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.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

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!
 
 

It’s a Fish Treat! It’s a Candy Treat! Stop! You’re Both Right!

Readers of a certain age will recall the television commercial that aired in heavy rotation for Certs breath mints/candy mints and its relentless, nagging refrain. (Readers not of a certain age can simply take this title at face value.)

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

These dried fish snacks are spicy, sweet, chewy and crunchy – sort of a sesame seed encrusted, sticky-sweet fish jerky. Made from dried fish, sugar, salt, sesame oil, and chili powder, they are utterly delicious and seriously addictive.

The backstory: I was prowling around Manhattan’s Chinatown still in the throes of pondering the destiny of ethnojunkets now that they might actually be feasible again. Many business have disappeared, but for every yin, there is a yang. Case in point: Mott Street’s Aji Ichiban, the Asian candy/dried fruit/preserved snack chain, closed last September, but five months ago Sugartown opened at 63 Bayard St to satisfy a similar audience in the neighborhood.

And that’s the provenance of the treats you see here: Spicy Fish Fillet, Spicy Yellow Croaker, Spicy Dragonhead Fish, Golden Pomfret, and Málà Whitebait. The seasoning recipe is nearly identical for each variety, only the fish differ; some are more gnarly than others, so you might consider starting with the fish fillet, or do what I did and load a few pieces of each into a single bag – it’s self-serve and they’re all the same price – see what you like and come back for more.


These are Black Sesame Fish Strips; in this case the fish is very mild cod. They’re soft, chewy, sweet, and you’ll be tempted to play pick up sticks with them, but they’re even more tempting as a snack.


Extreme close up.

At Sugartown, in addition to these fishy requisites, you’ll find dried and preserved fruits, other types of jerky, sour strips, gummies, jelly rings, crisps, Chinese, Japanese, and American cookies and candies and too much more to list here. It’s a shop full of sweet novelties for all tastes and you’re bound to find something that catches your eye and tickles your tongue.

FWIW, if I do revive the Manhattan Chinatown ethnojunket, Sugartown will definitely be on the itinerary!
 
 

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.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

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….
 
 

Eid al-Fitr – 2021

Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of Breaking the Fast, is the Muslim holiday that signifies the conclusion of month-long Ramadan; in 2021, it begins on the evening of May 12. Since I’ve recently been revisiting the neighborhoods we explore on ethnojunkets, this seemed like a good time to return to the Middle Eastern section of 5th Avenue in Brooklyn which I refer to fondly as Little Levant.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Ma’amoul are shortbread cookies filled with a paste made from dried fruit, often dates but sometimes figs, or nuts, such as walnuts or pistachios; they’re frequently associated with Ramadan but fortunately are available year round. Paradise Sweets, the Middle Eastern bakery at 6739 5th Ave, was offering three kinds the day I stopped by: clockwise from left, pistachio, walnut and date.


Can a cookie actually melt in your mouth? These were wonderfully fragile, disintegrating into a crumbly powder like a Mexican polvoron: you’ll start with a bite, but you’ll want to finish with a spoon. For those who don’t care for uber-sugary cookies, the good news is that this version is not especially sweet; I discovered that the flavor seems to blossom in the company of a hot beverage – tea or Arabic coffee would be perfect.


Some of the smaller markets along the way were offering prepackaged ma’amoul like this one from Pâtisserie Safa, a Montreal based company. Its structural integrity was sturdier than the freshly baked specimens and the cookie was surprisingly tasty.


Both the dough and the filling were significantly sweeter than the locally crafted examples and I detected a welcome note of orange blossom water that enhanced its flavor profile.


Another survivor of the pandemic is the stalwart bakery Nablus Sweets at 6812 5th Ave. These are Qatayef (aka Atayef), made only during Ramadan and especially for Eid al-Fitr; they’re often sold by street vendors in the Middle East. They start out with a batter akin to that of pancakes but they’re griddled on only one side, then they’re filled with white cheese or nuts, folded into a crescent, fried or baked, and soaked in sweet rose water syrup. This pair enclosed a syrupy chopped nut filling.


They’re thicker and chewier than I anticipated – I was expecting a straight ahead, lighter pancake texture based on what I saw as they were being prepared:


Fresh off the griddle. Some folks buy them just like this, ready to be brought home to be filled with the family recipe (of course) of creamy cheese or walnuts, sugar and cinnamon.
 
 
More to come as I continue contemplating the resumption of ethnojunkets….
 
 

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.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

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….
 
 

Hey Chick

Instagram Post 8/3/2019

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

As part of the prep for my Elmhurst food tour, I decided to do a compare-and-contrast exercise between Taiwanese style popcorn chicken vendors at HK Food Court at 82-02 45th Ave. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Salt & Pepper Chicken at Hang (stall 15). This post examines the differences between theirs and that of Hey Chick in stall 3.

Given a cursory glance, it’s easy to assume they’d essentially be the same, but there are a few key distinctions. Hey Chick’s chix seems to be a bit juicier, attributable perhaps to slightly larger chunks of chicken. Hang’s hangs its hat on the fact that it’s Salt & Pepper Chicken, not the more ubiquitous and gentler flavor profile. And finally, when I was there at least, Hey Chick has taken a leaf from other popcorn chicken purveyors I’ve visited and was more generous with their fried basil.

