Tian Jin Meat Pie

Instagram Post 10/26/2018

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Upstairs at the downstairs Golden Mall.

Folks who are new to Flushing’s OG Golden Shopping Mall at 41-28 Main St often just head downstairs (the former digs of Xi’an Famous Foods) to prowl the labyrinthine basement and enjoy the wares of a handful of vendors including the everything-is-delicious-here Tian Jin Dumpling House. Sometimes, however, they neglect the street level merchants; here’s an example of what you’ll find there from Tian Jin Meat Pie, 天津餡餅.

Top right, a hefty bing (餅, Chinese wheat-flour pancake or pie) stuffed with delicious savory ground lamb; on the left, a chive, egg, and vermicelli somewhat thinner, floppier bing; and a folded scallion pancake for support. Unlike the fried scallion pancakes you typically find in a menu’s appetizer section, this doughy, steamed beauty is perfect for filling with whatever treats you find appropriate, perhaps from the bins there or elsewhere in Golden Mall. Or do as I do, buy some to warm up and experiment with at home.

[1] Chive, egg, and vermicelli bings at the ready.
[2] Lamb bings in front being upstaged by the yellow conical items on the left and to the rear: Chinese cornbread. Yes, it’s a thing.

[1] One of the aforementioned bins…
[2] …and another.
[3] Look for this sign just to the left of the Golden Shopping Mall entrance.
 
 

Serabi vs Cucur: Battle of the Indonesian Kue

Instagram Post 10/23/2018

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So many kue, so little time, but I was determined to get to the bottom of the puzzle. On a recent visit to the monthly NY Indonesian Food Bazaar at St. James Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens, I had purchased some kue (diminutive Indonesian sweets/snacks) from Pecel Ndeso’s booth, but I misidentified them in an earlier post. So I returned, and thanks to extensive discussion with the vendor and then another vendor who sold the same snack under a different name and my Indonesian friends @nigelsie (aka @hellomoonman), @fefeang (owner of the Taste of Surabaya booth at the bazaar), but especially to @erm718 for her detailed descriptions, I think I’ve got it now, to wit:

The first photo is serabi. @erm718 writes, “Serabi making is very similar to American pancake making, where the batter is spread onto a lightly oiled pan, but not flipped.” (See the browned bottom of the kue in the lower right of the photo.) “Traditionally clay pans are used for serabi, but now metal pans are also used.” Holes bubble up on top as the serabi cooks. Variations exist distinguished by the thickness of the kue and the toppings; the one in this photo, serabi basah (basah means wet), came accompanied by a bag of coconut milk sweetened with palm sugar. Thicker than a typical pancake and with a light, fluffy, almost fine-crumb cakey texture, the flavor was enhanced by the addition of a little pandan essence (that’s where the green tinge comes from). Warm, anointed by the sweet coconut milk, the taste intensified; definitely a treat.

The kue shaped like a flying saucer is cucur. @erm718 writes, “Cucur’s batter is poured into lots of hot oil and deep fried; cucur is eaten as is.” There’s a bit of a chewy quality to it, its puffy, airy interior adding to the sensory pleasure; it benefitted from a little warming as well.

Thanks for your help, Elika!

Lots more to come from the bazaar….
 
 

Acar

Instagram Post 10/22/2018

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Acar (pronounced achar, and you might see acar manis: manis = sweet), stumbled upon at the monthly NY Indonesian Food Bazaar at St. James Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens, is a pickled condiment; this tangy version comes from Kantin Rica-Rica’s booth. It’s sweet and sour, spicy and bright, made from shredded cucumber, carrot, cabbage, shallot, mango, and chilies, laden with chopped peanuts, and so good you could just pour some over rice and make a meal of it. It’s found throughout Southeast Asia camouflaged in slightly differing spellings and recipes (swap in pineapple for the mango, for example). Lots of top notch good eats to be found at this warung (stall/stand); I’ll post more soon!
 
 

The Khinkali is Behind Door Number 1, Manti

Instagram Post 10/17/2018

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How can you tell the difference between Uzbek manti and Georgian khinkali? I mean, they’re both big, beautiful meat-filled dumplings, generally boiled or steamed, that hail from Former Soviet Union states. At first glance, they do seem similar but the shapes are the most evident giveaway: manti are pinched closed, sometimes completely sealed, sometimes with little gaps, and they look a bit like a flower or a pyramid or perhaps a child’s fist. Khinkali, on the other hand are always twisted closed in such a way that they resemble a Chinese soup dumpling on steroids, with a little topknot to be employed as a handle for refined eating. (There are those who eschew consuming the topknot, claiming that it’s just too doughy to be anything more than a mechanism for conveying dumpling to mouth; others happily chew it up because it’s part of the package, literally and figuratively.)

Manti fillings (photo 2) vary depending upon provenance, seasonality, and recipe (they’re actually Turkic/Central Asian) and are typically found bursting with juicy, deliciously seasoned lamb and onions diced into tiny chunks (when they’re hot, unlike these), although pumpkin varieties are not at all uncommon. Khinkali from Georgia, a Christian nation (Uzbekistan is predominantly Muslim) usually contain a mixture of ground pork and beef.

