Khanom Thai – Sweets

Instagram Post 7/11/2019

When I approach Khanom Thai’s stall (number 10) with ethnojunket guests in tow and they ask, “What’s good here?” I can honestly answer, “Everything.” With a focus on sweets but not to the exclusion of savories (that’s another post), Khanom Thai obviates the need to seek out another venue for dessert after eating our way though Elmhurst’s HK Food Court (82-02 45th Ave in Queens).

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These are Bean Cakes with Salted Egg. Soft, flaky, swirly layers of creamy, tissuey dough swathe a confection of mung bean paste surrounding a heart of salted egg yolk. But don’t deconstruct it: just take a bite and taste why it’s remarkable. When you look closely and stop to think about it, these are really a sweet metaphor for the egg reimagined, its white shell protecting its two-tone sunny contents.


Coconut Pancakes, griddled fresh, right before your hungry eyes, warm and chewy. The color difference isn’t chocolate vs something else; it’s merely two different types of ground rice batter.


Obscenely decadent dessert: rich vanilla ice cream, sliced bananas and chocolate sauce oozing onto a warm roti, rainbow nonpareils for a bit of crunch. ’Nuff said.
 
 

Coco Malaysian Cuisine

Instagram Post 7/10/2019

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Decades ago, one of my favorite dim sum parlors in Manhattan’s Chinatown was the beloved Hee Seung Fung, better known to its patrons as HSF. (Anybody here remember it?) It was there that I first encountered a dish called Silver Noodle. Served under an inverted small plastic bowl to keep it warm, it consisted of thick, chewy semi-translucent rice noodles with every imaginable protein and a variety of vegetables in a brown sauce. But the key ingredient, the one flavor that stood out above the rest for me, was its wok hei (aka wok qi), the breath of the wok, created by stir-frying over incendiary heat.

When HSF closed, I didn’t know where to track down this seductive dish; I’ve since learned that it can be found in restaurants featuring Malaysian, Singaporean, Hong Kong, and other cuisines that hail from regions near Guangdong. Silver noodles go by many handles, silver needle noodles and rat tail noodles (because of the tapered shape at one end) to name but two.

Since I’ve been hanging around Elmhurst of late, I thought I’d sample a few restaurants’ efforts. Shown here is the rendition cooked up by Coco Malaysian Cuisine, 82-69 Broadway, where it’s called Stir Fried Pearl Noodle – yet another name. They do my memories justice. We usually score an order of this on my new Elmhurst ethnojunket by the way. (Hint: Click here! 😉)
 
 

Mama’s Kitchen

Instagram Post 7/9/2019

Two treats from Mama’s Kitchen, Stall 28 at Elmhurst’s HK Food Court, 82-02 45th Ave in Queens. They continue to hone their menu and it keeps getting better with each iteration.

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I’ve written poignantly about my fondness for this dish, the epitome of the homiest of Chinese home cooking, tomatoes and eggs. I give Mama much credit, for this is possibly the boldest version I’ve tasted in a long time. It’s all about their take on the seasoning; whoever is in the kitchen has a style of their own. All I know is, my mama could never cook this way!


This is their spin on the Southeast Asian classic, Roti Canai. It’s usually served with a chicken curry sauce, but this version is rather different from any I’ve experienced; its seasoning had overtones of Thai herbs and spices but still wasn’t something one would immediately identify as Thai. In order to more firmly establish its culinary character, I’ll return to have another go at it. This task will be a breeze since Mama’s Kitchen is one of the stops on my new Elementary Elmhurst Ethnojunket (Shameless Self-Promotion Department 😉). Visit my Ethnojunkets page to learn more. Hope to see you soon!
 
 

XinJiang House

Instagram Post 7/8/2019

As I sift my way through the stalls and their respective menus at Elmhurst’s HK Food Court, 82-02 45th Ave, some gems have begun to emerge; XinJiang House, number 17, is assuredly one of them. They offer the Halal cuisine of Xinjiang, the Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China near Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Because of the political conflict there, the public at large is becoming more aware of the plight of the Uyghurs who are in essence being persecuted for aspiring to pursue their lives and their culture in a homeland of their own, an “Eastern Turkestan”. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to learn about these people and their cuisine.

