Upi Jaya

Instagram Post 12/2/2019

Outside of the (approximately) monthly Indonesian Food Festivals I’ve written about, Elmhurst, Queens also plays host to a number of Indonesian restaurants. Upi Jaya at 76-04 Woodside Ave has been doing an admirable job of dishing up the cuisine for locals as well as visitors (they’re a stop along my Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst Ethnojunket) for 15 years. Here are four items from the Appetizers section of the menu, each a tasty starter or a snack in its own right and all with universal appeal.

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Risoles (you might see rissoles) – a snack assembled from a crepe rolled around seasoned chicken and diced vegetables (not unlike a Chinese egg roll in structure), covered with breadcrumbs and deep fried.


Lemper Ayam. Lemper is a snack made from coconut sticky rice compressed with any number of fillings, in this case ayam (chicken) that’s been lightly seasoned, rolled into a banana leaf and steamed.


Batagor: a portmanteau of bakso (a meat or fish paste), tahu (tofu), and goreng (fried), a specialty of West Java. Fried fish cake with peanut sauce; the crispy topping provides the contrast to the soft, chewy fishcake.


Arguably the best known Indonesian dish outside of Indonesia and a popular street food there, satay (or sate) is seasoned meat, skewered and grilled, often served with peanut sauce. An international favorite.

Main dishes in a future post.
 
 

La Flor de Izucar

Instagram Post 11/26/2019

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I did a post a couple of weeks ago in time for the Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos, and picked up a pan de muerto at La Flor de Izucar, 4021 5th Avenue, in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. I didn’t mention the other goodies I was incapable of resisting at the time though; since they were delicious, I am compelled to share.

On the left is their corn bread. It’s somewhere along the corn bread <-> corn pudding continuum: sweet, moist, dense and heavy. There’s nothing subtle about it – and that suits me just fine. I’m sure light, fluffy cornbread has its place, but this manifestation of corn masquerading as a baked good totally won me over.

On the right is their bread pudding – even sweeter and denser than the perfect cornbread, laden with raisins, the two inspire a return visit to see what other goodies await.
 
 

The Chinese Taffy Man

Instagram Post 11/24/2019

Ah, the serendipity of meandering through any Chinatown, spotting a modest peddler hovering over his wares, and purchasing a taste knowing you may never see him again because timing, after all, is everything. The dragon’s beard candy vendor in Manhattan’s Chinatown is like that. In this case it was the Chinese Taffy Man on Main Street (well, that’s where I saw him) in Flushing.

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This piece was about seven inches long before I stretched it to the point of rupture so you could both take note of the slightly salty peanuts encased within and perhaps get an inkling as to the chewy texture of their sweet sheath.


It reminded me a little of White Rabbit, one of the first Chinese candies I ever tasted decades ago.

[PSA: Taffy is made from sugar, toffee adds dairy like butter or milk, nougat blends in egg whites and/or nuts or other good stuff. Oversimplification, but that’s it. In a nutshell.]
 
 

Kringle vs Kringle

Instagram Post 11/23/2019

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After my 11/16 post about Holtermann’s kringle on Staten Island, a number of folks spoke up about their experience with the same Danish pastry from Trader Joe’s. So of course I had no choice but to purchase TJ’s version for one of my typically OCD A/B tests.

Trader Joe’s product comes to us from the O&H Danish Bakery in Racine, Wisconsin, a family business that’s been making kringler and sharing hygge since 1949, so their Danish culinary bona fides are well established; their website, ohdanishbakery.com, touts some 23 tempting flavors but I suspect TJ’s offers only almond.

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TJ’s is filled with a rich, dense almond paste and adorned with a lemony glaze. It was slightly smaller and featured a filling, glaze and dough that were a bit sweeter, perhaps, than…


Holtermann’s, shown here from the previous post, that boasted a nut filled nut paste filling, a sweet sugar glaze and a slightly more sophisticated, handmade tasting dough that seemed to have more of a from-scratch, small-batch taste.


