Sweet Osmanthus Cakes

Instagram Post 2/1/2019

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Sweet Osmanthus Cakes (Gui Hua Gao, 桂花糕) are available in many markets throughout New York City’s magnificent Chinatowns. Used throughout Asia, osmanthus shows up in tea and tea blends as well as jams, liquors, and sweet gelatin desserts, often with goji berries embedded in gravity defying suspension. It has a buttery, floral fragrance with a subtle flavor – I’d describe it as somewhere along the apricot-leather continuum, if there were such a thing.

These delicacies are uncharacteristically sweet as Chinese baked goods go and have a coarse, slightly crumbly texture, cakier than a shortbread cookie and cookier than a cake – a biscuit, perhaps? Unsurprisingly, they are more comfortable in the company of tea than coffee (in my opinion, at least).

[2] The inside scoop.

[3] One brand’s packaging so you’ll know what to look for if you’re so inclined. I like ’em.
 
 

Durian Pizza in Flushing (for Edible Queens)

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I wrote a story about Durian Pizza in Flushing for Edible Queens. It begins:

There’s an old adage about durian: “Smells like hell, tastes like heaven!”

Whatever you may have heard about this fruit, it probably wasn’t encouraging. Some regard durian with mild amusement, some with outright disdain, while others have come to appreciate its unique personality. My objective is to disabuse you of any prejudices you may harbor about the “King of Fruits” (as it’s known in Southeast Asia) and direct you to a local restaurant where you can indulge—fearlessly—in its charms….

…keep reading….
 
 

Korai Kitchen

Instagram Post 1/31/2019

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Bangladeshi cuisine is different from Indian cuisine and even that of West Bengal, and one of the best ways to sample it is in a buffet setting where you can taste a bit of many delights. Fortunately, Korai Kitchen, Jersey City’s first Bangladeshi eatery, features a lunch buffet (Tuesday – Friday) and a weekend buffet that spans lunch and dinner Friday through Sunday with an ever-changing array of dishes.

[2] Annotated photo of my first (ahem) plate.

[3] Buffet is currently their only format, no formal menu yet, although you can order a few special items on weekends like hilsa, the beloved national fish of Bangladesh.

[4] A bhortha (you may see bharta) is an intensely flavored vegetable or fish mash, usually containing mustard oil, which is used as a condiment or over rice. Here is the quartet shown on my plate which included Karela Bhaja. Karela is a spiky cousin to Chinese bitter melon and bhaja means it’s been fried.

Other items that didn’t make it to that first plate included [5] a shutki (dried fish, in this case dried shrimp) dish, potent and delicious, and [6] dessert that comprised chai; lacha semai, made from vermicelli and hot milk; and mishti doi, a sweetened, thick yogurt, almost the texture of a custard or pudding and a personal favorite.

Lots more at Korai Kitchen, 576 Summit Ave, Jersey City where the owner, Nure Rahman is beyond helpful and absolutely charming, and Mama Rahman is in the kitchen making everything by hand.

And yes, I’m going back.
 
 

NY Indonesian Food Bazaar

Instagram Post 1/25/2019

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A reminder about tomorrow’s NY Indonesian Food Bazaar (Saturday, January 26) at St James Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens. It feels like each time I go, there’s something different to taste – and everything I’ve tasted has been wonderful. Here are a few treats from previous monthly events.

[1] Ikan Mujair Pepes – Ikan means fish, Mujair refers to the Javanese inventor who experimented with raising freshwater tilapia, and pepes is a method of cooking that uses banana leaves to seal in flavors. This savory fish was coated with shallots, scallions, lemongrass, garlic, chili, turmeric, and candlenuts.

[2] Babi Rica, a delicious pork (babi) dish hailing from Manado, the capital city of the Indonesian province of North Sulawesi from Kantin Rica Rica’s table.

[3] One of the happiest aspects of the bazaar is the opportunity to pick and choose a bit of this and a bite of that; this plate featured fried tofu, shrimp, mussels, and jengkol, the outsized seeds of a legume tree that taste like a tender, meaty bean served over yellow rice with two spicy sambals because 🌶️ is the name of the game.

[4] My Indonesian dessert weakness from the folks at Enak Iki: Martabak Manis (manis means sweet). This kind of martabak has the texture of a soft crumpet; the mixed version (shown here) is folded around chocolate, peanuts, grated fresh cheese, and sesame seeds. So good!
 
