Chinatown COVID-19 Update

This too shall pass. Most of us 🤞 will emerge from this dreadful episode unscathed. But Chinatown businesses are taking a double hit because they were unfairly singled out at the very beginning of the COVID-19 scourge and consequently may have less chance of survival. We can help. Some Chinatown restaurants are still doing takeout and delivery and we can show our support by patronizing these establishments.

I realize this table may be difficult to read and it’s hardly dynamic, but you can find an even better, up-to-the-minute, printable grid view here. Note that all listings are subject to change as time progresses.

Learn more at the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation and sign up for their e-newsletter. And check out Explore Chinatown NYC for more information.

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow the tweets from the Chinatown Business Improvement District @ChinatownNYC.

And you can see my original posts from early on, when restaurants were open but Chinatown was practically deserted here and here.

Stay safe and be well.

#supportchinatown #keepcalmandcarryout #supportsmallbusinesses

Hawa Restaurant

Instagram Post 3/13/2020

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

We headed out to Hawa Restaurant, 410 Lenox Avenue in Harlem, for their West African cuisine. This is Senegal’s national dish, Thiebu Djen – spellings vary widely but pronunciation is close to Cheh-boo Jen – and to call it “rice and fish” is an understatement even though that’s the literal translation. It’s made from “broken rice” (easily found at African markets) and if you look closely you’ll see its short grains, but it begins its life as the standard long grain variety that breaks in the field or during processing or milling; the shards are sorted by size and are highly desirable since they cook faster and absorb flavors more readily than whole grains. The rice, combined with chopped onion and garlic, is cooked with tomato paste that imbues it with its deep red color and rich flavor; this version had a pleasant little kick to it, possibly from propping up that Scotch Bonnet pepper. Vegetables accompanying the tilapia were cabbage, carrot, cassava, and eggplant, spent from having given their all to flavor the dish.

The tomato sauce in which the fish had been stewed was served on the side.

Sticking with West African specialties (they also have Caribbean cuisine), we ordered Maffe (you might see mafé), lamb stew (the menu also offers a smoked turkey alternative) in a tomato/peanut butter sauce. Their recipe isn’t overwhelmingly peanutty but it was tasty. No surprise that the lamb was so tender it was falling off the bone.


Instagram Post 3/11/2020

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

It only seems like we’d been waiting forever for Gorkhali, the Nepali restaurant at 77-04 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights, to open its doors. Any time I was in the neighborhood with extra time on my hands, I’d head over to see if the promise had been fulfilled, only to hear the sound of my crest falling. But not long ago as I was rushing past between pre-lunch (which had run late) and lunch-lunch (which was about to commence), wouldn’t you know it, the kitchen was truly in full swing. “How long would it take to get an order of Jhol Mo:mo to go?” I panted. “Ten minutes,” came the reply.

So totally worth the wait. Even after a microwave reheat later at home, they were excellent. Herby and spicy with a unique flavor profile, they were unlike some of the standard regulation versions I’ve had in the neighborhood. Obviously, I’m keen to return with more time and a tableful of pals to run the menu – which currently is more like a long, undifferentiated list of the usual suspects: choila, sekuwa, sandheko, thukpa, thenthuk and lots more begging to be tasted.

Stay tuned.

The inner workings.

Hamantaschen 2020

Instagram Post 3/10/2020

The story of Purim memorializes the time in ancient Jewish history when Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus of Persia, had been plotting to exterminate all the Jews in the empire. His plan was thwarted by Mordecai and Queen Esther, his adopted daughter, and the deliverance is one of joyful celebration, steeped in traditional ceremonies and festivities. Among the many icons of the holiday, one of the most renowned is the hamantasch, literally “Haman’s pocket”.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Hamantaschen are delicious triangular baked pastries conventionally filled with thick prune jam (lekvar) or ground poppy seeds (muhn), but these days creative cookery presents some serious competition. Happily, the always mind-blowing Breads Bakery, 18 E 16th St in Manhattan, covers the entire spectrum. On this plate, there’s sweet Poppy Seed, Halva, Chocolate, and Apple along with a pair of savory challengers, Purple Haze and Pizza. The former, covered in sesame and nigella seeds, holds sauerkraut – a little sweetish and worth a bite even if you don’t care for sauerkraut. The latter is filled with a blend of tomato paste, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, basil, garlic, and olive oil and tastes exactly like what you’d expect with that set of ingredients; try warming this one up. Fusion food for sure.

