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’Jever go to a sprawling Asian supermarket and load up a wagonful of ingredients in anticipation of a marathon of Chinese home cooking that portends hours in the kitchen but promises rewarding results, and then realize you don’t have any energy left to make something for yourself for that day because you’re exhausted from errand overload, so you trudge over to the freezer case and grab a package of frozen assorted dim sum figuring there’s absolutely no work involved – just steam the little bastards while you put away the real food?


It’s Pride Month 2023!

And here’s my humble culinary contribution to the cause: the LGBTQ Sandwich!

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I created this tribute some years ago and now I share it annually. You all know the classic BLT, of course: Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato; those ingredients are all present and accounted for in the LGBTQ. The original BLT is typically dressed with mayonnaise but I upped the ante by using Guacamole instead of mayo and added a hint of sweetness with Quince paste (aka membrillo) to balance the touch of tart lime juice, aromatic onion and garlic, and spicy jalapeño pepper, my spin on guacamole.

It’s served here on marble rye/pumpernickel bread so as to include swirling carbs of color but if I ever manage to locate bread that’s black, brown, and white, I’ll update my recipe and my photo.

And for those who prefer the acronym LGBTQI, that’s Iceberg Lettuce in there! 😉

Here’s another special treat I prepared to celebrate Pride Month: a rainbow bagel with mixed berry cream cheese and local (and by “local” I mean from a garden three blocks from my apartment) blackberries, pink champagne currants, and strawberries.

And finally, looking through my old photos for one more sweet way to celebrate Pride, here’s a wedge of rainbow crepe cake from the now-closed Dek Sen, the Isaan Thai restaurant that had been an Elmhurst highlight.

Happy Pride!


Balady Market

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One of the stops on my Flavors of Little Levant and Little Yemen ethnojunket is Balady Foods, the recently expanded Middle Eastern market at 7128 5th Ave in Brooklyn.

The array of treats pictured here includes soft, salty, squeaky Nabulsi cheese that hails from Palestine, electric magenta pickled turnips, foul mudammas (bean dip), Lebanese makdous (oil-cured eggplant stuffed with walnuts and red pepper), sucuk (the generic word for sausage found all across the Middle East) and several types of black olives all resting on a piece of msemen, flatbread from the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia).

Many of these goodies came from Balady but other establishments are represented as well. And there’s so much more to taste on this food tour! Get the details on my Ethnojunkets page and sign up to join in the fun!

Nai Brother Sauerkraut Fish

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Chinese Sauerkraut Fish seems to be a “thing” these days. I don’t know if it’s a surge in popularity or just better marketing, but I’ve been spotting it more frequently lately, if perhaps under alternate nomenclature.

Note that it bears no relation to the sauerkraut you get from the dirty-water-hot-dog cart stationed on every Manhattan street corner.

This dish, Signature Spicy Pickled Fish, came from Booth 21 in Flushing’s New World Mall Food Court at 136-20 Roosevelt Ave. The soup, faintly oily in a good way, arrives brimming with hefty chunks of fish fillet, tofu, and pickled mustard greens along with an array of fresh vegetables. It’s kicked up with hot red peppers and Sichuan peppercorns and manages to balance spicy and sour. The vegetable contingent includes thin slices of potato, barely cooked and crisp, mature bean sprouts, cabbage, celery, and sundry other greens. White rice on the side to offset the sting.

Nai Brother has partnered with YanYan Tea, also floating around Flushing, so there’s a wide selection of creative drinks available to cool your palate in case the soup turns out to be a bit spicier than you had anticipated.

Yi Mei Bakery

On a recent Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst ethnojunket, I picked up some satisfying snacks at Yi Mei Bakery, 81-26 Broadway.

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A variation on classic char siu bao. There was a subtle sweetness to these Roast Pork Pastries, a perfect combination of thin slices of juicy char siu, flaky dough, and black and white sesame seeds. If you buy one to take home, definitely warm it up for maximum enjoyment.

The Meat Floss Cake was indeed cakey per its name: pillowy soft, savory and salty but also with a slight overtone of sweetness. Each cake was coated with meat floss and comprised two halves married by a thin layer of creamy custard (see last photo).

