Spooky Season

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This post is dedicated to someone who loves Spooky Season as much as I love Christmas. Her devotion to all things pumpkin-spice rivals my passion for eggnog. I get it: these ephemeral seasons only come around once a year, and we are obliged to indulge enthusiastically before they evanesce.

But because my focus is all about international treats and since Spooky Szn is as American as apple – er, pumpkin – pie, I’ve never been able to write about it here and still stay within my rubric.

Until now.

I spotted these dim sum at the Main Street level grab-n-go outpost of Royal Queen Restaurant in Flushing. They’re not pumpkin flavored of course and they’re not filled with candy, but they are filled with sweet bean paste so as far as I’m concerned we have an acceptable crossover here.

Couldn’t resist taking a minute to PShop it a bit! 🎃

Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival – 2023

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A visit to any Chinatown bakery this time of year will reveal a spectacular assemblage of mooncakes (月餅, yue bing) in a seemingly infinite variety of shapes, sizes, ornamentation, and fillings, all begging to be enjoyed in observance of the Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated this year on September 29. Here are two pandan mooncakes, one with preserved egg yolk and a mini version without, from Chinatown’s Fay Da Bakery.

And here’s one of my favorites, Five Mix Nut Moon Cake, from Golden Fung Wong Bakery at 41 Mott St – one of the stops on my Manhattan Chinatown ethnojunket, of course!

Since 2023 is the Year of the Rabbit, known for his elegance among many other characteristics depending upon where you do your research, I decided to purchase an assortment of these elegant delicacies in order to share them, virtually, with you.

For a deep dive into the holiday and these delicious treats, you can get the skinny – er, poor choice of words there – in my Chinese Mooncakes Demystified page detailing their similarities and differences in an attempt to shed some light (moonlight, of course) on their intricacies.


Shakalaka Bakery

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The cliché applies to each of New York City’s nine Chinatowns: So many bakeries, so little time. And Flushing is no exception rocking its major chains, smaller collectives, and the occasional singleton.

Each is known for its specialties, and each has its loyal followers who passionately champion their choice of who has the best Don Tat (egg tarts), the best Char Siu Bao (BBQ pork buns), the best Jian Dui (sesame balls) – you get the idea. The larger chains have a reliable contingent of the most popular goodies (like the aforementioned) but it seems to me that the smaller the establishment, the more likely you are to find something unique.

Shakalaka Bakery at 136-76 Roosevelt Ave in Flushing is one such enterprise. I entered in search of crispy, crumbly, almond thins but was stopped in my tracks by a sign that read “Gooey Chocolate Cookies” perched over a tray of baked goods that looked more like mini loaves than cookies. Obviously, since gooey, chocolate, and cookie comprise a hat-trick, I had to indulge. I’m hard pressed to describe it as a cookie, but I can vouch for the fact that it was a righteous snack on the subway ride back. (What – you thought I’d wait until I got home?)

And in other news, although I didn’t purchase it, the label on these diminutive carbobombs was “Chestnut Cake”.

I think “Cousin Itt Cake” would have nailed it, but that’s just me.

Guoyu Spicy Fruit

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In case you were thinking that Mexico had cornered the market in sweet fresh fruit garnished with a spicy topping (Tajín, for example), please allow me to disabuse you of that notion.

I was in Flushing scoping out new and unusual goodies for my “Snacking in Flushing – The Best of the Best” ethnojunket and I discovered Guoyu Spicy Fruit in the revived Golden Mall at 41-28 Main St. They’ve been there about a month offering 16 varieties of cut fruits with a choice of either spicy chili or sweet yogurt mix-ins.

You’ll see samples for each of the two options. Taste the spicy sample and then channel Goldilocks requesting spicier than this, less spicy, or just right. Personally, I think the idea is brilliant – so much more meaningful than an arbitrary numbering system that’s relative to nothing.

The sweet yogurt option comes with an assortment of toppings such as popping boba, coconut, sprinkles, crumbled chocolate cookies, nuts & raisins, and the like so you can customize your treat per the sample cups as well.

