Paris Sandwiches – Desserts

Instagram Post 5/23/2019

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And while we’re on the subject of Southeast Asian desserts, a quick stop at Paris Sandwiches, 213 Grand St in Manhattan’s Chinatown, home to a variety of bánh mì, the popular Vietnamese sandwich, yielded this trio of treats – from top, clockwise: sticky rice with banana and coconut milk, sweet corn and sticky rice, and pandan tapioca pearl with banana and coconut milk. We always stop by for a bánh mì during my Manhattan Chinatown ethnojunkets because there’s even more to Chinatown than great Chinese food!
 
 

Songkran Festival

Instagram Post 5/22/2019

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Songkran is Thailand’s New Year and last month there were two opportunities to celebrate along Woodside Ave in Elmhurst, Queens where we found this treat. IMO, it manages to incorporate each of the most fundamental elements of Southeast Asian sweets into a perfect singularity: pandan, sticky rice, coconut milk, and durian.

Combine them, and the result is to dessert as Euler’s Identity is to mathematics. And if you know what I’m talking about, we can be best friends forever. 😉
 
 

Eat Gai

Instagram Post 5/20/2019

Gai is Thai for chicken, and if you want to eat gai, Eat Gai is the place to do it. But it’s not just random chicken; there are two specialties and both are exemplary.

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Khao Man Gai is Thailand’s answer to Hainanese Chicken, but the exquisitely tender, poached chicken is only part of the story; the rice, the broth, and the sauce are where the chef’s talents can shine – and here they do just that. Khao means rice and Man means oily or fatty so the name is approximately oily rice chicken; but notice that rice – oh, that chickeny, gingery rice – comes first. A cup of chicken broth is traditionally served alongside (not shown here) but it’s not your everyday, thin, afterthought of a chicken broth; one sip unleashes a rich, collagen laden stock shock, pointed up by a float of cilantro. Three custom sauces are raveworthy as well: spicy green chili sauce, amazing brown ginger sauce, and black sweet soy sauce round out the dish along with fresh cilantro and cucumber. Check out the bits of chicken gizzard and liver that are neatly tucked away as well.

Southern Thai Fried Chicken Wings. If you’re a fan of jumbo, crispy, meaty fried chicken wings, you’ve found a home. Coated with Thai inflected seasonings, lightly pickled veggies on the side and that spicy sweet sauce that’s the perfect complement for Thai chicken, you might not want to share. Just sayin’.

Eat Gai is in booth 46 at the new Essex Market, 88 Essex Street (crossing Delancey from the old Essex Street Market) in Manhattan.
 
 

Goji Berry Osmanthus Cake

Instagram Post 5/19/2019

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Osmanthus and goji berries often pair up in desserts like this one, Goji Berry Osmanthus Cake (although I’m hard pressed to call it a cake), from Double Crispy Bakery at 230 Grand Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown. I’ve seen it elsewhere, executed with more finesse TBH, but I was passing by, it was pretty as always, and I wanted to play with lighting it from beneath, so here we are.

The translucent jello-like bar doesn’t acquire its bounce from gelatin, but rather agar-agar or konyakku. Agar-agar comes from red algae; konyakku is made from the corm of the konjak plant and manifests in Japanese yam cake and shirataki noodles.

Bright red goji berries (aka wolfberries) are sweet, usually found dried, and are prized for their purported health and medicinal benefits.

Used throughout Asia, osmanthus shows up in tea and tea blends as well as jams, liquors, and sweet desserts; it has a floral fragrance with a subtle flavor – I’d describe it as somewhere along the apricot—leather continuum, if there were such a thing. Also found dried, the corolla opens into adorable, tiny, four-petaled yellow flowers when reconstituted.

But really, all I wanted to do was take this picture – not deliver a bloomin’ excursus on Asian botanicals!
 
 

Little Alley

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared as three posts, published on May 16-18, 2019.


Little Alley, 550 3rd Ave in Manhattan, is named for the network of interconnected alleyways that define erstwhile neighborhoods in old Shanghai; its chef, Yuchun Cheung, pays homage to his home and the cuisine of his childhood in this restaurant and the patrons are the lucky beneficiaries. Almost everything we tasted was outstanding. In no particular order:

(Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)Salted Duck Egg Fish Filet. I’ve enjoyed this elsewhere and it’s a favorite, but I’ve never had it prepared this perfectly. (Not to mention the fact that everyone at the table – all hardcore foodies, by the way – were in complete agreement.) First of all, IMHO, anything featuring salted duck egg is always wonderful and this version of the dish was set apart by the fact that the proportion of salted duck egg to (unusually) thinly sliced fish was about 1:1 so you could taste everything in its proper balance.


