Champion Bakery – Carrot Cake

Instagram Post 7/14/2018

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Since 1977, Champion Bakery has been known for fresh baked Jamaican cakes, pastries, patties, and breads with names like Alligator Bread, Duck Bread, Mongoose Bread, Pinch Bread and Hardo Bread. This Carrot Cake cuts like a pie, crumbles like a cookie, and eats like a cake, but that crispy edge is the real prize. So good that I barely had enough left to bring home to top with Great Nut ice cream!

Champion Bakery is located at 3978 White Plains Road near East 225th Street, Bronx.
 
 

Durian’s Best Kept Secret

Back in the seventies (ahem), Saturday Night Live did a sketch about Scotch Boutique, a store that sold nothing but Scotch Tape. They carried a variety of widths and lengths to be sure, but that was it. Just Scotch Tape.

MK Durian Group at 5806 6th Ave in Sunset Park, Brooklyn sells nothing but durian. They carry a variety of cultivars and variations to be sure, but that’s it. Just durian.

And the durian they carry is wonderful.

You’ve probably heard the oft-quoted aphorism about it, “Tastes like heaven, smells like hell” (some would have the order of the phrases swapped but you get the idea), so much so that the fruit is banned from hotels, airlines and mass transit in some parts of the world. (And yes, I’ve been known to smuggle some well-wrapped samples home on the subway.) If you’ve never tasted durian, you might discover that you actually like it; a number of folks I’ve introduced it to on ethnojunkets have experienced that epiphany. There are gateway durian goodies too, like sweet durian pizza (yes, really), durian ice cream, candies, and freeze dried snacks and they’re all acceptable entry points as far as I’m concerned.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what durian smells like. The scent appears to defy description; I’ve encountered dozens of conflicting sardonic similes, but suffice it to say that most people find it downright unpleasant. Although I have a pretty keen sniffer, somehow its powerful essence doesn’t offend me although I am acutely aware of it – just lucky I guess, or perhaps I’m inured to it – because this greatly maligned, sweet, tropical, custardy fruit is truly delicious. So I was thrilled to learn about MK Durian Group (aka MK International Group) from Dave Cook (Eating In Translation) whom I accompanied on a visit there.

Often called the King of Fruits (perhaps because you’d want to think twice about staging an uprising against its thorny mass and pungent aroma), it comes by its reputation honestly but with a footnote. The divine-to-demonic ratio varies depending upon the cultivar and, if I understand correctly, a window of opportunity when certain cultivars are sweet and nearly odorless simultaneously. This, I believe, is durian’s best kept secret. But more about that in a moment. (Click on any photo to view it in high resolution.)

MK Durian Group works directly with plantations in Malaysia and is a wholesaler and distributor to restaurants and retailers in addition to catering to walk-in customers. We entered the commodious space with its many tables, all unoccupied at the time. Chinese-captioned signs showing photos of fifteen cultivars and another seven in English decked the walls along with a menu that, in addition to a price list for the fruit itself, included durian pancakes, mochi, and a variety of cakes, buns, and biscuits, a concession to the timid, perhaps. Durian cultivars are typically known by a common name and a code number starting with the letter “D”, so you might see Sultan (D24) or Musang King (D197), but sometimes you’ll find just the code numbers or sometimes just names like XO or Kim Hong. Scientists continue to work on hybrids to maximize flavor and minimize unpleasant smell.
Fion, without whom I would have been at a complete loss, urged us to get the Musang King, often regarded as the king of the King of Fruits. She selected one from the freezer case and microwaved it for a few minutes to thaw it but not warm it up. Our four pounder, stripped of seeds and rind, ultimately produced about one pound of (expensive but) delicious fruit.Using an apparatus that looked a little like some sort of medieval torture device to crack the husk, she then adeptly removed the yellow pods; each pod contains a single seed that can be used in cooking like those of jackfruit. We took our treasure to one of the tables where boxes of plastic poly gloves were as ubiquitous as bottles of ketchup would be on tables at a diner.

That Musang King was perhaps the best durian I had ever tasted, so much so that my new personal aphorism is “Durian: The fruit that makes its own custard.”

