88 Lan Zhou Handmade Noodles

Instagram Post 7/25/2019

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Sometimes, you just need to go back to basics. No roof to raise. No lilies to gild. Just quiet, reliable, mood food. These are fried pork dumplings from 88 Lan Zhou Handmade Noodles, 40 Bowery in Manhattan’s Chinatown. The waitress approached. I made my request. Silently, she walked to the back. She emerged with my order in less than a minute. Because when you’re famous for something, you’re prepared to provide. Very Zen.

The obligatory I-took-a-bite-and-of-course-it-was-delicious shot.

Mama’s Kitchen

Instagram Post 7/22/2019

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A few weeks ago, I wrote that Mama’s Kitchen, Stall 28 at Elmhurst’s HK Food Court, 82-02 45th Ave in Queens “continues to hone their menu and it keeps getting better with each iteration”. This time the ascent is a significant order of magnitude higher.

My understanding was that part of their repertoire is Cantonese (from whence the chef hails) and part is Shanghai, so when Rui Lee Liu showed me their newest menu abounding with Sichuan delights, I was understandably surprised. I had intended to hold this post until I tried a few more of the latest entries, but the Lamb with Cumin, ostensibly a universal favorite these days, was so good that I didn’t want to wait lest it disappear from the list before you’ve had a chance to taste it yourself. More to come soon though….

Royal Queen

Instagram Post 7/20 & 21/2019

Dim sum is one of my favorite meals because it affords the opportunity to taste so many diverse dishes at a single sitting. The tricky part is coordinating schedules with a group of good friends to actually converge on a restaurant at the same time for the experience. We finally succeeded in congregating at Royal Queen on the third floor of the New World Mall, 136-20 Roosevelt Ave in Flushing. As we proceeded to load our tabletop, I realized that it might be prudent to stop taking pictures and actually eat something because, well, FOMO. This accounts for the fact that you’re not seeing everything we ordered. But here are some examples from the prosaic to the unique.

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First photos are from the unusual category; a peek inside revealed a sweet peanut/sesame filling.

Tofu Stuffed with Shrimp

Beef Tendon

Xiao Long Bao

Lotus Leaf Wrapped Sticky Rice with shrimp, lap cheong (Chinese sausage), pork, and salted egg yolk

Flaky crust with a sweet ginger/custard filling inside

Fish Cake

Shrimp Balls on Sugar Cane

Roast Duck

Fried Silver Fish

Shrimp and Chive Wonton

Nian Gao (glutinous Rice Cake) made with Jujubes (dried red dates)

Serious question: what’s your favorite place in NYC for dim sum? Leave a reply below.

Battle of the Burgers – Chinese Food Court Edition

Instagram Post 7/16/2019

A burger, in the culinary sense of the word, consists of ground or chopped meat served on a split bun (at least for the purposes of today’s post). In my ethnojunkets to Queens Food Courts, it’s evident that there’s no shortage of “Chinese Burgers” and they differ radically from one location to the next, both in terms of definition and quality. A few examples:

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Shaanxi Tasty Food, stall #27 in Super HK Food Court, 37-11 Main St, Flushing, boasts a Cumin Fried Beef Burger (item A3 on the menu), one of the best of the bunch IMHO, along with…
…Chinese Burger (item A2), pork and onions, a little less intense than its mate.

This is Cumin Lamb Chinese Hamburger from Liang Pi Wang (item 5) because cumin and lamb. There’s a proliferation of Liang Pi Wang venues, specifically stall #3 in Super HK Food Court (above), stall #10 in New York Food Court at 133-35 Roosevelt Ave, and stall #22 in Elmhurst’s HK Food Court at 82-02 45th Ave.

Yuan Muwu occupies stall #30 in Elmhurst’s HK Food Court. Although they don’t use the word “burger” I’d be hard pressed to call this by another name; they’ve opted for “Pork Pancake” (the menu reads “Poke Pancake” but we know what they mean). This one is pork belly on a sesame seed bun. When I tried it, the bun was over-toasted and its contents was a little dry; they may have better offerings.

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!