A&A Bake & Doubles & Roti Shop

Instagram Post 2/18/2019

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Highlights from our Caribbean Crawl along Nostrand Ave in Brooklyn. This stop was the new location of A&A Bake & Doubles & Roti Shop at 1337 Fulton St just off Nostrand Ave in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

[1] The goat roti was rich and savory, absolutely delicious. Note that this type of roti, known as dhalpuri, comprises two layers of dough rolled out together with seasoned ground yellow split peas (dhal) sandwiched between. Floppy and supple, it’s a security blanket swaddling its treasure.

[2] A closer view of the dhal filling.

[3] There’s a good reason why this Trinidadian shop is known as “The Doubles King”. Doubles are quintessential Trini street food, and one doubles is a perfect snack. (See what I did there, grammarians?) Curried chickpeas are sandwiched between a pair of fried flatbreads (baras) and they meld to become a wonderfully messy, squishy treat, but it’s the condiments and chutneys that separate the king from the commoners and as far as I’m concerned, A&A rules.

Pilar Cuban Bakery

Instagram Post 2/17/2019

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Pilar Cuban Bakery, 397 Greene Ave in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, is the recently opened extension of Pilar Cuban Eatery, their restaurant next door. A handful of tables entices you to taste the authentic baked goods on the spot in case you can’t wait to get your goodies home, and trust me, one bite and delayed gratification goes out the window.

[1] This picadillo empanada was stuffed with ground beef seasoned with a unique sofrito that set it apart from others I’ve tried; the breakfast empanada was brimming with eggs, cheese and plantain (it’s also available with house-made chorizo).

[2] The roast pork tamal was flavorful as well.

[3] Simply put, the flaky crusted guava and cheese pie killed. Remember that you’re enjoying Cuban cuisine, so if you’re accustomed to a Mexican guayaba y queso pan dulce (not to take anything away from them) this will be a different, delicious experience and worth every calorie.

Taverna Kos

Instagram Post 2/16/2019

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With the nouveau communal aura of a private club at long last turned public, Taverna Kos, the restaurant wing of the Pancoan Society Hippocrates, has opened its doors to the hoi polloi. Entering at 41-19 23rd Ave in Astoria, Queens, we found the atmosphere as casual and comfortable as an old sandal, an adumbration of homestyle Greek cuisine.

[1] Octopus (χταπόδι). Perfectly tender and utterly delectable. One of two top notch appetizers, the other being…

[2] Loukaniko (λουκάνικο), the amazing sausage that’s often overlooked unless you’re among the cognoscenti or Greek. Excellent, with that all-important char, beefy and spicy; I tasted leeks, Greek oregano, and whole coriander seed. That lemon isn’t there just for show; give it a squeeze.

[3] We also ordered Pikilia (ποικιλία) which means a variety of choices, in this case a trio of dips: spicy feta with persuasive overtones of olive oil; skordalia (σκορδαλιά), often overwhelmed by garlic but which here had an unimpeachable balance between that and the puréed potatoes; and a demure tzatziki, barely herby and scarcely garlicky.

[4] Kalamari. We voted between fried and grilled. We ordered fried. I lost.

[5] Saganaki (σαγανάκι) is a luscious appetizer of fried kefalograviera, a deliciously intense Greek sheep’s cheese, melty and gooey, often set aflame before serving and sometimes topped with an egg. This rendition wasn’t up to snuff; maybe it had been away from the fire too long.

Tsirosalata – Titan Foods

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Since my friend and I were poking through Astoria prior to lunch at a nearby Greek taverna (more about that in an upcoming post), a visit to my favorite Greek market, Titan Foods at 2556 31st St, seemed a fitting appetizer. (Pro tip: the Greek pronunciation is tee-TAHN, stress on the final syllable.) It’s my go-to place for their overwhelming selection of feta and other cheeses, unparalleled olives, delicious homemade baked goods, and any Greek comestibles one could possibly crave. There, amid many tried and true delicacies in the refrigerator case, was something I had never tasted, tsirosalata. Needless to say, that was reason enough for me to buy some.

