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:

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?

Product Name: Strange-Taste Horsebean

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That’s what it read on the back of the package. Horsebean is simply another name for broad beans or fava beans, in this case dried for nibbling purposes. Now, if you decide to go ahead and do some independent research on the Google, be sure you search for the single word “horsebean”, not the phrase “horse bean” lest you tumble down a rabbit hole that, trust me, you truly do not want to explore. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I spotted these in a Chinese market snack aisle, my happy place of late, it would seem. They’re coated with a crunchy shell, at once spicy, salty, and sweet – the triumvirate of addictive noshing. Another caveat: I was surprised to discover a few of these that seemed almost as hard as pebbles, so chomp gingerly.

There was precious little English on the package except for the following on the back:

“Diehua brand strange-taste horsebeans are produced since 1897. The product has a special taste, fragrant and sweet and crisp, numb and sore, salty and fresh, comfortable and tasty and refreshing, it likes mulberry tree’s fruit color and lusterris Moise….”

[Luscious, maybe? They’re certainly not lustrous. Can’t figure out Moise. Starts out okay, kinda falls apart by the end….]

Followed by one final instruction: “Eating Method: eat right after open it.”

Mission accomplished. Yum.

But I need to make it abundantly clear for those of you who don’t know me that I am not mocking the language in the legend. Whoever wrote it has far more English than I will ever have of any Chinese dialect, and as such they also have my respect. I once had a friend who said that if she could be granted any wish, it would be to be able speak every language of the world fluently. I still admire her for that. It’s not about showing off, it’s about openhearted communication. That’s the first step in connecting with anyone.

And when all is said and done, that’s why writers write.

It Knows It When It Sees It

A long time ago, in a century far, far away (or so it seems), there was an enduring earworm of a hit song entitled “Shrimp Boats Is A-Comin'” popularized in 1951 by singer Jo Stafford. (If you’re under 60 years of age, you can hear it here.) So being of a certain age and a lover of wordplay, the original title for Monday’s post about shrimp balls was, of course, “Shrimp Balls Is A-Comin’.”

Quite by coincidence, a couple of days before it went up, my webhost had dispatched a routine missive to their clients indicating that they had upgraded some underlying code and suggesting that we have a look at our sites to ensure that all was well. A healthy round of clicking revealed no anomalies, so I thought nothing of it.

Subsequently, I published the shrimp balls piece, apparently without incident, but although it looked just fine online, none of my subscribers had received the customary notification that a new post had dropped; everything else about it, text, photos, internal links and the like, worked as anticipated. I tried a repost. Nothing. I assumed that it might have something to do with the under-the-hood tinkering (perhaps involving the outgoing email system?) that had recently taken place, so armed with a steaming mug of coffee and prepared to spend the day staring at my computer screen while listening to music on hold, I called my webhost.

I’ll spare you the details because I’m certain that you’ve all been victims of Customer Support Abuse: scripted questions like, “Are you sure your computer is plugged in?” “Is the caps lock key engaged?” “Have you tried wiping it down with a soft cloth?” and finally, “All right then, I’ll escalate you to Technical Support…” [of course, I had already pressed 3 when I called initially] “…and when [WHEN?] we get disconnected, call us back. Please hold.” 🎶🎶🎶….

Mercifully, I was connected to someone who knew the difference between a plug and a jack, and we unearthed the answer: their mail server’s oblivious algorithm had dutifully flagged the title of the post as porn and refused to distribute the message! So to verify, while Tech Support was standing by, I hastily substituted the rather insipid but assuredly safe title “Another Chinese Snack”, reposted it, and Bob’s your uncle, the announcements were dispatched.

Clearly, algorithms are not programmed to include a sense of humor.
What follows is the post “Shrimp Balls Is A-Comin'” as it originally appeared; only the name has been changed to – ostensibly – protect the innocent.

Although in retrospect, I think the backstory is more likely to grab you. 😉

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The Japanese inscription エビのボール reads ebi no bōru, shrimp balls, although it’s a Chinese product; the package shows a serving suggestion so don’t expect to find the sesame/cumin seeds or sprinkles of seasoning depicted in the photo. They bear some resemblance to the fish balls I wrote about in my post Goodness, Gracious, Great Balls of…Fish? (a particularly popular post among spammers, BTW – IDKW 😉) but rather than being something fished out of the freezer case destined for a soup pot or the like, these are a packaged item destined for snackin’ right out of the bag.

