Burkindi Restaurant

Instagram Post 4/3/2019

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My astute dining buddy once again managed to unearth a restaurant that features a cuisine not well represented around these parts, that of Burkina Faso. As is typical of many West African restaurants, Burkindi’s menu is rather optimistic in that they don’t always have every item promised, but in my experience, the electives are generally hearty and tasty.

[1] In our quest for a Burkinabé specialty, we landed on Tô, a starch-based porridge a little like a thin fufu that’s swirled into a stew prepared from okra or a leafy vegetable. In this case we were offered Babenda, bitter greens with the addition of dried fish and soumbala, a paste made from fermented néré seeds (locust beans) – think West Africa’s answer to miso. I have some in powdered form: it’s pungent but not overwhelming.

[2] The other dish was more familiar from Ghanaian cuisine: Sauce Arachide (peanut butter soup) with remarkably tender chunks of lamb, rice on the side.

Burkindi Restaurant is located at 492 Clinton Ave, Newark, New Jersey.
 
 

Teixeira’s Bakery

Instagram Post 4/2/2019

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Another of my favorite neighborhoods for food exploration is Newark, New Jersey’s Ironbound District. Possibly named for the web of railroad tracks that surround the area or possibly because of its significant metalworking industry, it’s home to a large Portuguese and Brazilian population and, naturally, their cuisines. Since our primary destination was a Burkinabé restaurant in Newark (which I’ll post about soon) and the Ironbound lies at the foot of Newark Penn Station, it begged a quick side visit (is that even possible?) to Teixeira’s Bakery at 186 Ferry St.

[1] Portuguese pastries are multitudinous in diversity, eggy and delicious.

[2] The annotated version:

• Bolas de Berlim, also known as Berliners, are a sweet, filled, pillowy yeast donut. The doce de ovos filling is a typical Portuguese sweet egg custard that figures into many desserts; Teixeira’s also makes a vanilla custard (crème pâtissière) variety because, I was told by the delightful person behind the counter, “some people don’t like the egg”. IMHO, they don’t know what they’re missing.

• Lencinho means handkerchief or napkin; a square of fragile Portuguese sponge cake – practically a thick pancake – is slathered with doce de ovos and folded into a triangle as a napkin might be; the least sweet of the lot.

• Ferreirinhas start with a square of sponge cake spread with chopped almond filling (not almond paste), rolled up, and topped with more eggy goodness and sliced almonds.

• Torta Morango, a slice of strawberry jellyroll, egg-rich and supple.

• Queijada is a type of cheese cake, but not quite cheesecake, amêndoa (almond) and laranja (orange) shown here. The crusty, spare outer shell is rigid, the filling a little curd-like, too grainy to be considered a custard, but appealing nonetheless.

[3] Inside a ferreirinha and a better view of its crispy edge.

[4] On the left, a bola de Berlim filled with doce de ovos, on the right its vanilla custard sibling. Compare and contrast.

So much more to explore in the Ironbound District; I’m planning a return trip very soon when I can actually spend some time! Have I tempted you yet?
 
 

Onion Pockets

Instagram Post 4/1/2019

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Oh by the way….

About a week and a half ago during the Jewish holiday Purim, I wrote about some delicious hamantaschen I found at Queens Kosher Pita & Bakery, 6838 Main St in Flushing. As I was checking out, I spotted a tray of somewhat nondescript looking baked goods lacking any external clues as to their nature. Upon inquiry, I was told that they were Onion Pockets to which my (typical) response was, “Sure. Why not? One please.”

From its outward appearance, I wasn’t expecting much, but as I worked my way through it, it grew on me. The filling was overwhelmingly onion – not much else in there – but the soft, yielding dough was sweet and provided a perfect contrast to its relentlessly savory stuffing. Wish I had asked for more than one.
 
 

MaLa Project

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared as six posts, published on March 25 through 30, 2019.


I may be late to the game in terms of writing about MáLà Project, 122 First Ave in Manhattan, but that doesn’t stop me from working my way through their menu now. Their famous Dry Pot notwithstanding, four of us set out to explore other menu items, so we started with ten (count ’em ten!) dishes from the Appetizers, Snacks, Vegetables and Rice sections of the menu; I’m posting a barrage detailing the whole lot.

Here they are, in no special order. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)

MáLà Duck Neck

I’ve been nibbling my way around roast poultry necks since I was a kid. At Thanksgiving, some families argue over politics; we argued over who’s going to get the turkey neck. So I was happy that there were enough MáLà Duck Neck joints for the four of us. I don’t recall these being particularly spicy though, neither má nor là. Good anyway.

