Himalayan Yak Restaurant

Himalayan Yak Restaurant has been a Jackson Heights fixture since 2004. Specializing in Tibetan and Nepali cuisine with a soupçon of Indian and Bhutanese dishes sprinkled in for good measure, they’ve recently added a new “Yak, Yak, and Yak” section to the menu so, having dined there years ago, I had to go yak – er, back.

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My understanding is that the principal meat consumed in Tibet is yak, so we ordered the Yak Sizzler since it appeared to be the most straightforward presentation of the meat. Salubrious health claims notwithstanding, yak tasted a lot like beef to me but that’s giving it too much credit. To these taste buds it didn’t have a lot of personality and it was a little tough and chewy. It arrived with linguini-like noodles that stuck to the pan a bit which made for a little pleasant crispness, and that’s as it should be – it’s a sizzler after all – and they released when mixed with the meat juices. Since that “sauce” is primarily pan drippings (and perhaps some butter?), their flavor was intense and particularly good.


Yak Shapta (you might see shaptak) features the meat in a more elaborate guise, stir fried in a medium spicy chili sauce with onions, red pepper and scallions. Again, the meat was a little chewy, but that’s yak for ya.


Yak Gyuma Chilli. Gyuma is blood sausage, the Tibetan answer to morcilla and so many others, prepared from ground yak meat, chilies, and a starchy filler, served here with onions and bell peppers in that medium spicy chili sauce. Less dominant character than some blood sausages, but in this case, that’s a good thing.


Not to neglect yak appetizers, these are Yak Chilli Momo. Flavorful whole wheat dumplings filled with ground yak, onion, scallion, cilantro, garlic and ginger covered with onions and bell peppers in that familiar spicy chili sauce…


…and Yak Cheese. An Emmentaler doppelganger. Seems like the next word in sequence should be “expialidocious”. Go ahead, try it. I’ll wait. Apologies for the earworm. (Anyway, wasn’t Emmentaler-Doppelganger the third stop on the Orient Express?)
 
 
So I gathered a group of world food lovers for a subsequent visit. We tried almost everything above, in addition to these yakless selections:

Chili Momos with Pork. If you’re going to do Himalayan food, then you’re going to do momos in one form or another. These crunchy (because they were fried, not steamed) yumballs were slathered in that medium spicy chili sauce with red and green peppers, onions, and scallions rounding out the dish. Good way to start things off.


For a change of pace from steamed momos, we ordered Fried Momos with Chicken. Good, but they benefited from this array of sauces:

Akin to traffic light protocol, green was the mildest (avocado!), red warned us of spicy chili, and the yellow (well, sort of orange really, but I’m taking license – literary, not driver’s) fell somewhere in between.


Choila. A cold appetizer of chicken chunks marinated with onion, garlic, ginger and mustard oil. We enjoyed this particularly spicy Nepali dish so much that we ordered two.


Pork Labsha is a Tibetan radish curry; the word labu refers to daikon. The sweet pork contrasted perfectly with the slightly bitter daikon in this home-style dish – not spicy but quite good.


Gundruk Ko Takari. Gundruk is a fermented mustard green curry, a signature dish from Nepal. We opted for the vegetarian version which highlighted dehydrated potatoes and mushrooms. Kinda funky but in a good way, and a proper contrast to everything else we enjoyed that evening.

Fried Thenthuk. Pan fried Tibetan flat hand pulled noodles with pork, daikon and bok choy. Thenthuk noodles often show up in soups, but this stir fry was welcome in the context of our dinner.


Ngyashya Zema, a Tibetan chili fish recipe. Slices of tilapia, breaded and stir-fried with garlic, ginger, red onions, broccoli, mushrooms, and bell peppers, falling apart tender in a medium spicy sauce. Again, a tasty dish that was unique among our choices.


Sekuwa. From the Nepali side of the menu, tender lamb, marinated and charcoal grilled, served over crispy puffed rice. A fine example of the Maillard reaction; no complaints.

