Burmese Hut

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I don’t know precisely how many posts I’ve published on ethnojunkie.com; I stopped counting when I hit 1000. But I can tell you that the number of times I’ve suggested that you go somewhere and get something post-haste can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.

This is one of those posts. The “somewhere” is Burmese Hut, a new stall in Elmhurst’s HK Food Court at 82-02 45th Ave (definitely not to be confused with its short-lived Burmese predecessor) and the “something” is their fantastic Laphet Thoke. Laphet is the Burmese word for pickled or fermented tea leaves and thoke means salad; in Myanmar, tea is not only drunk, but also consumed as food.

There’s no set ingredient list for laphet thoke, but there are four key elements: the tea leaves plus some other veggies like shredded cabbage and tomatoes; the add-ins like dried shrimp; the dressing, often garlic oil, lime juice and fish sauce; and the all-important “crunchies” – expect fried garlic and fried onion, fried broad beans and toasted soybeans plus peanuts and sesame seeds – all mixed together and garnished with green bird’s eye chilies and slices of fresh raw garlic. But basically the performance is entirely up to the chef.

And in this case, the chef is a virtuoso.

On last weekend’s Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst ethnojunket, my guests who had spent time in Southeast Asia were very familiar with the dish, having enjoyed it more than once. I like it so much that I spent years perfecting a recipe for it. And after all the experiences of their eating and my cooking, we concurred that this was absolutely the best, most outstanding version any of us had ever tasted.

Go there. Go there now. Order their spectacular Laphet Thoke. And tell them ethnojunkie sent you.

Khao Nom Nom Nom

I always try to kick off my food tours with a crowd pleaser, something that will elicit an enthusiastic “yum” from my guests. Our Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst point of departure is Khao Nom, 42-06 77th St, known for their Thai desserts but also featuring a significant number of savory dishes. I’ve written about Khao Nom’s cuisine so many times because they’re just that good; here is a compilation of five posts from as far back as 2018!

Although choosing an appetizer seems like an unproblematic task, making a decision is daunting because each of the ten they offer is a gem. (You know how I know that, right?) Lately, we’ve been starting with this pair of winners:

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Kao Pod Tod. A deep fried fritter that features sweet corn, black pepper, garlic, and cilantro, combined with rice flour and served with Thai cucumber relish sauce.

Hoy Jor. Tofu skin in lieu of a spring roll wrapper filled with ground pork and crabmeat, fried and served with sweet and sour sauce.

To savor these and over a dozen other treats from Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia and parts of China, please check out my Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst ethnojunket and sign up to join in the yum – er, I mean fun!

Nai Brother Sauerkraut Fish

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Chinese Sauerkraut Fish seems to be a “thing” these days. I don’t know if it’s a surge in popularity or just better marketing, but I’ve been spotting it more frequently lately, if perhaps under alternate nomenclature.

Note that it bears no relation to the sauerkraut you get from the dirty-water-hot-dog cart stationed on every Manhattan street corner.

This dish, Signature Spicy Pickled Fish, came from Booth 21 in Flushing’s New World Mall Food Court at 136-20 Roosevelt Ave. The soup, faintly oily in a good way, arrives brimming with hefty chunks of fish fillet, tofu, and pickled mustard greens along with an array of fresh vegetables. It’s kicked up with hot red peppers and Sichuan peppercorns and manages to balance spicy and sour. The vegetable contingent includes thin slices of potato, barely cooked and crisp, mature bean sprouts, cabbage, celery, and sundry other greens. White rice on the side to offset the sting.

Nai Brother has partnered with YanYan Tea, also floating around Flushing, so there’s a wide selection of creative drinks available to cool your palate in case the soup turns out to be a bit spicier than you had anticipated.

Brobdingnagian Bargain Dining

(See what I did there?)