Husband and Wife Lung Slices

Fuqi Feipian 夫妻肺片 is a Sichuan málà classic. Choice of specific ingredients varies among chefs (not to worry, it never includes actual slices of lung) but tripe and tendon are traditional and ox tongue and beef shin can appear as alternate paramours – always two items though and always delightfully spicy.

MáLà Pickles

MáLà Pickles, 四川泡菜, from the Snacks section. Just what it sounds like: Sichuan homestyle spicy pickled vegetables of sufficient variety that we worked our way to the bottom of the crock with ease.

Fried Pepper with Thousand Year Egg

Shāo jiāo pídàn, 烧椒皮蛋. These eggs are of a certain age, but not in sync with their moniker; thousand year eggs, also known as hundred year eggs, century eggs and preserved eggs undergo a process that actually takes closer to weeks or months. They’re covered in a mixture of lime (the calcium compound, not the citrus fruit) and salt and packed into clay or ash to cure (a bit of an oversimplification, but you get the idea). As you can see, the yolk becomes greenish grey and the white a gelatinous translucent brown. The funky flavor pairs perfectly with the fried spicy green pepper.

Xiangxi Fried Rice

Xiangxi Fried Rice, 湘西炒饭, with egg, Chinese bacon, pickled vegetables and chilies. The waiter informed us that it would be spicier than its menu mate “Leftover Fried Rice”; I believe him having not tried the alternative, but this portion, although certainly delicious, wasn’t especially fiery. Good comfort food though.

Liangfen of Happy Tears

Liangfen of Happy Tears, Shāngxīn Liángfěn, 伤心凉粉. I’m not sure when shāngxīn (伤心) which I thought meant sad or heartbroken became “happy tears” but I suspect it has to do with the zesty deliciousness that this dish delivers. Liángfěn refers to mung bean jelly “noodles” – long, thick-cut, slippery, wobbly chopstick challengers (for some) in a spicy soy sauce based dressing. Good eats.

Candy Garlic

A powerful snack: Candy Garlic, 糖蒜.

😠 It’s Candy! 😣 It’s Garlic! ✋ Stop! You’re both right! 💑

Think pickled, not candied – neither dessert topping nor floor wax. Of course, if it’s date night you might want a breath mint after consuming a couple of them, but these piquant cloves are approachable…with Certitude 🙃.

#RUOldEnough2GetTheJokes

Eggplant with Roasted Garlic

Eggplant with Roasted Garlic, 蒜蓉茄子, is a surefire winner. Eggplant and garlic seem to have an affinity for each other like chocolate and nuts, or bacon and pretty much anything. Again, MáLà Project did a good job with this one.

Mouthwatering Chicken

Mouthwatering Chicken, 口水鸡, another classic Sichuan delicacy. Often made with white meat chicken (one of the few recipes in which it’s a worthwhile choice IMHO), it’s poached chicken in chili sauce and this version was excellent.

Sticky Rice Stuffed Lotus Root

Sticky Rice Stuffed Lotus Root, 桂花糯米莲藕 was delicious. The Chinese characters read osmanthus, glutinous rice, lotus root. As I understand it, the cavities in the lotus root are stuffed with sticky rice and the root is simmered in a sweet syrup, often with the addition of goji berries and red dates, until tender. It’s sliced and then gets a bath in its cooking sauce for serving. Osmanthus flowers adorn the top. It’s a sweet dish, but not intensely so. Excellent.

Okay. Next time, we’ll save room for the Dry Pot!

MáLà Project is located at 122 First Ave in Manhattan.

 
 

Ugly Baby

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared as four posts, one from my first visit in October 2017 (the first three dishes), the others from a more recent excursion published in March 2019.


If I recall correctly, it’s a cross-cultural superstition and particularly so in Thailand: if you’ve just given birth to a beautiful baby, you proclaim it ugly lest an evil spirit punish your hubris and abduct your newborn. Such is the story behind the name of this outstanding restaurant, Ugly Baby, at 407 Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. The chef, half of the team that graced us with Red Hook’s Kao Soy and Chiang Mai, is back with a vengeance, and authenticity seems to be the name of the game.

Here are a few of the extraordinary dishes we enjoyed. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)

Laab Ped Udon

Spicy duck salad. Could this be the best laab ped I’ve ever had?

