Serabi vs Cucur: Battle of the Indonesian Kue

Instagram Post 10/23/2018

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So many kue, so little time, but I was determined to get to the bottom of the puzzle. On a recent visit to the monthly NY Indonesian Food Bazaar at St. James Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens, I had purchased some kue (diminutive Indonesian sweets/snacks) from Pecel Ndeso’s booth, but I misidentified them in an earlier post. So I returned, and thanks to extensive discussion with the vendor and then another vendor who sold the same snack under a different name and my Indonesian friends @nigelsie (aka @hellomoonman), @fefeang (owner of the Taste of Surabaya booth at the bazaar), but especially to @erm718 for her detailed descriptions, I think I’ve got it now, to wit:

The first photo is serabi. @erm718 writes, “Serabi making is very similar to American pancake making, where the batter is spread onto a lightly oiled pan, but not flipped.” (See the browned bottom of the kue in the lower right of the photo.) “Traditionally clay pans are used for serabi, but now metal pans are also used.” Holes bubble up on top as the serabi cooks. Variations exist distinguished by the thickness of the kue and the toppings; the one in this photo, serabi basah (basah means wet), came accompanied by a bag of coconut milk sweetened with palm sugar. Thicker than a typical pancake and with a light, fluffy, almost fine-crumb cakey texture, the flavor was enhanced by the addition of a little pandan essence (that’s where the green tinge comes from). Warm, anointed by the sweet coconut milk, the taste intensified; definitely a treat.

The kue shaped like a flying saucer is cucur. @erm718 writes, “Cucur’s batter is poured into lots of hot oil and deep fried; cucur is eaten as is.” There’s a bit of a chewy quality to it, its puffy, airy interior adding to the sensory pleasure; it benefitted from a little warming as well.

Thanks for your help, Elika!

Lots more to come from the bazaar….
 
 

Khaman Dhokla

Instagram Post 10/6/2018

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This is dhokla (ઢોકળા), the delicious snack that hails from Gujarat, India. Soft, delicately spongy, and impossible to stop eating, this treat (that can also be enjoyed as a main dish or a side) shows up in numerous varieties. It’s made from a fermented batter of rice and chana dal (split chickpeas) the proportions of which vary depending upon the type; this one, khaman dhokla, is made from chickpeas only. There’s a bit of baking soda in the recipe as well that serves to make it even fluffier. It’s topped with mustard seeds and green chilies and served here with a yellow curry sauce on the side for dipping (or pouring over if you crave a high sauce to dhokla ratio). These were a serendipitous discovery made while wandering around Jersey City, NJ from Bengali Sweet House, 836 Newark Ave.
 
 

This is Babka? Really?

Instagram Post 10/2/2018

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When we hear the word “babka”, we usually imagine a freshly baked loaf of irresistible sweetness fashioned from yeast-dough twirled around cinnamon or chocolate filling, topped with a crumb streusel, a slice of which will be perched beside tomorrow morning’s coffee. Or at least I do. So if you wandered into Taste of Russia at 219 Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn’s Little Odessa, you might be surprised to see that selfsame word (but in Russian) labeling this noodle and raisin pudding. I might have used the Yiddish phrase “lokshen kugel” (noodle pudding) to describe this Central European dish, but regardless of the sign (photo 2), it was immediately identifiable as something I needed to buy. Dense with eggs, milk, butter, and sugar and sporting a crispy, browned cap, this treat was delicious but fulfilled its role best as a desserty snack rather than a morning carbobomb. Definitely good eats and a potential treat along my Little Odessa food tour.
 
 

Pata Market – Sakoo PakMor

Instagram Post 8/13/2018

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Many years ago I used to frequent a Thai restaurant that offered the street food Sakoo Sai Moo (you might see it as saku) as an appetizer. (Sakoo = tapioca – think sago, sai = stuffed, and moo = pork.) So we have a chewy tapioca starch-based steamed dumpling stuffed with deliciously seasoned pork and peanuts and meant to be consumed wrapped in a lettuce leaf with fresh Thai bird peppers. I was heartbroken when they went out of business and have since been on the lookout for these favorites at Thai prepared food places. Unfortunately, I usually find a sweet version stuffed with peanuts but no pork. Until now. Pata Market at 81-16 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens and their comprehensive grab-n-go spread came to the rescue with a container labeled Sakoo PakMor that contained four peanut dumplings plus two more filled with pork. Yes!
 
 

Fubuki Manju

Instagram Post 7/28/2018

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Keeping it short and sweet for this post with a Japanese Fubuki Manju (wheat cake) from Simply Bakery at 70 Bayard St in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Fubuki means snowstorm in Japanese and indeed the thin cakey white coating does give the appearance of a snowball but it’s the chunky sweet red bean paste within that provides the dominant flavor of this confection; it’s unlike mochi where the outer coating is a lot thicker and made from glutinous rice.
 
 

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!