Dakwa

Instagram Post 6/26/2018

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I may have a found new favorite West African sweet snack: Dakwa. A popular treat in Ghana 🇬🇭 and Togo 🇹🇬, it goes by spellings and names that run the alphabetical gamut from Adaakwa to Zowè. Fortunately, I had only to travel to New Harlem Halal Meat on 2142 Frederick Douglass Blvd at 116th St in Manhattan to spot these treasures tucked away in a large plastic jar perched on the cashier’s counter (see second photo).

Made from ground roasted corn flour and peanuts, spiked with cloves, ginger, chili powder, sugar and a little salt, tightly compressed into 2½ inch balls with a measure of peanut oil to stick it together, its texture is similar to Middle Eastern halvah, perhaps a little stiffer. The balls come tightly bound in plastic wrap; the first photo shows one broken apart for closer examination, but mainly for easier eating. 😉

Sweet, spicy, salty, zowie!
 
 

Hom Sui Gok

Instagram Post 6/6/2018

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A favorite dim sum treat that always touches my heart is Hom Sui Gok (咸水角). These crescent shaped fried dumplings are savory and sweet, chewy and crispy all in the same bite. Shaped a little like a three-inch football with turned up corners, this delicious filled dumpling is easy to find in many Chinese bakeries and restaurants.

Recipes vary, but the filling is primarily pork, sometimes with the addition of dried shrimp, plus mushrooms and scallion (savory) that have been cooked in a sweet soy sauce/oyster sauce based medium (sweet). The thick dough is mostly glutinous rice flour (chewy), similar to Japanese mochi. The dumplings are deep fried to golden brown perfection (crispy) on the outside while still leaving plenty of chew surrounding the salty sweet goodness within.

Shown here are samples from four of Manhattan Chinatown’s bakeries.

Second Photo: If you do what I did and head to a number of venues in an attempt to discover your favorite, you too might decide that there is no “best”, just different: one is sweeter, one crisper, another more fully stuffed, another (the pinkish one) redolent of dried shrimp – each with its own flavor profile.

The cool part is that I’m not alone in my passion: there’s actually a #homsuigok hashtag! 🇨🇳
 
 

Express Tea Shop

Instagram Post 5/15/2018

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Jianbing (煎餅), literally fried pancake, is one of the more popular street foods in China and I’m pleased to report that it’s caught on in New York City, even outside of our five or so Chinatowns. Half the fun is watching your jianbing being made: a wooden crepe spreader is used to swirl the thin batter around a large, circular griddle; after a few seconds of cooking, an egg is added along with scallions, cilantro and various sweet and savory sauces plus other fillings, some vegetarian, some not. One important addition is the crisp cracker (baocui) placed atop the other ingredients just before flipping and folding into layers – think crisp fried wonton skins and you’ll get the idea. (Some versions use soft Chinese crullers (youtiao) but I greatly prefer the crispy texture contrast.)
🇨🇳
As with dumplings, the quality varies widely from purveyor to purveyor. Shown here in its authentic wax paper bag is Express Tea Shop’s version (41-28 Main St, Flushing, booth #26 in Golden Mall with a direct entrance on 41st Road) which in my opinion is one of the very best.
 
 

Durian Pizza at C Fruitlife

Instagram Post 10/18/2017

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You know the old adage about durian, right? “Smells like hell, tastes like heaven!” Well, this may be the gateway drug for durian novitiates: Durian Pizza at C Fruitlife, 135-29 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, Queens. For those of you who are curious about the flavor of durian, this offering is very mild and may well ease you into some comfy durian love; and for those of us who are hardcore durianheads, we wouldn’t mind if this were even a little more, um, pungent! They offer two versions, Musang King, the Malaysian variety, and the less expensive Monthong from Thailand. Lots of other Hong Kong style desserts as well as snacks to be found, some with a more salubrious bent, some just for fruity sweetness.
 
 

You Say Gnetum, I Say Gnemon – Let’s Call the Whole Thing Oats

Gnetum GnemonMy interminable quest to discover the ultimate ethnic crunchy snack led me to Top Line Supermarket at 81-37 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens. (Interminable, by the way, because there are so many outrageously good ethnic crunchies out there that there will clearly never be Just One Ultimate, thus making it a delightfully sisyphean task.) Indonesian ingredients are not that easy to come by around these parts, but Top Line arguably offers the best concentration of Indonesian and Malaysian items in NYC. (Got a better one, ethnofoodies? Let me know!)