So progress continues at Elmhurst’s revivified HK Food Court but incrementally at best. They move things around as in a protracted game of chess and, with a few exceptions in the far right corner, I can’t really determine who the vendors are – or perhaps there’s only one, because the crew seems to wander freely among all of the stations. Each has some signage, but I’m not convinced that it corresponds to the contents of the steam tables beneath. None of which has anything to do with the food, of course.

But I have stumbled upon two items worth considering.

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Casa Fried Chicken, when it’s staffed and when the chicken looks reasonably freshly fried, offers unreasonably inexpensive fare: wings are 4 for $2 and big honkin’ chicken parts are $1 each. The piece on this plate was about six inches wide and 2½ inches thick. “Is that a thigh?” I asked incredulously. She enclosed it in a wax paper bag and answered, “One dollar,” avoiding my question. At home, my autopsy revealed that it appeared to be a thigh somehow firmly affixed to a breast based on the color of the meat but not on the skeleton or any anatomy I was familiar with. It was agreeably seasoned though, and for the price it was a genuine bargain.

The Fried Rice Noodles are flavored modestly, well lubricated, and possess the satisfyingly chewy texture of an archetypical comfort food. And I’m addicted to the stuff. You’re looking at roughly a quarter of the large size which weighed in at over 2½ lbs: $5.75. I’ve fallen into the habit of bringing one of these home every time I visit because since they’re delicious but not overpowering, they’re easy to tinker with by adding other ingredients (meat, fish, veggies, etc.) and enhancing the seasoning appropriately thus creating something you didn’t dine on the day before while staying well within your budget. This meal cost about $2.50.

The remarkable feature of these noodz is that they are enormous! I’ve unfurled one in this photo; it measures about 7½ x 5 inches and that’s not the largest of the lot.

I see a fusion Chinese Lasagna in my future.

Hong Kong Food Court Update – Part 2

As I indicated in my last post, some additional vendors have emerged at the new incarnation of Hong Kong Food Court (82-02 45th Ave in Elmhurst) and it’s my self-imposed duty to keep you informed about them!

I was encouraged to find a Burmese stall, Thar Gi, with a menu of about eight items including this Burmese Thick Noodle Chicken Salad.

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In addition to their standard menu, there’s a display case featuring a selection of dishes, mostly curries with various proteins and the same sauce, targeted for heating up at home. I asked if they could heat one up for me and this is their Beef Curry. They didn’t have rice. Go figure.

I’ve enjoyed a great deal of Burmese food over the years – even prepared some myself – and I’ve always been a stalwart fan. I was hoping for a little more personality from these two dishes. We’ll see if anything changes as they settle in.

And here’s one more from Lan Zhou Ramen, highlighted in my last post: Cumin Lamb Burger. Definitely tasty and on my Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst food tour!


Hong Kong Food Court Update

It’s coming along slowly but surely – not as slick-looking as any of the food courts in Flushing, but it’s the cuisine that counts, right?

Some additional vendors have emerged at the new incarnation of Hong Kong Food Court (82-02 45th Ave in Elmhurst) since I last wrote about it and one of the second batch is an outpost of Lan Zhou Ramen. (If you’re not familiar with their other locations, you should know that they’re more than just ramen.)

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Their extensive menu included this admirable Cumin Lamb Noodle. The chef hand-pulled the noodles for my dish as I watched each step in the process; the noodz were as thick and chewy as I had hoped, the spice level was good, and the only thing I might have wished for was a bit more cumin presence – still, it was as satisfying as any I’ve enjoyed elsewhere.

And from the What-A-Long-Strange-Trip-It’s-Been Department: Their brightly lit signage, artistically inscribed with vivid red Chinese characters and identifying it as booth #23 looked familiar; certainly there are not 22 other stalls in HKFC’s current configuration. So when I got home, I checked the photo I had taken during their glory days back in 2019 and sure enough, it’s the selfsame sign.

Here’s hoping that’s a good sign!

