Ousha’s Produce Stand

Our destination was vague, “far-flung NYC” per the subject line of the email, so we set our sights on the outer reaches of Queens and, as the song goes, when we reached Jamaica we made a stop. Our peregrinations included Bangladeshi food in Jamaica Hills, and unexpectedly yummy baked goods in South Richmond Hill. Nearby, in Richmond Hill, we paid a visit to Ousha, a Guyanese vendor who sells tropical fruits and vegetables and is a regular at the corner of Liberty Ave and 114th St. There were two items in particular that piqued our interest:

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Black Pudding and White Pudding (I’m counting those as one item since they arrived in the same container). These spicy sausages with roots in the British Isles are a distinctly Guyanese variation; both are made with rice, onions, and herbs, but black pudding includes pig’s blood (don’t cringe: in Spain they relish morcilla; in France, boudin; in the Philippines, dinuguan; and plenty more worldwide) and white pudding swaps in coconut milk for the, um, fluid component. The less bloodthirsty among us preferred the white, which is why that recipe was created, or so they say.


Not spicy enough for ya? This is Ousha’s homemade Mango Achar, a pickled condiment known by several similar names and enjoyed throughout the Caribbean, as well as South and Southeast Asia. On a spice level scale of 1 to 10, where 10 means you can’t taste anything other than incendiary heat (and frankly, that’s too much for me, a confirmed pepperhead), this rendition was a 9.5 – maybe even a little higher. Fortunately, it will keep in my fridge for a while.

A very long while.
 
 

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!)
 
 

July is National Ice Cream Month! Celebrate Globally!

The story began here:

Every August, as a routinely flushed, overheated child, I would join in chorus with my perspiring cohorts, boisterously importuning, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” Little did I realize that rather than conjuring dessert, I was conjugating it and probably laying the groundwork for a lifetime of fascination with foreign languages and world food.

We lived in close proximity to one of the best dairies in town; it was known for its wide assortment of locally produced natural flavors, certainly sufficient in number and variety to satisfy any palate. Perhaps my obsession with offbeat ice cream flavors is rooted in my frustration with my father’s return home from work, invariably bearing the same kind of ice cream as the last time, Neapolitan. Neapolitan, again. My pleas to try a different flavor – just once? please? – consistently fell on deaf ears. “Neapolitan is chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. That’s three flavors right there. If you don’t want it, don’t eat it.” Some kids’ idea of rebellion involved smoking behind the garage; mine was to tuck into a bowl of Rum Raisin….

There’s lots more to the story, of course. Click here to get the full scoop! 🍨
 
 

Do You Hear What I Hear?

In my last post I wrote that I had been spending an inordinate amount of time in the Latin American section of Brooklyn’s Sunset Park (no, not “Parque Atardecer,” but wouldn’t that be cool?) tracking down a variety of Mexican and Central American cremas in a quest for the best. Among the scores of restaurants in the neighborhood, there is one that notably displays great tempting piles of freshly crackled chicharrónes in all their fried porky glory in its front window: La Isla Cuchifrito at 4920 5th Avenue.

La Isla Cuchifrito. Fried Pork Island. Pretty much says it all. (BTW, if anyone reading this remembers “Fried World” on Eighth Avenue in Times Square from decades ago, we can be BFFs. But I digress.) In my monomaniacal pursuit to find the crème de la cremas, I strode past that seductive window any number of times and each time I passed, a voice in my head whispered, “Just do it. You know you wanna.” Finally, the provocative whisper grew into a stentorian shout and I succumbed.

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I entered the establishment and pointed to one of the many perfect specimens of chicharrón that had been calling out to me. The fellow behind the counter extricated it from its window seat and set it on a chopping board. Brandishing his cleaver wordlessly, he cast an eye toward me as if to get permission to hack it into manageable chunks. I stopped him mid-backswing because I knew I wanted to take a photo of the whole thing once I got it home so you could see what all the fuss was about. “Entero, por favor,” I essayed.


Split down the middle to reveal the inner workings. There are three distinct layers of heavenly deliciousness here: the crackly skin that is at once crispy and crunchy, a vein of fat that I swear liquefies as you chew, and a layer of savory seasoned pork. The ideal bite comprises a bit of each.


On the plate along with some homemade arroz con gandules and some stoop line vended atole de granillo, a dense but meekly flavored corn-based gruel.

Normally at this juncture in the narrative, I would wax rhapsodic. But I’m not about to let this get cold.

Sorry, not sorry.
 
 

Two More from Tashkent Market

Two more quick bites from Tashkent Market on Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn, one of the stops on my Little Odessa ethnojunket, as I continue deliberations regarding its post-pandemic resumption.