Kang Hoh

Northern dry hung le (a curry paste) and red curry paste with pork shoulder, spare ribs and mung bean noodles. Not a dish you see everywhere: you definitely need to try this one!

Kua Kling

The menu describes this as “southern dry eye round curry – brutally spicy”. It was. Not a dry eye in the house! A high spice level – even for me and I have a high tolerance – so I suggest that you get at least one order of sticky rice and do a bit of the beef and a bit of the rice in each bite for balance. That way, you’ll actually get to taste the complex flavors of this dish (it’s not just hot!) and you’ll find it delicious.

Kang Ped

Sting Ray Curry. Topped with betel leaves, this spicy treatment of sting ray was top notch. That cluster of little beads on the right is a stem of green peppercorns; if you’re into cooking, you can find them in Thai markets brined in jars. Highly recommended.

Khao Soi Nuer

Northern egg noodle curry soup with beef shank. A popular street food in Northern Thailand, it’s a complex dish of contrasting textures and complementary flavors authentically executed here.

Khoong Muk Kai Kem

Khoong Muk Kai Kem features shrimp (khoong), squid (muk), and salted egg yolk (kai kem) – assuming I’ve decoded the Thai correctly. I admit to being an avid fan of salted egg yolk in all its forms; here it serves to thicken the sauce and add texture as well as flavor to the seafood. An excellent dish.

Kang Hoy Bai Cha Plu

Mussels, betel leaves, and cha-om in “ugly red curry”. Cha-om are the gossamer leaves of the Acacia pennata tree which can be consumed either raw or cooked; the betel leaves are the larger pieces you see in the photo. This dish is a good example of why I like Ugly Baby so much; another winner.

Lin Moo Yang

Grilled Pig’s Tongue. Lin means tongue, moo means pork (easy to remember because of the barnyard irony), and yang means grilled. Pig’s tongue is enjoyed by many cultures; my first exposure was as a kid – part of a soul food dinner – and I’ve been a fan ever since. Don’t be put off by the idea of tongue; it’s a delicious meat and when it’s grilled, especially Thai style (the cuisine has a way with a grill), it’s unforgettable. Try this one.

Moo Pad Kapi

Pork Belly and Shrimp Paste. You already know moo, pad is a stir fry (Pad Thai, right?), and kapi is shrimp paste. Cooling cucumber on the side, this dish with its red peppers, infusion of funky, salty shrimp paste, and crispy fried shallots perched on top was perfection with its sticky rice accompaniment.
 
 
Ugly Baby is located at 407 Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. One of my absolute favorite Thai restaurants.
 
 

Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao

Instagram Post 3/24/2019

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Soup dumplings, Xiao Long Bao, XLB, 小笼包, call them what you will, are universally prized regardless of the appellation. Literally “little basket bun” because they’re steamed and served in a little basket often made of bamboo, the wrapper encloses a tasty meatball (usually pork), sometimes with the addition of crabmeat and/or crab roe, swimming in a rich broth (usually pork).

Fans champion just the right skins (a little elasticity, not too thick but not so thin that it breaks upon dislodgment from the steamer), just the right filling (flavorful, proper consistency, and moist unto itself), just the right soup (savory and porky, not playing second fiddle to the meat), and just the right ratio of soup to filling. In short, sort of like Goldilocks’ appraisal of Baby Bear’s personal effects: “juuuuuust right”.

[1] An oft-cited favorite purveyor is Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao, 59-16 Main Street, Flushing. On this visit, we ordered the Crab Meat XLB, pork with minced crab meat and roe.

[2] The salmon colored bit of crab roe peeking out of the topknot is the telltale clue as to what awaits within.

[3] Further evidence of crabiliciousness!
 
 

Leek & Celery Salad – Polish Ethnojunket

Instagram Post 3/23/2019

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I’m still contemplating whether I should add a new neighborhood ethnic food tour to my roster of ethnojunkets, this time through Greenpoint, Brooklyn with a focus on Polish cuisine.

I suspect some folks think that Polish food is rather one note – although a good note to be sure – opining that kielbasa and pierogies can only take you so far. But there’s more to the cuisine than you might realize. Take this bracing Salatka z Porem i Celerem (Leek & Celery Salad). You don’t usually think of leeks in the starring role of a cold salad and their snappy presence here easily serves to awaken a jaded palate. Adds a further touch of excitement to that Kielbasa Wiejska with a dollop of zingy horseradish cream we’ll be sampling along the way.