Tsirosalata (τσιροσαλάτα) is smoked mackerel preserved in oil, so it’s a triple threat: mackerel is a strong tasting fish to begin with, smoking it only doubles down on the intensity, and anything preserved in oil that super dense probably has the staying power of the Parthenon. Truth be told, it was a bit much even for me. Clearly, tsirosalata is not intended to be consumed straight out of the container unescorted, so my first action was to marinate it; I used a light vinegar with some sugar, onion and dill and let it luxuriate just until it capitulated.

Satisfied with its newly docile demeanor, my next step was to dress it. Thinly sliced cucumber and red onion, black and green Greek olives, fresh dill and lemon wedges were impeccable companions, but the capers and pink peppercorns made it perfect.

Yu Sheng/Lo Hei Prosperity Toss

Instagram Post 2/12/2019

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A self-professed equal opportunity celebrant, I relish the prospect of participating in international holiday traditions and Chinese Lunar New Year abounds in them. I was delighted to take part in one such ceremony recently, Lo Hei, also known as Prosperity Toss, which got its start in southern China and migrated to Singapore and Malaysia.

It entails an elaborate ritual involving particular foods selected for their cultural symbolism, the most important being fish in the form of a Cantonese raw fish salad. The Chinese word for fish, yu (魚), is a homophone of the word for abundance; Yu Sheng (literally fresh fish and the name of the dish) stands in for increasing abundance.

Shredded raw vegetables and seasonings, each with its own meaning based on appearance or name, are added one by one with appropriate phrases corresponding to each; good luck, wealth, eternal youth and the like appear in turn.

It climaxes with all participants tossing their ingredients in the air, the higher the more propitious, and chanting “Lo Hei” (pick it up) along with auspicious phrases for a bountiful New Year. Of course, the activity is more like vigorously tossing a salad where no ingredients are actually lost in the process: it’s the symbolism that counts.

Fish; Vegetables; Seasonings

The finished plate, dressed and tossed.

At Shun Deck Restaurant, 2332 86th Street, Brooklyn, all parts of the fish are used and are served in several courses. Very sustainable.

Skin; Fried bones (plenty of meat on these); Fish heads, collars, and tails. (Congee, rice gruel also made from the fish, is not pictured.)

恭喜發財! 新年快乐!

Chinese New Year 2019 – Home Cookin’

Instagram Post 2/11/2019

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More home cookin’. A few posts ago, I showed you some homemade soup I prepared for Chinese New Year that featured long luxurious noodles, traditionally symbolizing wishes for a long life. I also did a stir fry with those noodles which I’m happy to report turned out deliciously as well. I added some lap cheong (Chinese sausage) to kick up the protein (yes, I know, and fat) but the rest of the ingredients were either vegetables I had left over from making the soup or dried/preserved items I always have on hand.

[1] If you’re curious, you can play Where’s Waldo in the bowl with the following: Shanghai bok choy, bean leaf, shiitake mushrooms, black fungus (wood ear fungus), huang hua (dried lily flowers), ya cai (Yibin preserved mustard greens), scallions, flowering chives, cilantro, dried red chilies, peanuts, and sesame seeds.

[2] The wok in progress (forgive the pun 😉).

恭禧發財! Gōng xi fā cái!

Chinese New Year’s Eve 2019

Instagram Post 2/4/2019

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The Chinese celebration of the Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival, is a dazzling banquet for the soul that is laden with more symbolism than a Jungian interpretation of a Fellini dream sequence inspired by a Carlos Castaneda novel.

And that’s one of the elements that I love most about the holiday: wordplay and homophones figure into the choices for traditional foods (more about that tomorrow) along with their colors and shapes.

For Lunar New Year’s Eve (“Reunion Dinner”), I’ve prepared a duck soup with shiitake mushrooms, daikon, flowering chives, bean leaf, Shanghai bok choy, scallions, cilantro, dried red chili pepper, and too many seasonings to mention, but the focus is on the long noodles that are aspirational of a long life.

