Pata Market – 2022

My first post about Pata Market dates back to July, 2018 and this will be the eighth (!) so you know I’m enamored with the place. I stopped by on a recent excursion to Elmhurst as I was scoping out new options for my Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst food tour – and yes, Pata Market at 81-16 Broadway is always part of the itinerary.

I picked up three snacks. (Actually I picked up seven, but these were arguably the most photogenic of the lot.)

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I usually think of Hoi Jo as deep fried crabmeat rolls, but the ingredients listed were pork, carrots, bean vermicelli, garlic, salt and pepper. Chewy, salty, crunchy, yummy. (Wasn’t that a song from the late 60s?)


The label read Thai Pancake Stuff which I’ll interpret as Thai stuffed pancake. They’re a layered affair: pandan custard enveloped in a solid crepe and then wrapped in a latticed crepe revealing shreds of sweet egg.


The inner workings, bottom, and top.


Kaw Neaw Moo. Delicious grilled marinated pork on a stick, at once sweet and savory, with perfectly prepared sticky rice. So good.

Check out my Ethnojunkets page and sign up to join in the fun!

More Elmhurst treats to come….
 
 

Tindahan

Now that I’ve completed my uber-prudent “post-COVID” exploration of the latest and greatest purveyors of memorable mouthfuls for my Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst food tour, I thought I’d let you in on a few of the places I visited. If you follow me, you know that Zaab Zaab is begging for a return visit. Here’s another new kid on the block – at 81-04 Woodside Avenue to be specific.

Since the cuisine of the Philippines is one of my favorites, I was excited to stumble on this Filipino-owned establishment. Tindahan, the Tagalog word for store, packs its shelves, refrigerator case and freezer with Filipino groceries and prepared food. The focus goes beyond the typical necessities to embrace some specialty items I haven’t found in local pan-Asian markets. (Join me on this ethnojunket and I’ll show you what I found!) A few teasers:

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Turon. A deep fried lumpia (spring roll) containing a split plantain and a bit of jackfruit for sweetness.


A bibingka is a baked cake usually made with rice flour but cassava or wheat flour is not uncommon. This one is cake-like, soft, sweet and moist within, and topped with potent salted egg and coconut so you get sweet on salty on sweet. Best when warmed, it’s a delicious study in contrasts; get a bit of each in one bite!


Lola’s Empanadas. André told me his grandmother (“lola” in Tagalog) made these so that’s what I’ve been calling them ever since, and they’re outstanding – again, best served warm. Baked, not fried, the sweet dough is filled with pork and chicken, raisins, carrots and peas. I love the fact that they’re doughy inside; I hope that doesn’t change.


The inner workings.

Check out my Ethnojunkets page and sign up to join in the fun!

More to come….

 
 

Sparzha

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I’ve been doing food tours in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach neighborhood for so many years that by now, notwithstanding the vicissitudes of hurricanes called Sandy and pandemics called COVID, I know Little Odessa like a second home. Consequently, there’s not a lot about the vast array of Eastern European, Central Asian, and Russian cuisines that leaves me stumped. But happily, every exploration brings some kind of surprise and a recent visit brought this one:

Each of the numerous markets offering prepared food presents a different roster of dishes. One of them (come on my Little Odessa ethnojunket and I’ll take you there 😉) had an unfamiliar item in the cold salad section. The sign read “спаржа,” the word for asparagus.

I caught the eye of the woman behind the counter. “The sign says ‘sparzha,’ but that looks like bean curd skin; is it bean curd skin?” I asked expectantly.

“You can read this?” she replied, avoiding my question. “I give you a taste.”

On this ethnojunket, we sample a broad range of culinary specialties. One of them is that of the Koryo-saram, people who in the 1920s and 30s fled from Korea to Russia when Japan occupied their homeland and who were subsequently moved to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan by Stalin; they adapted their cuisine to whatever was available there. Turns out this is another one of the dishes they created. (More about that – and why it’s called asparagus – on the tour.)

It is indeed bean curd skin, known as соевая спаржа, soy asparagus. In Central Asian cuisine just as in that of East Asia, it doesn’t impart a lot of flavor but it does provide a little chew – texture is its prime directive here. Fresh dill and a light dressing inform the dish but do not overwhelm it; the carrot is for color.

I’d consider it a side, certainly not a main. As a matter of fact, IMHO it would be a perfect foil for khe – think spicy Korean ceviche – which we sample on the tour as well.

Hope to see you soon!
 
 

Navruz

Yesterday, I published a post about Nowruz, the Persian New Year, and fesenjan. But the vernal equinox is heralded as the first day of the new year by more than 300 million people worldwide, particularly in countries along the Silk Routes including Iraq, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Central Asia, and others. As a matter of fact, in 2010, the United Nations officially proclaimed March 21 to be the International Day of Nowruz. And of course, every culture has its own unique dishes to celebrate the occasion.

In Uzbekistan, it’s known as Navruz, and it may well be their most popular holiday. I consider myself fortunate to live not far from Brooklyn’s Tashkent Market, a sprawling center of appetizing prepared food indigenous to Central Asia and Eastern Europe, because it affords the opportunity to sample some authentic treats considered to be essential delicacies for Navruz.

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One such dish is a succulent meat paste (for lack of a better word – paté isn’t quite right) known as halim or haleem in Tashkent and halissa elsewhere concocted from pulverized meat, sprouted wheat, and flour; it takes about 12 hours to cook it down to delicious perfection. I’ve plated it here with griddled flatbread, sliced hard boiled eggs, and caramelized onion.


One time I decided to see how I might incorporate it into a dish rather than consuming it straight up, so I cobbled together a noodle kugel (Yiddish for pudding) with sliced fresh mushrooms, sautéed leeks and other good stuff (hey, I was improvising) that I thought would do the halim justice and serve to make it a little less monotonous. Really yummy, if I do say so myself.


Another quintessential dish served for Navruz in Uzbekistan is sumalak, a traditional sweet pudding whose sole ingredient is sprouted wheat. The age-old process of preparing it is a ritual that fosters brotherhood, cooperation, and unity: Each family brings a handful of sprouted wheat to be cooked together overnight in a kazan, an enormous common cauldron; it must be stirred constantly lest it burn with a shovel-like implement traditionally wielded by women. (I hear that men make the halim.) As the sumalak thickens, it becomes more difficult to stir so the women work in shifts mixing the dense pudding. When it’s ready, it’s shared by neighbors, relatives, and friends; there’s even a role for the children in the heartwarming legend.

How this dish turns into something sweet is a miracle in itself as far as I’m concerned.


To give you an idea of the viscosity.

And yes, both of these goodies along with many more are available at Tashkent Market, one of the highlights on my Little Odessa ethnojunket. It’s coming soon, so watch this space!
 
 

St. Patrick’s Day

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.
 
 

Pi Day

From a visit to the amazing Petee’s Pie Company in Manhattan back in 2018 – and they’re still going strong!

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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.
 
 

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.