You may have seen durian in Chinatown in yellow plastic mesh bags where the fruit is often sold by the container and you don’t have to buy a whole one; you might conceivably experiment with whatever is available. But these were a cut above. As we left, I realized that something about the experience had been unusual: I asked Dave if he had noticed any of the customary malodourous bouquet. He replied no, but he thought perhaps he was a little congested that morning. I knew I wasn’t congested that morning. There had been no unpleasant smell to contend with. Had we stumbled upon that elusive golden window of odorless but sweet opportunity? Was that particular Musang King odor free? Or perhaps all of them in that lot? Did it have something to do with the fact that it had been frozen and thawed? We were beyond the point of going back and asking Fion, but I think it’s worth a return visit to get some answers!
 
 

Bake Culture

Instagram Post 6/14/2018

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As I continue to update my Manhattan Chinatown ethnojunket, I find that there’s always a new bakery that has popped up, and although they sell many similar items, there are often a few surprises. Bake Culture at 48 Bowery has a branch in Flushing and its roots in Taiwan and presents a clean, sleek image to its millennial customers. The brainchild of three Taiwanese boy band members, they offer items that are touched with whimsy like Seashell Bread, Chocoholic Bread, Hot Dog Bunnies, and this Chocolate Dipped Coconut Sheep Bread. It’s actually not bad; chocolate dipped horns and candy eyes with a tasty version of that eggy yellow coconut filling that you’ve probably sampled before.

Photo #2 – To reacquaint yourself with the filling.

Photo #3 – They simply call this one German Pudding, a common name in Singapore for this kind of custard tart; it sports a crust that’s a bit more sturdy and flavorful than a standard Chinatown dan tat and a filling that’s a little lighter and less dense than others I’ve tried around these parts. Good stuff!

(I guess this is how these former musicians are making their bread these days! 😉)
 
 

46 Mott Street

Instagram Post 6/10/2018

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46 Mott Street. That was the only name. A holdover, perhaps, from Manhattan Chinatown’s early days when businesses were sometimes referred to only by their addresses? I thought the venue looked familiar, but I didn’t recall that name. Then I remembered the former occupant of that space, Fong Inn Too, the oldest and much beloved independently-run tofu shop in the US as well as the controversy surrounding its space, the particulars of which I won’t detail here, except to say that I fondly remember the warm douhua (tofu pudding) they scooped from huge bins.

A message hand-sketched in streaky yellow paint (see photo 3) graced the new proprietors’ window: “Welcome to 46 store” so I decided to check it out. They still feature soy milk and tofu products, steamed sweet and savory cakes, as well as some other prepared items like these two: (photo 1) Representing the sweet division, thick, chewy glutinous rice dumplings filled with chopped peanuts and coconut, and for the savory side (photo 2) crispy fried fish skins with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce. Betcha can’t eat just one!
 
 

Miscelanea

Instagram Post 6/4/2018

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Tucked away in the East Village and down a few steps, you’ll discover Miscelanea at 63 East 4th St; they’ve been around for about three years and here’s hoping they stay around a lot longer. A tiny market cum sandwich counter, it serves the neighborhood well with all of the cocina mexicana essentials you’d expect like mole, Oaxacan cheese, fresh nixtamal tortillas and chorizo, canned necessities like huitlacoche and flor de calabaza and bottles of Mexican soft drinks in addition to chapulinas (roasted grasshoppers), sal de gusano (mezcal worm salt) and the like. The menu boasts about eight traditional sandwiches plus snacks and appealing Mexican beverages. Here’s half of a Pollo con Mole torta (shredded chicken breast, mole sauce, crema, lettuce, queso fresco and more), pickled veggies on the side.
 
 

New Flushing Bakery

Instagram Post 6/2/2018

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Chinese Egg Custard Tarts (dan tat, 蛋挞) are ubiquitous in Chinatown, on display in just about every Chinese bakery case and riding on dim sum trolleys threading their way through restaurants at lunchtime. They found their way to China and Hong Kong decades ago by way of Portuguese pastéis de nata and English custard tarts and are available these days in a wide variety of styles: the basic (plain bright yellow surface), brûléed (Portuguese influence), egg white, coconut, green tea, even strawberry, almond, papaya, and the list goes on. Some time ago, there was a bakery on Mott Street that touted dozens of flavors; alas, they’ve since closed, but it appears that New Flushing Bakery has taken up their mantle.