 

Chicks Isan

Instagram Post 1/22/2019

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Feeling peckish? You might consider a visit to the stall from Chicks Isan that roosts in DeKalb Market, 445 Albee Square West in Brooklyn. If you like chicken wings, you need to try their Zaab Wings – you might see the spelling “zabb” elsewhere but either way it’s your clue that you’re hearing about food from northeast Thailand; the word means flavorful and delicious. Speckled with a crunchy coating combining chili, lime, and mint, they’re crisp, spicy, and not at all greasy.

There’s more to a bird than its wings, however, so we also got an order of Isan Style Grilled Chicken (Kai Yang) marinated with shallot, garlic, turmeric, and coriander root. (Thai cooking commonly uses coriander root along with the stems and leaves; it brings a pungent, earthy quality to the party.) The agreeably grilled half chicken came accompanied by two sauces, the sweet-hot orange colored one you see universally, and a more unusual herby, spicy variety that complemented it distinctively.

Lots more to try from their menu as well….
 
 

Manting Restaurant

Instagram Post 1/21/2019

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Mala Tang and Mala Xiang Guo are Sichuan dishes that are underrepresented in Manhattan’s Theater District, but those are the specialties at Manting Restaurant, 150 W49th St. We were invited to taste their renditions amid a selection of other items on the menu, and we happily obliged.

[1] They feature eight kinds of Mala Tang, the spicy, soupy hot pot, in ready-made versions such as beef, lamb, fish (pictured), seafood and vegetable. When I see “málà”, I expect numbing, spicy Sichuan peppercorns but the best I could tell was that this was ignited only by dried red chili peppers. Not complaining though: we requested very spicy and we actually got it. Spoon some of the sauce over rice for maximum enjoyment.

[2] Mala Xiang Guo, spicy dry pot, is a stir fry in which diners can choose from among 35 items that include meats (beef, lamb, chicken, tripe, kidney, for example), seafood (shrimp, fish fillet, squid), and a garden of vegetables (like mushrooms, cabbage, cauliflower, seaweed) and tofu. Choose your favorites, specify a spice level, and you’re set. Read the menu carefully regarding portion size and pricing: it’s priced per pound with a 1.5 pound minimum and a surcharge for orders under 2 pounds, but you’ll probably exceed those anyway if there are at least two of you. Common sense dictates that if you request many ingredients but the size of your order is modest, you may find only one piece of something you desired in the bowl. We decided to get two of these, one with meats and [3] the other fish based. Both filled the bill.

[4] We opted for the Scallion Egg Pancake appetizer, sort of an omletized scallion bing.

谢谢, Manting!
 
 

Shaanxi Tasty Food – Cumin Fried Noodles with Beef

Instagram Post 1/20/2019

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A couple of months ago, I wrote about Shaanxi Tasty Food, stall 27 in Super HK Food Court, 37-11 Main St, Flushing, in the basement of Super HK Supermarket. Shaanxi Province is in the northwest region of China and “tasty” describes the cuisine precisely. In that post, I raved unabashedly about their Oil Spill Noodle, aka Oil Splashed Noodle, so when my dining buddies and I were in the neighborhood the other night and about to embark on our second of three dinners (long story), it was a clear choice.

This time, we opted for the Cumin Fried Noodles with Beef (C3 on the menu, also available with chicken) and it was another hit. Now and then I have a taste for noodles that aren’t slathered in sauce or swimming in soup. These are dry – in the best sense – boasting a perfect chew, redolent of cumin, touched with a toss of bean sprouts, scallion and carrots plus a little kick from green pepper.

More to come from Super HK Food Court….
 
 

Keki Modern Cakes

Instagram Post 1/19/2019

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You know the line that formed outside the door the day that Keki Modern Cakes opened at 79 Mott St in Chinatown? I was in it, mainly because they were (unconsciously) utilizing their unusual cakes to demo the mechanics of momentum in the window, and I’m the nerdy type. In case you missed it, Keki makes “Bouncy Cheesecakes” and they do live up to the promise of their name.

[1] On a postprandial visit to their midtown location, 315 Fifth Ave at 32nd St, my lunchmates and I indulged in the ube variety. Light, fluffy, adorably jiggly and not too sweet (it seems to be so important to so many), the flavors of cheese and ube were present but subtle. Pretty good, actually.