Rice Cake and Salted Duck Egg. As if to confirm the extent to which we all find salted duck egg irresistible, later in the meal we ordered this dish. Here, wonderfully chewy rice cakes get the treatment, and they’re perfect. Notice that the name of this dish fails to incorporate the word “shrimp”, but look closely at the photo and you’ll see them, camouflaged as rice cakes, an integral part of this entrée.

And while you’re there, you might try the Water Spinach with Fermented Bean Curd; it’s green simplicity offsets and complements the richness of the salted duck egg dishes.


Honey Kao Fu. Kao Fu is gluten. Yes, Gluten, the prevailing demon of reproving newtritionists. And please note that I’m not deriding people who have genuine sensitivity to gluten; I sincerely understand your struggle. It’s just that I’m old enough to remember when consuming eggs, butter and olive oil invited public shaming. I’ve actually seen bottles of gluten-free water and yet, when I shop in Chinese markets, I can buy packages of plain gluten. Some of my vegetarian friends use seitan, the same devil as gluten, as a meat substitute. Anyway, it’s the spongelike absorptive properties of this form of gluten that make it special and here the sauce is laced with honey to elevate it further. Keeping company with wood ears and bamboo shoots, it’s a classic Shanghainese dish and the best version I’ve ever had.

Spicy Lamb and Garlic Shoot. It seems like every cuisine in the world knows that lamb and garlic are soulmates, and this one is no exception.

This is Braised Pork with Preserved Vegetables, served with steamed buns (bao). Put a little pork and its savory sauce into the bun, add some of the preserved vegetables, fold and enjoy. My only (very minor) complaint is that we could have used a few more bao!

[Left] You’ve probably seen these Radish Puffs whizzing past on dim sum carts in Chinatown. A good (and good-sized) rendition here.
[Right] The xiao long bao, soup dumplings, were fine.
 
 
Little Alley is located at 550 3rd Ave in Manhattan. Yes, Manhattan. 😉
 
 

The World’s Fare – 2019

Instagram Post 5/15/2019

 
If you’re a hardcore international food freak like me, you know that The World’s Fare is happening for the second year on May 18th and 19th at Citi Field in Queens. Check out their website for information and a complete rundown on the more than 100 participating vendors from as many cultures. I’ve tasted scores of wonderful dishes from dozens of these folks throughout the year at weekly events and pop-ups as well as at last year’s World’s Fare and I can attest to the fact that this is an expertly curated show. But today, I want to give a special shout-out to three vendors who not only do amazing work but are actually friends of mine IRL.

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What can I say about Moon Man’s unique Indonesian treats that I haven’t already said? A regular at the Queens International Night Market, my friend Nigel Sielegar crafts authentic delectable Indonesian desserts like coconut pancakes, cassava cake, steamed pandan cake and much more – and they taste as good as they look. Don’t miss Moon Man’s booth!
 
If you’re not from Spain, you probably think of paella as Spain’s national dish; if you do hail from Spain, you know it’s the heart and soul of Valencia. Not merely a rice dish, it requires know-how, special equipment, and the passion to do it right, and the folks from In Patella score points for all three. Specialists in authentic paella catering, this weekend they’ll reinforce their mission to dispel myths about what paella is and isn’t.
 
Dua Divas is a collaboration of two of my favorite vendors from the New York International Food Bazaar held monthly at St. James Parish House, 84-07 Broadway in Elmhurst: Taste of Surabaya and Pecel Ndeso. They’ll be offering nasi kuning, klepon, satay, and martabak telur. Don’t know what those are? Head over to their booth and find out! (For now, I’ll just tell you that they’re all delicious. 😉)

See you this weekend!
 
 

NY Indonesian Food Bazaar

Instagram Post 5/14/2019

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Two treats from the New York Indonesian Food Bazaar held approximately monthly at St. James Parish House, 84-07 Broadway in Elmhurst.
Pempek are Indonesian fish cakes (you might see empek-empek) made from ground fish (usually mackerel) and tapioca flour. This dish is pempek kulit which includes minced fish skin in the dough (kulit means skin); it’s customarily served with a spicy sweet and sour sauce and chopped cucumber for balance. Don’t let the idea of fish skin put you off – just try it!


