Filipino BBQ

Instagram Post 1/23/2020

The last time I was there, it nearly broke my heart: half deserted both by vendors and customers, unclear if it was coming or going, the verdict still in abeyance. Two of my dining pals had alerted me to the presence of a new Filipino BBQ stall at the moribund HK Food Court. I was skeptical. But last Sunday, with some confidence, they shepherded me inside; I entered slowly, cautiously, against all hopes and wishes, thoughts and prayers.

And surely, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of stall 31 [cue choir of coloratura soprano angels], there appeared a sign on high, oversized and starkly white, boldly (for that was the font-weight) proclaiming “Filipino BBQ” demanding my attention and barely giving me the opportunity to mourn its fallen neighbors.

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What? Oh. The food. Masarap! (Delicious!) This is the Bila-o Special, intended to serve two, but the three of us were well provided for. My bias notwithstanding (Filipino cuisine is one of my three favorites), there wasn’t a disappointing bite on the tray.

The annotated version.

They’ve been open for only about three weeks and I’m eager to return (82-02 45th Ave, Elmhurst, Queens) to try more, in particular the promised “turo-turo” (“point-point”) that I’ve enjoyed elsewhere: point to whatever of this, that, and the other that tickles your fancy. Stay tuned for more.

Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao

Instagram Posts 1/17 & 1/18/2020

Finally got around to visiting Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao in their new digs at 39-16 Prince St in Flushing, Queens – or so the Google would have it: the first thing you need to know is that the entrance is actually on 39th Ave (133-42) at the corner of Prince St. Elusive geography notwithstanding, our hungry horde congregated to devour a representative sampling from their menu. Everything we ordered was tasty, but the soup dumplings overshadowed the dishes they consorted with.

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Arguably best known for their Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings), we selected three varieties from among six options. These charcoal gray, brooding purses are fabricated from dough fragrant with black truffle, fulfilling my expectations; the soup, secure within, was fine.

Insider’s view of the Truffle Soup Dumplings revealing flecks of truffle peppering the pork.

Chicken Soup Dumplings. The soup brought a touch of spice and ginger to the meat, good contrast to the preceding round.

But the champion of the trio was their classic Steamed Crabmeat and Pork Soup Dumplings, the filling everything you could hope for, the soup surprisingly full-bodied and a bit sweet, the genesis of Nan Xiang’s reputation, and which may very well have been the highlight of our meal.

Pan Fried Pork Buns (aka Sheng Jian Bao) from the Signature Dim Sum section of the menu were top notch.

Four Happiness Kao Fu – braised wheat gluten with bamboo shoots, wood ear and shiitake mushrooms. I admit I’m a sucker for Kao Fu and I was pleased to see the dried lily flowers as a component – no guarantee of that in some versions.

Spicy Bamboo Shoots from the Little Cold Dish section of the menu; a little too chewy, could have benefited from a touch more spiciness.

Beef Tendon in Chili Oil from the same part of the menu. If I had been paying attention, I would have suggested the Spicy Beef and Tripe in peanut chili sauce (fuqi feipian). Next time.

Shanghai Pan Fried Noodle – thick noodles stir fried with bok choy, shredded pork and “house special sauce”. Nice chew, not bad.

Cupid Cheese Fruit Cake

Instagram Post 1/13/2020

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Cupid Cheese Fruit Cake, a relatively new kid on the block, is my new durian gateway drug dealer. Find them in Flushing (of course) in the New York Food Court at 133-35 Roosevelt Ave, Stall 18. The menu touts Regular Durian Pie and a Super Durian Pie that’s even more abundantly filled than the former (you’re lookin’ at it). I was more than pleased. A return visit is in order to sample some of the other flavors – mango, banana, raisin, hawthorn, dragon fruit, and seven fairies – the last two topping my list. Ice Rice is on the agenda as well, but not before I run the table of fruit pies.

I can only imagine what this would be like with a scoop of Flushing Ice Cream Factory’s durian melting on top!

The #obligatorycheesepull

Laut Singapura

Instagram Post 1/9/2020

My dining buddies and I had independently visited Union Square’s Laut, the Malaysian, Singaporean and Thai restaurant, often enough to anticipate that its offspring, Laut Singapura at 31 E 20th St in Manhattan, might hold some promise. My comrades opted for more prosaic fare (more about that in a minute) but my fancy was taken by “Oatmeal Shrimp: crunchy shrimp with oatmeal sand, curry leaf, chili padi (aka Thai chili pepper), and egg floss.”

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Looks like a presentation the chef concocted hoping it would prove Instaworthy, doesn’t it? The huge shrimp were indeed crunchy (head intact, shell on, the way they should be) although the crispy coating didn’t have much character of its own; still, the shrimp per se were fine. In contrast, the bed of oatmeal “sand”, shot through with curry leaves and chili pepper, was piquant and flavorful; that savory sand is a sine qua non of this dish, deployed to complement the more passive shrimp. But it had a fatal flaw: how does one consume this architectural fantasy in public? Perhaps knife and fork to lop off a nubbin of shrimp, then dip it in the…no, the sand won’t adhere to the shrimp. Use my fingers to pinch together a bit of shrimp and a wad of sand, Indian style? Um, no. Eventually, I requisitioned a spoon, scooped up some sand, and topped that with a morsel of shrimp, the better to marry them and ultimately reveal the deliciousness of the dish – but in terms of table manners the maneuver had Emily Post rolling over in her grave.