Naturally, I was all in on the spicy option. You fill up either size (¾ or 1 liter) container yourself with as many or as few kinds of fruit as your heart desires and specify the topping to be mixed into it. I’m pleased to report that it was truly delicious – how could it not be?

But even the smaller size was more than I could finish in a single sitting, so I brought the remainder home with me – and that’s when I went rogue: I tried it over vanilla ice cream and it was positively synergistic. Turned out it was also a perfect foil for mixing into tapioca pudding. The day after that, I anointed my breakfast French Toast with some of the remaining sweet, spicy juice: who needs cloying maple syrup? I will even admit that I poured a bit into a glass of ice cold Coca Cola by way of experimentation – and it actually worked!

I am more than happy with this – not to mention that it’s good for you! Fresh fruit and spice – no fat, no sugar added. Plus check out the adorable multi-purpose bucket that it comes in!

I’m curious to see what you think, either if you’ve been there or are planning to go; let me know in the comments below!

July is National Ice Cream Month! Celebrate Globally!

The story began here:

Every August, as a routinely flushed, overheated child, I would join in chorus with my perspiring cohorts, boisterously importuning, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” Little did I realize that rather than conjuring dessert, I was conjugating it and probably laying the groundwork for a lifetime of fascination with foreign languages and world food.

We lived in close proximity to one of the best dairies in town; it was known for its wide assortment of locally produced natural flavors, certainly sufficient in number and variety to satisfy any palate. Perhaps my obsession with offbeat ice cream flavors is rooted in my frustration with my father’s return home from work, invariably bearing the same kind of ice cream as the last time, Neapolitan. Neapolitan, again. My pleas to try a different flavor – just once? please? – consistently fell on deaf ears. “Neapolitan is chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. That’s three flavors right there. If you don’t want it, don’t eat it.” Some kids’ idea of rebellion involved smoking behind the garage; mine was to tuck into a bowl of Rum Raisin….

There’s lots more to the story, of course. Click here to get the full scoop! 🍨

Dragon Boat Festival – Zongzi Day

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Dragon Boat Festival, the time-honored Chinese holiday that occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar, commemorates the death of the beloved poet and scholar Qu Yuan in 278 BCE. The holiday interconnects the poignant tale of his demise, dragon boats, and zongzi, the traditional sticky rice dumplings associated with the event; in 2023, the date corresponds to June 22.

Zongzi (aka joong in Cantonese) are fashioned from sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves and shaped into triangular semi-pyramids tied with twine. At your local dim sum parlor, you might see sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves but those are Lo Mai Gai, usually rectangular or pillow shaped and featuring chicken – different but also delicious.

They’re made with an array of fillings, some sweet, some savory, and the particular flavor distinctions vary throughout regions of China and elsewhere in Asia. Here in New York City, it’s easy to find savory versions packed with peanuts, pork belly, lap cheong (Chinese sausage), ham, salted duck egg, dried shrimp, mushrooms and more in various permutations and combinations; they’re available year round in any of our nine Chinatowns. (Yes, nine. We are blessed.) Sweet types include red dates and sweet bean paste.

For best results, steam them first, then snip off the twine, unfold the leaves, and dig in.

This one has all of the savory ingredients I mentioned (you can play Where’s Waldo with it if you like); it came from M&W Bakery, 85A Bayard St in Manhattan’s Chinatown, where they offer at least five varieties.

And yes, of course that’s one of the stops on my Manhattan Chinatown ethnojunket.


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’Jever go to a sprawling Asian supermarket and load up a wagonful of ingredients in anticipation of a marathon of Chinese home cooking that portends hours in the kitchen but promises rewarding results, and then realize you don’t have any energy left to make something for yourself for that day because you’re exhausted from errand overload, so you trudge over to the freezer case and grab a package of frozen assorted dim sum figuring there’s absolutely no work involved – just steam the little bastards while you put away the real food?


Nai Brother Sauerkraut Fish

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Chinese Sauerkraut Fish seems to be a “thing” these days. I don’t know if it’s a surge in popularity or just better marketing, but I’ve been spotting it more frequently lately, if perhaps under alternate nomenclature.