[2] Bisected.

[3] They also offer castella sponge cakes, tarts and “pot pies” that look like larger tarts in flavors like blood orange, melon banana, and pumpkin (these may be seasonal), as well as [4] fancy cheese cakes, described on a chalkboard just above the yellow neon imperative, “Let’s Bounce”. Sure, why not?
 
 

Singapore Malaysia Beef Jerky

Instagram Post 1/18/2019

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One of the delights of living in NYC is enjoying easy access to our five or six Chinatowns and the culinary treasures they embrace. Tucked away at 95A Elizabeth St is Singapore Malaysia Beef Jerky, a tiny shop that delivers big flavor in the form of freshly grilled, delicious jerky – a regularly scheduled stop on my Manhattan Chinatown ethnojunket. The word “jerky” has its roots in the Andean Quechua language – ch’arki meaning dried, salted meat – and this savory-sweet version is unique. They offer three kinds of meat in two spice levels and two styles.

[1] The first style (and my favorite) comes in the form of slightly charred squares of wonderfully seasoned pulverized chicken, pork, or beef. (Sometimes they have a combo of shrimp and pork – if you see it, get it.) The three varieties are similar in appearance: chicken is slightly pinker than pork which is lighter than beef; the flavors are identifiable – if you’re eating one labeled chicken, you know it’s chicken; the texture is supple (chicken is subtly more tender than beef); and their distinctive seasoning blend is the reason to go here. All three are available in spicy as well as regular designations; “spicy” has a finish with a tiny kick, but well within anyone’s tolerance.

[2] They also make a style that consists of very thinly sliced meat (pork or beef) with seasoning similar to those above, available in spicy and non-spicy recipes as well. In terms of texture, expect a little more resistance – after all, you’re chewing an actual slice of meat. The second photo shows an example of the two side by side.

[3] How it’s done. I can attest from experience that this is a universal favorite; if you’ve never tried their jerky, put it at the top of your to-eat list.

(And remember, subscribing to ethnojunkie.com to receive updates about the latest posts and upcoming tours is a piece of cake. Or easy as pie, perhaps. Just use the Subscribe button on any page!)
 
 

Like Cafe

Instagram Post 1/17/2019

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Enormous backlit dazzlingly bright hyper-colorized scenes of bustling Hong Kong streets gild the walls and stand in contrast to the unpretentious furnishings of this informal Brooklyn café. The youth-centric menu is extensive – a trifold glossy sheet that opens to a 25½ x 11 inch onslaught on the eyes and flaunts a hodgepodge of colorful mini-photos arranged in splashy, artful disarray captioned in dozens of fonts with as many exclamation points.

Like Café brings its rendition of Hong Kong street snacks to 6205 18th Ave in Bensonhurst with a good assortment of Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian and Vietnamese offerings: noodles, dumplings, wings, rice dishes and sundry tids and bits scream for attention amid some lobster and sizzling beef contenders.

Wading through an ocean of dishes with intriguing names like Show Me Your Love Rice and Sloopy Noodle, we settled on Fishball Shumai Noodle, Macaense Wings (that’s either the Spanish word for Macanese or a typo – you decide) and Man Romance Rice. (See what I mean about the names?)

[1] The first turned out to be rolled rice noodles, tiny fish balls, and diminutive, dense fish paste shu mei swimming in a sweet soy/peanut butter sauce topped with sesame seeds. The rice rolls and sauce were okay, the fish balls and dumplings less so.

[2] I like wings that are crispy and I also like wings that are saucy – not sure about the marriage however. These were spicy, a good thing, but when crispy crumbs get saturated, they lose their raison d’être. The sauce was chickeny, but I couldn’t tease out any other specific flavors. The pickled veggies on the side were good though.

[3] You’ve been waiting for Man Romance Rice, haven’t you? Possibly the best of the three dishes, it consisted of pork belly, bean curd skin, and thick meaty shiitake mushrooms in sauce over rice. Satisfying. And no, I didn’t ask about the name.

Oh, how I wanted to love Like Café, but so far I only like Like Café. Despite what I’ve written, I’ll give them another chance – it’s possible that now that I have a sense of the place and based on other photos I’ve seen, with more judicious ordering it could prove to be a better experience.