On the Road to Shabaley

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These Tibetan stuffed pastries are called shabaley (you might see sha phaley, shabhalep, or other spellings – sha means meat, phaley means bread) and they’re tastier than you’d imagine from a quick glance at their pedestrian exterior. The pockets are prepared by deep frying, shallow frying, or even steaming like dumplings.


Shapes can be circular or semicircular, and in this case the shape and outer edge crimping identify the filling: chicken, beef, and veggie. Tibetan food generally isn’t spicy, but if you don’t want to walk on the mild side, they arrive accompanied by sepen, a flavorful and fiery hot sauce.

Of course, you don’t have to journey to Tibet to sample these! Simply join me on my Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst ethnojunket. Check it out here and sign up to join in the fun!

(And if any of you get the pun in the title of this post – which has nothing to do with Mandalay – we can be BFFs. 😉)
 
 

All That and a Bag of Krupuk

Back in 2016, I wrote a post dedicated to my interminable quest to discover the ultimate ethnic crunchy snack chip. It featured krupuk (you might see “kerupuk” as they’re called in Indonesia or other spellings since they’re enjoyed throughout Southeast Asia) – amazing crisps that are positively addictive.

In the package, they appear to be hard little chips, but they miraculously puff up almost instantly when subjected to hot oil – actually, they’re almost as much fun to prepare as they are to eat – but you can also find them sold in bags and ready to eat.

My sweet friend from Indonesia, Elika, whom I met at the New York Indonesian Food Bazaar in Elmhurst many years ago, has stayed in touch with me and recently sent me an assortment of authentic kerupuk. Each photo depicts a single variety before frying (bottom of each plate) and after (top) so you can get an idea of the transformation they undergo.

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Kerupuk Gandum. Gandum means wheat, one of a variety of starches from which kerupuk are made.


Emping Belinjo. Belinjo (padi oats) seeds are ground into flour and used to make emping, a type of kerupuk. Padi oats have a slight bitter, but not at all unpleasant, aftertaste. They’re not really “oatey” in the Cheerios sense because they’re another species, but they’re certainly more like oats than corn or wheat since there’s a satisfying nuttiness to them. Elika suggests a sprinkling of salt on these to lessen the bitter taste.


Emping Belinjo Udang. Udang means shrimp. Emping are available in styles such as manis (sweet), pedas (spicy) and madu (honey) and flavors including garlic and shrimp.


Rengginan – sweet rice puffs.


Kerupuk Udang – my absolute favorite of the group!

But you don’t have to take my word for how delicious these are! If you’d like to taste them yourself (and maybe get some to take home) you can find a wide variety of krupuk on three of my ethnojunkets, Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst, Snacking in Flushing, and Manhattan’s Chinatown. Food tour season has begun, and I’d be happy to introduce you to these crispy, crunchy gems.

To learn more about my food tours, please check out my Ethnojunkets page and sign up to join in the fun!
 
 

Yi Mei Bakery

On a recent Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst ethnojunket, I picked up some satisfying snacks at Yi Mei Bakery, 81-26 Broadway.

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A variation on classic char siu bao. There was a subtle sweetness to these Roast Pork Pastries, a perfect combination of thin slices of juicy char siu, flaky dough, and black and white sesame seeds. If you buy one to take home, definitely warm it up for maximum enjoyment.


The Meat Floss Cake was indeed cakey per its name: pillowy soft, savory and salty but also with a slight overtone of sweetness. Each cake was coated with meat floss and comprised two halves married by a thin layer of creamy custard (see last photo).

If you’re unfamiliar with meat floss, meat (pork is common) is cooked in a sweetened, spiced mixture until it’s soft enough to be shredded and fried resulting in a final texture that’s fluffy and looks a bit like wool. It’s remarkably versatile and commonly used as a topping for rice or congee, as an ingredient for filling buns and pastries, or for just plain snackin’. You’ll see it in two similar variations at your local Asian supermarket, pork fu and pork sung, and based on my experience I think the shelf life is practically eternal.

Want to know if these treats will be part of our Elmhurst food tour? Only one way to find out. Check out my Ethnojunkets page and sign up to join in the fun!
 
