New Asian Cuisine – Halal Beef Onion Buns

Instagram Post 7/11/2018

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The sign hanging just below the awning of New Asian Cuisine at 153D Centre Street, Manhattan, was what caught my eye: Halal Beef Onion Buns. I believe the Chinese text was literally “Halal Beef – Big Scallion (hence onion) Bun”. The text in French at the bottom (which I can read far better than I’ll ever be able to read Chinese) was “Recettes d’une Chinoise”, Recipes from a Chinese Woman. That was enough to persuade me to venture into what looked like an old school downtown NYC coffee shop that had seen better days.

(The second photo shows the inside scoop.)

I don’t know if this inexpensive but tasty snack was really Chinese. I don’t know why the subtitle was in French. And I know even less about that emoji-like face stuck to the sign. But I do know that this steamed bao hit the spot right before I descended into the subway station next door!
 
 

Tulcingo Bakery

Instagram Post 7/10/2018

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One of my favorite destinations when I’m craving Mexican carbs is Tulcingo Bakery at 103-02 Roosevelt Ave in Corona, Queens. Named for the municipality in Puebla, Mexico 🇲🇽, it’s a triple threat: a market featuring the freshest ingredients for your cocina Mexicana, the go-to place for amazing carnitas, barbacoa (goat), tamales, and atoles on the weekends, and of course, an extensive panadería, the focus of today’s post.

Literally dozens of kinds of Mexican cookies, sweet breads, layer cakes and loaf cakes, and holiday and traditional breads, not to mention fruit tarts, gelatin desserts, puddings, and more are on display; just grab a tray and a pair of tongs, and let your corazón be your guide. According to Wikipedia, it’s estimated that there are between 500 and 2,000 types of breads and baked goods currently produced in Mexico. Each is distinct: the treats shown here are soft or flaky, sugary or fruity, crispy or filled with custard or cheese and the list goes on from there as you’ll see when you visit this cornucopia of confections for yourself. The perfect leisurely breakfast is one of these beauties and a cup of Café de Olla. Or better still, Mexican hot chocolate!
 
 

Republic of Booza

Instagram Post 7/9/2018

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Booza (بوظة), an ice cream that hails from the Levant and Egypt, is known for two qualities, its stretchy consistency and its ability to resist melting. The elasticity comes from mastic, the resin that makes Turkish Delight delightfully chewy, and its prowess in fending off the consequences of Middle Eastern heat stems from sahlab (aka salep), a thickener that’s also used in beverages and puddings.

The stylish Republic of Booza offers seventeen flavors in three categories: classic (like vanilla, chocolate and strawberry), global (like horchata, red miso and mango-tajín) and “experimental” (like salted Oreo, Sichuan white chocolate and saffron peppercorn). Always eager to explore the roots of an ethnic dish before venturing into a more fanciful rendition, I chose Original Qashta, subtitled “candied cream”. (And I coyly chose “roots” here because sahlab is made from ground orchid tubers.) I was familiar with the word qashta from my Bay Ridge, Brooklyn ethnojunkets where it appears as ashta (colloquially) or kashta (more formally) and refers to the Middle Eastern clotted cream spiked with rose water or orange blossom water that suffuses many desserts of the region. My second selection was pistachio, simply because it seemed like an appropriate option given the territory. Because there’s no overrun (air that’s a component of most commercial ice creams), booza is remarkably creamy. Both flavors were delicious and the texture was a cool experience.

Since July is National Ice Cream Month, I’ll be writing a featured post about ethnic ice cream here on ethnojunkie.com in which I’ll attempt to run the global gamut of frozen, creamy treats. For now, I highly recommend your making the journey to Republic of Booza at 76 North 4th St in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (no passport required), especially in this heat. Suffice it to say that this may be the most unusual ice cream you’ve ever tasted…and that isn’t a stretch!
 
 

Brooklyn Kolache Co.

Instagram Post 7/8/2018

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You can track down the sweet and savory Czech pastries known as kolaches as well as select coffee and tea in the namesake bakery, Brooklyn Kolache Co. at 520 DeKalb Ave. These folks have ported small-batch Texas style kolaches to Bedford-Stuyvesant, “Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn”. Texas style? Yes, it’s a thing – and they’ve taken care to keep everything as sustainable, locally sourced, and organic as possible. This puffy blueberry cheese kolache made a righteous quick breakfast.

Second photo shows a peek inside.
 