Individually wrapped as so many of these snacks are.

The inner workings. They’re moist, about 1½ inches in diameter, and actually pretty tasty; seems like there’s something more shrimp-related in there beyond what I’m guessing is mostly surimi masquerading as a higher form of seafood – plus the tiniest bit of spice. They have enough flavor on their own that I wouldn’t try to repurpose them into some loftier culinary creation; they might be more at home toothpicked with others of their ilk on a party platter.


Every Day Host Gluten Strips

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Retrieved from another snack aisle in another Chinese supermarket, these were identified in English merely as Every Day Host Gluten Strips and something very approximately like Hand Ripped Lunch Strip Taste in Chinese, taken character by character. (Feel free to tag in, 朋友们.) About five inches long, the easily unzipped twin strips are a tad oily; they’re salty, sweet, and spicy – which comes as no surprise since the ingredients listed are wheat flour, soybean oil, salt, white sugar, chili and spices. As a matter of fact, the only surprise came from their unusual texture: chewy, puffy, airy, and a bit like biting into a sponge. They’re not bad exactly, just a little unusual.

Here’s the packaging (after I had removed most of the contents) in case you want to either try them or avoid them:

Sometimes, when I come across a product that is sort of okay but not so bad as to be trashworthy, I’ll try to invent a better use for it beyond its preordained destiny. For example, I had acquired some off-brand meat-stick Slim Jim clones. Again, not awful, but nothing to write home to Mom about. Turns out they made great stirring sticks for Bloody Marys – a triumph of snackish fulfillment.

No enlightened second life inspiration for these yet, but I’m open to suggestions!

The Mystery of Fu Yuan

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In today’s installment of “What Else Happened in Flushing While I Was Away?” there’s Fu Yuan at 135-43 Roosevelt Ave. It feels like that strip of Roosevelt Ave just off Main St has been playing musical chairs with a host of storefront snackish restaurant comings and goings for a while now. They don’t disappoint and I wish them all well.

Fu Yuan offers steamed rice noodle rolls (cheung fun, 腸粉) which appear to be enjoying tremendous popularity in NYC’s Chinatowns of late, as well as congee, some soups and a few other “side orders”. In addition to their traditional rice noodle rolls, they had a couple with the word “crispy” prepended which, of course, I opted for.

This one is their Crispy Roast Pork Rice Noodle Roll; the soft rice noodle is wrapped around crispy rice which is wrapped round the filling (shrimp is available as well as roast pork). Since I’m always a sucker for crispy, it totally worked for me.

But the real intrigue is the menu mystery that is “Stone Mill Noodle Roll”. I’ve returned more than once and each time I inquire, I’m told they don’t have it. Do they ever have it? Did they ever have it? That’s the enigma and I don’t have the Cantonese language skills to get to the bottom of it.

So, have any of you Chinatown roamers been luckier than I in solving this mystery?
And a reminder: New York City boasts at least six Chinatowns and perhaps a few more depending upon your definition of what constitutes a Chinatown; just pick one and go! Now, more than ever, please SUPPORT CHINATOWN!

Beef Juan Bing

My destination had been one of the restaurants in the shared venue at 40-46 Main St, Flushing, Queens but when I arrived, it had gone the way of too many others these days. All was not lost, however, because I was able to grab a ready-made offering at Qing Dao (sometimes spelled Qingdao) at the same location.

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This is Niú Ròu Juan Bing (牛肉卷饼), a Chinese beef roll. The first two characters denote beef, the third means rolled, and the fourth indicates pancake. Don’t confuse juan bing with jiān bing (煎饼) the extremely popular filled folded pancake that I wrote about here last year.

Qing Dao’s rendition is pretty simple: marinated beef shin/shank rolled up in a Chinese pancake with fried egg.

My Number One Spy tells me that technically it should have been a scallion pancake but as you can see from this deconstructed photo, and to paraphrase Monty Python, mine was certainly uncontaminated by scallions. It was yummy nonetheless – especially after I added my own scallions. 😉

And a reminder: New York City boasts at least six Chinatowns and perhaps a few more depending upon your definition of what constitutes a Chinatown; just pick one and go! Now, more than ever, please SUPPORT CHINATOWN!