Hey Chick

Instagram Post 8/3/2019

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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:

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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

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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).

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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.
 
 

Coco Malaysian Cuisine

Instagram Post 7/10/2019

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Decades ago, one of my favorite dim sum parlors in Manhattan’s Chinatown was the beloved Hee Seung Fung, better known to its patrons as HSF. (Anybody here remember it?) It was there that I first encountered a dish called Silver Noodle. Served under an inverted small plastic bowl to keep it warm, it consisted of thick, chewy semi-translucent rice noodles with every imaginable protein and a variety of vegetables in a brown sauce. But the key ingredient, the one flavor that stood out above the rest for me, was its wok hei (aka wok qi), the breath of the wok, created by stir-frying over incendiary heat.

When HSF closed, I didn’t know where to track down this seductive dish; I’ve since learned that it can be found in restaurants featuring Malaysian, Singaporean, Hong Kong, and other cuisines that hail from regions near Guangdong. Silver noodles go by many handles, silver needle noodles and rat tail noodles (because of the tapered shape at one end) to name but two.

Since I’ve been hanging around Elmhurst of late, I thought I’d sample a few restaurants’ efforts. Shown here is the rendition cooked up by Coco Malaysian Cuisine, 82-69 Broadway, where it’s called Stir Fried Pearl Noodle – yet another name. They do my memories justice. We usually score an order of this on my new Elmhurst ethnojunket by the way. (Hint: Click here! 😉)
 
 

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.

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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!
 
 

Al-Sham Restaurant

Instagram Post 7/3/2019

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One of the newer establishments in Brooklyn’s Middle Eastern neighborhood (which I still think should be called “Little Levant”) is Al-Sham Restaurant at 7701 5th Ave in Bay Ridge. On its compact menu, you’ll find the usual suspects like hummus, baba ganoush, and falafel, but their emphasis seems to be the chicken shawarma, available on a platter with fries or as a “sandwich” (their word) since it’s really shaved into a piece of laffa (flatbread), rolled up with pickles and toum, and grilled. Toum is a sauce made primarily of olive oil and garlic that’s whipped into a fluffy, snow white blizzard of a condiment; you’ll receive a hefty dollop of it on the side if you order fries. Think of it as the Levantine answer to Mediterranean aioli.


Strategically positioned by the window, the chicken shawarma is gargantuan compared to others along the strip. Foodies fond of photographing favorite finds frequently position a quarter or a spoon beside the food for the purpose of demonstrating relative size. Here, we’ve situated a human to serve the same purpose. Kidding. But seriously, that’s one big honkin’ shawarma. As he rotated the shawarma, shaving it down, he repeatedly slathered it with a substance I couldn’t quite make out, but I’m guessing it was toum, glorious toum.

There was something undefinably fresh about this chicken shawarma (the only kind they offer, BTW); I don’t know if it was because it was a new batch or because of the continual application of toum, but here’s hoping they maintain that same quality as they whittle it down. And yes, it’s a stop along my Middle Eastern Bay Ridge food tour; to learn more, check out my Ethnojunkets page. Hope to see you!
 
 

Hang

Instagram Post 6/29/2019

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In Elmhurst’s new HK Food Court at 82-02 45th Ave, the Chinese characters on Stall 15’s marquee translate to “Hang”. More to the point, on the left it reads “Taipei”, on the right, “snacks”, and therefore likely a potential stop on my Elmhurst food tour, but taste testing always comes first. (Well, right after the photos, I guess.) Taiwanese style popcorn chicken and its marine mate, squid, are hallmarks of the cuisine around these parts; crispy yet juicy and traditionally topped with a bit of fried basil, they’re easy to track down and everyone has their favorites.

Shown here, serviceable fried [1] Salt & Pepper Chicken and [2] Salt & Pepper Squid; the chicken was marginally better, the squid more attractive by the same degree. A few more decisions to make before the Elmhurst ethnojunket goes live – but we’re close!
 
 

Sellou

Instagram Post 6/21/2019

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Since food tour season is in full flower and there are some new businesses in the neighborhood, I decided to revamp my Middle Eastern Bay Ridge ethnojunket. Did you know that Bay Ridge and Beirut are cognates? Just kidding.

One of the treats along the route is sellou (سلّو, aka sfouf or zmita), a unique unbaked Moroccan sweet made from toasted flour and ground almonds, sesame seeds, sugar or honey, cinnamon, and anise; as you’d expect, recipes vary from family to family. At Nablus Sweets, 68-12 5th Ave, Brooklyn, I spotted a huge brown mountain of it and purchased a small knoll, broken here into two little hillocks. It’s soft in texture, somewhere along the cookie<–>brownie continuum but drier, crumbly but crunchy from nuts – just break off a chunk and enjoy, perhaps with a cup of tea. If your knowledge of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean sweets is informed primarily by honey drenched baklava and kanafeh, give this one a try (available particularly around Ramadan); I highly recommend it.
 
 

Khawachen

Instagram Post 6/17/2019

My quest to eat my way through the new HK Food Court in Elmhurst, Queens at 82-02 45th Ave continues. It’s not born of gluttony, I assure you. One of the goals of my food tours is to present guests with unusual and delicious examples of international treats from the neighborhood, and the only way I can do that authoritatively is to experience a wide variety of what’s available myself. Hey, it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it! 🐷

Khawachen presents the cuisine of Tibet, certainly a welcome change of pace in any food court. If the video tout heralding the stall looks familiar, I believe it hails from the original Lhasa Fast Food in Jackson Heights – you know, Queens’ worst kept food secret – because of the ownership link between the two.

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Lamb Thenthuk Fried. Hand-pulled thumb-sized wheat noodles (also available in soup), sautéed with peppers and onions. The accompanying condiments were a good idea. If you like thick, chewy noodles, you’ll be happy with these. If you don’t…really?


[1] Fried Beef Momos were distinguished and tasty.

[2] The obligatory peek-a-boo shot.

More to come from HK Food Court soon.