Balady Market

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One of the stops on my Flavors of Little Levant and Little Yemen ethnojunket is Balady Foods, the recently expanded Middle Eastern market at 7128 5th Ave in Brooklyn.

The array of treats pictured here includes soft, salty, squeaky Nabulsi cheese that hails from Palestine, electric magenta pickled turnips, foul mudammas (bean dip), Lebanese makdous (oil-cured eggplant stuffed with walnuts and red pepper), sucuk (the generic word for sausage found all across the Middle East) and several types of black olives all resting on a piece of msemen, flatbread from the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia).

Many of these goodies came from Balady but other establishments are represented as well. And there’s so much more to taste on this food tour! Get the details on my Ethnojunkets page and sign up to join in the fun!

Royal Queen Dim Sum on Main Street

As I was hungrily exiting Jmart in Flushing’s New World Mall via the down escalator to the Main Street side, I spotted an array of dim sum on my right and a selection of Chinese roast meats near the window that overlooks the sidewalk. (My version of serendipity.)

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Peering a bit further in, I noticed a steam table array (the typical 4 dishes + soup + rice) and a small sign that read “Royal Queen”. Now, Royal Queen restaurant on the third floor of the complex has been around for a while, but this crowded niche was new to me. I pointed to a trio of crispy fried shrimp dumplings and brought my booty downstairs to the food court.

Each dumpling contained at least one whole shrimp and then some; no ground paste to be found – just deliciousness beyond my expectations.

Here’s how the window looked from the sidewalk on Main Street; it’s directly across from Mickey D’s as you can probably tell. 😉

Battle of the Cheezy Noodz

I’ve said it before: any region whose cuisine includes both dough and cheese has a signature dish that layers them in a delectable baked creation. Sometimes that dough is leavened and baked into bread, sometimes it’s dried and boiled into noodles – an oversimplification, I know, but you get the idea.

At its most fundamental, Noodles and Cheese, unadorned with sauce, meat, or veggies, is at once down-to-earth gratification and elegant-in-its-simplicity indulgence. (Ashkenazi Jews will immediately home in on Lokshen mit Kaese.)

On a recent “Exploring Eastern European Food in Little Odessa” food tour, I decided to do a comparison of two examples, achma from Georgia and su böreği from Turkey. Interestingly, but unsurprisingly when you think about it, achma is considered a member of the khachapuri family (Georgian breads) and su böreği belongs to the borek clan (stuffed filo pastry).

Most recipes for these call for a combination of two compatible cheeses: a salty, crumbly type like feta plus a soft, springy variety like mozzarella. You’ll see imeruli and sulguni in Georgia and beyaz peynir or künefe peyniri in Turkey, for example. Essential features for any of these treats are a crispy crust enclosing soft noodles and melty, slightly salty cheese. I purchased a slice of each from two different markets and brought them over to the boardwalk for an A/B comparison.

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Here’s the Georgian Achma…

…and here’s the Turkish Su Böreği.

Want to know more about them? Which one prevailed? I’ll tell all when you join me on my Exploring Eastern European Food in Little Odessa ethnojunket. There are still some openings on my April 25 tour; sign up to join in the fun!

St. Patrick’s Day 2023

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.

I purchased this sweet raisin-studded beauty 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.

Excellent, as always.

And speaking of quintessentially Irish dishes, here’s one I put together for St. Patrick’s Day 2023. Colcannon, from the Gaelic “cál ceannann” meaning white-headed cabbage, is in my opinion Ireland’s contender for the ultimate comfort food. It consists of whipped mashed potatoes and cabbage with a hape o’ butter (Irish butter, to be sure) and cream. Some recipes call for the addition of kale or scallions for a darker green component (I used scallions here) and it’s often topped with crisp bits of Irish bacon.


Pi Day 2023

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 YYYYMMDD format.

But I digress.

Here are three of my favorite pies in honor of the day:

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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.)

I always look forward to Easter for traditional Neapolitan Grain Pie. The aforementioned grains are wheat berries, and their presence is no more unusual than grains of rice in rice pudding. They’re embedded in a sweet ricotta/custard cream infused with orange blossom water and augmented by bits of candied orange peel and citron along with a touch of cinnamon; the heady aroma of orange and lemon is key to its success. The rich filling is swaddled in a delicate, crumbly shortcrust shell.

This example came from Court Pastry Shop, 298 Court St in Brooklyn. More about this treat around Eastertime.

And then there’s my own homemade pumpkin pie, a fixture at our Thanksgiving table. Believe it or not, it took years to get this recipe right – years, because I only make it biannually so the upgrade opportunities are few and far between. First trick is to use only fresh pumpkin, and small sugar pumpkins at that – none of that canned stuff. (Yes, I’ve read the propaganda from some who claim that it’s all the same – IMO they know not whereof they speak.) My recipe includes three milks (inspired by tres leches cake): sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream along with brown sugar, eggs, spices, and such. Here, it’s topped with homemade Pecan Brittle and whipped cream.

