Hong Kong Food Court Update – Part 2

As I indicated in my last post, some additional vendors have emerged at the new incarnation of Hong Kong Food Court (82-02 45th Ave in Elmhurst) and it’s my self-imposed duty to keep you informed about them!

I was encouraged to find a Burmese stall, Thar Gi, with a menu of about eight items including this Burmese Thick Noodle Chicken Salad.

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In addition to their standard menu, there’s a display case featuring a selection of dishes, mostly curries with various proteins and the same sauce, targeted for heating up at home. I asked if they could heat one up for me and this is their Beef Curry. They didn’t have rice. Go figure.

I’ve enjoyed a great deal of Burmese food over the years – even prepared some myself – and I’ve always been a stalwart fan. I was hoping for a little more personality from these two dishes. We’ll see if anything changes as they settle in.

And here’s one more from Lan Zhou Ramen, highlighted in my last post: Cumin Lamb Burger. Definitely tasty and on my Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst food tour!


Amayar Kitchen

A couple of months ago a few friends and I ventured out to Amayar Kitchen, a Burmese restaurant in Maywood, NJ (a rather remote location – or so it seemed to me). Here’s a quick overview of our lunch that day.

From the Appetizers section:

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Veggie Fritters – a tempting assortment for starters.

Burmese Tea Leaf Salad – known to all at the table as Lahpet Thoke, but the menu shied away from all but a few Burmese designations.

Tofu Salad – the yellow tofu is a clue that we’re doing Burmese cuisine. It gets its color from yellow split peas and turmeric.

From the Noodles section:

See Jet Noodles – roast duck with garlicky noodles.

Bait Noodles – named for the seaport on the southern tip of Myanmar, the noodz are topped with shrimp, sausage, a fried egg, beans and bean sprouts.

Aung San Fried Rice with roasted beans, a fried egg, and Three Layer Pork Curry – the special of the day. (I’m guessing that “three layers” refers to the pork belly stripes!) The best dish of the group IMO.


Assorted Burmese Cakes/Jellies

Coconut Sticky Rice Cake in Banana Leaf – sweet roasted coconut inside a dumpling made from pounded sticky rice, the most intriguing of the lot.

I do wish the food had been a little more hard-core, but I’m guessing that they offer what the location would likely accommodate. Delightful folks: we wish them all the best!

Amayar Kitchen is located at 111 East Passaic St, Maywood, NJ.

Cooking in the Time of COVID – Burmese Traditional Rice Salad

Instagram Post 4/15/2020

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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

Well, not so much cooking today, more like raiding the pantry. Most of the international markets I shop at offer a significant assortment of sometimes mysterious but always intriguing quick-and-easy seasoning blends for rice or noodles or some such. Usually when I bring one home it’s consigned to a shelf, reserved for a time that I don’t feel like cooking. Like today. So you’re looking at the aftermath of a packet of Burmese Traditional Rice Salad seasoning colliding with rice.

The instructions innocently read: “Make a salad with a plateful of white rice adding all the ingredients in the pack.” How much rice is a plateful? Reminds me of the time when I was a kid vainly trying to elicit a blintz recipe from my grandmother as she was making them. I asked how much flour she used. She replied, “Enough.” But I digress.

The packet contained two more packets that contained five more packets of…stuff. And a dried hot pepper, one of the few items I could identify with any degree of certainty. But I’m reasonably sure there were dried shrimp, dried shallot, powdered peanut, chili oil and another salty liquid in the mix.

I combined them in a bowl and was encouraged as the dressing thickened when I stirred them together. I added “enough” rice, and the result was unexpectedly tasty.

The aforementioned intriguing packet. And fortuitously, this happened during Burmese New Year that runs from April 13–16 this year. Happy Thingyan everyone!

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.