TJ’s in its entirety, complete with a quarter for size comparison, as I did for…


Holtermann’s – photo from my last post for the sake of completeness. I told you I was OCD.

The verdict. They were different, and both were certainly good in their own fashion as described above. Then again, Holtermann’s cost $22 and involved a subway ride, a ferry crossing, and no small amount of time getting there and back again, but at $7.99 for a similar confection, I can walk to TJ’s in about half an hour and probably burn off some of those kringle kalories while I’m at it! 😉
 
 

Pandan Durian Crepes

Instagram Post 11/21/2019

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Durian, as you may know, is that much maligned fruit whose reputation is “Smells like hell, tastes like heaven!” But if you’ve never actually tried it, you should, and you might discover that you actually like it; a number of folks I’ve introduced it to on ethnojunkets have experienced that epiphany. Sweet and creamy, you could think of it as the fruit that makes its own custard.

These plush pillows are pandan crepes, filled with durian and cream and might well be another gateway drug to durian devotion: no unpleasant aroma, just a delicious tropical fruit flavor. (IMHO, pandan and durian have an affinity for each other.) I found these at last Sunday’s Elmhurst bazaar presented by the Indonesian Gastronomy Association.

IGA-USA is a non-profit organization whose mission it is to introduce Indonesian culture to people in the US, particularly in New York City. They stage this event which is as much about the culture as it is about the cuisine approximately monthly, so follow them on Facebook or on Instagram @iga_newyork to stay apprised of their schedule. Maybe you’ll get to try these emerald treats too.

(And perhaps this post will satisfy those of you who complain that I don’t post enough greens! 😉)
 
 

Milkcow

Instagram Post 11/20/2019

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If you’re a habitué of soft serve emporiums, you’ve probably heard about Milkcow, the burgeoning Asian ice cream chain that launched in South Korea a few years ago. Its target is the youth market – which you’ll immediately appreciate from watching the “making-of-the-ad” video on their website, milkcowcafe.ca, or checking out their menu firsthand at 69a Bayard St in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

They have two flavors, ube and, um, the white one. No, not vanilla. It’s milk flavor. Organic milk to be precise. But Milkcow is all about their over-the-top toppings in 16 combinations: macarons, Oreo crumbles, jelly beans, caramel popcorn, chocolate rocks, assorted syrups including brown sugar boba, or the Instaworthy signature cloud of cotton candy or hunk of honey cube.

In my opinion, you should opt for one of two strategies for your visit to Milkcow: taste appeal or eye appeal. My advice for the former goes like this: Savor a sample of milk flavor. Notice that it’s very dairy with nary a hint of ’nilla and rather subtle. Then repeat with ube. My sample today had bits of, well, something, in it – actual ube perhaps? – that didn’t bother me, just surprised me. Both flavors were quite good. Then enjoy the unadorned version (they call it the Milky Way) of your choice.

The surrender-to-excess approach is as follows: Make sure your camera lens is clean. Check out the menu. Choose whichever option you think will fetch you the most Instagram likes. Take the perfect picture from the perfect angle with the perfect background. (Unlike this one.)

Notice I didn’t say anything about consuming it. Here’s the rub: the delicate nature of the milk flavor is immediately overwhelmed by the addition of anything, including even the drizzle of chocolate sauce you see in this photo – the mistake I made and am here to caution you about.

Therefore, my counsel: Choose your path, cleave to it, and you will succeed in your mission. Don’t be cowed by compromise.
 
 

Rendang Telur

Instagram Post 11/19/2019

One of Indonesia’s national dishes is rendang, and if you’ve ever sampled the cuisine, you’ve probably enjoyed it with beef as the main ingredient, although there are numerous variations including jackfruit, chicken, and egg. In my experience, egg rendang looks a little like a hard-boiled egg curry so I was surprised to see a package labeled Rendang Telur (telur means egg) at Sunday’s Elmhurst bazaar sponsored by the Indonesian Gastronomy Association looking exactly like a bag of well-seasoned chips.