And how do they taste? I thought you’d never ask. That’s where personal experience comes into play. And if you join me on my Little Odessa ethnojunket this Saturday, October 20 (pretty sneaky, right?), we’re likely to procure one or the other or both as we eat our way along Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn. If you’d like to join us for the adventure, please click here for more information and to sign up. Hope to see you then!
 
 

Kutaby

Instagram Post 10/10/2018

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Azerbaijani food is similar to the cuisine of Georgia (FSU Georgia, that is) but they lay claim to certain dishes such as kutaby as their own. A thin, tortilla-like crepe filled with ground lamb and luscious seasonings, folded in half and griddled, it’s an object of universal culinary lust for anyone whose lips have ever caressed it.

And, by the way, it may make an appearance at my upcoming Little Odessa ethnojunket (what a segue 😉), Saturday, October 20, where we’ll sample the delights of Russian and Former Soviet Union cuisine along Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn.

For more information and to sign up, click here. Hope to see you then!
 
 

Khaman Dhokla

Instagram Post 10/6/2018

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This is dhokla (ઢોકળા), the delicious snack that hails from Gujarat, India. Soft, delicately spongy, and impossible to stop eating, this treat (that can also be enjoyed as a main dish or a side) shows up in numerous varieties. It’s made from a fermented batter of rice and chana dal (split chickpeas) the proportions of which vary depending upon the type; this one, khaman dhokla, is made from chickpeas only. There’s a bit of baking soda in the recipe as well that serves to make it even fluffier. It’s topped with mustard seeds and green chilies and served here with a yellow curry sauce on the side for dipping (or pouring over if you crave a high sauce to dhokla ratio). These were a serendipitous discovery made while wandering around Jersey City, NJ from Bengali Sweet House, 836 Newark Ave.
 
 

This is Babka? Really?

Instagram Post 10/2/2018

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When we hear the word “babka”, we usually imagine a freshly baked loaf of irresistible sweetness fashioned from yeast-dough twirled around cinnamon or chocolate filling, topped with a crumb streusel, a slice of which will be perched beside tomorrow morning’s coffee. Or at least I do. So if you wandered into Taste of Russia at 219 Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn’s Little Odessa, you might be surprised to see that selfsame word (but in Russian) labeling this noodle and raisin pudding. I might have used the Yiddish phrase “lokshen kugel” (noodle pudding) to describe this Central European dish, but regardless of the sign (photo 2), it was immediately identifiable as something I needed to buy. Dense with eggs, milk, butter, and sugar and sporting a crispy, browned cap, this treat was delicious but fulfilled its role best as a desserty snack rather than a morning carbobomb. Definitely good eats and a potential treat along my Little Odessa food tour.
 
 

Doufu Hua

Instagram Post 10/1/2018

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If you fancy finding flowers in Flushing, you might flee to the florist where florae flourish at 135-26 Roosevelt Ave. But once there, you’d also serendipitously encounter a different sort of flower, doufu hua (豆腐花) – “tofu flower”. Soy Bean Chen Flower Shop is famous for their warm, fresh doufu hua or bean curd pudding. Slippery slabs of the Chinese snack were ladled up with a sweet ginger syrup on the side although a savory sauce is available as well. It’s so light and it goes down so easily that one of our food tour party who had claimed only moments before, “I couldn’t eat another bite,” ravenously polished it off!
 
 

The Case for Kholodets

Instagram Post 9/19/2018

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When I was a kid my mother would stash a can of Campbell’s consommé in the refrigerator until its contents congealed – her attempt at Cordon Bleu cookery. This actionable offense was my unfortunate introduction to aspic. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that aspic could be delicious.

This is kholodets (холодец), a savory meat aspic popular in Russian and Eastern European cuisines. Chilled meat stock gels naturally because of its high collagen content although gelatin is sometimes added to double down on the texture. Formerly a wintertime addition to the menu, contemporary refrigeration has made kholodets a year round treat.

I couldn’t resist backlighting this example that’s mostly chicken with a clandestine carrot slice or two set into aspic. Its appetizing flavor is anything but neutral; neutral gelatin would be gross, right? If you think of it as “meat jello” or some kind of weird delicacy, you probably won’t like it; I suggest approaching it with an open mind (and an open mouth) and try to appreciate it for what it is – in this case, cold chicken in its perfectly seasoned jus – rather than what it’s “sort of like”.
 
 

Cevichochos

Instagram Post 8/22/2018

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Ceviche isn’t always about seafood. This Ecuadorian ceviche de chochos (lupini beans), known colloquially as cevichochos, was served up by a street vendor near Our Lady of Sorrows Church, 104-11 37th Ave in Corona, Queens. The beans are combined with tomatoes, maiz tostado (toasted corn), red onion, and cilantro and marinated in a citrus blend. Often a vegetarian dish, this version included bits of fried pork (see second photo), a happy addition. Typically, it’s garnished with a crunchy topping – here it’s chifles, fried plantain.