Note that IMHO, both were good – it’s just an assessment of the fundamentals. In other words, if you’re a seasoned popcorn chicken lover, it will be a basal comparison.
 
 

Battle of the Burgers – Chinese Food Court Edition

Instagram Post 7/16/2019

A burger, in the culinary sense of the word, consists of ground or chopped meat served on a split bun (at least for the purposes of today’s post). In my ethnojunkets to Queens Food Courts, it’s evident that there’s no shortage of “Chinese Burgers” and they differ radically from one location to the next, both in terms of definition and quality. A few examples:

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)
Shaanxi Tasty Food, stall #27 in Super HK Food Court, 37-11 Main St, Flushing, boasts a Cumin Fried Beef Burger (item A3 on the menu), one of the best of the bunch IMHO, along with…
…Chinese Burger (item A2), pork and onions, a little less intense than its mate.

This is Cumin Lamb Chinese Hamburger from Liang Pi Wang (item 5) because cumin and lamb. There’s a proliferation of Liang Pi Wang venues, specifically stall #3 in Super HK Food Court (above), stall #10 in New York Food Court at 133-35 Roosevelt Ave, and stall #22 in Elmhurst’s HK Food Court at 82-02 45th Ave.

Yuan Muwu occupies stall #30 in Elmhurst’s HK Food Court. Although they don’t use the word “burger” I’d be hard pressed to call this by another name; they’ve opted for “Pork Pancake” (the menu reads “Poke Pancake” but we know what they mean). This one is pork belly on a sesame seed bun. When I tried it, the bun was over-toasted and its contents was a little dry; they may have better offerings.
 
 

Feijoa

Instagram Post 7/12/2019

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

One of the things I love most about doing ethnojunkets is introducing my food tour guests to international treats they’ve never tasted but soon won’t be able to live without. (That’s what puts the junkie in ethnojunkie 😉.) So I was unusually pleased during a recent jaunt through Brooklyn’s Little Odessa when a participant whose birthplace was Colombia gleefully recognized a favorite fruit in the gourmet produce section of Gourmanoff, an upscale Russian market, that she hadn’t seen locally elsewhere – feijoa. She happily instructed the others in her technique for selecting a ripe one as well as consuming it – which made my job easier!

Also known as “pineapple guava”, “Brazilian guava”, “fig guava” and “guavasteen”, the fruit’s flesh is soft in the center growing firmer and a bit grainier (a little like a pear) approaching its thin green skin. In the same family (Myrtaceae) as the guava but not the same genus, the aroma is almost perfumy. Its flavor is full-bodied and tropical, intensifying nearer the skin which itself can be eaten but has a decidedly different character, floral in nature.

So what was the connection between my exultant Colombian guest and this posh Russian market? Turns out that the feijoa is native to two regions of the world: Colombia (and other parts of South America) and Russia (and former Soviet Union countries)!

🎶 Reunited, and it feels so good! 🎶
 
 

Khanom Thai – Sweets

Instagram Post 7/11/2019

When I approach Khanom Thai’s stall (number 10) with ethnojunket guests in tow and they ask, “What’s good here?” I can honestly answer, “Everything.” With a focus on sweets but not to the exclusion of savories (that’s another post), Khanom Thai obviates the need to seek out another venue for dessert after eating our way though Elmhurst’s HK Food Court (82-02 45th Ave in Queens).

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

These are Bean Cakes with Salted Egg. Soft, flaky, swirly layers of creamy, tissuey dough swathe a confection of mung bean paste surrounding a heart of salted egg yolk. But don’t deconstruct it: just take a bite and taste why it’s remarkable. When you look closely and stop to think about it, these are really a sweet metaphor for the egg reimagined, its white shell protecting its two-tone sunny contents.


Coconut Pancakes, griddled fresh, right before your hungry eyes, warm and chewy. The color difference isn’t chocolate vs something else; it’s merely two different types of ground rice batter.


Obscenely decadent dessert: rich vanilla ice cream, sliced bananas and chocolate sauce oozing onto a warm roti, rainbow nonpareils for a bit of crunch. ’Nuff said.
 
 

Mama’s Kitchen

Instagram Post 7/9/2019

Two treats from Mama’s Kitchen, Stall 28 at Elmhurst’s HK Food Court, 82-02 45th Ave in Queens. They continue to hone their menu and it keeps getting better with each iteration.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

I’ve written poignantly about my fondness for this dish, the epitome of the homiest of Chinese home cooking, tomatoes and eggs. I give Mama much credit, for this is possibly the boldest version I’ve tasted in a long time. It’s all about their take on the seasoning; whoever is in the kitchen has a style of their own. All I know is, my mama could never cook this way!


This is their spin on the Southeast Asian classic, Roti Canai. It’s usually served with a chicken curry sauce, but this version is rather different from any I’ve experienced; its seasoning had overtones of Thai herbs and spices but still wasn’t something one would immediately identify as Thai. In order to more firmly establish its culinary character, I’ll return to have another go at it. This task will be a breeze since Mama’s Kitchen is one of the stops on my new Elementary Elmhurst Ethnojunket (Shameless Self-Promotion Department 😉). Visit my Ethnojunkets page to learn more. Hope to see you soon!