Stay tuned for more….

新年快乐! Xīnnián kuàilè!

Matsuya Stick Cookies

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Since we’re on the topic of Asian cookies, you might want to give these Stick Biscuits a try if you see them in a Japanese or Chinese market. For the language nerds reading this, the Japanese katakana on the label, スティック ビスケット, written vertically in the two columns on the left reads “sutikku bisuketto” (drop the silent letter U’s and you’ll hear “stick biscuit”) and the larger kanji 牛乳 on the right means cow’s milk. They are indeed made with milk or perhaps it means they’re destined to be enjoyed with milk, but that’s as far as my language skills can carry me. They appear to be manufactured in Taiwan by Matsuya.

I’ve seen four kinds: brown sugar, cocoa, sesame, and milk. All are good, not too sweet (there’s that phrase again) and rather addictive as much for the taste as the crunchy texture which is about as hard as a cookie can be and still not effect an emergency visit to the dentist. The rigidity adds to the fun, however: my first thought was to plunge them into something harmonious – use the cocoa version to scoop up some peanut butter or dunk the milk variety in Nutella; any dip of similar consistency and yumminess would suffice. There’s a Greek brand of delicious sweet tahini, one type is flavored with chocolate, another with orange (it might be worthy of a post of its own) that was perfect with the sesame flavor. Sort of like Pocky on steroids.

And if your sugar high flies too far off the charts, they can be repurposed as playthings as well: think Lincoln Logs. Jenga anyone?

Sweet Osmanthus Cakes

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Sweet Osmanthus Cakes (Gui Hua Gao, 桂花糕) are available in many markets throughout New York City’s magnificent Chinatowns. Used throughout Asia, osmanthus shows up in tea and tea blends as well as jams, liquors, and sweet gelatin desserts, often with goji berries embedded in gravity defying suspension. It has a buttery, floral fragrance with a subtle flavor – I’d describe it as somewhere along the apricot-leather continuum, if there were such a thing.

These delicacies are uncharacteristically sweet as Chinese baked goods go and have a coarse, slightly crumbly texture, cakier than a shortbread cookie and cookier than a cake – a biscuit, perhaps? Unsurprisingly, they are more comfortable in the company of tea than coffee (in my opinion, at least).

[2] The inside scoop.

[3] One brand’s packaging so you’ll know what to look for if you’re so inclined. I like ’em.

Korai Kitchen

Instagram Post 1/31/2019

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Bangladeshi cuisine is different from Indian cuisine and even that of West Bengal, and one of the best ways to sample it is in a buffet setting where you can taste a bit of many delights. Fortunately, Korai Kitchen, Jersey City’s first Bangladeshi eatery, features a lunch buffet (Tuesday – Friday) and a weekend buffet that spans lunch and dinner Friday through Sunday with an ever-changing array of dishes.

[2] Annotated photo of my first (ahem) plate.

[3] Buffet is currently their only format, no formal menu yet, although you can order a few special items on weekends like hilsa, the beloved national fish of Bangladesh.

[4] A bhortha (you may see bharta) is an intensely flavored vegetable or fish mash, usually containing mustard oil, which is used as a condiment or over rice. Here is the quartet shown on my plate which included Karela Bhaja. Karela is a spiky cousin to Chinese bitter melon and bhaja means it’s been fried.

Other items that didn’t make it to that first plate included [5] a shutki (dried fish, in this case dried shrimp) dish, potent and delicious, and [6] dessert that comprised chai; lacha semai, made from vermicelli and hot milk; and mishti doi, a sweetened, thick yogurt, almost the texture of a custard or pudding and a personal favorite.

Lots more at Korai Kitchen, 576 Summit Ave, Jersey City where the owner, Nure Rahman is beyond helpful and absolutely charming, and Mama Rahman is in the kitchen making everything by hand.

And yes, I’m going back.