Note that it bears no relation to the sauerkraut you get from the dirty-water-hot-dog cart stationed on every Manhattan street corner.

This dish, Signature Spicy Pickled Fish, came from Booth 21 in Flushing’s New World Mall Food Court at 136-20 Roosevelt Ave. The soup, faintly oily in a good way, arrives brimming with hefty chunks of fish fillet, tofu, and pickled mustard greens along with an array of fresh vegetables. It’s kicked up with hot red peppers and Sichuan peppercorns and manages to balance spicy and sour. The vegetable contingent includes thin slices of potato, barely cooked and crisp, mature bean sprouts, cabbage, celery, and sundry other greens. White rice on the side to offset the sting.

Nai Brother has partnered with YanYan Tea, also floating around Flushing, so there’s a wide selection of creative drinks available to cool your palate in case the soup turns out to be a bit spicier than you had anticipated.

Yi Mei Bakery

On a recent Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst ethnojunket, I picked up some satisfying snacks at Yi Mei Bakery, 81-26 Broadway.

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A variation on classic char siu bao. There was a subtle sweetness to these Roast Pork Pastries, a perfect combination of thin slices of juicy char siu, flaky dough, and black and white sesame seeds. If you buy one to take home, definitely warm it up for maximum enjoyment.

The Meat Floss Cake was indeed cakey per its name: pillowy soft, savory and salty but also with a slight overtone of sweetness. Each cake was coated with meat floss and comprised two halves married by a thin layer of creamy custard (see last photo).

If you’re unfamiliar with meat floss, meat (pork is common) is cooked in a sweetened, spiced mixture until it’s soft enough to be shredded and fried resulting in a final texture that’s fluffy and looks a bit like wool. It’s remarkably versatile and commonly used as a topping for rice or congee, as an ingredient for filling buns and pastries, or for just plain snackin’. You’ll see it in two similar variations at your local Asian supermarket, pork fu and pork sung, and based on my experience I think the shelf life is practically eternal.

Want to know if these treats will be part of our Elmhurst food tour? Only one way to find out. Check out my Ethnojunkets page and sign up to join in the fun!

Brobdingnagian Bargain Dining

(See what I did there?)

So progress continues at Elmhurst’s revivified HK Food Court but incrementally at best. They move things around as in a protracted game of chess and, with a few exceptions in the far right corner, I can’t really determine who the vendors are – or perhaps there’s only one, because the crew seems to wander freely among all of the stations. Each has some signage, but I’m not convinced that it corresponds to the contents of the steam tables beneath. None of which has anything to do with the food, of course.

But I have stumbled upon two items worth considering.

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Casa Fried Chicken, when it’s staffed and when the chicken looks reasonably freshly fried, offers unreasonably inexpensive fare: wings are 4 for $2 and big honkin’ chicken parts are $1 each. The piece on this plate was about six inches wide and 2½ inches thick. “Is that a thigh?” I asked incredulously. She enclosed it in a wax paper bag and answered, “One dollar,” avoiding my question. At home, my autopsy revealed that it appeared to be a thigh somehow firmly affixed to a breast based on the color of the meat but not on the skeleton or any anatomy I was familiar with. It was agreeably seasoned though, and for the price it was a genuine bargain.

The Fried Rice Noodles are flavored modestly, well lubricated, and possess the satisfyingly chewy texture of an archetypical comfort food. And I’m addicted to the stuff. You’re looking at roughly a quarter of the large size which weighed in at over 2½ lbs: $5.75. I’ve fallen into the habit of bringing one of these home every time I visit because since they’re delicious but not overpowering, they’re easy to tinker with by adding other ingredients (meat, fish, veggies, etc.) and enhancing the seasoning appropriately thus creating something you didn’t dine on the day before while staying well within your budget. This meal cost about $2.50.

The remarkable feature of these noodz is that they are enormous! I’ve unfurled one in this photo; it measures about 7½ x 5 inches and that’s not the largest of the lot.

I see a fusion Chinese Lasagna in my future.