Here’s a sample of their wares: clockwise from upper right, Strawberry Milk Custard, Lemon Egg Custard, Mango Egg Custard (with tapioca balls), and Purple Potato Custard.

Cutaway views reveal purple potato lurking within one and a strawberry layer at the bottom of another.

New Flushing Bakery is located at 135-45 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, Queens.
 
 

Little House – Taro Cake

Instagram Post 5/24/2018

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A place of many delicious wonders, I am compelled to return to Little House Café, 90-19 Corona Ave in Elmhurst, Queens as soon as possible. It’s an Asian fusion counter service venue with a few tables and remarkable food; in addition to having the best Curry Mee with Young Tao Fu I’ve ever tasted, the sweets and desserts were a cut above as well. One of the most dramatic was this layered taro cake: gelatin, custard, taro, cake. Each layer brought something unique to the party: sweet, creamy, textured, fluffy. Remarkably, I was able to polish off the whole thing in one sitting because it wasn’t too sweet.

Yeah, that must’ve been why. 🐷

…and the cutaway stepped view.
 
 

Bappy Sweets – Mishti Doi

Instagram Post 5/18/2018

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I sing the praises of this humble dessert and I freely admit that it is a much beloved comfort food for me. No, I do not hail from 🇮🇳 West Bengal or 🇧🇩 Bangladesh, but this delicious treat does. Essentially, mishti doi is similar to a sweetened, thick yogurt – almost the texture of a custard or pudding – but is distinguished by the way in which it is made. From Wikipedia: “Mishti doi is prepared by boiling milk until it is slightly thickened, sweetening it with sugar, either gura (brown sugar) or khejur gura (date molasses), and allowing the milk to ferment overnight.” Sometimes a touch of cardamom is added for flavor and aroma. You can usually identify it by its pale orange color, but I’ve seen it nearly white as well; there’s also a variation called “bhapa doi” that’s made with sweetened condensed milk that sets up more reliably if you’re making it yourself and I understand there are fruit variants like mango as well.

This batch came from Bappy Sweets, 85-07 Whitney Ave in Elmhurst, Queens. Whenever I take folks through the neighborhood on a food tour (“ethnojunkets” I call them), Bappy is an essential stop; everyone I have introduced this delight to has absolutely loved it and it always disappears in a trice. Bappy makes and sells other mithai (Indian sweets) but I recently learned that their claim to fame and best seller is their mishti doi. I’m not surprised.
🧡
And if you have trouble remembering its name, here’s a mnemonic I came up with for this magical comfort food: “Sometimes Mishti Doi is the only thing that can make you feel better on a Misty Day.”
🧡
 
 

The Equal Opportunity Celebrant – Part 4

Daylight Saving Time, my second favorite holiday after Christmas and the undisputed harbinger of Spring as long as you don’t look out your window, has at long last arrived. Two notable celebrations of the season, Easter and Passover, are concomitant this year, so this post is a nod to both. I haven’t forgotten Nowruz, of course, the Iranian (or Persian) New Year that occurs on the vernal equinox, but I feel that it deserves a post of its own accompanied by photos of delicious traditional foods which, with some luck, I’ll be able to provide.

It’s no coincidence that the Italian word for Easter (pasqua) and the Hebrew word for Passover (pesach) are closely related, although culinarily the holidays couldn’t be more disparate. During this time of year, Jewish families are expunging their homes of even the most minuscule crumb of anything leavened, and Italians are baking Easter breads like they’re going out of style.

Italy’s traditional seasonal bread is La Colomba di Pasqua (“The Easter Dove”), and it is essentially Lombardy’s Eastertime answer to Milan’s Christmastime panettone. These deliciously sweet, cakey breads, in some ways Italy’s gift to coffeecake but so much better, are fundamentally the same except for two significant distinctions: the colomba is baked in the shape of the iconic dove that symbolizes both the resurrection and peace, and the recipes diverge with the colomba’s dense topping of almonds and crunchy pearl sugar glaze. Traditionally, a colomba lacks raisins, favoring only candied orange or citron peel, but as with panettone, fanciful flavors (including some with raisins) proliferate. And also as with panettone, charming but somewhat specious tales of its origin abound. (If you haven’t already, please read my passionate paean to panettone for more information and folklore about this extraordinary contribution to the culinary arts.)