Sometimes a change of focus helps to make a point – or six.


Instagram Post 3/9/2020

The Equal Opportunity Celebrant strikes again, eating my way through Holi today, the Hindu festival of spring and colors celebrated predominantly in India and Nepal. The holiday recounts the heartwarming legend of Krishna coloring his face for Radha, his love, and heralds the arrival of spring.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

This is gujiya (you might see gujia), a classic Holi sweet, half-moon shaped and similar to a deep-fried samosa. Crunchy outside and soft within, it’s filled with sweetened khoa (milk solids), ground nuts, grated coconut, whole fruits and nuts (raisins and cashews in this one), cumin seeds, and a bit of suji (semolina) for texture. These Holi day treats came from Maharaja Sweets, 73-10 37th Ave, Jackson Heights, Queens.

The inner workings.

Oversized jalebi are popular for Holi as well, and just like on Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, all kinds of mithai (Indian sweets) are the order of the day. Read about them and check out the photos here.

Support Chinatown!

These days, businesses in Chinatown are struggling to make ends meet as potential customers’ trepidation over COVID-19 festers and deters patronage. Chinatown has been an ineffable source of joy, gratification, and comfort for so many of us. That’s why I’ve organized a visit to one of the neighborhood’s stalwarts, Wu’s Wonton King, with one of my dinner groups to show our support. Now is the time for all of us to do the right thing.

Read Chinatown Needs Your Love More Than Ever Right Now in Food & Wine.

Rustic Table Shuk

Instagram Post 3/8/2020

Your choices for food vendors in the new Essex Market, 88 Essex St on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, are certainly plentiful, and since the opening of The Market Line downstairs, they’re positively daunting. But since I believe that the best method for conquering the overwhelming is to partialize the task, here’s the first, with more anon.

My understanding is that Israeli inflected Rustic Table has a location on Very West 42nd Street, but this is about their Market Line venue, Rustic Table Shuk, aptly named since shuk (שׁוּק) is the Hebrew word for market, a cognate to souk in Arabic.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)
This is their take on trendy Arayes, pita bread stuffed with deftly seasoned ground grass-fed beef (it’s often lamb or a blend in the Levant from which it hails), grilled (Lebanon’s answer to panini, perhaps), anointed with pumpkinseed oil, and served in a puddle of tahini. The distinguishing characteristic of good arayes is that the outside of the pita is crisp…

…while the meat juices saturate its underside. As you can see, this one succeeded.

Ginjan Cafe

Instagram Post 3/7/2020

A perfect pick-me-up from Ginjan Café, 85 East 125th St in East Harlem.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

On the left, tart Bissap (aka sorrel and jamaica), a West African (notably Senegalese) blend of hibiscus, mint, lemon, and cloves, served hot; at the top, Ginjan, an “organic elixir” of ginger, lemon, pineapple, vanilla, and anise – steamed, although classic and latte options are available; and a blueberry scone because…

…you couldn’t have resisted either.

Ameer Bakery

Instagram Post 3/6/2020

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

My dining buddy and I were on our way between hither and yon in Paterson, NJ when we passed Ameer Bakery at 243 Buffalo Ave. We ventured in at a particularly fortuitous moment as trays of these Middle Eastern pies (manakish, مناقيش) were just emerging hot from the oven. Two types of cheese were meltingly evident; when I inquired, I was told “mozzarella” and “Arabic cheese”. The vicissitudes of helpful linguistic interpretation being what they are, I’m going to speculate that the bottom layer was akkawi (a bit like mozzarella) and the random plops atop, puffy and a bit salty, were nabulsi – but I’m guessing. No guesswork was involved, however, concerning how delicious these Palestinian pies were. My gratitude to the management for comping us these savory treats.

Heros & Villains

Instagram Post 3/5/2020

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Sometimes you just want a big ol’ sammich and nothing else will do, and I found a number of likely candidates while prowling around Essex Market (88 Essex St) on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. I spied this over-the-top example at Heros & Villains, stall 41, called The Big Kahuna: dry-aged beef from neighboring Essex Street Shambles (shambles being an archaic term for an open-air slaughterhouse and meat market) onions, peppers, pickles, aioli, cheese sauce, spicy ketchup, lettuce and tomato. Happily, you could still taste that the meat was of good quality even through the agreeable jumble of sauces (all made from scratch). Craving satisfied.