I was listening to The Splendid Table, the podcast hosted by Francis Lam, and one of his guests was Naz Deravian, author of the Persian cookbook Bottom of the Pot. I don’t own the cookbook (yet) but if the recipes are a fraction as compelling as her poetic storytelling, I’m already a fan.

They were discussing tahdig, the Persian saffron rice dish that’s all about that crispy layer that forms at the bottom of the pot – that is, it forms if you are either a seasoned culinary genius or extremely lucky in the kitchen. (In Persian, tah means bottom, and dig means pot.) This delicacy is rightfully beloved among many cuisines worldwide – you may be familiar with socarrat in the preparation of Spanish paella or Chinese guōbā. Wikipedia has a page titled Scorched Rice that includes it, but if that’s not an off-putting name, I don’t know what is.

During Ramadan last April, I made fesenjan with duck and decided to see how well the (meager) leftovers would freeze. (For the record, it was as successful as any reheated leftover stew-like dish, which is to say not bad at all.) So, charmed and encouraged by Ms Deravian’s narrative recounting her experience with her mother’s tahdig, I set out to try my hand at making it as an accompaniment for the revivified khoresh. I perused a number of recipes on the interwebs and came up with my own simplified (of course) procedure. Here’s how it came out:

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I think I may have initiated a new personal tradition for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year that heralds the spring equinox – that is, assuming I get extremely lucky in the kitchen again!

The Mystery of Fu Yuan

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In today’s installment of “What Else Happened in Flushing While I Was Away?” there’s Fu Yuan at 135-43 Roosevelt Ave. It feels like that strip of Roosevelt Ave just off Main St has been playing musical chairs with a host of storefront snackish restaurant comings and goings for a while now. They don’t disappoint and I wish them all well.

Fu Yuan offers steamed rice noodle rolls (cheung fun, 腸粉) which appear to be enjoying tremendous popularity in NYC’s Chinatowns of late, as well as congee, some soups and a few other “side orders”. In addition to their traditional rice noodle rolls, they had a couple with the word “crispy” prepended which, of course, I opted for.

This one is their Crispy Roast Pork Rice Noodle Roll; the soft rice noodle is wrapped around crispy rice which is wrapped round the filling (shrimp is available as well as roast pork). Since I’m always a sucker for crispy, it totally worked for me.

But the real intrigue is the menu mystery that is “Stone Mill Noodle Roll”. I’ve returned more than once and each time I inquire, I’m told they don’t have it. Do they ever have it? Did they ever have it? That’s the enigma and I don’t have the Cantonese language skills to get to the bottom of it.

So, have any of you Chinatown roamers been luckier than I in solving this mystery?
And a reminder: New York City boasts at least six Chinatowns and perhaps a few more depending upon your definition of what constitutes a Chinatown; just pick one and go! Now, more than ever, please SUPPORT CHINATOWN!

Vegetarian Alert, Part 2

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I wrote a post not long ago about some remarkable vegetarian “meat” and another about some incredible spicy peanuts that I found during a Chinese supermarket expedition and how I could easily see how they might figure into a stir fry.

I am thrilled to report that this experiment turned out so well – supremely simple and decidedly delicious – that I uncharacteristically wrote down what went into it. So here’s a somewhat compressed version of what I did:

Prep/mise en place: I boiled, drained well, and set aside some basic fresh Chinese noodles from my local supermarket (amazingly enough). Diced some onion and fresh red bell pepper. Cleaned and sliced fresh cremini mushrooms. Set aside a handful of those amazing peanuts along with their one-two punch of málà peppercorns and dried red chili peppers. Using two forks, I shredded the “meat” as if it were meat:

For the sauce: I usually keep a shortcut combination of ingredients ready to go in the fridge (yes, that’s cheating) for when I’m in a hurry, but if you have a favorite, go for it. This is what went into mine: soy sauce, Zhenjiang vinegar, Shaoxing cooking wine, microplaned fresh garlic, microplaned fresh gingerroot, sugar (trust me), MSG (yes, really), a little Yibin Yacai (minced preserved mustard greens, optional), and a hit of sesame oil.

Abbreviated procedure: Get your wok as hot as you possibly can (pro tip: I avoid using a wok ring – gets the wok closer to the flame). Add some peanut oil and heat to the smoking point. Stir-fry the onions and peppers to cook through, add the mushrooms and stir-fry to cook through, add the “meat” and continue to stir-fry, add the noodles and stir-fry, add the sauce (you don’t need much) and stir-fry, add the peanuts and mix in. (Proper technique would have you do this in batches, but I was all about improper in my rush to the finish line.)