Quick vocabulary lesson:

  • Gnetum gnemon — a plant (actually a tree) native to southeast Asia, known in Indonesian as melinjo or belinjo, and in English as padi oats or paddy oats. The seeds are ground into flour and used to make:
  • Emping — chips that are very popular in Indonesia (along with many other varieties of crackers generically called krupuk). They are available in a number of varieties including:
  • Manis — sweet; Pedas — spicy; and Madu — honey.

There. Now you can translate the packages as well as I can.

What are they like? Wonderful, obviously, or I wouldn’t be telling you about them. More crunchy than crispy, a little sticky right out of the package. Of the two varieties I found available under the Kukagumi brand, I like the sweet/spicy combo a little better than the honey version, but I do tend to favor spicy in general. The heat level of the pedas was within the bounds of my co-conspirators that day (some of whom draw the line at wasabi peas to give you a comparative frame of reference). Padi oats have a slight bitter, but not at all unpleasant, aftertaste. They’re not really “oatey” in the Cheerios sense since they’re another species, but they’re more like oats than corn or wheat since there’s a satisfying nuttiness to them. The Rotary brand offers larger pieces that are seasoned less heavy-handedly – a little less spicy and a little less sweet than Kukagumi. Perhaps even a little more sophisticated than Kukagumi, it allowed the flavor of the padi oats to come through with more definition. And I recently discovered Zona brand emping pedas camouflaged in loopy, orange and red Western style packaging. Crisper than Kukagumi and Rotary, their sweet spiciness is akin to Shark brand Sriracha (the Thai Sriracha). All three brands are excellent choices.

These are ready-to-eat, but a version that requires deep frying first is also available.

If you don’t feel like venturing into Elmhurst, there’s always Amazon for Spicy Gnetum Gnemon (Emping Manis Pedas) or Honey Gnetum Gnemon (Emping Manis Madu).

Gnetum gnemon — Eat ’em: get ’em!

 

 

Chechil – Smokey for Beer

Eight minutes. That was all the time I had before I was scheduled to meet my friend in Sunnyside for a nearby foodie event. The choice: I could simply neutralize this slice of time and wait outside the frenetic smack-in-the-middle-of-Queens-Boulevard subway entrance savoring the malodorous traffic fumes, or I could prowl around. But what could I ferret out in eight minutes?

Twenty seconds and half a block later I found Superior Market/Beer World. The store was bursting with craft beers from around the world — but that’s not the kind of thing I usually write about on these pages. A quick glance around the place and I realized I was on familiar Russian turf: some prepared foods, fresh baked goods, the usual suspects, and a lot of non-Russian products as well to satisfy their mixed clientele. With that cursory inspection and only a few minutes to spare, I found nothing special to tell you about, so I was about to leave empty handed. But something I had never seen before caught my eye as I passed the refrigerator case on my way to the door.

The vacuum packed pouch revealed what looked a bit like a bundle of short thin ropes about 4 inches in length. I picked my way through the Cyrillic text on the label. The first line was easy: СЫР – cheese. The second (hyphenated) line began with Чечил. I sounded it out: Chechil. I had no idea. Then the next word. I struggled with the Russian script: you think you’re seeing “cnazemmu” but what looks like a “c” sounds like “s”, what looks like an “n” is a “p”, “z” is “g”, “m” is “t” and that “u” is actually a lower case version of the letter that looks like a backwards N, so it must be – s, p, a, g, e, t, t, i? Really? But yes, that’s the second part of that line – spaghetti. (Well, it did look like spaghetti in sort of a dwarfed, tannish way.)
Chechil PackageChechil

Hurriedly, I bought a pack and plunged into my research as soon as I returned home. I pulled off a string; it came apart in shreds. Very smoky. Certainly salty. Almost aged mozzarella-ish but much drier. Rather chewy. Delicious. I wondered if it would melt: I peeled off another strip. Nope. Not in the microwave, at least. After only a couple of seconds in the belly of that magnetron beast, it became even drier and oddly bubbly in a freakish sort of way but nothing I would call melted. (Should have tried a more conventional approach. Well, there’s always next time.)
Chechil ShreddedChechil Bubble Burst

I hit the interwebs and discovered that I was enjoying Smoked Chechil Beer Snack. (The third line on the label means smoked.) Ah — this Russian cheese is destined to be savored with beer, the featured product of the eponymous Beer World. Its roots are in Armenia but it’s popular throughout Central Asia and Russia. Larger hunks of this cow’s milk pasta filata cheese (which is why it reminded me of mozzarella) are typically braided into a figure 8, this being a small snippet from one of those skeins.

So this Russian string cheese is described as “spaghetti” which is the diminutive plural of spago in Italian which means “string”.

And that ties it all together.
 
 
Found at Superior Market/Beer World
40-08 Queens Blvd.
Long Island City, NY