 

Fried Manti

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Daytime temperatures have been in the 50s and that means Spring is Here!

The hell it is.


But to be fair, we have had a few great days recently that turned out to be perfect for a Little Odessa ethnojunket. We prowled around fledgling markets and bakeries that are just starting out, and the redoubtable Tashkent Market is always coming up with different offerings like this Fried Manti with Beef (consumed on the boardwalk, of course).

There are a lot more novel flavors to experience on my “Exploring Eastern European Food in Little Odessa” ethnojunket including some tasty Turkish treats – more about those later. Check it out here!
 
 

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.)
 
 

Bearin Wheel Pie

About three years ago, I wrote about Happy Wheelie, purveyors of Taiwanese Wheel Cakes in Landmark Quest Mall, 136-21 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing. They no longer occupy that position, but Bearin Wheel Pie is currently filling the void. And speaking of fillings, Bearin’s selections include Red Bean, Cream, Matcha, Chocolate, Taro, Peanut, Black Sesame and more, along with some special creative combinations that range from savory to sweet.

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Shown here are Taro with Salted Egg Yolk representing Team Savory and Cream with Tapioca (i.e., custard with boba) playing for Team Sweet. Taro is the chameleon of the tuber/vegetable world running the flavor gamut from savory to sweet; here, Chinese preserved duck egg yolks intensify the flavor. Regarding its neighbor to the left, the hot custard is sweet but not too sweet (I know how important that is to some of you 😉) and the boba provide a welcome textural contrast.


Using a modest batter and a variety of fillings, they’re prepared in this custom apparatus whose roots are in Japan’s Imagawayaki (今川焼き) where they’re often filled with adzuki bean paste; the experience is as much about watching the process of making these traditional Taiwanese treats as it is about eating them. The batter for the bottom half is stirred gently so it rises up the sides, then the filling is added; the top is made similarly. As with any art form, the technique is a little difficult to describe, so I guess you’ll just have to come with me on my Flushing ethnojunket to see how it’s done!

To learn more about my food tours, please check out my Ethnojunkets page and sign up to join in the fun!
 
 

Bigger Snacks from Little Fuzhou

Following on the heels of my last post, Little Snacks from Little Fuzhou, we’re continuing on our journey along East Broadway; here are three more treats I spotted. Many of these snacks are based on sweetened lard; for some, it might be an acquired taste, but for me at least, it was easily acquired.

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Two of these were packed in a plastic clamshell; each is about four inches in diameter, sweet, chewy, and peanutty inside with a crisp outer shell.


In the shape of a block about 3½ inches on a side, this one was a good example of expecting a flavor profile based on how something looked and experiencing something completely unlike anything I had ever tried – so don’t judge a block by its color. It was midway between sweet and savory, soft but with crunchy elements, and shot through with nuts and dried candied fruit. Looks were indeed deceiving; worth a try.


These flaky (because of the lard in the dough), swirly treats were probably the best of this group: a hard shell enclosing a soft filling with nuts and dried fruit. (There’s a detectable but delectable theme here, right?)

There’s more to see on the Little Fuzhou leg of my Manhattan Chinatown food tour! Check out my Ethnojunkets page and sign up to join in the fun!
 
 

Little Snacks from Little Fuzhou

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Walk along East Broadway, the main drag through Chinatown’s Little Fuzhou, and it seems like every shop has a stoop line component spilling out onto the sidewalk – part of the characteristic charm of the neighborhood. Cases of wrapped goodies, some completely unidentified like the red block in the photo, beckon to knowledgeable passersby. Of course, my supremely knowledgeable Number One Spy knows the ins and outs of these treats, and she was more than helpful in making a positive ID.

These five are a representative sample of what I saw: the trio at roughly 10, 2 and 8 o’clock were filled with sweet, fruity, purple yam (red script), savory scallion (blue script), and salty meat floss/sweet bean (yellow script). (Trust me: these are so much easier to appreciate and disambiguate if you know what you’re eating!) The 4 o’clock position is occupied by a “pork floss muffin”, a bit better than its mate to the left. As to that incognito red block occupying center stage – ever had a crumbly Filipino polvorón made from powdered milk and toasted flour? This has the same sweet, powdery-in-a-good-way texture and in this case, the flavor is peanut. You buy any of these by the pound, and if the unmarked prices vary from one variety to the next, don’t fret, they’re close enough and the vendor will separate them for you.