Shrimp and Salmon Kurze

I meant to include these photos of shrimp and salmon kurze in my recent post about some new goodies I found at Tashkent Market, but I was late dropping off the film at the drug store so the prints weren’t ready.

Just kidding.

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These dumplings hail from Dagestan, located at the southernmost tip of Russia. The distinctive fluted shape and the long ridge running from one end to the other define the kurze style.

Kurze fillings vary widely as dumpling fillings are wont to do. I’ve seen recipes for beef, lamb, cheese, potatoes and others, usually fortified with chopped tomato and onions and often described as “juicy”. Although I wouldn’t choose that descriptor for this pair, I can vouch for the fact that they were moist and delicious.

Want to try ’em? Join me on an “Exploring Eastern European Food in Little Odessa” ethnojunket! Check it out here!

Albanian Suxhuk in the Bronx

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The holidays are upon us: time for my annual pilgrimage to Little Italy in the Belmont section of the Bronx. Needless to say, I gathered more than my share of calorie-laden Italian goodies, but I was focused on Albanian treats as well. Within that neighborhood there is a thriving community of Albanian markets and restaurants (check out my review of the not-to-be-missed Çka Ka Qëllu) and this year’s visit provided the unequivocally best Albanian suxhuk I’ve ever had the pleasure of overeating.

In the markets, it’s relatively easy to find this sausage dried and prepackaged (you might see sudzuka, sujuk, or sudzuk) but I was fortunate to find this soft, store-made version at Scalinada Euro Food Market, 667 East 187th Street, that ruined me forever for the prepackaged stuff. It’s a modest little store and the owner was extremely helpful in providing info and answering my questions.

I purchased one hot link and one sweet; they’re fully cooked and can be eaten as-is at room temperature or pan-fried. Since I don’t have a favorite, I made up a plate of some slices of sweet and hot, both fried and not, along with some kashkaval, sheep’s milk cheese that I thought would make a good accompaniment. Some fresh bread and a little salad completed the picture.

My Albanian friend, Mela, taught me “faleminderit,” the word for thank you, which put a smile on the owner’s face almost as big as the one on mine when I first tasted this remarkable suxhuk!

Now I need to head back to their butcher case for mish (meat) and qebapa, aka qofte, finger-sized skinless sausages made from ground meat, seasoned with onion, garlic, herbs and crushed red pepper, ready for grilling.

And no, I’m not going to wait until next year!


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According to one source, Pelmeni have been described as “the heart of Russian cuisine”. Unlike Ukrainian varenyky (see my last post), I’ve never found pelmeni (пельмени) that were made with a sweet filling – they’re customarily fashioned from a variety of ground meats and occasionally mushrooms – but like their cousins across Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe, they’re almost always served with sour cream (сметана).

These came from Tashkent Market on Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn, one of the highlights on my Little Odessa ethnojunket, and were purchased specifically for my recent “Everybody Loves Dumplings” series. I garnished them with fried, thinly sliced onions that had been the topping for some Tashkent salad that I bought during the same visit.

If you know Tashkent Market or if you’ve joined me on one of my food tours to that neighborhood, then you know that perforce I also acquired several additional bags of droolworthy goodies – not with the intention of posting, but because, um……research! Yeah, that’s the ticket!


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Here’s another temptation that was included in my recent four-part “Everybody Loves Dumplings” series but surely deserves a post of its own.

Like similar dumplings of differing names and nationalities, varenyky (вареники), one of Ukraine’s national dishes, can be found in a pair of divergent guises: sweet, filled with cheese and/or fruit; and savory, stuffed with meat, potatoes, or cabbage, and customarily crowned with fried onions, occasionally bacon, and almost always accompanied by a dollop of sour cream.

These cheese varenyky are served with a homemade sour cherry sauce; all dumplings are comfort food, of course, but these sweet treats easily sashay into dessert territory.

And yes, the blue and yellow color scheme was by design.

National Pierogi Day

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National Pierogi Day happens on October 8, but that’s certainly no reason not to indulge on the other 364 or so. Typically associated with the cuisines of Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe, pierogi are known by many names, varenyky in Ukraine for instance.

This photo was taken during a 2019 visit to the beloved Polish & Slavic Center Cafeteria at 177 Kent St in Greenpoint, Brooklyn; they’ve been closed because of COVID-19, but we’re definitely hoping for a refresh.

Bits of bacon and sautéed onion with sour cream on the side, of course, adorned these Pierogi z Kapusta (cabbage) which I ordered because I like saying “kapusta”.

Try it.

See what I mean?