📢 📢 📢 📢 📢
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!
📢 📢 📢 📢 📢

National Humanitarian Fundraising for Myanmar Food Fair – 2019

Instagram Post 9/19/2019

If I’m not mistaken, last Sunday’s National Humanitarian Fundraising for Myanmar Food Fair was the second in an annual series; proceeds were earmarked for flood relief and recovery objectives. It’s held in the Parish House of St. James Episcopal Church at 84-07 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens and, like last year’s event, the food was authentic and delightful. Burmese cuisine is one of my favorites and this always wonderfully overwhelming event featured a multiplicity of dishes, but lacking any English signage, I was left to my own devices, hence:

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Laphet Thoke – pickled tea leaf salad. Laphet (you might see laphat, lahpet, lephet, leppet, letpet, latphat, or others) is the Burmese word for pickled or fermented tea leaves; thoke (you might see thohk) means salad. (Hey, it’s a tricky language to transliterate.) The dish is as much about the crunchy toppings as it is about the laphet along with the customary addition of some raw veggies. Recipes vary wildly and widely.

Shan Htamin Chin (you might see jin or gyin which means fermented or sour; htamin means rice). The Shan people are a Tai ethnic group of Southeast Asia who live primarily in the Shan State of Myanmar. This is their traditional mashed rice, potato and fish cake; just in case it wasn’t garlicky enough, cloves of fresh garlic were provided for nibbling.

Mandalay Mee Shay – Mandalay style rice noodles with pork. Excellent.

Tofu Thoke – Shan tofu has little to do with familiar soybean tofu; it’s made from chickpea flour and is soft and supple in this contrastingly spicy Burmese salad. (Count on Burmese salads to be topped with crunchies!)

Buddhist Association Thingyan Festival

Instagram Post 8/26/2019

I came across these photos recently and since Burmese cuisine is one of my favorites, I was inspired to do a quick post about two unusual (to some) and delicious items from last April’s bountiful Light of Dhamma Buddhist Association Thingyan festival in Elmhurst, Queens.

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

This is “tofu noodle” which has little to do with noodles and less to do with familiar soybean tofu. Shan tofu is made from chickpea flour and is custard-like in consistency; crispy fried pork skins, peanuts, cilantro and other essentials embellish the dish. And yes, I asked for it spicy. Top notch.

Htamanè, a distinctive snack prepared from sticky glutinous rice, thick slices of coconut, black and white sesame seeds, ginger, and abundant peanut oil, salty and sweet at once – love that combination. Shown as sold in a cup, and…

…plated later at home.

I only wish there were more Burmese food bazaars in the city.

Asian Bowl

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 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 as three posts, published on March 6, 7, and 8, 2019.

Promise me that you’ll disregard the restaurant’s pan-Asian sounding name. Promise me that you’ll ignore the fact that the menu still lists sushi rolls and General Tso’s Chicken to attract the local lunch crowd. But above all, promise me that you’ll go to Asian Bowl, 101-11 Queens Blvd in Forest Hills, because that’s where you’ll find some of the very best Burmese food in New York City right now. John, the new owner, will happily answer your questions about menu items (yes, you’ll have questions), and Aye, his wife who does all the incredible cooking, will ensure your return with her remarkable range. This is one of the very few restaurants where I am compelled to work my way through the entire menu – the Burmese side of it, that is.

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Pa Zun Chin Thoke. A thoke is a Burmese salad and the cuisine has many to offer. Pa zun means shrimp, chin means sour, and this fermented shrimp salad, served cold, is undoubtedly authentic. A little spicy with a delicious mild funkiness, it’s an amazing assemblage of textures and flavors playing against each other that come together with every bite.

You might even find a few unfamiliar ingredients lurking within like this pickled crosne (pronounced krone, rhymes with bone). Don’t be startled by its appearance; it’s just a Chinese artichoke and it’s yummy.

Fried Beef with Spicy, as the menu reads. When this hit the table, it looked like it might be a chewy, dry jerky similar to Nepali sukuti. Nope. A little crispy on the outside, but tender on the inside with a medium spice level and surrounded by caramelized onions, it was another winner.

Latphat Thoke. Latphat (you may see lahpet or other spellings) are fermented tea leaves; thoke (pronounced toke with a clipped K) is a salad. It’s a popular Burmese dish and one of my all-time favorites. As a matter of fact, a few years ago I wrote about my idiosyncratic trials and tribulations in developing a recipe for it here called “One Thoke Over the Line.” Asian Bowl’s rendition was very good; I do wish they had used a heavier hand with the tea leaves – perhaps a shortage that day? – but that’s a personal preference. Nonetheless, it was delicious: a foundation of cabbage and tomatoes decked out with crunchy dried fava beans and soy beans, spiked with bird peppers and fresh garlic and the titillating funk of fermented tea leaves in a tangy dressing. Do it.