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This is Spicy Lamb Chop with Noodles (also available with rice). Succulent lamb riblets (on the bone where the meat is sweetest) accompanied by chunks of potato and intensified with green and red chilies plus palpable nubs of ginger and garlic. Gilding the lily, this all goes over a bed of wide, thick, chewy, hand pulled noodles to soak up the juices – not visible in this photo, but you’ll dream about them later.

I was curious about the dish that’s probably the least accessible on their menu, Spicy Lamb Feet. There’s precious little meat on these, but that’s to be expected; you’ll be consuming skin for the most part, but the heady broth (too trivial a word) that’s the consummation of this preparation is just remarkable. Pour it over the accompanying rice and prepare to be amazed.
 
 

Al-Sham Restaurant

Instagram Post 7/3/2019

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One of the newer establishments in Brooklyn’s Middle Eastern neighborhood (which I still think should be called “Little Levant”) is Al-Sham Restaurant at 7701 5th Ave in Bay Ridge. On its compact menu, you’ll find the usual suspects like hummus, baba ganoush, and falafel, but their emphasis seems to be the chicken shawarma, available on a platter with fries or as a “sandwich” (their word) since it’s really shaved into a piece of laffa (flatbread), rolled up with pickles and toum, and grilled. Toum is a sauce made primarily of olive oil and garlic that’s whipped into a fluffy, snow white blizzard of a condiment; you’ll receive a hefty dollop of it on the side if you order fries. Think of it as the Levantine answer to Mediterranean aioli.


Strategically positioned by the window, the chicken shawarma is gargantuan compared to others along the strip. Foodies fond of photographing favorite finds frequently position a quarter or a spoon beside the food for the purpose of demonstrating relative size. Here, we’ve situated a human to serve the same purpose. Kidding. But seriously, that’s one big honkin’ shawarma. As he rotated the shawarma, shaving it down, he repeatedly slathered it with a substance I couldn’t quite make out, but I’m guessing it was toum, glorious toum.

There was something undefinably fresh about this chicken shawarma (the only kind they offer, BTW); I don’t know if it was because it was a new batch or because of the continual application of toum, but here’s hoping they maintain that same quality as they whittle it down. And yes, it’s a stop along my Middle Eastern Bay Ridge food tour; to learn more, check out my Ethnojunkets page. Hope to see you!
 
 

Mercado Little Spain

Instagram Post 7/1/2019

I recall the days when Little Spain was an area on the west side of 14th Street in Manhattan; anybody here remember Casa Moneo? Just as Times Square rose from the ashes like a phoenix (or arguably so – we won’t go there just now) there’s a shiny new Little Spain tucked away at 10 Hudson Yards in NYC whose goal is to bring the cuisine and spirit of the enchanting country to our fair city. Unlike some of the schmancier restaurants and boîtes elsewhere in the megamall, the atmosphere of Mercado Little Spain is casual, comprising three restaurants, a few retail stalls, and the Mercado which consists of 14 kiosks and three bars. Our objective on the day we visited was to poke around the kiosks.

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Often topping the Top 10 list of tapas are Patatas Bravas, classic Spanish fried potatoes, served here at Bravas kiosk with salsa brava, a mildly spicy tomato sauce, and aioli. An eponymous-t do.


This treat from Helados is Leche Merengada, made from milk, sugar, cinnamon, lemon zest, and beaten egg whites, then frozen. It’s a bit more fluid than a semifrío (more familiarly, semifreddo in Italian), almost the texture of a smoothie.


Granja reflects the tone of a Catalan café, featuring coffees, hot chocolate, light snacks and desserts like this Crema Catalana, caramelized custard infused with lemon. Like crème brûlée, it’s a dessert that comes with its own toy: cr-a-a-ck!
 