Mie Tek-Tek – stir fried noodles with onion and egg; tek-tek is the onomatopoeic word for the sound the wok chan (spatula) makes as the chef taps it against the wok while preparing this dish. On the side, just above the spicy peppers, are krupuk, colorful deep fried crackers that provide a crispy counterpoint to the supple noodles.

The next NYIFB event will take place on June 8, but if you can’t wait until then to taste this delicious cuisine, check out Dua Divas at the World’s Fare, May 18th and 19th at Citi Field in Queens.
 
 

Hills Kitchen

Instagram Post 5/13/2019

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Given what I do, people often ask me what my favorite restaurant is; the answer is “any place where the food was so good that I need to go back and try everything else on the menu.” That was the case with Hills Kitchen in Bushwick. My dining buddy contacted me a few days ago and we met at their location, 252 Knickerbocker Ave in Brooklyn. We shared only two dishes that day but I can recommend both enthusiastically.

Keep in mind that in West African cuisine, the words soup, stew, and sauce are often used interchangeably. This one is Banga, also known as Ofe Akwu, based on the palm nut/palm fruit, a tasty ingredient that figures into a number of Nigerian sauces. We ordered ours with fish, specifically croaker, which was excellent. West African stews are incomplete without some kind of starch, sometimes called a “swallow”; that’s what turns these sauces, soups and stews into a meal. You pinch off a bit, dip it into the delectable soup, and enjoy – really hands-on cuisine! Our choice for this dish was identified only as “wheat” and it was a perfect complement.

Next up was White Soup, also known as Nsala, which was tender, flavorful goat meat in an accessible, lightly seasoned, thin sauce. My understanding is that this is one of the few Nigerian soups made without palm oil so it was distinct from our Banga; we chose pounded yam for our swallow, itself a gentle, comforting accompaniment, hence another good match.

Hills Kitchen has been open for a little over two months. I intend to go back soon – hope to see you there!
 
 

Little Egypt Restaurant

Instagram Post 5/12/2019

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Little Egypt Restaurant, 66-28 Fresh Pond Road, Ridgewood, featured a special dessert coinciding with Mother’s Day: Om Ali (you might see umm ali), أم على. The phrase translates as “Ali’s mother” and of course, fables abound as to its name. Essentially Egypt’s answer to bread pudding (only better if you ask me), it’s made with phyllo dough, milk (and occasionally, richer dairy considerations) and sugar, sometimes elevated by raisins, nuts, and cinnamon. There are legions of recipes for this traditional Ramadan treat; that day, our delightful version came with sour cream and ground nuts on the side for garnish, ad libitum.
 
 

Honey Bee’s Kitchen

Instagram Post 5/10/2019

Since I enjoy the cuisine, I make it a point to visit as many Nigerian restaurants as I can locate, and it’s not all that difficult here in NYC. Many have similar menus with similar preparations of the “greatest hits” but I was surprised and delighted by the unique spin on our choices at Honey Bee’s Kitchen, 9322 Avenue L in Canarsie, Brooklyn. My dining buddy and I grabbed only a handful of items but that just guarantees a return trip! Three from the appetizers section where most of the dishes were tagged “in spicy pepper sauce”; each was unique and delicious.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)Suya. Grilled beef often served on a stick but always served with spicy peanut powder and raw onion, a favorite Nigerian street food.

Peppered Snail. I’ve had these elsewhere but the snails were tough. Not the case here: they were sautéed to perfection and the sauce was so good that we reserved what was left to adorn some rice.

Gizdodo. Chicken gizzards (the “giz”) and fried plantains (called “dodo” in Nigeria) cooked together and infused with herbs in a tomato based sauce. Hard to stop eating this.

From the entrées section: Rice with Ayamatse sauce with assorted meat, stockfish (dried unsalted fish) and a hardboiled egg. Ayamatse (you might see ayamase) sauce is made from hot peppers, bell peppers, and palm oil and although ours wasn’t all that hot, it was tasty nonetheless. The menu refers to “HBK sauce”; after some reflection, I realized it stands for Honey Bee’s Kitchen!

Gbegiri (bean soup) and Ewedu (jute leaves blended with egusi, melon seeds) counterpoised in a jaunty triangle, served with amala (pounded dried yam) and croaker (the fish, of course!).