I happened to have Thai basil on hand so that’s what I used for garnish along with some scallions, but it’s certainly not authentic. Of course, there’s nothing about this dish that’s authentic, but it was so tasty that I wanted to share it with you, at least virtually.

(BTW, you don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy it! 😉)

Warung Selasa

In Indonesia, a warung is a small, informal, often family-owned food stand and selasa means Tuesday.

In Elmhurst, Queens, Warung Selasa refers to the long-running, home-cooked lunch adventure presented by Indo Java Groceries every Tuesday and it is always a treat.

I wrote about Indo Java at 85-12 Queens Blvd here way back in 2015 and I’m happy to report that they’re still going strong. Here’s what we enjoyed last Tuesday:

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Bakmoy Ayam. Tender bites of stewed chicken served over rice, topped with fried garlic chips and scallions along with marinated hard-boiled eggs, accompanied by crisp shrimp fritters on the right. The cooking broth is served on the side to be mixed in, the dark sauce is shrimp paste and the red condiment is spicy sambal.

Soto Daging. A rich soup with chunks of beef, liver, and tripe kicked up with turmeric, herbs and spices. Rice on the side with more crispy bits on top.

Call 718-779-2241 to order ahead.

(And after lunch, be sure to check out the delicious Indonesian desserts inside the shop!)

Beef Juan Bing

My destination had been one of the restaurants in the shared venue at 40-46 Main St, Flushing, Queens but when I arrived, it had gone the way of too many others these days. All was not lost, however, because I was able to grab a ready-made offering at Qing Dao (sometimes spelled Qingdao) at the same location.

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This is Niú Ròu Juan Bing (牛肉卷饼), a Chinese beef roll. The first two characters denote beef, the third means rolled, and the fourth indicates pancake. Don’t confuse juan bing with jiān bing (煎饼) the extremely popular filled folded pancake that I wrote about here last year.

Qing Dao’s rendition is pretty simple: marinated beef shin/shank rolled up in a Chinese pancake with fried egg.

My Number One Spy tells me that technically it should have been a scallion pancake but as you can see from this deconstructed photo, and to paraphrase Monty Python, mine was certainly uncontaminated by scallions. It was yummy nonetheless – especially after I added my own scallions. 😉

And a reminder: New York City boasts at least six Chinatowns and perhaps a few more depending upon your definition of what constitutes a Chinatown; just pick one and go! Now, more than ever, please SUPPORT CHINATOWN!

A Fish Story

If you’re wandering around Greenpoint in Brooklyn searching for Polish and Eastern European goodies, you’ve probably covered the relevant sections of Manhattan and Nassau Avenues – but you may not know about AS Warehouse at 276 McGuinness Blvd because it’s somewhat isolated, about a block off the beaten path. “Warehouse” describes the physical plant pretty accurately: the place is huge and is anything but welcoming. I’m not suggesting that it’s a must-visit or the best in the neighborhood, but they do stock a variety of items that might not be found in other markets nearby.

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Since I like herring and on-site decisions are anathema to me, I bought one of each kind from Seko, a Polish brand, to be sampled across a few days.

The first one I opened was Koreczki Śledziowe po Meksykańsku (lower right in the first photo), Herring Corks Mexican Style, because it was the most intriguing. Ossssstry smak means ssssspicy taste (although the chili pepper on the label would have afforded sufficient giveaway) and it featured marinated onions, also depicted on the label.

I unrolled two of the “corks” to give you an idea of the product. In all cases, the filets were very yielding and a little fishy – which is to say that they’re not the sweet Vita herring filets in wine sauce that you might know from the refrigerator aisle in the supermarket. (Note that sugar is the fourth ingredient on the label but you couldn’t prove it by me.) The oil was slightly spicy; the onions weren’t especially sharp but they did provide a welcome foil to the modest heat, not to mention the overall texture. Okay, but not my fave.

Next up was Śledzik na Okrągło po Myśliwsku (moving counterclockwise, upper right) translated as Round ‘n’ Round Herring with Onion and Mushroom Stuffing (okrągło means round, myśliwsku means hunter style, which I gather implies mushrooms and tomato).

After one taste, I quickly realized that all of these herrings would essentially be the same but with a dollop of different stuff in each container and I’d better get creative with them if I didn’t want to bore you or myself. So I gave a nod to presentation in this round. The onion and mushroom “stuffing” is the clump in the middle.

All right, so presentation alone wasn’t going to cut it. I had to do something to the fish itself. I opened the Śledzik na Okrągło w Oleju Wiejskim (upper left) translated as Round ‘n’ Round Herring with Countryside Oil – another shot of onion in this one along with some red bell pepper.