If you’re unfamiliar with meat floss, meat (pork is common) is cooked in a sweetened, spiced mixture until it’s soft enough to be shredded and fried resulting in a final texture that’s fluffy and looks a bit like wool. It’s remarkably versatile and commonly used as a topping for rice or congee, as an ingredient for filling buns and pastries, or for just plain snackin’. You’ll see it in two similar variations at your local Asian supermarket, pork fu and pork sung, and based on my experience I think the shelf life is practically eternal.

Want to know if these treats will be part of our Elmhurst food tour? Only one way to find out. Check out my Ethnojunkets page and sign up to join in the fun!

Brobdingnagian Bargain Dining

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So progress continues at Elmhurst’s revivified HK Food Court but incrementally at best. They move things around as in a protracted game of chess and, with a few exceptions in the far right corner, I can’t really determine who the vendors are – or perhaps there’s only one, because the crew seems to wander freely among all of the stations. Each has some signage, but I’m not convinced that it corresponds to the contents of the steam tables beneath. None of which has anything to do with the food, of course.

But I have stumbled upon two items worth considering.

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Casa Fried Chicken, when it’s staffed and when the chicken looks reasonably freshly fried, offers unreasonably inexpensive fare: wings are 4 for $2 and big honkin’ chicken parts are $1 each. The piece on this plate was about six inches wide and 2½ inches thick. “Is that a thigh?” I asked incredulously. She enclosed it in a wax paper bag and answered, “One dollar,” avoiding my question. At home, my autopsy revealed that it appeared to be a thigh somehow firmly affixed to a breast based on the color of the meat but not on the skeleton or any anatomy I was familiar with. It was agreeably seasoned though, and for the price it was a genuine bargain.

The Fried Rice Noodles are flavored modestly, well lubricated, and possess the satisfyingly chewy texture of an archetypical comfort food. And I’m addicted to the stuff. You’re looking at roughly a quarter of the large size which weighed in at over 2½ lbs: $5.75. I’ve fallen into the habit of bringing one of these home every time I visit because since they’re delicious but not overpowering, they’re easy to tinker with by adding other ingredients (meat, fish, veggies, etc.) and enhancing the seasoning appropriately thus creating something you didn’t dine on the day before while staying well within your budget. This meal cost about $2.50.

The remarkable feature of these noodz is that they are enormous! I’ve unfurled one in this photo; it measures about 7½ x 5 inches and that’s not the largest of the lot.

I see a fusion Chinese Lasagna in my future.

Royal Queen Dim Sum on Main Street

As I was hungrily exiting Jmart in Flushing’s New World Mall via the down escalator to the Main Street side, I spotted an array of dim sum on my right and a selection of Chinese roast meats near the window that overlooks the sidewalk. (My version of serendipity.)

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Peering a bit further in, I noticed a steam table array (the typical 4 dishes + soup + rice) and a small sign that read “Royal Queen”. Now, Royal Queen restaurant on the third floor of the complex has been around for a while, but this crowded niche was new to me. I pointed to a trio of crispy fried shrimp dumplings and brought my booty downstairs to the food court.

Each dumpling contained at least one whole shrimp and then some; no ground paste to be found – just deliciousness beyond my expectations.

Here’s how the window looked from the sidewalk on Main Street; it’s directly across from Mickey D’s as you can probably tell. 😉

Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo falls on May 5 this year. (Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.) And over the years, particularly during the height of COVID, I’ve played around with a lot of Mexican home cooking – surely not authentic, but certainly yummy. Here are a few examples:

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Chicken Mole. Shredded chicken, sautéed onions and the like combined with a packet of Mole Rojo Oaxaqueño (took the easy way out that time) topped with some crema Mexicana. (Check out this post that I wrote back in 2021 about the subtle differences among commercially available Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran cremas.) In the back, rice cooked in chicken broth along with onion, garlic, red bell pepper and achiote for color; freshly grated cotija cheese sprinkled on top. On the side, black beans, corn, and jalapeños with red pepper, onion, garlic and spices including Mexican oregano and Tajín.

And what did I do with the leftovers?

¡Las quesadillas estaban deliciosas!

For a side dish, I made esquites, the Mexican street food favorite: grilled corn with garlic, jalapeños, scallions, cilantro, crema and lime juice topped with crumbled cotija cheese and Tajín.

On another occasion, I was jonesing for fish tacos and it wasn’t even the officially sanctioned el martes. Besides, it gave me an excuse to break out the comal and make salsa cruda. There’s nothing auténtico about these, but they were a cinch to prepare. Pan seared fish, cut into chunks and set into a taco shell along with avocado, shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, and a bit of crema, all awaiting some homemade salsa to do the heavy flavor lifting.

