicates rich, milk chocolate with a little matzo as a counterpoint. By comparison, Manischewitz (on the right) tastes like matzo with a de minimis layer of chocolatey glaze; it’s okay if it’s all you’ve ever sampled, but the blob of chocolate on the left plate is a clue to its nature. Of course, that unpredictable dollop comes with a price: with that much chocolate, matzo is bound to sacrifice its crispness as compared with the matzo-ex-machina perfection of the packaged version, but it’s one well worth making IMHO.

And yes, of course I will reveal the provenance of this unusual delicacy. Just sign up for my Exploring Eastern European Food in Little Odessa ethnojunket and you’ll enjoy this treat along with lots of others! (But holiday supplies are limited, so act fast! 😏)
 
 

All That and a Bag of Krupuk

Back in 2016, I wrote a post dedicated to my interminable quest to discover the ultimate ethnic crunchy snack chip. It featured krupuk (you might see “kerupuk” as they’re called in Indonesia or other spellings since they’re enjoyed throughout Southeast Asia) – amazing crisps that are positively addictive.

In the package, they appear to be hard little chips, but they miraculously puff up almost instantly when subjected to hot oil – actually, they’re almost as much fun to prepare as they are to eat – but you can also find them sold in bags and ready to eat.

My sweet friend from Indonesia, Elika, whom I met at the New York Indonesian Food Bazaar in Elmhurst many years ago, has stayed in touch with me and recently sent me an assortment of authentic kerupuk. Each photo depicts a single variety before frying (bottom of each plate) and after (top) so you can get an idea of the transformation they undergo.

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Kerupuk Gandum. Gandum means wheat, one of a variety of starches from which kerupuk are made.


Emping Belinjo. Belinjo (padi oats) seeds are ground into flour and used to make emping, a type of kerupuk. Padi oats have a slight bitter, but not at all unpleasant, aftertaste. They’re not really “oatey” in the Cheerios sense because they’re another species, but they’re certainly more like oats than corn or wheat since there’s a satisfying nuttiness to them. Elika suggests a sprinkling of salt on these to lessen the bitter taste.


Emping Belinjo Udang. Udang means shrimp. Emping are available in styles such as manis (sweet), pedas (spicy) and madu (honey) and flavors including garlic and shrimp.


Rengginan – sweet rice puffs.


Kerupuk Udang – my absolute favorite of the group!

But you don’t have to take my word for how delicious these are! If you’d like to taste them yourself (and maybe get some to take home) you can find a wide variety of krupuk on three of my ethnojunkets, Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst, Snacking in Flushing, and Manhattan’s Chinatown. Food tour season has begun, and I’d be happy to introduce you to these crispy, crunchy gems.

To learn more about my food tours, please check out my Ethnojunkets page and sign up to join in the fun!
 
 

Pro Tip: How to Book the Funnest Ethnojunket

It’s springtime and ethnojunkets are back!

Spring means beautiful weather and rainy days and warm sunbeams and chilly fingertips and hat levitating winds and sweet gentle breezes.

And sometimes all of those on the same day.

So when should you book a food tour? Easy. Try this pro tip to maximize your enjoyment of my ethnojunkets:

Choose a date that you’d like to go. Then, three or four days before that date, open your favorite reliable weather app and see if your target date is predicted to be warm and dry – these are walking tours and we spend a lot of time outdoors! And then contact me and tell me which tour you’re interested in and on which day. If I’m available, you’re in!

Good weather, good food, good times!
 
 

Ethnojunkets FAQ:

 
Q: What’s an ethnojunket anyway?
A: An ethnojunket is a food-focused walking tour through one of New York City’s many ethnic enclaves; my mission is to introduce you to some delicious, accessible, international treats that you’ve never tasted but soon will never be able to live without.

Q: Which neighborhoods do you visit and how do I contact you?
A: Click the links below to learn more:

Exploring Eastern European Food in Little Odessa


Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst


Snacking in Flushing – The Best of the Best


The Flavors of Little Levant in Bay Ridge

Q: When is your next ethnojunket to [fill in the blank: Little Odessa, Elmhurst, Flushing, Little Levant, etc.]?
A: Any day you’d like to go! (And yes, of course you can book in advance of that three or four day pro tip.) Click the links above to sign up.

Q: I’ve seen some tours that are scheduled in advance for particular dates. Do you do that?
A: Yes, in a way. When someone books a tour (unless it’s a private tour) it’s always fun to add a few more adventurous eaters to the group – not to mention the fact that we get the opportunity to taste more dishes when we have more people (although I do like to keep the group size small). You can see if there are any openings available on a scheduled tour in the “Now Boarding” section of the ethnojunkets page. Subscribers always get email notifications about these.

Q: Is “funnest” a real word?
A: 💯!
 
 

A Christmas Minute

The sun was setting on one of those rare snow globe days that would have sent Currier and Ives back to the drawing board.

My daughter Alex and I were fulfilling our annual Macy’s pilgrimage to see Santa. Our mission accomplished, we paused for a long moment to have one last look at the sparkling snowy spectacle that was Santaland.

Perhaps we appeared lost amid the throng of milling, squealing children. A young woman dressed in a green and red velvet elf costume came up to us. It had to be near the end of what was surely an exhausting work day; nevertheless, she approached us gamely.

“Did you come here to see Santa?” she asked, poised to once again point out the line.

“We came here to see his elves, and you are one of Santa’s elves. We came here to see you.”

“Me?”

“Yes. You work as hard and give your time and your attention and your patience and your love to these children every bit as much as the jolly gents wearing overstuffed red suits who sit in those cozy little houses do. So we came here to say thank you to you, Caitlyn.”

She regarded us for a second and wiping a tear from her eye leaned in and gave us both a hug. I whispered “Merry Christmas,” and my daughter and I continued on our way.

Alex looked up at me. “What just happened?”

“We just spent one minute of our time giving her something that she might actually remember for years. The most noble thing anyone can do is to help someone, even a total stranger, feel appreciated, feel somehow special, even for a minute.”

As we threaded our way out of Macy’s, Alex took my hand.

“She gets it,” I thought.