Yemen Sweets

Instagram Post 8/19/2019

I was stalking the aisles at Brooklyn’s Balady Foods, the redoubtable Middle Eastern market at 7128 5th Ave, in search of goodies for my Little Levant ethnojunket when I stumbled upon this toothachingly sweet trio of blood sugar tolerance tests from Yemen Sweets that turned out to be a little much even for me.

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This one is called Harissa, a word I’ve always associated with North African red chili pepper paste and never with candy. A little research and I learned that the Arabic word harissa (هريسه) means to mash or squash which made some sense. Its main ingredients are sugar, soybean oil, peanuts, flour, cornstarch and sesame seeds (no heat) so, predictably, its dry texture is somewhere along the cookie<–>candy continuum, closer to cookie were it not for the oil. You can readily taste the ground peanuts and sesame seeds along with the intense presence of clove and cardamom.


Similarly flavored, Khalta has a texture along the gummy bear<–>Turkish delight continuum. Seems like khalta (خلطة) means mix, but probably in a different context. Mitigated by plenty of peanuts and strewn with sesame seeds, it was unusual as well.


The most immediately accessible of the three (although TBH the others grew on me eventually) is Labaneyh. This one had a crumbly texture and tasted like a perfumy cross between fudge and white chocolate, no surprise since cacao is listed among the ingredients along with milk, the Arabic word for which is laban (لبن) so that’s logical.


I was unable to ferret out much information about these three sweets despite the manufacturer’s address listed on the packaging which doesn’t seem to relate to much in the real world. Anybody out there know more about these? Your comments are greatly appreciated!

 
 

Go Africa Carnival – Fataya

Instagram Post 8/17/2019

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Last month’s Go Africa Carnival on West 116th St in Harlem showcased a panoply of West African food, but I was unfamiliar with this Senegalese fataya. These were set next to a hand written sign that identified the two available varieties, chicken (on the left) and fish, “in baked flour”, a charming way of describing these empanada-like pockets, a familiar street food in Senegal. The linguistic and culinary connection is clear: fatayer are stuffed half-moon shaped pies (usually fried) found throughout the Middle East. The sauce on the side was eye-opening.


The close up.


The long shot.
 

Eggcellent Soufflé Pancake

Instagram Post 8/15/2019

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There’s a new addition to the lineup of quality vendors in the mini-mall at 135-15 40th Road in Flushing. Keeping company with the likes of local luminaries Legend Chicken, Yi Fang Taiwan Fruit Tea, and the Flushing Ice Cream Factory, Eggcellent Soufflé Pancake opened on August 4 and their soufflé pancakes are outstanding. Possibly the lightest yet richest dessert in the neighborhood, they’re fluffy, spongy, custardy, foamy, eggy, bouncy, moist, creamy and sweet. (I think that pretty much covers it.) The flavor list compels me to return for multiple visits: Original (with a kiss of maple cream), Crème Brûlée, Strawberry/Blueberry Yogurt Cream, Red Bean/Matcha Cream, Mango Yogurt Cream, and Chocolate/Banana/Caramel (with marshmallows, yet). With roots in Japan and Taiwan, these puppies are prepared from scratch (like apparently everything in that mini-mall if the immeasurably long lines are any indication, grumble, grumble) and you’ll be advised that there will be a significant wait.


Mine went well beyond “significant” but I was the first customer of the day and those soufflé pans (see photo) must be heated to a precise temperature (she used an LED equipped digital surface thermometer) before the airy batter can be plopped down without deflating, lightly cooked on one side, carefully flipped à point, transferred to a serving dish and dressed.


But it’s absolutely worth the wait. We’re talking about a real soufflé pancake, not some ersatz premade doppelganger, and a delicious one at that. I tried to smoosh it a little for this photo you so you could see what I was getting at with that parade of adjectives earlier. Artwork against the back wall captioned “Soufflé from the Sky” depicts the dessert floating heavenward on a lacy doily. Trust me. It fits.
 
 

Mandato Fruit & Grocery Corp.

Instagram Post 8/13/2019

You’re going to hear more from me about Mandato, 7220 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, not only because it’s the only Mexican destination along my Bay Ridge food tour, but because I absolutely love the place.