For a change of pace, try the Sechat Khauk Swal, a simply seasoned but tasty wheat noodle dish with chicken and scallions. I asked John, the owner, what sort of noodles were in the dish – thick? thin? flat? round? Fishing for the right descriptive words, he grabbed the rubber band that had been girding the morning’s mail. “Like this!” he grinned. Visual aid to the rescue!

Nga-gin Curry. Nga-gin is a type of freshwater fish in the carp family; it’s bony, but not impossible to work around. Big, meaty chunks of fish lazed in a mild tomato-based curry that’s tricky to characterize: very rich, umami-laden, somewhat salty, a little sharp, certainly oily. Does that help? Let’s just go with delicious.

Shan Khauk Swal Thoke. Shan is a state in the eastern part of Myanmar bordering China, Laos, and Thailand. Khauk Swal Thoke is a wheat noodle salad made with dried shrimp, herbs and veggies, fish sauce and lime juice, and topped with peanuts. A warm aura surrounded this dish that I can’t specify other than to state that it was different from its tablemates – the type of fish sauce perhaps? Once again the textural interplay between soft noodles and crispy bits so characteristic of Burmese thokes made this choice another treat.

What more can I tell you? I love this place. You will too. Order from the Curry and Group A à la carte sections of the menu along with some clearly identified soups, and you’ll be as blown away as we were on that frosty afternoon.

I promise.

Asian Bowl is located at 101-11 Queens Blvd in Forest Hills, Queens

Major h/t to Joe DiStefano (chopsticksandmarrow.com) and Dave Cook (eatingintranslation.com).

National Humanitarian Fundraising for Myanmar Food Fair – 2018

Instagram Post 5/27/2018

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

A sunny Sunday earlier this month brought the first “National Humanitarian Fundraising for Myanmar Food Fair” to Elmhurst, Queens at the St. James Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway. There was nary a word of English in the signage and since I’ve never studied Burmese, I was equipped only with the knowledge of many delectable Burmese dishes I’ve enjoyed in the past – so sans proper names, here’s a plate of spicy deliciousness: Clockwise from 6:00, a taste of eggplant curry; a pink fermented shrimp and red onion salad; a sample of pork curry peeking out from behind spicy dried shrimp.

I did manage to get the name of the second one: Nan Pya Dok, flat wheat noodles with curry chicken. So good!

One Thoke Over the Line

One of my experiments with homemade Lahpet Thoke, Burmese Tea Leaf Salad

Long ago when I lived in the Village, I was introduced to Burmese cuisine at a restaurant on East 7th Street called Village Mingala. I confess to having eaten my way through their entire menu, annotating items I liked best, and bringing friends as often as I could in order to partake of some delicious, and otherwise difficult to find, dishes. Despite my best efforts to singlehandedly keep them in business, they closed many years ago, so taking the road less travelled as is my wont (read: making things difficult for myself), I decided that I’d better learn to cook Burmese food. You can see some of the fare I prepared for a Myanmar-themed birthday party here. Cloning Ohn No Khao Swè – noodles in a curried chicken and coconut milk broth with besan (chickpea flour that figures notably into the cuisine) – was pretty straightforward, but to this day I can’t even come close to their Thousand Layer Pancake. Couldn’t even get to a hundred. In addition to Village Mingala’s imposing assortment of first-rate noodle dishes, the Burmese salads were always a high point of any meal I enjoyed there. One universal favorite on the menu was Tea Leaf Salad.

In Myanmar, tea is not only drunk, but also consumed as food. Lahpet (you’ll also see it as laphat, laphet, lephet, leppet, letpet, latphat, lat-phat or let-phet as it’s spelled on Village Mingala’s menu – yes, I kept a copy from 2008) is the Burmese word for pickled or fermented tea leaves. It’s pronounced [ləpʰɛʔ] if you’re keen to flex your International Phonetic Alphabet muscles. Thoke means salad (pronounce the “th” like an aspirated “t”). Stick them together, as in lahpet thoke, and you’ve got yourself one addictive dish. (Also note that some folks claim to get a buzz from the caffeine in the tea leaves; I don’t, but YMMV.)