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I’ve written about steamed manti before – the Turkic/Central Asian fist-sized dumplings often filled with juicy, delicately seasoned lamb and onions diced into chunks. These are Uyghur style fried manti, every bit as delicious as their steamed cousins.


And the inner workings, of course.


This one was new to me. The sign read “Men Caprese Salad”, the dish itself was hidden beneath a snowdrift of freshly grated cheese (therefore no visual clues) and nary a staffer could tell me anything about it in any mutually intelligible language.

So of course, I bought some.

On my way out, I glanced at the receipt: “Salad Men Caprice” was the spelling this time – still no help. But from having shoveled into it, I inferred that a connection to Italian caprese salad was specious: no sign of tomatoes or basil although the shredded cheese looked not unlike a firm mozzarella.


When I got it home, this is what I found: chopped hard boiled eggs, cubes of beef (likely boiled), shredded cheese (a semi-firm cow’s milk cheese it seemed), and lots of mayo and salt. So sort of a pumped-up egg salad. Pretty tasty, actually.

Later, I did manage to turn up a single website specializing in German and Russian travel and restaurants that referred to it: “The ‘Men’s Caprice’ salad is an invention of the Soviet era (although the name likely appeared quite recently). The gist of it is to take the most simple and satisfying ingredients and prepare a salad so that a hungry man has a full belly.”

Sounds right to me.

Lots more on my Little Odessa ethnojunket – if and when!
 
 

TBD 2…

Still contemplating the ins and outs and whereabouts of the revivification of ethnojunkets as the pandemic begins its retreat. A couple of posts ago, we examined khe, an appetizing fish delicacy which is customarily on the agenda in our Little Odessa tour.

In this post, we’ll take a look at two of the scores of exquisitely prepared foods available at Tashkent Market on Brighton Beach Ave, one of the stops along the way. Because they offer some incredibly delicious dishes, we always indulge in several on the tour, but I had never sampled these two so I thought I’d share.

The trick to making a successful selection is either to know the language or to go with someone who knows the ropes (🙋‍♂️ shameless plug). Case in point: there’s a long counter displaying an array of prepared fish – fried, baked, sauced, you name it – and all of them look absolutely delicious. But the signage above the trays is often just a transliteration as opposed to a proper translation into English. For example, you’ll see Fried Treska – that’s cod, Fried Korushka is smelt, Sazan is carp – you get the idea.

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This is Paltus with Sweet Chili Sauce – paltus is halibut – which was perfectly cooked. My only regret was that I should have spooned on more of the tasty sauce that permeated the skin. (Also fun for people who experience pareidolia. You know who you are.)


With the top slid back like a convertible. Sort of.


Salmon Betki – truly luscious. Big chunks of fresh salmon, barely held together by what I’m guessing was the tiniest bit of chopped onion, yellow bell pepper, possibly some carrot, black pepper and egg; I suspect there’s a binding agent like breadcrumbs, but it’s completely unobtrusive.

And remember, if you see something that piques your curiosity and it’s not on our menu du jour, I’m happy to offer some enlightenment; you can always purchase a taste to take home for yourself!

Now, back to ethnojunket contemplation. More to come….
 
 

TBD…

The weather is warming up and COVID-19 is settling down which means it’s time for me to start seriously considering the feasibility of offering my ethnojunkets again. An ethnojunket is a food-focused walking tour through one of New York City’s many ethnic enclaves; my mission is to introduce you to some delicious, accessible, international treats (hence, “ethno-”) that you’ve never tasted but soon will never be able to live without (hence, “-junkie”). You can learn more about my ethnojunkets here.

Rather than trying to make a decision about the future in a vacuum, I decided that actually revisiting some of my old haunts might serve a twofold purpose – to inspire me and also to reveal which businesses have survived the pandemic (so far). Therefore, I’ve been eating my way through various Chinatowns, Little Levant (the Middle Eastern enclave in Bay Ridge), Little Odessa (the Russian/Former Soviet Union strip along Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn), and the Latin American section of Sunset Park in service of that quest. In this and some subsequent posts, I’ll show you what I’ve been tasting in the process.

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This is khe, one of the treats we always indulge in on the Little Odessa ethnojunket. Not many people realize that Russia and North Korea share an 11 mile border and the Korean culinary character of khe is obvious. Meaty chunks of fish marinated in vinegar, onions and Korean red chili are the main ingredients in this delectable dish (recipes vary); think of it as ceviche meets kimchi. Only better. The reason behind its migration from the Russian/Korean border into Uzbekistan is the stuff of which history is made and you’ll hear the story on this ethnojunket.