Curious to learn more about this hearty cuisine? Any Polish food fans out there? Weigh in please! (Poor choice of words, perhaps. 😉)
 
 

Ittadi Garden and Grill

Instagram Post 3/22/2019

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Since I was in Jackson Heights the other day and since I love Bangladeshi food, both for the spice level and the mustard oil, a visit to Ittadi Garden and Grill was in order. It’s a steam table affair facilitated that day by an accommodating waitress who was kind enough to identify anything unlabeled.

[1] There was a wide variety of fish as is to be expected in a Bangladeshi restaurant, but only one was anonymous, a whole fish about six inches long. I was told it was Baila, aka Bele, and that it was less bony than Hilsa (which can be a challenge in that regard if you’re particularly hungry); I later learned that it’s a species of the freshwater goby. The sauce was savory, spicy, and splendid slathered over the rice.

[2] Another essential in Bangladeshi cuisine is vorta (you may see bharta, bhurtha, or the like), a vegetable or fish that has been boiled then mashed and seasoned with chilies, mustard oil, and spices, existing somewhere along the condiment/side dish continuum. I requested a mix and received (left to right) fish, potato, broccoli (top), eggplant, and onions & chili, each wonderfully spicy but with its own character.

[3] I asked about the golden shreds punctuated by slivers of green chilies in the vegetable section and learned it was papaya, but unlike any papaya I had experienced, ripe or unripe, for this was soft as a boiled vegetable and retained only a tiny trace of its papayaness; I enjoyed the preparation. Dal and a small salad came with the meal.

Ittadi Garden and Grill is located at 73-07 37th Rd, Queens. Always worth a stopover.
 
 

Holi Mubarak!

Instagram Post 3/21/2019

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The Equal Opportunity Celebrant strikes again, eating my way through Holi today, the Hindu festival of spring and colors celebrated predominantly in India and Nepal. Prowling around the Indian neighborhood in Jackson Heights yesterday in search of traditional Holi treats, I enjoyed watching children choosing packets of powder in every color of the rainbow to sparge at anything in their path, thus producing a glorious festive mess. The holiday recounts the heartwarming legend of Krishna coloring his face for Radha, his love, and heralds the arrival of spring.

[1] Jalebi are one of the most widely available Indian mithai (sweets); they’re made from chickpea or wheat flour batter, usually orange but occasionally yellow (no difference in flavor, just a color preference) which is drizzled into hot oil in coil shapes. The resulting deep fried confections look like pretzels; they’re crispy when they come out of the oil, then they’re soaked in super sweet syrup so you get the best of both worlds. For Holi, however, jalebi get the royal treatment; this one is about 7 inches in diameter and generously adorned with edible silver foil, sliced almonds and pistachios. Because this sticky jumbo jalebi (jalumbi? jalembo?) is larger and thicker than the standard issue version, it provides more crunch and holds more syrup in each bite so it’s even more over the top, if such a thing is possible.

[2] This is gujiya (you might see gujia), a classic Holi sweet, half-moon shaped and similar to a deep-fried samosa. Crunchy outside and soft within, it’s filled with sweetened khoa (milk solids), ground nuts, grated coconut, whole fruits and nuts (raisins and cashews in this one), cumin seeds, and a bit of suji (semolina) for texture.

These Holi day treats came from Maharaja Sweets, 73-10 37th Ave, Jackson Heights, Queens.

Holi Mubarak! Have a blessed Holi!
 
 

Hamantaschen

Instagram Post 3/20/2019

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The story of Purim memorializes the time in ancient Jewish history when Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus of Persia, had been plotting to exterminate all the Jews in the empire. His plan was thwarted by Mordecai and Queen Esther, his adopted daughter, and the deliverance is one of joyful celebration, steeped in traditional ceremonies and festivities. Purim begins tonight at sundown and concludes tomorrow evening, and among the many icons of the holiday, one of the most renowned is the hamantasch, literally “Haman’s pocket”.

Hamantaschen are delicious triangular baked pastries conventionally filled with thick prune jam (lekvar) or sweet ground poppy seeds (muhn) but these days creative cooking prevails and fillings of apricot, fig, chocolate, halvah, raspberry and more are not uncommon and take their place beside their predecessors. These fine examples came from Queens Kosher Pita & Bakery, 6838 Main St in Flushing.

Happy Purim!

!חג פורים שמח

Chag Purim Sameach!