Alas, I didn’t get a photo of the Nepali Khasiko Sukka Masu, dry goat curry, but it was excellent – good to know in case you head out to Himalayan Yak.

Himalayan Yak is located at 72-20 Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens.
 
 

Yin Ji Chang Fen

Instagram Post 11/13/2019

It is not often that I have the opportunity to write about a restaurant so special that I am compelled to recommend it enthusiastically; Yin Ji Chang Fen, a well-known rice noodle roll chain from Guangzhou, China, made the cut. Recently opened at 91 Bayard St in Manhattan’s Chinatown, you can expect long lines so grab a take-out menu and hone your decisions while you’re waiting.

Cheung fan (Chinese rice rolls), amid alternate spellings, are enjoying a moment in the spotlight here in New York City. You’ve probably savored them at specialty venues, food trucks, and dim sum parlors; in essence they’re a thin roll of steamed rice noodle filled with seafood, meat, or vegetables or wrapped around youtiao (Chinese cruller). Now if you’ve been eating them forever, you’ll immediately recognize that these are a little different from what you’re accustomed to in at least three aspects: the noodle is thinner, they arrive doused with a bespoke soy sauce based mixture, and the proportion of filling to noodle is off the charts.

In addition to 16 kinds of chang fen, Yin Ji Chang Fen offers 14 varieties of congee (aka Chinese rice porridge), both with ample customizations available, and a few Asian snacks.

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Marinated Pork and Shrimp with Chives rice noodle roll; absolutely delicious. (Incidentally, portions are about twice as large as is customary around these parts.)


Inner workings: huge chunks of pork and whole shrimp.


Sliced Fish with Chives rice noodle roll. I thought I’d try an add-on so I asked for extra egg in this one. I was expecting to find the egg within, but what arrived was the rice roll as specified further enveloped in a thin omelet, a pleasant surprise.


Lai Wan Style Assorted Congee, topped with shredded egg, ginger, greens, peanuts and cilantro.


Inner workings revealed fish fillet, squid, pork skin, and more. Note that their congee may be a little thinner than what you’re used to. Although not canonical, you could unabashedly add some Spicy Chili Crisp, provided tableside, if you’re so inclined.


From the Asian Snacks side of the menu, Deep Fried Fish Skin; best I’ve ever had, ruined me for others.

Go here now. That is all.
 
 

Seafood Palace

Instagram Post 11/11/2019

Bensonhurst’s burgeoning Chinatown (yes, really) is home to a phalanx of Guangdong (Cantonese) and Hong Kong style restaurants as well as a few dim sum parlors (as you’d expect). The area is ripe for serious exploration, but to get things rolling my dining buddy and I did a survey of most of the eateries, noting which warranted further investigation. We settled on Seafood Palace, 2172 86th Street, Brooklyn, for lunch and despite the paucity of patrons that day, it did not disappoint.

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The menu calls this delectable item Sea Clams and Sweet Pea Pods with XO Sauce; the Chinese reads XO蜜豆桂花蚌 which I interpret as XO honey bean osmanthus mussel (or clam). The XO sauce part is a gimme and honey bean refers to sugar snap peas. The clams looked and tasted exactly like sweet razor clams but I’m told that “osmanthus clam” refers to something dissimilar. Assuming you like clams, treat yourself to this eminently accessible dish served with a mildly spicy sauce enhanced with ginger, scallions, green chili, red chili, Chinese chives, purple onion and what I suspect were tiny nubs of flavorful pork. Definitely good eats.


Pan Fried Egg with Noodlefish was a tasty, unpretentious dish obviously prepared with great care and admirable skill. The scrambled eggs were light, fluffy, pillowy and moist and the kind of preparation you’d expect from French cuisine. Noodlefish, aka ice fish, are related to smelts, so watch for the few unavoidable tiny bones.

And yes, I’m going back. Soon.
 