Passing the wide assortment of dim sum on my way out of the food court, I couldn’t resist this Ham Sui Gok (咸水角), always one of my favorites. It’s crispy fried on the outside…

…with a chewy glutinous rice dough enveloping pork and perfectly sauced veggies on the inside; it’s sweet and savory at once and definitely filling.

Stay tuned for more new vendors – some I’m happy to report, are unique. And yes, of course, it’s a major stop on my Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst food tour!

Hua Yi Jia

I love a Chinese restaurant menu where the English names of the dishes are so obscure that I want to try them all. Now, I’m not referring to misspellings like balck for black or drued for dried. If I could write in Chinese a fraction as well as they write in English, I’d be thrilled. Respect.

I’m talking about dishes with names like Pot Edge or Meter Hour or Old Wine and Old Man. And when I scanned the Chinese characters on the menu in the first example (謝謝, Google Translate), it returned “Side of Pot” – not particularly enlightening. But that’s precisely why I need to go back.

So when we visited Hua Yi Jia (aka Huayijia) at 5616 7th Avenue in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, we selected three items that were intriguing in either name or content.

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Fried Eel with Lees

We’re assuming Fujianese cuisine is the order of the day because of the neighborhood and the presence of red wine lees in this dish. Wine lees are the sediment from fermenting and aging rice and red rice bran to make red glutinous wine, sort of the dregs. (But they’re not bitter dregs, Mr. Spock; they’re actually in-your-face umami brokers.) Look closely past that crispy coating on the pieces of fried eel and you’ll see the characteristic red color. Definitely tasty, but beware of tiny bones – it was worth taking a moment to establish an anatomically informed strategy for each piece.

Dried Mutton with Razor Clam

Served in a Japanese bowl, this soup was flavored with an abundance of rehydrated mutton and a paucity of razor clam. No matter, I’m sure it was the luck of the ladle and it was worth trying once.

Pot Edge

Of course we did. Turns out to be another Fujianese soup, so called because it’s made by pouring rice flour batter around the side of a wok to form a thin noodle which is then scraped into simmering broth enhanced with shredded greens.

Looking forward to my next visit!

Zheng Jin Ji

Sometimes only an elaborate production with an extensive cast of dishes can appease your appetite – think dim sum. But there’s a lot to be said for a simple dialog on an uncluttered stage as well, if the players are exceptional.

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In the window of Zheng Jin Ji at 4915 8th Ave, Sunset Park, Brooklyn, I spotted a photo starring these two sesame seed studded buns that was sufficiently compelling for me to venture inside. It’s a modest venue where Fuzhou snacks and soups are in the spotlight; I’m guessing they do more take-out business than sit-down.

On the left, a Pickled Pork Sesame Bun with Preserved Vegetables, a Guhuai Sesame Bamboo Shoot Bun on the right. They’re prepared in advance, deep fried to order, and they were an undisputed hit: spot-on seasoning, a study in contrasting textures, and definitely worth more than the price of admission ($5.50 for the pair).

So Bravo to the folks at Zheng Jin Ji for an enlightening performance that day. Take a bao!

(I know. I went a long way for that one.)

Banh Bot Loc

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These eye-catching tidbits are Vietnamese Bánh Bột Lọc Gói Lá Chuôi; like most Asian dumplings, they’re at home as an appetizer or a snack.

Filled with shrimp and pork belly, they’re prepared by steaming or boiling and they come in two variants: the filling for Bánh Bột Lọc Gói Lá Chuôi is covered in a translucent tapioca starch batter and wrapped in a banana leaf prior to steaming; Bánh Bột Lọc Tran calls for a firmer dough and doesn’t require a shrouding leaf. (Sort of like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before they sampled the forbidden fruit. But I digress.)

Their texture is noteworthy: they’re chewy from the tapioca and crispy because the shrimp are still dressed in their shells – but don’t be put off by that: the shrimp are small so the shells are thin.

Revealing closeup.

This batch came from Bánh Mì Cô Út at 83 Elizabeth St in Manhattan’s Chinatown.