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Crispy, crunchy, spicy, and tasting of eggs and coconut milk, they’re nearly impossible to stop eating. Trust me. I tracked down a recipe which, greatly simplified, involves making a flour and egg crepe, cutting it into chips, frying/baking the pieces to dry them out, then combining coconut milk, herbs, and spices, cooking that mixture down and adding it to the chips followed by more long cooking to achieve maximum crispitude.


Close-up shot.


The aforementioned package.

IGA-USA is a non-profit organization whose mission it is to introduce Indonesian culture to people in the US, particularly in New York City. They stage this event which is as much about the culture as it is about the cuisine approximately monthly, so follow them on Facebook or on Instagram @iga_newyork to stay apprised of their schedule.
 
 

EazyLife Restaurant & Lounge

Instagram Post 11/18/2019

If you like West African cuisine but can’t decide between Nigerian and Ghanaian food, you might consider EazyLife Restaurant & Lounge, 1300 East 222nd St. in Eastchester, Bronx, where two chefs are in residence, one from each nation. (Incidentally, the dual arrangement insinuates a round of dueling jollofs since the two rice recipes are markedly distinctive.)

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Our appetizer was Nigerian Isi Ewu, goat head sautéed in “native sauce” as the menu described it. Of course, the texture and flavor of goat head are unlike goat meat from further down the carcass; more like goat skin, these nubs are chewy and benefit from the spicy sauce and spears of red onion that accompany them.


Keeping with the Nigerian theme, this entrée is Bitter Leaf Black Soup. Bitter, yes, but in a good way, with a satisfying spicy kick. Croaker was the fish of choice in the starring role.


Afang Soup was less a soup or sauce and more along the dry stew <-> chopped leafy vegetable continuum. Made from afang (aka okazi) leaves, sometimes with the addition of spinach, cooked down with palm oil and dried fish, it had a medium spice level. More croaker alongside. Our starchy fufus (aka swallows) that day, not pictured, were amala and the more neutral pounded yam.
 
 

Holtermann’s Bakery

Instagram Post 11/16/2019

My first encounter with kringler, the filled Danish pastry, was decades ago via an annual snail-mail catalog specializing in Christmas goodies posted from Wisconsin. (Racine is renown as the kringle capital of Wisconsin and kringler are the official state pastry.) Closer to home, the stalwart Leske’s Bakery in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, is famous for their rendition. But I was unfamiliar with Holtermann’s Bakery, 405 Arthur Kill Road in Staten Island; a ferry trip and a bus ride at my dining buddy’s behest would enlighten me.

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Holtermann’s is a somewhat isolated tiny bakery with an enormous parking lot to accommodate the dozens of cars that bring scores of folks who queue up patiently for their delicious baked goods. (Apropos of enormous, that’s a quarter in there.) Some kringler are pretzel shaped; these are vaguely reminiscent of a kid’s slot car race track, flat and oval, but that’s where the similarity ends. This sweet confection, along with a cup of hot coffee, amply provided breakfast on several frosty mornings.


Revealing the filling of sweet nut paste plus nut pieces and the generous application of sweet icing. Did I mention sweet yet?


Perhaps more decadent (and yes, perhaps more sweet) was this chocolate almond ring with…
…gobs of almond paste supporting chocolate glaze and slivered almonds – and there was some cake in there as well.

The family owned and operated business has been around since 1878 so obviously they know how to put a smile on people’s faces. They did on mine. 😋
 
 

Himalayan Yak Restaurant

Himalayan Yak Restaurant has been a Jackson Heights fixture since 2004. Specializing in Tibetan and Nepali cuisine with a soupçon of Indian and Bhutanese dishes sprinkled in for good measure, they’ve recently added a new “Yak, Yak, and Yak” section to the menu so, having dined there years ago, I had to go yak – er, back.