The restaurant we always visited to grab an order of khe didn’t make it (although they have another business elsewhere that did survive) but fortunately, I found this tidbit at a different venue along the tour and it’s every bit as delicious as the previous version. It’s a personal favorite and one that always gets a big thumbs up from our group.

Stay tuned. More to come….
 
 

Like a Phoenix from the Ashes

Quite literally.

I don’t usually report news here, but this event is special and deserves all the digital ink it can get.

After a devastating fire in January 2020, Xi’an Famous Foods’ outpost at 26-19 Jackson Ave in Long Island City was forced to close, much to the dismay of its multitude of fans. And now, in case you missed it on their Facebook page, they are excited to announce that they’ve reopened and take-out is available for their eager customers.

I can remember standing on line, appetite at the ready, back in the days when Jason Wang and his dad occupied only a tiny stall in the depths of Golden Shopping Mall in Flushing. Now they’re a mini-chain and I’m happy to affirm that the quality is as top-notch and the food is as outrageously delicious as the original. Old photos of two of my absolute favorites:

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The N1 – Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-Pulled Noodles


The F4 – Spicy & Sour Lamb Dumplings

Find a Xi’an Famous Foods near you and go!
 
 

Irish Soda Bread

I checked into Wikipedia before I started writing this to see what gaps in my knowledge of Irish cuisine might exist: the extensive article boasted almost 9,000 words and explored the cuisine beginning with its roots in the prehistoric Mesolithic Period (8000–4000 BC)! So for the sake of our mutual sanity, we’re going to stick with Irish food that I actually know and love.

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Some dishes are quintessentially Irish like colcannon (potatoes and cabbage), bacon and cabbage (which begat corned beef and cabbage), Irish stew (traditionally mutton and potatoes), boxty (a potato pancake), coddle (sausage, bacon, and potatoes), black pudding and white pudding (sausages), shepherd’s pie, and more.

But in honor of St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, here is a favorite that does not include meat, potatoes or cabbage: Irish soda bread. Baking soda activated by buttermilk takes the place of yeast as a leavening agent in this delicacy; that accounts for its delicate, crumbly texture and puts it somewhere along the bread <-> cake continuum.


This sweet raisin-studded beauty came from Court Pastry Shop, 298 Court St in Brooklyn, and it was truly outstanding. It’s served here with Irish cheddar cheese, radicchio marmalade (a change up from the traditional coarse cut orange) and whipped butter.

(I know. Two rave reviews in less than a week. What’s gotten into me? But if you can get to Court Pastry, try it for yourself and let me know what you think.)
 
 

Pi Day – Petee’s Pie Company

From a visit to the amazing Petee’s Pie Company in Manhattan back in April, 2018.

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Pi Day is upon us! The official day that celebrates the astonishing discovery in 1988 that the first three digits of the mathematical constant pi (π≅3.14) correspond to the calendar date using the month/day format (3/14).

Provided, that is, that you don’t use the MM-DD format with its leading zeros. Or that you’re literally anywhere in the world outside of the United States where, intuitively, DD-MM-YYYY puts the numbers in order of significance. Or that you’re not enamored of the eminently more logical and sortable YYYY-MM-DD format.

But I digress.

IMHO 🥧 > 🍰 and Petee’s Pie Company at 61 Delancey St in Manhattan and 505 Myrtle Ave in Brooklyn dishes up some of the best I’ve ever tasted, but making the decision about which of the delightful daily selections to choose is neither as easy as pie nor is it a piece of cake. Of course they have wonderful fruit pies, nut pies, and custard pies, but their chess pies are always first to grab my attention.

Chess pie occupies (ahem) the middle ground between cheesecake and custard pie. Devoid of cheese and generally with a little more body than custard pie (often due to the addition of cornmeal) they are incredibly rich and, unsurprisingly, hail from America’s South.

Folktales about the genesis of its name are plentiful. One has it that chess pie is so sweet, it needs no refrigeration and could therefore be kept in the kitchen pie chest → pie ches’ → chess pie. Another speculation involves a tangled explanation involving English curd pies (think lemon curd as opposed to cheese curd and therefore sans cheese) and an American corruption of the British pronunciation of “cheese pie” – a long way around if you ask me. I favor the simpler, homespun tale that goes, “That pie smells incredible! What kind is it?” to which the modest Southern baker’s humble response was, “It’s jes’ pie.”

This incredible black bottom Almond Chess Pie infused with amaretto, topped with toasted almonds, resting on a layer of chocolate ganache and served with housemade vanilla ice cream was the capper on a day so packed with pigging out that we wondered if we would have room, but it was so delicious that it wasn’t a stretch. (Not so my belly, however.)
 
 
Visit Petee’s Pie Company on the web to check out their complete menu.