 

Mandato Fruit & Grocery Corp. – Part 2

Instagram Post 11/10/2019

I’ve written about Mandato, the three-in-one Mexican destination at 7220 3rd Ave, Brooklyn before: it’s a take-out restaurant featuring tortas, cemitas, tamales, picaditas, tlacoyos, sopes, quesadillas, huaraches and more; a market where, in addition to packaged goods, you’ll find authentic Mexican ingredients including quesillo, nopales, and store-made barbacoa, carnitas, and tamales; and an authentic panadería where they bake their own Mexican panes dulces (sweet breads) available in store and sent out to close to 30 local groceries and bodegas as well – and that’s the subject of today’s post.

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Shown here are three from among dozens of varieties of baked goods prepared daily, all delicious, all made without preservatives or lard. Sleeping at the bottom is a yoyo; moving clockwise a taco de crema; and holding down the 2 o’clock position is a cherimoya, so called because it’s crafted to look like the eponymous fruit.


A peek inside sheds more light on the names. Like its real-life counterpart, the yoyo actually comprises two halves, bonded in this case by a fruity layer. The taco de crema, airy and flaky, guards creamy custard within. The cherimoya encloses a surprise as well: a generous amount of sweet cinnamon filling.

It’s a unique stop along my Bay Ridge Little Levant ethnojunket, or if you’re in the neighborhood, check it out for yourself!

(Note that this venue is officially Mandato Fruit & Grocery Corp, not the restaurant of the same name next door – there’s no connection.)
 
 

Fuska House

Instagram Post 11/7/2019

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Ask anyone from Bangladesh about fuchka (ফুসকা – you might see fushka, phuchka, phuska, or fuska as it’s spelled on the Fuska House truck) and they will recount a personal story laden with affection and often a wistful touch of homesickness about this beloved street food. Fuchka is Bangladesh’s take on Indian panipuri: It starts with puri, a deep-fried, puffed up, hollow shell of unleavened bread filled with a variety of components, often including potato, onion, cilantro, delicious aromatic spices, and thin, tangy tamarind chutney. It’s that wonderfully drippy chutney that dictates that you pop the whole thing into your mouth all at once to get an eye-popping burst of those savory ingredients coming together in a symphony of flavor.


The Fuska House truck is parked on 37th Ave near 73rd St in Jackson Heights, Queens. While you’re there, check out the other snacks they offer like this Mix Vorta: slices of fresh mango and peara (guava) so piquantly seasoned as to awaken even the most tired taste buds.
 
 

New Fully Bakery

Instagram Post 11/6/2019

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I often stop by New Fully Bakery, 82-24 45th Ave in Elmhurst, on my way to HK Food Court for these Guangdong/Hong Kong treats: wife cake, husband cake and sun cake (nope, neither a typo nor a pun). The three share a common flaky exterior since they’re all based on a rice flour dough enriched with lard and painted with egg-wash for sheen and flakiness. They’re sweet but not too sweet, which I know will be welcome news to many of you.


Clues as to their inner nature. Wife Cake (aka Sweetheart Cake 老婆饼, lao po bing), top, is filled with a paste made from candied winter melon. Diverse recipes are legion (these are slender compared to others I’ve enjoyed) as are tales of how they got their name, but they invariably conclude with a love-conquers-all happy ending. Recently they’ve taken on a fresh identity as an emblem of resistance in Hong Kong.

Less common around these parts is the Husband Cake (老公饼, lao gong bing), bottom. At New Fully Bakery, they’re similar to the wife cake except for a swap-in of pineapple for winter melon plus a few almonds on top; elsewhere they possess a considerably burlier flavor profile due to ingredients like garlic, red bean paste, and star anise.

Sun Cake (太陽餅, tai yang bing) has its roots in Taiwan. Its chewy center, crafted from malt sugar and butter (perhaps honey and milk), arguably makes it the most satisfying of the three.


Close-up revealing sun cake’s delightful filling.