The quest turned out to be a learning experience that stretched across many years. One thing I learned from some Burmese acquaintances craving the flavor of home is that they simply go to the market and buy it ready-made rather than rolling their own. Typically it’s found in a two-part kit comprising the dressed, ready-to-eat tea leaves along with a bag of what I’ll call “crunchies”; those are the two essential ingredients of lahpet thoke. If you’ve never experienced tea leaf salad, understand that it usually isn’t composed exclusively of tea leaves; rather, they’re combined with some raw veggies and are an accent, albeit a significant one, to the ingredient list.

If you want to buy what I refer to as a kit, there’s a teeny room (barely a store) called Little Myanmar Mini Mart (37-50 74th Street in Jackson Heights, Queens) that sells a number of brands of prepared lahpet thoke. It’s easy to miss because it’s so small: go in through the narrow entrance, ignore the phone store on the right, don’t go down the stairs, save Lhasa Fast Food at the far end for later so you can sample their wonderful momos; just turn left and follow the signs (in Burmese IIRC) for the Mini Mart. Don’t give up. They’re there.

Each time I’ve visited, there’s been something new and different on the shelves, and to my mind that makes up for the modest size of the shop, so repeat visits are in order. Here are two of the kits I tried; they were similar but distinctive, and both were tasty.
However, I wanted to try making my own dressing for the tea leaves from scratch (the road less traveled, remember?) and I found undressed leaves both at Little Myanmar and also at Kalustyan’s (123 Lexington Avenue near East 28th in Manhattan).

The leaves in this condition aren’t ready to eat. Absent any dressing, they taste a lot like tea (unlike the prepared leaves in the kits), a little bitter, and appear very different as well. In the third photo, the plain leaves are on the right, the other two are the prepared versions from the kits mentioned above. I didn’t detect any fermented or pickled flavor but that’s where the dressing comes into play. You’ll need to soak them in lukewarm water, squishing them a bit with your hands. Drain and squeeze out the water. Repeat, then add cold water and let them stand overnight; the leaves will open up. Then drain, squeeze thoroughly to remove excess water, discard any stems or tough parts, and chop finely.

There’s no unique recipe for the dressing, but between my Burmese cookbooks and the interwebs, here’s what I came up with for an amount sufficient to dress a medium sized handful of leaves. Combine thoroughly:

3 Tbl very garlicky garlic oil
3 Tbl fresh lime juice
1 Tbl fish sauce
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
a little ngapi (a spicy Burmese shrimp paste), to taste

Marinate the tea leaves in the mixture for at least one day in the refrigerator, two if you want them to get down and get funky. If they didn’t taste fermented before, they will now. After they’ve surrendered to the marinade, drain them well, and if you like, chop them a bit more, even as fine as pesto, but I prefer them with a little more definition.

And then ya got yer crunchies. Again, there’s no set ingredient list, but I played around with a mixture of the following:

Fried garlic and fried onion (you can buy those two in plastic jars in any Asian market)

Fried broad beans and toasted soybeans (again, available in bags at any Asian market) plus peanuts and sesame seeds

Briefly fry the legumes and sesame seeds in a little oil (I used peanut oil), just enough to give them some color, enhance the flavor and add a little extra crunch. Drain on paper towels and cool completely. (The sesame seeds brown fastest so add them a little later and be vigilant.) I added this step because the contents of the bags of crunchies in the kits always seem to be a little oily, in a good way. Test for salt, but it will probably be okay.

Finally, the salad component. I used shredded napa cabbage (savoy works too) and halved grape tomatoes. I also soaked some dried shrimp in hot water for a few minutes and added them to the mix. I’ve seen lahpet thoke made with dried anchovies, but I already had enough crunch and salt and wanted a different texture to complement the funkiness element. (Speaking of funkiness, dried shrimp powder also makes a good addition.) Depending upon your tolerance for heat, you can add some chopped green bird’s-eye chilies. Garnish with lime wedges.

In Myanmar’s state of Shan where it’s called Niang Ko, tea leaf salad includes cilantro, scallion and shredded fresh ginger and since I like those in this recipe, I incorporated them as well. Further, in Shan they mix everything together for serving, as I’ve done here; elsewhere, the elements are arranged separately affording the opportunity to personalize the dish to those who’d rather roll their own thoke.

As it were.