 

Pata Market – Part 1

Instagram Post 7/5/2018

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The departure of Sugar Club, the beloved Thai snack bar and prepared food market in Elmhurst, Queens, left a void that is currently being half filled (because the space was subdivided) by Pata Market at 81-16 Broadway. I was pleased to find a considerable assortment of grab-n-go snacks, both sweet and savory, but since I didn’t have time to buy a fridge full of food that day, I picked up only two items from the sweets department.

I didn’t catch the name of the white squares, but I thought they were quite good – crispy puffed rice with a sugary “icing”, at once sweet and salty, and believe it or not, a little buttery; those black sesame seeds provide a significant flavor component as well as decoration. They’re keeping company on this plate with Quail Egg Candy (Khanom Kai Nok Krata) also known in Thailand as Turtle Eggs. You could tell from the modest price that no quail (or turtle) eggs were harmed in the making of this snack (I wouldn’t call it “candy”) – the name stems simply from the shape. The dough is made from sweet potato; they’re a bit sweet and somewhat chewier and more resilient than a doughnut. I have a feeling that they’d be a lot better fresh out of the deep fryer.

The second photo shows a view of bisected Quail Egg Candy to give you the inside scoop.

I’ll report back on how the savories stack up after a future visit.
 
 

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!
 
 

Tamales from Tulcingo

Instagram Post 6/29/2018

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Just the name Tulcingo, a municipality in Puebla, Mexico, evokes the region’s cuisine and is probably the reason that it’s such a popular moniker for restaurants and panaderías around these parts. And Tulcingo Bakery, 103-02 Roosevelt Ave, is one of my favorite destinations in Corona, Queens when I’m craving those flavors. First, the array of fresh baked goods is dizzying – traditional Mexican breads, sweet breads, holiday breads, cookies, cakes, tarts, and much more; watch this space for an upcoming post. It’s also a small but comprehensive market where you can purchase refrigerated and packaged ingredients for your own forays into Mexican cooking.

But today’s post concerns their weekend specials. It’s my go-to place for delicious carnitas and amazingly tender barbacoa (goat) so succulent that I’ve been known to bring friends there just to secure a pound and share it al fresco, plastic forks and abundant napkins at the ready. (More about the meats in a future post, too.)

On my last weekend visit, I tried their chicken tamales in three varieties. Not only are the fillings distinctive, the masa from which they’re made is righteously infused with the flavors of the fillings as well.

[1] Jalapeño – the white chicken meat and the masa picked up the piquant flavor of the jalapeños.
[2] Mole – rich, flavorful, a skillful blend of mole components.
[3] Rojo – red chili peppers made their presence known; the spiciest of the three.

And in case you’re wondering, they were equally delicious!
 
 

East Wind Snack Shop – Dry Aged Beef Potstickers

Instagram Post 6/28/2018

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My initial foray into the new North 3rd Street Market in Williamsburg, Brooklyn: I suspect there is still a lot of space for new businesses, but of the stalls that were there, East Wind Snack Shop caught my eye with their Dry Aged Beef Potstickers. I had been a little skeptical, but I was convinced when I tasted one: exceedingly beefy and extremely juicy – not what one might characterize as classically Asian, of course: that’s not what they’re aiming for. And yes, it really tasted like aged beef. Glad I tried ’em!

North 3rd Street Market is located at 103 North 3rd St (obvs) between Berry St and Wythe Ave.
 
 

Pakhlava

Instagram Post 6/24/2018

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If you’re someone who likes the sweet chopped walnut essence of baklava (like me) but doesn’t appreciate a beehive full of honey with every bite (also like me), check out the pastry they call Pakhlava at Georgian Deli & Bakery, 2270 86th Street in Gravesend near the border of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. It’s layered like baklava but the dough is richer, more substantial, and sour cream based as opposed to the gossamer phyllo leaves you might expect from the name; the sweetness comes from dried fruit instead of honey. To me, the names are more similar than the pastries themselves.

Second photo reveals even more layers of lusciousness.
 
 

Lucky Pickle Dumpling Co.

Instagram Post 6/18/2018

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Yes, Lucky Pickle Dumpling Co. at 513 Amsterdam Ave in Manhattan has dumplings and noodles too, but the attraction for us was the soft serve ice cream available in two flavors, matcha and pickle; of course we went for the pickle since that’s their claim to fame. Perusing my mental catalog of pickle families, I was hard pressed at first to identify its tribe other than cucumber-based. Sour pickle? Not even close. Kosher dill? Nope, no garlic (thank goodness). Then I finally hit upon it: bread and butter pickles! The sweetest in the clan and always welcome at the table. I mean, how else could you get down to the bottom of that cup and not wonder if it would have made a good sundae with a little pastrami topping?

(Remember when a craving for pickles and ice cream was considered a litmus test for pregnancy?)