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My understanding is that the principal meat consumed in Tibet is yak, so we ordered the Yak Sizzler since it appeared to be the most straightforward presentation of the meat. Salubrious health claims notwithstanding, yak tasted a lot like beef to me but that’s giving it too much credit. To these taste buds it didn’t have a lot of personality and it was a little tough and chewy. It arrived with linguini-like noodles that stuck to the pan a bit which made for a little pleasant crispness, and that’s as it should be – it’s a sizzler after all – and they released when mixed with the meat juices. Since that “sauce” is primarily pan drippings (and perhaps some butter?), their flavor was intense and particularly good.


Yak Shapta (you might see shaptak) features the meat in a more elaborate guise, stir fried in a medium spicy chili sauce with onions, red pepper and scallions. Again, the meat was a little chewy, but that’s yak for ya.


Yak Gyuma Chilli. Gyuma is blood sausage, the Tibetan answer to morcilla and so many others, prepared from ground yak meat, chilies, and a starchy filler, served here with onions and bell peppers in that medium spicy chili sauce. Less dominant character than some blood sausages, but in this case, that’s a good thing.


Not to neglect yak appetizers, these are Yak Chilli Momo. Flavorful whole wheat dumplings filled with ground yak, onion, scallion, cilantro, garlic and ginger covered with onions and bell peppers in that familiar spicy chili sauce…


…and Yak Cheese. An Emmentaler doppelganger. Seems like the next word in sequence should be “expialidocious”. Go ahead, try it. I’ll wait. Apologies for the earworm. (Anyway, wasn’t Emmentaler-Doppelganger the third stop on the Orient Express?)
 
 
So I gathered a group of world food lovers for a subsequent visit. We tried almost everything above, in addition to these yakless selections:

Chili Momos with Pork. If you’re going to do Himalayan food, then you’re going to do momos in one form or another. These crunchy (because they were fried, not steamed) yumballs were slathered in that medium spicy chili sauce with red and green peppers, onions, and scallions rounding out the dish. Good way to start things off.


For a change of pace from steamed momos, we ordered Fried Momos with Chicken. Good, but they benefited from this array of sauces:

Akin to traffic light protocol, green was the mildest (avocado!), red warned us of spicy chili, and the yellow (well, sort of orange really, but I’m taking license – literary, not driver’s) fell somewhere in between.


Choila. A cold appetizer of chicken chunks marinated with onion, garlic, ginger and mustard oil. We enjoyed this particularly spicy Nepali dish so much that we ordered two.


Pork Labsha is a Tibetan radish curry; the word labu refers to daikon. The sweet pork contrasted perfectly with the slightly bitter daikon in this home-style dish – not spicy but quite good.


Gundruk Ko Takari. Gundruk is a fermented mustard green curry, a signature dish from Nepal. We opted for the vegetarian version which highlighted dehydrated potatoes and mushrooms. Kinda funky but in a good way, and a proper contrast to everything else we enjoyed that evening.

Fried Thenthuk. Pan fried Tibetan flat hand pulled noodles with pork, daikon and bok choy. Thenthuk noodles often show up in soups, but this stir fry was welcome in the context of our dinner.


Ngyashya Zema, a Tibetan chili fish recipe. Slices of tilapia, breaded and stir-fried with garlic, ginger, red onions, broccoli, mushrooms, and bell peppers, falling apart tender in a medium spicy sauce. Again, a tasty dish that was unique among our choices.


Sekuwa. From the Nepali side of the menu, tender lamb, marinated and charcoal grilled, served over crispy puffed rice. A fine example of the Maillard reaction; no complaints.

Alas, I didn’t get a photo of the Nepali Khasiko Sukka Masu, dry goat curry, but it was excellent – good to know in case you head out to Himalayan Yak.

Himalayan Yak is located at 72-20 Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens.