Yaya Tea

Instagram Post 1/7/2020

Quick post about a quick snack (and a satisfying one at that) from Yaya Tea at 86-12 Whitney Ave, Elmhurst, Queens – one of about a half dozen locations around these parts. Tea is the focus, of course, with selections ranging from green, oolong, black and herbal plus fruit teas, milk teas, and a custom DIY option. But I had stopped in for a snack, and among various appetizer, dumpling, and noodle choices, my sights were set on the onigiri (riceballs).

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This is Shrimp Tempura Onigiri, one of over 20 types available. Alternatives include crab meat, fried squid ball, takoyaki (fried octopus balls), spicy crawfish, chicken, seaweed, sour plum, and the ever popular Spam 🤷‍♂️. Nobody is pretending that this is Japanese haute cuisine, but it hit the spot that day.


Still in the wrapper. Yaya even provides instructions as to the procedure for opening and consuming your purchase in case you’re a first timer.
 
 

Medo

Instagram Post 1/6/2020

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Adorbs!
🥰
Now, if that’s a word that resonates for you and if you like Hong Kong style sweet, fruity, soupy desserts, then you’ll ❤️ Medo at 3 Bay 25th Street, just off 86th St in Bensonhurst. The décor is primary school classroom, replete with kids’ desks (but adult sized and not cramped) stocked with crayons, coloring pages, and the like. Expect variations on coconut milk, mango, durian, sago, pomelo, red bean, sticky rice, taro and the other usual suspects; bubble tea, mille crepes, and additional snacks await as well.

Cute interior design notwithstanding, I seriously enjoyed what we ordered. From the Snow White section of the menu, this is the Durian and Black Glutinous Rice option: islands of sweet custard-like durian and black sticky rice with its welcome contrasting texture floated atop the icy snow and sago enhanced coconut milk.

And yes, next time I’m in the neighborhood, I’ll be back.
 
 

Little House Cafe – More Sweets

Instagram Post 1/5/2020

Kuih are Malaysian snacks – sweet, savory, salty, ubiquitous throughout the region – and they’re well represented at the always reliable Little House Café, an Asian fusion counter service venue with a few tables because you can’t wait until you get home.

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Frequently, when you spot a two-tone layered beauty (seri muka/kuih talam) like the ivory and tan polyhedrons shown here (upper right and lower left) half is salty, the other half sweet. In this case, the creamy layer (salty) has the flavor of coconut cendol freckled with green pandan noodle bits; the supporting role is made from sweet palm sugar.

Glutinous rice, imbued with a blue hue courtesy of butterfly pea flowers occupies the diagonal counterpoise. These days, blue food is the darling of foodies in search of the novel and Brazil’s jenipapo berries are gaining ground, but that’s a story for another day. Crowning the plate is pandan kaya (coconut egg jam) for dipping (or slathering if you’re anything like me).


They have a righteous Chinese Wife Cake here as well; a flaky pastry generously filled with candied winter melon paste and abounding with legends about the origin of its name, it’s recently adopted a refurbished identity as a symbol of resistance in Hong Kong.

The bing bisected.

Little House Café is located at 90-19 Corona Ave in Elmhurst, Queens. Stay tuned for a look at some savories.
 
 

E Dim Sum

Instagram Post 1/4/2020

A modest venue just around the corner from the main drag, E Dim Sum at 2006 65th St in Bensonhurst offers Brooklyn its inexpensive, no frills, homestyle Cantonese food.

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Steamed Minced Meat & Salt Fish, the better of the two dishes we ordered. The saltiness of the mackerel balanced the almost sweetness of the faintly garlicky ground pork patty which in turn complemented the bitter daikon. The essence of collaboration.


Potherb Mustard Pork Noodle, an herby concoction that included mustard greens, pork, and noodles. As alluded to.


The #obligatorynoodlelift
 
 

Pan de Arroz

Instagram Post 1/3/2020

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Popped in at Mi Mexico Pequeño, the Mexican bakery at 4513 5th Avenue in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, looking for a snack and grabbed this pan de arroz. Think of the filling as sort of a dry rice pudding, cinnamon forward, not too sweet; the pastry is light in texture although not in heft – a satisfying treat. Love those Mexican panes dulces!
 
 

Randiwa

Instagram Post 1/2/2020

There’s some tasty ethnic cuisine to be found on Staten Island although it doesn’t always make the front page; the borough has its share of international communities and I’m guessing that when the subject is food, the Sri Lankan population gets the most ink (outside of Italian). The spicy cuisine is shaped by Indian, Indonesian and Dutch influences with some Southeast Asian touches and if you include a few markets along with some restaurant hopping (no hoppers pun intended), you could spend the day exploring it.

Randiwa, located at 1405 Richmond Ave, is a little less than an hour’s bus ride from the St. George Ferry Terminal, so getting there is a bit of a commitment (unless you’re already in the neighborhood). We gathered for their AYCE Sunday buffet. Note that IMO this (and others like it) is not intended to be a representative cross-section of the cuisine – order from the menu if that’s your quest – but it does provide the pleasant prospect of sampling many dishes.

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Second photo is the annotated plate comprising:
• Palak Paneer, the spinach and squeaky cheese dish you probably know from Indian cuisine, was great
• Kale Mallung, kale and coconut, also top notch
• Lunu Miris, a spicy sambal with notes of orange
• Eggplant Moju, surprisingly flavorful
• Pork Black Curry, tender and somewhat chewy
• Soyameat, the nondescript name notwithstanding, this one was spicy and delicious
• Vegetable Noodles, deeper flavor than I had anticipated
• Deviled Chicken, wicked good
• Coconut Sambal, a Sri Lankan standby

…and the rest, here on Staten Isle.
 
 

Uyghur Apandi Food

Instagram Post 1/1/2020

I’ve written extensively about the oppressed Uyghur people who reside in the Xinjiang region of northwest China and, naturally, their cuisine, so I won’t repeat myself here (but if you’re so inclined you can learn more by searching for Uyghur at the top of any page). Happily, a number of restaurants and food court stalls have launched recently that feature this hearty Central Asian fare, and Uyghur Apandi Food is among them. Since Apandi occupies a stall (number 7, specifically) in Flushing’s Super HK Food Court at 37-11 Main St, you won’t be greeted with an extensive menu, but here are two of the dozen or so entries.

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Nan Kordak featured segments of sesame seed encrusted Uyghur bread submerged in a soup/stew typical for the region, populated by orange and yellow carrots, coblets of corn, green pepper, spinach, cilantro, and, of course, chunks of lamb that had given their all to flavor the homey elixir.


Lamb Lagman (lagman being the interminably protracted noodle claim to fame of Uyghur cooking) included celery, red pepper, green pepper, and hot green pepper, and was accompanied by a gratuitous cup of lamby, gingery soup. (A chicken version is available as well.)
 
 

Szechuan House

One of my favorite Sichuan restaurants is Szechuan House at 133-47 Roosevelt Ave in Flushing, Queens (not to be confused with the nearby Szechuan Mountain House). I’ve dined there so frequently and created so many posts on Instagram that I decided to make a single page here featuring some of the best dishes I’ve enjoyed over the years. Everything you see was delicious and they’re presented here in no special order; I simply felt the need to mount a rogues’ gallery of some of my faves.


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Sliced Pork with Chili Garlic

Delicious and just what it sounds like: slices of tender pork stir-fried with fresh green chili peppers, scallions, and suffused with indispensable garlic.

Poached Chicken and Crispy Soy Beans with Chili Sesame Sauce

The menu calls it “Poached Chicken and Crispy Soy Beans with Chili Sesame Sauce” in English, but the Chinese reads 口水雞, “Mouth Watering Chicken”, the classic name for this dish; IMO both are equally descriptive.

Braised Fish Fillet and Napa Cabbage with Roasted Chili

Nothing is more traditional to the Chinese New Year banquet than food-word homophones. The Chinese word for fish (魚, pronounced yu) is a homophone for abundance. Generally served whole, we opted for fillets – hope that doesn’t cut our surpluses.

Dan Dan Noodles with Minced Pork in Chili Sauce (擔擔麵)

The name dan dan refers to the pole that street vendors shouldered to carry their noodles and sauce as they walked about hawking their wares. The long noodles represent heartfelt wishes for a long life and are de rigueur at the Chinese New Year table.

Pork Dumplings in Red Chili Oil

Dumplings are another sine qua non for the holiday meal. Crafted to resemble Chinese gold or silver ingots, dumplings symbolize wealth and prosperity.

Hand Ripped Cabbage

Decidedly delightful with a presentation to match. Do note that there’s a bit of pork lurking within, so this is not a dish for vegetarians (it’s listed in the Pork section of the menu). Cabbage never tasted so good. (Probably the pork. 😉)

Thin Sliced Beef Tendon in Roasted Chili Vinaigrette

Szechuan House has a number of beef tendon dishes on their menu; I suggest this cold appetizer of splendidly spicy tender tendon to apprehensive first-timers.

Pig Kidney with Peppercorns

Find this one on the Specials menu. Organ meats rule in this nose-to-tail era of sustainability; this example has a delicate, velvety texture but expect a proper kick from dried red chilies. (Note that the peppercorns are not the numbing and spicy málà variety.)

Fried Tofu with Cumin

You may have marveled over the uncanny affinity cumin and chili have for lamb in certain northwestern Chinese dishes (and if not, you need to try some posthaste). I’m pleased to report that the piquant duo stands up to fried tofu with as much aplomb – pleased, particularly, because it gives my vegetarian friends the opportunity to savor the flavor combo in an excellent application. The tofu is fried to precise crispy crunchitude and the spice level is ideal.

Jumbo Shrimp with Dried Red Pepper

The herbaceous supple cilantro is a perfect foil for these crisp beauties. Yes, eat the shells; yes, eat the heads. You won’t know what you’re missing if you don’t.

Fried Shredded Beef with Celery and Chilies

Also known as Shredded Dry Beef with Spicy Sauce from the Specials menu. This one is a must-eat for the flavor, the texture, and just the sheer pleasure of it – highly recommended.

Squid with Pickled Pepper

Those are moderately spicy longhorn green preppers keeping company with the squid and baby bamboo shoots. Good stuff.

Chicken with Taro in Spicy Sauce

A flavor profile of a very different stripe. The taro was a doppelganger for potato in this context, but it was the sauce that was unique, at least to this meal: I detected cinnamon sticks, star anise, galangal, garlic, a little sweetness and perhaps five spice powder and cloves although I couldn’t verify any of it. I liked the change of pace.

Cumin Seasoned Lamb with Red Chili Pepper

“Are we going to order Cumin Seasoned Lamb with Red Chili Pepper?” I was asked more than once. But of course. It’s that spicy cumin lamb combination that seems to have a universal following that’ll keep you coming ba-a-a-a-ack!

Steamed Pork with Glutinous Rice and Red Bean Paste

Yes, that’s sugar on top and yes, its works!

Sauteed Towel Gourd

For those who demanded a green vegetable.

Black Fungus with Spicy and Sour Sauce

Also known as wood ear mushrooms, cloud ear, tree ear fungus, and a raft of other names. From the Cold Appetizers section of the menu.

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Spicy Paper Bag Sheep Leg

Leg of lamb, roasted to tender perfection not in paper but rather in aluminum foil. A treat.

Braised Whole Fish (Tilapia)

Mei Cai Braised Pork

Mei Cai refers to preserved mustard greens.

And now for something completely different:

Braised Ox Tendon with Scallion and Onion

Ma Po Brain Flower

Yes, brain.

Sauteed Pigs Feet with Pepper

Dessert:

Pan Fried Yam Cakes

Stuffed Sticky Rice Ball with Black Sesame in Broth

 
 
Szechuan House is located at 133-47 Roosevelt Ave in Flushing, Queens.
 
 

Coco

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared across multiple posts, published in December 2019.


Coco at 82-69 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens features reliable, people-pleasing, accessible Malaysian cuisine. I’ve enjoyed their fare on so many occasions that I thought it fitting to do another rogues’ gallery of some winners, so here are a few of my favorite dishes from their seemingly infinite menu compiled from a number of group dinners. They’re presented in no special order: everything was delicious and everyone was delighted.

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Stir Fried Pearl Noodle

Decades ago, one of my favorite dim sum parlors in Manhattan’s Chinatown was the beloved Hee Seung Fung, better known to its patrons as HSF. (Anybody here remember it?) It was there that I first encountered a dish called Silver Noodle. Served under an inverted small plastic bowl to keep it warm, it consisted of thick, chewy semi-translucent rice noodles with every imaginable protein and a variety of vegetables in a brown sauce. But the key ingredient, the one flavor that stood out above the rest for me, was its wok hei (aka wok qi), the breath of the wok, created by stir-frying over incendiary heat.

When HSF closed, I didn’t know where to track down this seductive dish; I’ve since learned that it can be found in restaurants featuring Malaysian, Singaporean, Hong Kong, and other cuisines that hail from regions near Guangdong. Silver noodles go by many handles, silver needle noodles and rat tail noodles (because of the tapered shape at one end) to name but two. Shown here is the rendition cooked up by Coco. They do my memories justice.

We usually score an order of this on my Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst ethnojunket by the way. (Hint: Click here! 😉)

Roti Canai

I’m told that if you don’t order the Roti Canai for an appetizer in a Malaysian restaurant it’s breaking some sort of rule (just kidding), so here is Coco’s version; it’s essentially a flaky, crispy, paratha-like flatbread with a spicy, sweet, chicken curry sauce on the side for dipping.

Roti Telur

Roti telur conceals an egg (telur means egg) and onions among the folds of the roti.

Coffee Sauce Pork

Sometimes restaurant dishes are fancifully named. Not this one. If you don’t like coffee, Coffee Sauce Pork isn’t for you. But if you do, this crispy curious combination is worth a shot. Be prepared for someone at the table to intone “Cawfee Sawce Pawk” and go all SNL on you.

Belacan Lady Fingers

Lady fingers, a more colorful name for okra, in the pervasive Malaysian fermented shrimp paste.

Curry Young Tofu Soup

Curry Young Tofu Soup can be found amid the Appetizers section of the menu, not the Soups. I suspect there are more names for this delightful soup than there are recipes for the dish itself, but Yong Tau Foo is not uncommon. With origins in Hakka Chinese cuisine, this Malaysian version was varied and satisfying.

Stingray wrapped in Banana Leaf

One of the house specialties at Coco. Only moderately spicy, served with a piquant sauce on the side, the texture and flavor of stingray (also known as skate wing) falls somewhere along the fish <-> shellfish continuum. No bones about it, but an ample cartilaginous skeleton that provides easy access to the flesh; look for the sweet meat on both sides of the structure. Good eats.

Grilled Pork Chops

Perfectly cooked, expertly seasoned, a plateful of tastiness.

Indian Mee Goreng

You might see Mie Goreng but it simply means fried noodles. Spice level adjustable to the taste of the diners, here served with vegetables due to peer pressure. 😉

Malaysian Marmite Chicken

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who’ve never tasted Marmite and those who loathe it. Just kidding. A gift from the Brits, used as an ingredient in cooking or simply spread on a hapless slice of bread, this dark brown, umami-rich, sticky yeast extract could easily serve as a dictionary definition’s example of “acquired taste”. All of which was enough for me to insist on getting an order of Malaysian Marmite Chicken for the group. The verdict? Crispy, sweet, and fantastic! The moral? Context is everything.

Four Varieties with Belacan

Okra, green beans, eggplant and peanuts in belacan, the ubiquitous Malaysian fermented shrimp paste. Tasty.

Chow Kueh Teow

Chow Kueh Teow (you might see Chow Kway Teow), one of Malaysia’s (many) national dishes. The literal translation is stir-fried rice cake, but this seafood version included shrimp, squid, noodles, bean sprouts and lots more. A classic.

Pork Belly with Basil Sauce

Lots of veggies to balance the fatty richness of the pork in a savory sauce. It’s one of the five basic food groups, I’m told. 😉

Malaysian Nasi Goreng

Nasi Goreng simply means fried rice; we chose shrimp from among many options.

Crispy Fried Duck

Yet another crowd-pleaser. It’s crispy. It’s fried. It’s duck. What more could you possibly need? (Other than an additional order, perhaps.)

Chicken and Beef Satay

From the Appetizers section of the menu. With roots in Indonesia, it’s possibly the first dish that comes to mind at the mention of Southeast Asian street food. (The Indonesian spelling is Sate.) Nicely seasoned and happily not overdone, these were comped at one of our banquets.

Steamed Fish Fillet in Malaysian Hot Bean Sauce

Thai Tom Yum Fried Rice

Tom Yum is a type of hot and sour Thai soup seasoned with lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce, and crushed red chili peppers. Here, those ingredients are used to create a unique version of fried rice.

Salted Egg with Chicken

If you’ve never experienced this dish and you spot it somewhere, I urge you to try it; be on the lookout for it in regional Chinese restaurants around the city as well. Mashed cooked salted duck egg yolks are fried to a frazzle and are then stir fried with just about anything from poultry or seafood to vegetables (an egregious oversimplification) which serves to coat the chief ingredient. The word “addictive” is overused in food writing, but it does convey its potential. Coco’s version has a teeny kick, a welcome attribute.

Grilled Beef Short Ribs

Tender, meaty, well-seasoned, and met with appreciative sighs of yumlike murmurs from the assemblage.

Rainbow Ice

Shave ice is a popular dessert across many cultures, particularly those of warmer climes. Here’s Coco’s contribution.
 
 
Coco is located at 82-69 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens.
 
 

Upi Jaya

Instagram Post 12/2/2019

Outside of the (approximately) monthly Indonesian Food Festivals I’ve written about, Elmhurst, Queens also plays host to a number of Indonesian restaurants. Upi Jaya at 76-04 Woodside Ave has been doing an admirable job of dishing up the cuisine for locals as well as visitors (they’re a stop along my Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst Ethnojunket) for 15 years. Here are four items from the Appetizers section of the menu, each a tasty starter or a snack in its own right and all with universal appeal.

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Risoles (you might see rissoles) – a snack assembled from a crepe rolled around seasoned chicken and diced vegetables (not unlike a Chinese egg roll in structure), covered with breadcrumbs and deep fried.


Lemper Ayam. Lemper is a snack made from coconut sticky rice compressed with any number of fillings, in this case ayam (chicken) that’s been lightly seasoned, rolled into a banana leaf and steamed.


Batagor: a portmanteau of bakso (a meat or fish paste), tahu (tofu), and goreng (fried), a specialty of West Java. Fried fish cake with peanut sauce; the crispy topping provides the contrast to the soft, chewy fishcake.


Arguably the best known Indonesian dish outside of Indonesia and a popular street food there, satay (or sate) is seasoned meat, skewered and grilled, often served with peanut sauce. An international favorite.

Main dishes in a future post.