I chopped the herring, incorporated the adjunct vegetables plus dill weed, dill seed, celery and scallion, and spread it over a bed of lettuce on rye toast. So Act Three had no serious presentation, but I succeeded in doing something tasty with the herring filets rather than letting them speak for themselves (a good strategy in retrospect since they didn’t have much to say).

Finally, Herring Corks in oil, Koreczki Śledziowe w Oleju (lower left). I decided to pull out all the stops (corks?) with this one and go for flavor as well as presentation.

Unsurprisingly, the unadorned herring was like its mates, so I blended mustard, horseradish, and onion plus capers and scallion for the flavor component, and plated it with Swedish crisp bread and Danish butter, along with thinly sliced cucumber.

Finally got a satisfying lunch out of the expedition.

That bit of garnish in the middle was the kicker though: baby coriander seed fresh out of the garden that played perfectly with the Eastern European themed fish. I had never even seen it IRL, let alone worked with it, but it looked pretty and tasted just right in this context.

But don’t ask me how I came by it. That’s a story for another day.

Chinese Snowflake Crisps

More from the sweet snack aisle at the Chinese supermarket, specifically Snowflake Crisps (aka Snowflake Cakes) this time.

Yes, it’s a thing – if I am to believe what I’ve seen on the interwebs. They’re a popular dessert in parts of China and Taiwan (based on the number of recipes to be found) and a favorite commercially packaged treat as well (borne out by the number of varieties I see in Chinese markets).

On my last Flushing excursion, I chose two of the many selections vying for shelf space, Strawberry Snowflake Crisp (with Chinese and Japanese labeling)…

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…and Boba Milk Tea Snowflake Cake.

They’re pleasantly sweet but not overly so; they share a common texture, at once a little crispy and perhaps a bit melt-in-your-mouth, marshmallowy-chewy like junior varsity wannabe nougat; and they’re feathery, gossamer – so lighter-than-air that it compelled me to scrutinize the ingredients on the label, but helium was not among them.

The Strawberry Snowflake Crisp had a little crispy, snowy white “icing” on top but only the merest suggestion of a crunch, somewhere along the candy <-> cookie continuum.

The Boba Milk Tea Cake was less chewy – but that’s acceptable because the boba, appropriately, were very much so; the bobas do taste like those in ubiquitous bubble tea.

One factor to keep in mind is that because of their fragile nature, you’re also buying a lot of packaging. Each 1¼-inch square is individually wrapped ensuring a protective cushion of air, then verrry loosely packed in a bag or an eminently reusable container (peeking out at the bottom in the first photo).
More snacks from the Chinese market to come. Stay tuned….

Bakewell Bakery & Restaurant

Although Guyana is located in northeast South America, its culture is more Caribbean than South American; a former British colony, English rather than Spanish is the official language.

Bakewell, the aptly named Guyanese establishment at 127-08 Liberty Ave in South Richmond Hill, Queens, turned out to be a pleasant surprise; their baked goods were a cut above the competition.

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This Guyanese sweet coconut roll known as salara gets its vibrant red hue from food coloring, not some obscure South American red coconut or from Photoshop. Viewing it in the case, I was expecting something a lot drier, but it was moist, doughy, and one of the best of its kind that I’ve experienced. (You know you wanna bite into that, don’t ya now?)

By the same token, their cassava pone was stickier (in a good way), spicier, and generally fresher tasting that those I’ve had in the past – and I’ve sampled many.

Beef and chicken patties were not bad, gently seasoned with pronounced salty overtones, but the sweets really took the cake that day.

Peruvian Festival 2021

If you love Peruvian cuisine as much as I do, you don’t want to miss New Jersey’s annual Peruvian festival held around the last Sunday of July. Accompanied by an exuberant parade celebrating the country’s culture and national heroes, it’s traditionally staged in “Little Lima”, a neighborhood in Paterson that’s home to America’s largest Peruvian community. This year’s event was particularly significant in that 2021 is the bicentennial of Peru’s Independence Day.

A few photos of the delights we enjoyed:

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Anticuchos: tender, marinated beef heart – Peruvian street food at its finest. Don’t be faint of heart about trying this: it’s just another cut of beef, and a particularly delicious one at that. If you like grilled meat, you’ll love this.

Falling-off-the-bone lamb shank with rice and remarkably delicious beans.

The mother lode.

Ceviche with potatoes.

Short ribs with rice and potatoes.

Lúcuma ice cream. Its flavor has been compared to butterscotch or a mix of maple syrup and sweet potato; it’s difficult to find fresh lúcuma locally but the frozen pulp is easy to come by in Latin American markets.
Mark your calendars for next year’s event!