The inner workings, so you can get an idea of the textures.

And yes, these babies (and some from the next post, “Bigger Snacks from Little Fuzhou”) are definitely on my Manhattan Chinatown ethnojunket!
 
 

St. Stephen Cheese

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To understand how today’s date, December 26, relates to the ambrosial triple cream pictured above, you have to do a little digging.

December 26, also known as Boxing Day, is earmarked as the date set aside for boxing up unwanted Christmas presents and returning them to their original sources, particularly in the US.

But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that in the UK and elsewhere, Boxing Day was originally set aside for donating charity to those in need, the name relating to alms boxes located in churches to collect contributions.

And dig a little deeper still and you’ll find that Boxing Day shares its calendar slot with Saint Stephen’s Day which honors the Christian martyr known for his acts of charity (and the connection with the alms boxes).

All of which neatly connects December 26 and the subject of this post, St. Stephen cheese.

Some of you know that in addition to being cuckoo for ethnic food, I am a turophile – from the Greek word for “obsessive cheesefreak”. One of my absolute favorites, and one that always finds a place on my Christmas cheeseboard, is St. Stephen from Four Fat Fowl (in Stephentown, NY, of course).

Some bloomy rind cheeses are mild and buttery, some have a pronounced personality; this magnificently rich, velvety cheese manages to have distinct characteristics of both. It’s made from all natural Jersey cow’s milk and fresh cream and IMHO is at its best when aged and runny.

(If you’re careful and know what you’re doing, you can ripen your prize a little past the “best by” date. Assuming you can wait that long. Or do what I do and get two, one for now and one for later.)


It’s a perfect candidate for the role of soft-ripened member of a well-curated cheese board. Try pairing it with fresh, ripe figs for a dessert treat, or as you see here, served on a lightly toasted baguette with local farmers’ market sliced sweet heirloom tomatoes, warm from the sun.

To fully enjoy this dreamy dairy delight, please do not trim away the rind! Would you buy a perfect French baguette and then cut off the crust before you consume it? Of course not – it’s an essential component. Same rule applies here.
 
 
Look for St. Stephen at your local cheese shop or purchase it directly from their website: www.fourfatfowl.com.
 
 

Kuromame Natto

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“Do you eat natto?” asked my friend. She had some extra and generously offered to share with me. I answered in the affirmative and the next time I saw her she handed me a little bag containing black natto from NYrture, a New York based company. (Note: this is not a sponsored post.)

For those of you who are unfamiliar with natto, it’s a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans and eaten for breakfast, a side dish or a snack, often with rice. Aside from its health benefits, its claim to fame (or perhaps infamy) is its potent aroma and flavor along with its notoriously slimy consistency. (Look up “acquired taste” in the encyclopedia and you’ll see a dish of natto.)

From NYrture’s website: “No description of natto would be complete without mentioning its uniquely sticky texture. Neba-neba is a Japanese word to describe the sticky, stringy, wispy film that coats natto beans. In Japan, the more “neba-neba”, the better the natto. In fact, standard practice is to vigorously stir natto before eating to increase neba-neba!”

Indeed. Natto has been known to give okra an inferiority complex.

But the company described this kuromame (black soybean) natto as “gateway natto” and I couldn’t have said it better. For starters, its flavor is significantly milder and slightly beany with, believe it or not, notes of chocolate. And although turbulent natto is soybean’s answer to an Instagram cheese pull, in defiance of “standard practice” I decided to forego whipping it into an unphotogenic web of sticky threads: personally, I don’t find it to be particularly appetizing and if your mission is gateway natto, you want appetizing.


In Japan, it’s served in numerous ways; I decided to go simple and put the artsy effort into the pickled ginger rose.

So I put it to you: Do you eat natto?