Crunch Berries

In a manner of speaking.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

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!]
 
 

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.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

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

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

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! 😏)
 
 

Dos Leches y Uno Rompope Cake

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

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?
 
 

Happy Diwali!

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Dear Friends,

I can no longer keep this to myself. I am an addict, hooked on mithai. What’s that? You don’t know about mithai? Mithai are Indian sweets and since Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, is upon us, I can think of no better time than now to tell you my tale. So gather round your diyas and check out my post “Indian Sweets 101: Meeting Mithai” right here on ethnojunkie.com!
 
 
दिवाली मुबारक
Happy Diwali!
 
 

Mochipia

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

You know about mochi, the popular Japanese rice cake, often sweet but not necessarily, made from glutinous rice pounded into paste.

You might not know about hopia, pastries hailing from the Philippines and Indonesia that can be found with a variety of fillings like ube (purple yam) or sweet bean paste enclosed within either a flaky or a cakey dough.

This product is called Mochipia, a portmanteau of mochi and hopia, both in name and composition. They’re filled with ube/macapuno paste surrounding a chewy mochi center that provides a snackworthy contrasting texture. Macapuno is a cultivar of coconut, sweet and jelly-like in texture, and often found in combination with ube in Filipino snacks because the two flavors are deliciously compatible.

And, of course, we always get some along the way on my Elmhurst food tour. Want to know where? Get the details on my Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst page and sign up to join in the fun!
 
 

Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival – 2023

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

A visit to any Chinatown bakery this time of year will reveal a spectacular assemblage of mooncakes (月餅, yue bing) in a seemingly infinite variety of shapes, sizes, ornamentation, and fillings, all begging to be enjoyed in observance of the Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated this year on September 29. Here are two pandan mooncakes, one with preserved egg yolk and a mini version without, from Chinatown’s Fay Da Bakery.


And here’s one of my favorites, Five Mix Nut Moon Cake, from Golden Fung Wong Bakery at 41 Mott St – one of the stops on my Manhattan Chinatown ethnojunket, of course!

Since 2023 is the Year of the Rabbit, known for his elegance among many other characteristics depending upon where you do your research, I decided to purchase an assortment of these elegant delicacies in order to share them, virtually, with you.

For a deep dive into the holiday and these delicious treats, you can get the skinny – er, poor choice of words there – in my Chinese Mooncakes Demystified page detailing their similarities and differences in an attempt to shed some light (moonlight, of course) on their intricacies.

中秋节快乐!
 
 

Genatsvale

Genatsvale is a touching Georgian word that doesn’t readily translate into other languages. At its essence, it is a term of endearment but it’s actually an elision/concatenation of a longer phrase which loosely deconstructed is, “If you are ever in trouble, let me take your place.” Sweet.

It is also the name of a new month-old Georgian bakery at 3070 Brighton 3rd St in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn where the two items I’ve tasted have easily surpassed any other versions I’ve experienced – and that’s saying something.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

This is Achma. It looks like noodles with cheese, but it is considered a member of the khachapuri family (Georgian breads). It consists of layers of thin handmade dough (a laborious task) interspersed with a mixture of cheeses all baked together until the top is brown and crispy and the cheese is melty and gooey. Their rendition of the dish is outstanding, and yes, we enjoy this seemingly modest miracle on my Exploring Eastern European Food in Little Odessa ethnojunket.


And speaking of sweet, what’s for dessert? They spell it Gada although I’ve seen Qada more frequently. The dough is rolled out, spread with a simple but rich filling, rolled up, and crinkle cut on the bias. It’s dense yet soft, a little crumbly, sweet but not cloying, buttery but not unctuous. Again, it’s by far the best I’ve had anywhere.

No surprise that they know me by now because I keep going back for more – so if you want to buy some for yourself, tell Katie or Linda that ethnojunkie sent you! (This is NOT a paid endorsement, but it is a recommendation!)

Or you could just take my tour to try these and even more delectable treats! 😉
 
 

Shakalaka Bakery

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

The cliché applies to each of New York City’s nine Chinatowns: So many bakeries, so little time. And Flushing is no exception rocking its major chains, smaller collectives, and the occasional singleton.

Each is known for its specialties, and each has its loyal followers who passionately champion their choice of who has the best Don Tat (egg tarts), the best Char Siu Bao (BBQ pork buns), the best Jian Dui (sesame balls) – you get the idea. The larger chains have a reliable contingent of the most popular goodies (like the aforementioned) but it seems to me that the smaller the establishment, the more likely you are to find something unique.

Shakalaka Bakery at 136-76 Roosevelt Ave in Flushing is one such enterprise. I entered in search of crispy, crumbly, almond thins but was stopped in my tracks by a sign that read “Gooey Chocolate Cookies” perched over a tray of baked goods that looked more like mini loaves than cookies. Obviously, since gooey, chocolate, and cookie comprise a hat-trick, I had to indulge. I’m hard pressed to describe it as a cookie, but I can vouch for the fact that it was a righteous snack on the subway ride back. (What – you thought I’d wait until I got home?)

And in other news, although I didn’t purchase it, the label on these diminutive carbobombs was “Chestnut Cake”.

I think “Cousin Itt Cake” would have nailed it, but that’s just me.
 
 

Guoyu Spicy Fruit

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

In case you were thinking that Mexico had cornered the market in sweet fresh fruit garnished with a spicy topping (Tajín, for example), please allow me to disabuse you of that notion.

I was in Flushing scoping out new and unusual goodies for my “Snacking in Flushing – The Best of the Best” ethnojunket and I discovered Guoyu Spicy Fruit in the revived Golden Mall at 41-28 Main St. They’ve been there about a month offering 16 varieties of cut fruits with a choice of either spicy chili or sweet yogurt mix-ins.

You’ll see samples for each of the two options. Taste the spicy sample and then channel Goldilocks requesting spicier than this, less spicy, or just right. Personally, I think the idea is brilliant – so much more meaningful than an arbitrary numbering system that’s relative to nothing.

The sweet yogurt option comes with an assortment of toppings such as popping boba, coconut, sprinkles, crumbled chocolate cookies, nuts & raisins, and the like so you can customize your treat per the sample cups as well.

Naturally, I was all in on the spicy option. You fill up either size (¾ or 1 liter) container yourself with as many or as few kinds of fruit as your heart desires and specify the topping to be mixed into it. I’m pleased to report that it was truly delicious – how could it not be?

But even the smaller size was more than I could finish in a single sitting, so I brought the remainder home with me – and that’s when I went rogue: I tried it over vanilla ice cream and it was positively synergistic. Turned out it was also a perfect foil for mixing into tapioca pudding. The day after that, I anointed my breakfast French Toast with some of the remaining sweet, spicy juice: who needs cloying maple syrup? I will even admit that I poured a bit into a glass of ice cold Coca Cola by way of experimentation – and it actually worked!

I am more than happy with this – not to mention that it’s good for you! Fresh fruit and spice – no fat, no sugar added. Plus check out the adorable multi-purpose bucket that it comes in!

I’m curious to see what you think, either if you’ve been there or are planning to go; let me know in the comments below!