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!

Bakewell Bakery & Restaurant

Although Guyana is located in northeast South America, its culture is more Caribbean than South American; a former British colony, English rather than Spanish is the official language.

Bakewell, the aptly named Guyanese establishment at 127-08 Liberty Ave in South Richmond Hill, Queens, turned out to be a pleasant surprise; their baked goods were a cut above the competition.

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This Guyanese sweet coconut roll known as salara gets its vibrant red hue from food coloring, not some obscure South American red coconut or from Photoshop. Viewing it in the case, I was expecting something a lot drier, but it was moist, doughy, and one of the best of its kind that I’ve experienced. (You know you wanna bite into that, don’t ya now?)

By the same token, their cassava pone was stickier (in a good way), spicier, and generally fresher tasting that those I’ve had in the past – and I’ve sampled many.

Beef and chicken patties were not bad, gently seasoned with pronounced salty overtones, but the sweets really took the cake that day.

St. Stephen Cheese

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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 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 paring 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:

Huang Fei Hong Spicy Peanuts

Not long ago, I wrote that I’d be spending a lot of time in Queens developing my revised Flushing Ethnojunket 2.0. A number of businesses have succumbed to the forces of COVID-19 but happily, it seems like new ones have been popping up every day to succeed them.

My ever-vigilant Number One Spy provided me with a list of many of the newer venues; I’ve visited each and will provide my impressions about them in upcoming posts. (Spoiler Alert: she’s never wrong.) She advised me that as soon as I emerged from the subway, I’d see the new US1 Supermarket at the corner of Main St and Roosevelt Ave (with entrances on both sides). Literally three seconds after entering I spotted an overflowing mountain of these bags near the checkout area:

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Now, this is as good a time as any to introduce you to Ethnojunkie’s Rules of Edible Acquisition. Perhaps of utmost importance is the First Rule:

If you see something that you think you might want, do not hesitate – get it immediately. It will not be there later.

They may sell the last one in your absence and for some unfathomable reason will never be able to order/make more. Or they’ve closed up shop entirely and left town. Or the gentle soul innocently standing behind you also has a knack for identifying the “good stuff” and has a forklift parked just outside.

This theory holds particularly true in ethnic supermarkets. I don’t know why, but even flashing a photo of what I bought (and gobbled up) just the day before is met with blank stares, furrowed brows, and scratched heads.

Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to grab and buy.

Corollary to Ethnojunkie’s First Rule of Edible Acquisition:

Having paid for your theoretically delicious treat, open it the instant you hit the street, taste it, and if your suspicions were correct, immediately rush back inside and buy three or four more.

As I said, it won’t be there later.

These are Huang Fei Hong Spicy Peanuts. You know how Virginia peanuts possess an eyeball rattling crunch that makes other peanuts seem mealy by comparison and intimidates them into leaving the table in disgrace while contemplating a new career as pigeon feed? Not only do these share that addictive characteristic but they are accompanied by bits of dried red chili and Sichuan málà peppercorns. Snacking perfection in a package. They are mind-blowingly, amazingly wonderful and that is not hyperbole.

(Pro tip: If you can’t take the heat, you don’t have to get out of the kitchen. Just shake the bag and many of the spicy bits will fall to the bottom giving you easy access to the now-subdued still-yummy peanuts remaining on top.)

Now you know what to look for and where to get them.

Fair warning: I am warming up my forklift.
More Flushing treats to come….

Vegetarian Alert

And while we’re on the subject of vegetarian meat (isn’t that an oxymoron?), I’ve concluded that Suniupai Vegetarian Beefsteak has even more possibilities for incorporating into a dish than the skewers from the previous post; I can easily see how these could figure into a stir fry. (For the record, I’m not necessarily looking for a meat substitute, just experimenting.)

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Like the skewers, this “Dried Beancurd Chunk” is available in several flavors; I chose the one labeled “Cumin” and it was surprisingly delicious. I also tried the “Spicy” version and it lived up to its descriptor perfectly.

The bag contains nine foil packets (about 3" x 4"), each of which encloses a single slab (about 2" x 1¼") of pressed wannabeef with similar shredding capabilities as the skewers; they possess an unmistakably (unmisteakably?) meat-like texture, although perhaps with just a bit of processed meat chew – a little too much bounce, but I’m quibbling.

Actually, just biting into a chunk wholesale definitely misses the mark and I don’t recommend it, but shredding brings out its formidable potential. I see a Home Cookin’ post in the future.

More from the snack aisle coming up – next time: sweets!

If It Looks Like Meat, and It Shreds Like Meat, and It Chews Like Meat…

…and it’s in a Chinese supermarket snack aisle, then it probably isn’t meat.

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I’ve been spending a lot of time in Flushing lately reworking my local ethnojunket, so I have the freedom to wander through every single aisle in sensational supermarkets and tell myself I’m working rather than just indulging my culinary whims. I confess to being a sucker for the snack aisles at Asian supermarkets; the treats are subdivided into savory and sweet categories and frankly, it’s a bit of a gamble – some are truly remarkable and beg another bag, some, well, not so much. More about that in an upcoming post.

These diminutive wannabeef barbecute skewers fell into the former category; the two chunks impaled on each wooden stick measure about 3¼ inches taken together. The four “flavors” available on this visit were Exoticism, Passion, Enjoy, and Soar; I selected Enjoy because they were identified as spicy on the back label: “Beancurd String (Spicy Flavor)”. Aside from the incredible shreddable texture and true chew, it was sufficiently spicy to give it a pass as well-seasoned meat.

I understand that these are marketed as snacks, but I’m inspired to incorporate them into some home cookin’. We’ll see. Of course, there are actual dried fish and meat jerkies to be found in the same aisle as well, but I’ll save those for another post.

More Flushing snacks to come. Stay tuned.

It’s Durian Day! (Or Not…)

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Durian happens to be one of my favorite fruits, and while June 26 isn’t officially Durian Day, I agree with Fly FM, an English-language radio station based in Malaysia, that it should be.

You’ve probably heard the oft-quoted aphorism about it, “Tastes like heaven, smells like hell” but if you’ve never sampled durian, you might discover that you actually like it; a number of folks I’ve introduced it to on ethnojunkets have experienced that epiphany. There are gateway durian goodies too, like sweet durian pizza (see below), durian ice cream, candies, and freeze dried snacks and they’re all acceptable entry points as far as I’m concerned.

Here’s a post from the past, Durian’s Best Kept Secret, that recounts the story of a little known venue in Brooklyn where an assortment of durian cultivars can be purchased and enjoyed – and I did both, of course.

And a while back, it was my pleasure and privilege to write this piece, Durian Pizza in Flushing, for Edible Queens Magazine.

Happy Durian Day! 🤞