 

Antepli Baklava

Instagram Post 6/27/2019

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A favorite stop along my Middle Eastern Bay Ridge food tour is Antepli Baklava at 7216 5th Ave, Brooklyn. They offer an assortment of savory Turkish dishes as well as desserts including baklava, künefe, and dondurma, the dense, chewy ice cream crafted from cream, salep, mastic, and sugar; you may have seen my past post about booza, a similar treat that hails from Syria. But lately, I just can’t get past the chocolate baklava.

Now, despite my sweet tooth, I’ve never been a fan of standard issue, regulation, honey drenched baklava, but this chocolate version is a cut above. Sweet but not cloying, chocolate forward, the upper flaky layers provide the crunch while the compressed substratum is the repository for restrained syrupy goodness, the two interspaced by a thin barrier of finely chopped nuts. Droolworthy.

When I was told it’s imported from Turkey, then baked on the premises, I remembered a post (and a sample too 😋) from my Instagram friend @gustasian not long ago about the same item with the same appearance and the same taste and the same story that she found in Sunnyside. I’m willing to bet they came from the same distributor too.
 
 

Hang

Instagram Post 6/29/2019

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In Elmhurst’s new HK Food Court at 82-02 45th Ave, the Chinese characters on Stall 15’s marquee translate to “Hang”. More to the point, on the left it reads “Taipei”, on the right, “snacks”, and therefore likely a potential stop on my Elmhurst food tour, but taste testing always comes first. (Well, right after the photos, I guess.) Taiwanese style popcorn chicken and its marine mate, squid, are hallmarks of the cuisine around these parts; crispy yet juicy and traditionally topped with a bit of fried basil, they’re easy to track down and everyone has their favorites.

Shown here, serviceable fried [1] Salt & Pepper Chicken and [2] Salt & Pepper Squid; the chicken was marginally better, the squid more attractive by the same degree. A few more decisions to make before the Elmhurst ethnojunket goes live – but we’re close!
 
 

Chao Thai – Grilled Sausages

Instagram Post 6/18/2019

So since I was in Elmhurst, I went to Chao Thai, the tiny Thai restaurant at 85-03 Whitney Ave. Just for kicks, I ordered the two grilled pork sausages offered on their appetizers menu: Northern Thai Sausage (A21) and E-San Thai Sausage (A22) with an eye toward delineating a simple distinction between the two for anyone curious. Both come with lettuce, sliced onion, shredded ginger, and the slender Thai peppers often called bird’s eye chilies.

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They’re very different, of course: Northern Thai Sausage (ไส้อั่ว), transliterated as “sai oua” and similar variants, highlights spicy notes of red curry paste.


E-San Thai Sausage, (E-San refers to Northeastern Thailand and also sports many spellings like “Isan”) is called “sai krok Isan” (ไส้กรอกอีสาน) and can be distinguished by its fermented flavor profile.

My understanding is that “sai” which appears in both names, among its many definitions means intestine in this case – or casing if you prefer 😉.

Which is better? Depends on what you’re in the mood for (you knew I was going to say that) but if I were introducing someone to Thai sausage for the first time, I’d probably opt for the sai oua only because for a newbie, spice is usually easier to get past than funk!
 
 

Khawachen

Instagram Post 6/17/2019

My quest to eat my way through the new HK Food Court in Elmhurst, Queens at 82-02 45th Ave continues. It’s not born of gluttony, I assure you. One of the goals of my food tours is to present guests with unusual and delicious examples of international treats from the neighborhood, and the only way I can do that authoritatively is to experience a wide variety of what’s available myself. Hey, it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it! 🐷

Khawachen presents the cuisine of Tibet, certainly a welcome change of pace in any food court. If the video tout heralding the stall looks familiar, I believe it hails from the original Lhasa Fast Food in Jackson Heights – you know, Queens’ worst kept food secret – because of the ownership link between the two.

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Lamb Thenthuk Fried. Hand-pulled thumb-sized wheat noodles (also available in soup), sautéed with peppers and onions. The accompanying condiments were a good idea. If you like thick, chewy noodles, you’ll be happy with these. If you don’t…really?


[1] Fried Beef Momos were distinguished and tasty.

[2] The obligatory peek-a-boo shot.

More to come from HK Food Court soon.