The salsa cruda started by charring white onion, tomatillos, tomato, and jalapeño on a comal – shown here mid-blister. Added rehydrated dried ancho and chipotle chilies, cilantro, garlic, lime juice, olive oil, salt, and a pinch of cumin and Mexican oregano. I chopped it all by hand because a blender or food processor creates a thin salsa which is fine but I prefer some crunch.

The finished product. And last but not least…

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Eid al-Fitr – 2023

Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of Breaking the Fast, is the Muslim holiday that signifies the conclusion of month-long Ramadan; in 2023, it begins on the evening of April 20, but the date can vary a bit as it is subject to the sighting of the moon. It is known as “Sweet Eid” in contrast to Eid al-Adha, the “Salty Eid”, coming in June.

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Ma’amoul are shortbread cookies filled with a paste made from dried fruit, often dates but sometimes figs, or nuts, such as walnuts or pistachios; they’re frequently associated with Ramadan but fortunately are available year round. Paradise Sweets, the Middle Eastern bakery at 6739 5th Ave, was offering three kinds the day I stopped by: clockwise from left, pistachio, walnut and date.

Can a cookie actually melt in your mouth? These were wonderfully fragile, disintegrating into a crumbly powder like a Mexican polvoron: you’ll start with a bite, but you’ll want to finish with a spoon. For those who don’t care for uber-sugary cookies, the good news is that this version is not especially sweet; I discovered that the flavor seems to blossom in the company of a hot beverage – tea or Arabic coffee would be perfect.

Some of the smaller markets along the way were offering prepackaged ma’amoul like this one from Pâtisserie Safa, a Montreal based company. Its structural integrity was sturdier than the freshly baked specimens and the cookie was surprisingly tasty.

Both the dough and the filling were significantly sweeter than the locally crafted examples and I detected a welcome note of orange blossom water that enhanced its flavor profile.

Another survivor of the pandemic is the stalwart bakery Nablus Sweets at 6812 5th Ave. These are Qatayef (aka Atayef), made only during Ramadan and especially for Eid al-Fitr; they’re often sold by street vendors in the Middle East. They start out with a batter akin to that of pancakes but they’re griddled on only one side, then they’re filled with white cheese or nuts, folded into a crescent, fried or baked, and soaked in sweet rose water syrup. This pair enclosed a syrupy chopped nut filling.

They’re thicker and chewier than I anticipated – I was expecting a straight ahead, lighter pancake texture based on what I saw as they were being prepared:

Fresh off the griddle. Some folks buy them just like this, ready to be brought home to be filled with the family recipe (of course) of creamy cheese or walnuts, sugar and cinnamon.
And there are still some openings on my Flavors of Little Levant and Little Yemen ethnojunket on April 30; sign up to join in the fun!

Battle of the Cheezy Noodz

I’ve said it before: any region whose cuisine includes both dough and cheese has a signature dish that layers them in a delectable baked creation. Sometimes that dough is leavened and baked into bread, sometimes it’s dried and boiled into noodles – an oversimplification, I know, but you get the idea.

At its most fundamental, Noodles and Cheese, unadorned with sauce, meat, or veggies, is at once down-to-earth gratification and elegant-in-its-simplicity indulgence. (Ashkenazi Jews will immediately home in on Lokshen mit Kaese.)

On a recent “Exploring Eastern European Food in Little Odessa” food tour, I decided to do a comparison of two examples, achma from Georgia and su böreği from Turkey. Interestingly, but unsurprisingly when you think about it, achma is considered a member of the khachapuri family (Georgian breads) and su böreği belongs to the borek clan (stuffed filo pastry).

Most recipes for these call for a combination of two compatible cheeses: a salty, crumbly type like feta plus a soft, springy variety like mozzarella. You’ll see imeruli and sulguni in Georgia and beyaz peynir or künefe peyniri in Turkey, for example. Essential features for any of these treats are a crispy crust enclosing soft noodles and melty, slightly salty cheese. I purchased a slice of each from two different markets and brought them over to the boardwalk for an A/B comparison.

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Here’s the Georgian Achma…

…and here’s the Turkish Su Böreği.

Want to know more about them? Which one prevailed? I’ll tell all when you join me on my Exploring Eastern European Food in Little Odessa ethnojunket. There are still some openings on my April 25 tour; sign up to join in the fun!