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.”


“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.


Christmas Comes Twice in Ukraine!

Recently, I was chatting with my charming Instagram friend Olya who lives in Ukraine; she’s a nature lover, very much into cooking, and the inspiration for the Ukraine corner of my website.

We were exchanging information about American Thanksgiving and Orthodox Christmas foods and I was surprised to learn that Christmas is officially celebrated on two days in Ukraine. The Orthodox Church still uses the old Julian calendar, therefore its Christmas celebration falls on January 7, thirteen days behind the Gregorian calendar. But backlash against the Russian invasion has prompted Ukrainians to look westward, distancing themselves from the Russian Orthodox Church, and now the Orthodox Church of Ukraine allows worshippers to observe the holiday on December 25 as well. So that makes it doubly special!

Olya provided me with a stocking full of info regarding traditional Ukrainian Christmas foods – and there are many! Here are a few, in no special order:

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Kutya (кутя) – Best described as a sweet porridge, it’s made from wheat berries, poppy seeds, honey, and customarily includes chopped walnuts and raisins. The wheat berries symbolize immortality and hope, the honey and poppy seeds represent happiness, tranquility, and success. Here’s my homemade version, served in my grandmother’s dish.

Holubtsi (голубці) – Stuffed cabbage rolls are filled primarily with rice, minced vegetables, and sometimes mushrooms; they are prepared without meat on Christmas Eve, the Ukrainian tradition, and with meat on Christmas Day.

Kholodets (холодець) – A savory meat aspic; chilled meat stock gels naturally because of its high collagen content although gelatin is sometimes added to double down on the texture. Chicken, pork, and vegetables come to the party and it’s often served with red horseradish or mustard.

Fish (риба) in many varieties and styles including fried, baked, stuffed, jellied, or marinated (like this herring) is usually a part of Ukraine’s Christmas dinner because it is associated with Jesus.

Varenyky (вареники) – These dumplings are one of Ukraine’s national dishes; they can be found in a pair of divergent guises: sweet, filled with cheese and/or fruit; and savory, stuffed with meat, potatoes, or cabbage, and customarily crowned with fried onions, occasionally bacon, and almost always accompanied by a dollop of sour cream.

Borshch (борщ) – This popular red beet soup has Ukrainian roots. Again, in keeping with tradition, Christmas Eve borshch is meatless and dairy-free. I’ve added a few fresh herbs, parsley, dill, and scallions to this version.

Pampushky (пампушки) – Ukrainian yeast-raised rolls that can be sweet or savory (these are topped with garlic and dill), baked or fried, and are a perfect accompaniment to borshch.

And although I don’t have photos for these dishes, they are an important part of the Ukrainian Christmas dinner table as well:

Kolach (колач) – Ukrainian Christmas Bread. A slightly sweet, braided yeast bread.

Uzvar (узвар) – Ukrainian Winter Punch made from dried fruits and warming spices simmered until your kitchen smells like heaven!

And there are many more. Thank you so much for your help, Olya!
З Різдвом Христовим!

Dos Leches y Uno Rompope Cake

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There’s a delightful couple who live in my building whom I’m privileged to regard as especially close friends. Their toddler recently celebrated his second birthday and they graciously saved a piece of cake for me. Since we are all hardcore foodies, we often pass goodies along to each other.

Now, if you read me, you know that I’m a fan of neologisms; I’ve even created a few such as: to “doorknob” (verb) – the act of hanging a bag containing a tasty treat on the recipient’s doorknob to be retrieved upon their arriving home (or waking up). Example: “I just doorknobbed you some homemade chocolate chip cookies.”

This action is often accompanied by a text message containing relevant details. In this case, my friend wrote, “Just doorknobbed you a piece of birthday cake. The bakery called it Tres Leches Cake; it really wasn’t very wet, but that’s what they called it.”

The cake and its icing, custard and strawberry fillings were wonderful, but there was not uno drop of leche to be found, let alone tres of them.

Fortunately, I had a little sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream left over from baking Thanksgiving pumpkin pies but no evaporated milk to complete the trio. I did, however, have eggnog in the fridge and since I’ve raised lily-gilding to an art form, I decided to go for it. I added a few fresh strawberries and the result is what you see here.

Another win for Team Eggnog! See why we need to have it year-round?