And speaking of Taiwan, I’m told that the owner of New Fully Bakery hails from there which didn’t surprise me because of these thick, sweet Pineapple Pies on display. (Taiwan was once the third largest exporter of pineapples worldwide and they’re still a significant contributor to their economy.) I might like these even more than their family of family cakes.
 
 

Tessey’s International Kitchen

Instagram Post 11/2/2019

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She was a tough old bird, both in the barnyard and on the table. Nigerian Hard Chicken is prepared using older hens who laid their last egg when they wore a younger bird’s feathers. And yes, the meat is hard indeed, and chewy as well, but certainly flavorful. Fortunately, we also ordered Red Stew, a simple and tasty Nigerian dish made from red pepper, tomato, and love which turned out to be a perfect accompaniment. Darn good collard greens rounded out this pre-game lunch at the recently opened (June, 2019) Tessey’s International Kitchen, 2542 White Plains Rd in Allerton, The Bronx, where Nigerian as well as soul food options rule the roost.


The entirety.
 
 

Dia de los Muertos

Instagram Post 10/31/2019

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I headed out to Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to get myself into the Día de los Muertos spirit. The Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead, is celebrated from October 31 through November 2 – and “celebrated” is the proper word: families congregate to memorialize loved ones who have passed away, but it is seen as a time when the departed temporarily revivify and join in the revelry rather than as a sorrowful occasion. Additionally, these days Día de Muertos, as it is also known, serves as a paean to the indigenous people with whom it originated in pre-Hispanic times.

Sequin-eyed, neon icing-coiffed calaveras (sugar skulls) are relatively easy to find in the neighborhood; this one came from Panadería La Espiga Real, 5717 5th Avenue. Although spirits don’t eat, this one seemed particularly interested in the pan de muerto I picked up at La Flor de Izucar, 4021 5th Avenue.

This bread of the dead is customarily embossed with bone shapes, sometimes crossbones, sometimes in a circle, and other traditional embellishments such as skulls and a single teardrop. It’s a barely sweet, simple bun (like so many Mexican panes dulces), light and airy with a tight crumb, and topped with sesame seeds or sugar (like this one) with hints of cinnamon, anise, and orange flower water.


Trespass into the inner sanctum.
 
 

Happy Diwali! (2019)

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The 2019 Collection

Dear Friends,

I can no longer keep this to myself. I am an addict, hooked on mithai. What’s that? You don’t know about mithai? Mithai are Indian sweets and since Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, is upon us, I can think of no better time than now to tell you my tale. So gather round your diyas and check out my post “Indian Sweets 101: Meeting Mithai” right here on ethnojunkie.com!
 
 
दिवाली मुबारक
Happy Diwali!
 
 

Myanmar Baptist Church Fun Fair – 2019

Instagram Post 10/30/2019

Selections from the recent Myanmar Baptist Church Fun Fair held on October 12 at the St. James Church Parish Hall in Elmhurst. In no special order:

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Fresh Spring Roll: ground pork, cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, lettuce.


Crispy Fried Wonton with Chicken: curry chicken, potatoes, crispy fried wonton, and cabbage in bean soup topped with mint and lime.


Mandalay Mee Shay: rice noodles (underneath it all) supporting chicken and pork (because I asked for both 😉) in a rich soy based sauce, with bean sprouts, pickled mustard greens, and fried dough sprinkled with fried garlic.


Garlic Flavored Oil Noodle: noodles and diced chicken in a garlicky sauce dressed with crispy fried onion and fresh scallion.


Assorted Vegetable Fritters: kidney bean, Chinese squash, split pea.


Burmese Style Pork Offal: intestine, liver, heart, kidney, tongue, ear, stomach, you get the idea.


Assorted Burmese Sweets to take your mind off the offal including banana cake (the pinkish one), cassava cake, semolina cake, and coconut agar jelly.

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If you love Burmese food as much as I do, stay tuned for info about a new Burmese restaurant opening in Brooklyn – soon I hope!
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