(Click any photo to see it in high resolution.)

The first photo shows a colomba in all its avian splendor. Frankly, I think it’s a leap of faith to discern a dove in there, but if you can detect one, you may have just performed your own miracle.

Hard pressed to see the dove? Fret not, for the second photo has the cake turned upside down so the columbine form is somewhat more evident.

The third photo depicts a version that features bits of chocolate and dried peaches within and crunchy crushed amaretto cookies atop.

Just wondering: There’s no debate that American kids bite the ears off their chocolate Easter bunnies first. Do you suppose that Italian children start with the head, tail, or wings of the colomba?

On to Passover. Previously on ethnojunkie.com, I did a springtime post that included a story about someone who dared me to come up with an ethnic fusion Passover menu. I wrote:

“Well, far be it from me to dodge a culinary challenge! So although obviously inauthentic, but certainly fun and yummy, here’s to a Sazón Pesach!

Picante Gefilte Pescado
Masa Ball Posole
Brisket Mole
Poblano Potato Kugel
Maple Chipotle Carrot Tzimmes
Guacamole spiked with Horseradish
Charoset with Pepitas and Tamarindo

And, of course, the ever popular Manischewitz Sangria!”

It was all in good fun, of course, but it got me thinking about actually creating a Jewish-Mexican fusion recipe. It isn’t strictly Kosher for Passover, of course, but I thought the concept was worth a try. So here is my latest crack at cross cultural cooking: Masa Brei!

Now you might know that Matzo Brei (literally “fried matzo”) is a truly tasty dish consisting of matzos broken into pieces that are soaked briefly in warm milk (some folks use water), drained, soaked in beaten eggs until soft, then fried in copious quantities of butter. Typically served with sour cream and applesauce, it’s heimische cooking at its finest, Jewish soul food, and it’s easy to do.

So I thought it might be worth a try to swap out the matzos for tostadas, the milk for horchata, the sour cream for crema, and the applesauce for homemade pineapple-jalapeño salsa. A sprinkle of tajín, a scatter of chopped cilantro – and it actually worked! Here’s the finished product:

And no matter which one you’re celebrating (or perhaps all of them like me) – Happy Holidays!
 
 

BonBon

Instagram Post 4/11/2018

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Imagine if the Beatles’ “Savoy Truffle” had been a Swedish song: as opposed to names of candies like Creme Tangerine, Montelimar, and Ginger Sling, they would have sung about Gott Och Blandat, Chokladhjärta, and Häxvrål. Those are just some of what you’ll find at BonBon, 130 Allen Street in Manhattan. Fortunately, it wasn’t a northern song and there are English signs here, there, and everywhere to hold your hand if you’ve got a feeling that it’s all too much, because there are over 150 kinds of Swedish candy on display. But I did see Finnish Sweet Licorice Pieces and I wonder if something Norwegian would help! 😜
🐷 🐷 🐷
But seriously, BonBon is a Swedish 🇸🇪 candy company that’s a newcomer to the Lower East Side. In addition to sweet treats in a rainbow array of colors, flavors, and textures, they sell world famous Swedish salty licorice as well as the sweetish kind. Curiously, the unique taste comes not from sodium chloride (NaCl, table salt) but rather from ammonium chloride (NH4Cl) so it’s really more astringent than salty. I recommend Tyrkisk Peber (Turkish pepper) – that’s the hard stuff, literally – although they do have a number of gateway salty licorices to choose from like chewy filled Sweet & Salty Licorice Logs, Licorice Chalks in a variety of flavors, Licorice Screws and Licorice Carpets. Other favorites included Tivoli Mix, Lemon Rhubarb Logs, and ridged, red and white, flowery-edged Vanilla Marshmallow candies. For traditionalists, they also offer delicious Swedish chocolates including Daim, the milk chocolate covered crunchy almond caramel candy bar. Try it; you’ll definitely dig it.

All together now: The End!

#thereAre15 #didYouFindThemAll