For starters, it’s really three spots packed into one: a genuine panadería where they bake their own Mexican panes dulces; a market where, in addition to packaged goods, you’ll find authentic Mexican ingredients including quesillo, nopales, store-made barbacoa, carnitas, and an array of at least eight mind-blowing salsas; and a takeout restaurant serving tortas, cemitas, tamales, picaditas, tlacoyos, sopes, quesadillas, huaraches and more – the subject of today’s post. All of this is under the aegis of Pedro, a partner in the family business, who is probably the friendliest, most helpful person you’d ever want to meet and who customized these delicious wonders for me.

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This quesadilla is brimming with queso fresco, queso Oaxaca (aka quesillo), lettuce, crema, and huitlacoche, sometimes called Mexican truffle. Do you like mushrooms? Do you like corn? Then you should try huitlacoche.


Sliced in half to reveal its inner beauty.


Huaraches start with a double layer of masa enclosing a thin coating of mashed refried pinto beans, hand pressed into a thick oblong shape and fried (literally “sandals” because of the shape). This one is topped with chorizo and potatoes, onions, queso fresco and crema.


Cross section; look very closely at the bottom and you might see the layer of refritos.
 
 
Auténtico. That’s the word for it. More to come soon from Mandato: the panadería, the store-made goodies, and beyond!

(Note that this venue is officially Mandato Fruit & Grocery Corp, not the restaurant of the same name next door – there’s no connection.)

 
 

Al Aqsa Bakery & Restaurant

Instagram Post 8/12/2019

It was an interminable wait (but that’s not unusual for this neighborhood at lunchtime) in sweltering heat (but that’s not unusual for this city in summertime), and I was keen to explore this new-to-me ethnic restaurant (but that’s not unusual for this gourmand at any time).

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Al Aqsa Bakery & Restaurant, 6917 5th Ave in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, proudly (see second photo) serves Middle Eastern cuisine with a Palestinian flair. I was eager to try the “Mix Shawerma” which combines chicken and lamb, perfect for me because it obviates the need to make a decision. Packed with the two meats and veggies, it was worth the wait.

Since I was unfamiliar with it, I was curious about a dish on the menu called “ejjah”; Wikipedia describes eggah (from research, I don’t think the spelling is an issue) as similar to a frittata with rather elaborate seasonings and fillings. I ordered it but was disappointed to receive basically a plain omelet fried in oil with an inconsequential amount (a pinch or two) of onion and parsley. I dunno. I should return though to check out their assortment of breads and cookies that are baked on the premises; those certainly looked appetizing.
 
 

Bone Man

Instagram Post 8/11/2019

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It’s no secret that I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to almost any Asian style of fried chicken; this no-longer Secret Fried Chicken (and its attendant aroma) originates from Bone Man where you can get your chix fix on or off the bone, man. They’re the new kid on the block, 135-45 Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing to be specific, they’ve got their own style, and I like it. A lot.

They feature somewhat fanciful descriptions for their parts: chicken wing roots, middle wing, and keel along with less whimsical designations like wings and strips. I’ve tried the dark meat (dark meat only for me, please) nuggets and the on-the-bone pieces and both were yummy to be sure; it’s basically a single recipe (a tasty one at that) so your choice is really about form. The spicy version incorporates an undoubtedly secret (because it is distinctive) recipe that’s sprinkled atop your order. And they provide plastic gloves (a nice touch) for people who actually know how to eat 😉. Gizzards and French fries are available as well. Next time.

First photo was taken after my return from Bone Man. Pro tip: If, like me, you have cats, don’t try this at home, kids.


The original box, pre-feline opera.
 
 

Happy Wheelie

Instagram Post 8/9/2019

Happy Wheelie, known to some as Taiwanese Wheel Cake because that’s what they sell, can be found in Landmark Quest Mall, 136-21 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, and the experience is as much about watching the process of making these traditional Taiwanese treats as it is about eating them.

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Using a modest batter and a variety of fillings, they’re prepared in this custom apparatus whose roots are in Japan’s Imagawayaki (今川焼き) where they’re often filled with adzuki bean paste. Here, they’re stuffed with options that run the gamut from savory to sweet (I haven’t tried anything that would provoke the “it’s too sweet!” contingent yet). These little snacks are best when freshly made, a little crisp outside, soft and warm inside – but they’re still fine as delayed gratification.


The eight available flavors include custard cream, red bean (with or without cream) taro (with* or without cream), black sesame and cream*, Oreo cookie, and dried radish*. All that I’ve tasted are yummy but I’d recommend starting with the dried radish: savory, a teeny bit spicy; if this appeared on a dim sum cart, you’d be happy. Then work your way up on the sweetness scale; I admit to not having tried the Oreo, but I’d guess that one falls at the outer boundary of the sweeter meter.