My collaborators who traveled the more conventional route ordered Spring Rolls and Salad (came with their lunch special),

Murtabak, folded Indian crepe stuffed with ground beef, egg, onion, scallion and chili,

Sambal Belacan, shrimp, eggplant, okra, and onion in a shrimp paste sauce,

and Indian Mee Goreng, sweet and spicy egg noodles with mixed seafood…

…and were unenthusiastic about any of them.

So I put it to you, my friends: have you tried Laut Singapura? What did you order and what were your thoughts?

Yaya Tea

Instagram Post 1/7/2020

Quick post about a quick snack (and a satisfying one at that) from Yaya Tea at 86-12 Whitney Ave, Elmhurst, Queens – one of about a half dozen locations around these parts. Tea is the focus, of course, with selections ranging from green, oolong, black and herbal plus fruit teas, milk teas, and a custom DIY option. But I had stopped in for a snack, and among various appetizer, dumpling, and noodle choices, my sights were set on the onigiri (riceballs).

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This is Shrimp Tempura Onigiri, one of over 20 types available. Alternatives include crab meat, fried squid ball, takoyaki (fried octopus balls), spicy crawfish, chicken, seaweed, sour plum, and the ever popular Spam 🤷‍♂️. Nobody is pretending that this is Japanese haute cuisine, but it hit the spot that day.

Still in the wrapper. Yaya even provides instructions as to the procedure for opening and consuming your purchase in case you’re a first timer.


Instagram Post 1/6/2020

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Now, if that’s a word that resonates for you and if you like Hong Kong style sweet, fruity, soupy desserts, then you’ll ❤️ Medo at 3 Bay 25th Street, just off 86th St in Bensonhurst. The décor is primary school classroom, replete with kids’ desks (but adult sized and not cramped) stocked with crayons, coloring pages, and the like. Expect variations on coconut milk, mango, durian, sago, pomelo, red bean, sticky rice, taro and the other usual suspects; bubble tea, mille crepes, and additional snacks await as well.

Cute interior design notwithstanding, I seriously enjoyed what we ordered. From the Snow White section of the menu, this is the Durian and Black Glutinous Rice option: islands of sweet custard-like durian and black sticky rice with its welcome contrasting texture floated atop the icy snow and sago enhanced coconut milk.

And yes, next time I’m in the neighborhood, I’ll be back.

E Dim Sum

Instagram Post 1/4/2020

A modest venue just around the corner from the main drag, E Dim Sum at 2006 65th St in Bensonhurst offers Brooklyn its inexpensive, no frills, homestyle Cantonese food.

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Steamed Minced Meat & Salt Fish, the better of the two dishes we ordered. The saltiness of the mackerel balanced the almost sweetness of the faintly garlicky ground pork patty which in turn complemented the bitter daikon. The essence of collaboration.

Potherb Mustard Pork Noodle, an herby concoction that included mustard greens, pork, and noodles. As alluded to.

The #obligatorynoodlelift


Instagram Post 1/2/2020

There’s some tasty ethnic cuisine to be found on Staten Island although it doesn’t always make the front page; the borough has its share of international communities and I’m guessing that when the subject is food, the Sri Lankan population gets the most ink (outside of Italian). The spicy cuisine is shaped by Indian, Indonesian and Dutch influences with some Southeast Asian touches and if you include a few markets along with some restaurant hopping (no hoppers pun intended), you could spend the day exploring it.

Randiwa, located at 1405 Richmond Ave, is a little less than an hour’s bus ride from the St. George Ferry Terminal, so getting there is a bit of a commitment (unless you’re already in the neighborhood). We gathered for their AYCE Sunday buffet. Note that IMO this (and others like it) is not intended to be a representative cross-section of the cuisine – order from the menu if that’s your quest – but it does provide the pleasant prospect of sampling many dishes.

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Second photo is the annotated plate comprising:
• Palak Paneer, the spinach and squeaky cheese dish you probably know from Indian cuisine, was great
• Kale Mallung, kale and coconut, also top notch
• Lunu Miris, a spicy sambal with notes of orange
• Eggplant Moju, surprisingly flavorful
• Pork Black Curry, tender and somewhat chewy
• Soyameat, the nondescript name notwithstanding, this one was spicy and delicious
• Vegetable Noodles, deeper flavor than I had anticipated
• Deviled Chicken, wicked good
• Coconut Sambal, a Sri Lankan standby

…and the rest, here on Staten Isle.

Uyghur Apandi Food

Instagram Post 1/1/2020

I’ve written extensively about the oppressed Uyghur people who reside in the Xinjiang region of northwest China and, naturally, their cuisine, so I won’t repeat myself here (but if you’re so inclined you can learn more by searching for Uyghur at the top of any page). Happily, a number of restaurants and food court stalls have launched recently that feature this hearty Central Asian fare, and Uyghur Apandi Food is among them. Since Apandi occupies a stall (number 7, specifically) in Flushing’s Super HK Food Court at 37-11 Main St, you won’t be greeted with an extensive menu, but here are two of the dozen or so entries.

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Nan Kordak featured segments of sesame seed encrusted Uyghur bread submerged in a soup/stew typical for the region, populated by orange and yellow carrots, coblets of corn, green pepper, spinach, cilantro, and, of course, chunks of lamb that had given their all to flavor the homey elixir.

Lamb Lagman (lagman being the interminably protracted noodle claim to fame of Uyghur cooking) included celery, red pepper, green pepper, and hot green pepper, and was accompanied by a gratuitous cup of lamby, gingery soup. (A chicken version is available as well.)

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.