Vivian, super friendly and helpful, told me that most of the back section of this narrow mini-mall is populated by Taiwanese vendors with an eclectic selection of goodies from beef noodle soup and dumplings to crystal shaved ice, and that all of their distinctive wares are crafted from natural ingredients. So obviously, more to come….

(* shown here)

 
 

Just Noodles – Leng Zaap

Instagram Post 8/8/2019

I spotted the sign months ago on one of my visits to HK Food Court at 82-02 45th Ave, Elmhurst, when it initially opened. The photo, pinned up at Stall #12, Just Noodles, was vaguely reminiscent of Devils Tower, the recurring mountain image in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. For some reason, I felt compelled to order it.

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This is Leng Zaap, stewed pork spine, culinary and anatomical cousin to pork ribs, and one of those dishes that requires a certain amount of patience and time to navigate thoroughly. The spicy broth/sauce in which the bones were steeped conveyed the quintessential flavor of Thailand that you’d expect from folks who clearly know their way around the kitchen. Good eats.

I brought home what remained of the spine along with any meat that was still clinging to it and concocted a Thai bone broth amped up with some of the remaining sauce; it wasn’t bad considering the bones had already given their best to the stew. I noticed that Instascribe gustasian also ordered this dish on another occasion and hers was presented in a decorative shiny silver Thai hot pot style tureen. Mine just came in the plastic bowl you see here ☹️. Musta been something I said.


The aforementioned sign.
 
 

Hazar Turkish Kebab – Pide

Instagram Post 8/7/2019

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In Turkish cuisine, “pide” is one of those chameleon words whose meaning changes with context. Always describing something bread related, it can refer to a pita cousin used to wrap around meat and accoutrements, a circular, puffy, seeded (sesame and nigella) loaf traditionally earmarked for Ramadan, or this canoe-shaped dish. Think Turkish pizza if you must: it starts with soft wheat dough called yufka laden with a cargo of cheese, meats (here: chopped lamb and the Turkish sausage sucuk – multiple spellings abound of course), green peppers and onions, baked and crowned with an egg because #putaneggonit.

This one came from Hazar Turkish Kebab, 7224 5th Ave, Brooklyn, one of the stops along my Bay Ridge Little Levant ethnojunket. They offer at least six pide variations along with a raft (no pun intended) of other skillfully executed entrees and desserts. Definitely recommended.

(Okay, the pun was intended.)
 
 

Fernandes Steak House

Instagram Post 8/6/2019

A follow-up post on my recent visit to Newark’s Ironbound district where carnivores congregate to choose from among a clutch of churrascarias – restaurants specializing in prix fixe AYCE grilled/barbecued meat, Brazilian style. And that was precisely my conundrum: which one to select? I knew I wanted a rodízio where waiters meander from table to table flaunting hunks of meat impaled on imposing skewers, armed to carve a slice onto your plate. I’ve enjoyed this form of dining in numerous spots in Manhattan and Queens because it’s fun and you get to sample a little of everything – Brazil’s answer to Chinese dim sum – and I thought it high time to sample Newark’s wares.

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NYC’s editions often sport compelling salad bars laden with considerably more than salads: typical Brazilian side dishes including plantain, yuca, polenta, pão de queijo, feijoada with farofa, plus cheeses, seafood salads, sushi (sort of) and lots more. It’s possible (and dangerous) to make a satisfying meal from just the salad bar items but then you wouldn’t have room for meat which seems to defeat the intended purpose of going to a churrascaria. My research into the Newark contingent revealed that most salad bars are light and lean toward leafy green items which was fine this time. We ended up at Fernandes Steak House, 158 Fleming Ave. They offered an agreeable assortment of traditional Brazilian styles of beef, pork, lamb, and chicken, but wanted for one of my favorites in this setting, skirt steak. Often, the meats are medium-well-done, so props that there were some rare cuts available.


An unusual offering was a cheese infused slab of beef (“cheese steak” he called it).


Another surprise came at the end of our meal, cinnamon encrusted grilled pineapple – no complaints there.

There’s a lot more to explicate regarding churrascarias in general, particularly regarding dining strategies, and this visit inspired me to return to one of the better ones in NYC and write a long-form piece here on ethnojunkie.com where I can stretch out a little – because like a rodízio, there’s a limit to how much one can finish in a single session. More to come….