Mama’s Kitchen

Instagram Post 7/9/2019

Two treats from Mama’s Kitchen, Stall 28 at Elmhurst’s HK Food Court, 82-02 45th Ave in Queens. They continue to hone their menu and it keeps getting better with each iteration.

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

I’ve written poignantly about my fondness for this dish, the epitome of the homiest of Chinese home cooking, tomatoes and eggs. I give Mama much credit, for this is possibly the boldest version I’ve tasted in a long time. It’s all about their take on the seasoning; whoever is in the kitchen has a style of their own. All I know is, my mama could never cook this way!


This is their spin on the Southeast Asian classic, Roti Canai. It’s usually served with a chicken curry sauce, but this version is rather different from any I’ve experienced; its seasoning had overtones of Thai herbs and spices but still wasn’t something one would immediately identify as Thai. In order to more firmly establish its culinary character, I’ll return to have another go at it. This task will be a breeze since Mama’s Kitchen is one of the stops on my new Elementary Elmhurst Ethnojunket (Shameless Self-Promotion Department 😉). Visit my Ethnojunkets page to learn more. Hope to see you soon!
 
 

Mr. Liu Henan Wide Ramen – Big Squid

Instagram Post 6/15/2019

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Remember the Vincent Price movie “The Tingler”?

So anyway, I’ve been prowling around Elmhurst, Queens lately doing reconnaissance for my new ethnojunket and eating my way through the new HK Food Court at 82-02 45th Ave as part of the syllabus. Among other offerings, the eye-catching signage announcing stall #25, Mr. Liu Henan Wide Ramen, featured a photo captioned Big Squid on a stick with the hand-written exhortation “Try it!”. Always a fan of grilled cephalopod, that sounded like a plan; I opted for spicy. I had my kitchen scissors in tow (semper paratus – you know a better way to disarticulate a squid?) so I was able to make some judicious editorial cuts. You might consider asking for it extra spicy if you like special effects.

More to come from HK Food Court soon.
 
 

Chinese-Korean Dumplings & Noodle

Instagram Post 6/10/2019

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An irresistible presentation of lacy pan-fried dumplings from Chinese-Korean Dumplings & Noodle (aka Joong Han Boon Sik), stall number 30 in the New World Mall Food Court, 136-20 Roosevelt Ave, one of the stops on my Flushing food court ethnojunket. Choose from among thirteen varieties including pork & fennel as well as pork, shrimp, sea cucumber, cabbage & crabmeat (which I need to return for). These were lamb and luscious; even the side of cabbage was tasty. Too pretty to eat – but somehow that didn’t stop me! 😉

Want a taste? Check out my ethnic neighborhood food tours! Click here to learn more.
 
 

Goji Berry Osmanthus Cake

Instagram Post 5/19/2019

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Osmanthus and goji berries often pair up in desserts like this one, Goji Berry Osmanthus Cake (although I’m hard pressed to call it a cake), from Double Crispy Bakery at 230 Grand Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown. I’ve seen it elsewhere, executed with more finesse TBH, but I was passing by, it was pretty as always, and I wanted to play with lighting it from beneath, so here we are.

The translucent jello-like bar doesn’t acquire its bounce from gelatin, but rather agar-agar or konyakku. Agar-agar comes from red algae; konyakku is made from the corm of the konjak plant and manifests in Japanese yam cake and shirataki noodles.

Bright red goji berries (aka wolfberries) are sweet, usually found dried, and are prized for their purported health and medicinal benefits.

Used throughout Asia, osmanthus shows up in tea and tea blends as well as jams, liquors, and sweet desserts; it has a floral fragrance with a subtle flavor – I’d describe it as somewhere along the apricot—leather continuum, if there were such a thing. Also found dried, the corolla opens into adorable, tiny, four-petaled yellow flowers when reconstituted.

But really, all I wanted to do was take this picture – not deliver a bloomin’ excursus on Asian botanicals!
 
 

Little Alley

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 as three posts, published on May 16-18, 2019.


Little Alley, 550 3rd Ave in Manhattan, is named for the network of interconnected alleyways that define erstwhile neighborhoods in old Shanghai; its chef, Yuchun Cheung, pays homage to his home and the cuisine of his childhood in this restaurant and the patrons are the lucky beneficiaries. Almost everything we tasted was outstanding. In no particular order:

(Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)Salted Duck Egg Fish Filet. I’ve enjoyed this elsewhere and it’s a favorite, but I’ve never had it prepared this perfectly. (Not to mention the fact that everyone at the table – all hardcore foodies, by the way – were in complete agreement.) First of all, IMHO, anything featuring salted duck egg is always wonderful and this version of the dish was set apart by the fact that the proportion of salted duck egg to (unusually) thinly sliced fish was about 1:1 so you could taste everything in its proper balance.


Rice Cake and Salted Duck Egg. As if to confirm the extent to which we all find salted duck egg irresistible, later in the meal we ordered this dish. Here, wonderfully chewy rice cakes get the treatment, and they’re perfect. Notice that the name of this dish fails to incorporate the word “shrimp”, but look closely at the photo and you’ll see them, camouflaged as rice cakes, an integral part of this entrée.

And while you’re there, you might try the Water Spinach with Fermented Bean Curd; it’s green simplicity offsets and complements the richness of the salted duck egg dishes.


Honey Kao Fu. Kao Fu is gluten. Yes, Gluten, the prevailing demon of reproving newtritionists. And please note that I’m not deriding people who have genuine sensitivity to gluten; I sincerely understand your struggle. It’s just that I’m old enough to remember when consuming eggs, butter and olive oil invited public shaming. I’ve actually seen bottles of gluten-free water and yet, when I shop in Chinese markets, I can buy packages of plain gluten. Some of my vegetarian friends use seitan, the same devil as gluten, as a meat substitute. Anyway, it’s the spongelike absorptive properties of this form of gluten that make it special and here the sauce is laced with honey to elevate it further. Keeping company with wood ears and bamboo shoots, it’s a classic Shanghainese dish and the best version I’ve ever had.

Spicy Lamb and Garlic Shoot. It seems like every cuisine in the world knows that lamb and garlic are soulmates, and this one is no exception.

This is Braised Pork with Preserved Vegetables, served with steamed buns (bao). Put a little pork and its savory sauce into the bun, add some of the preserved vegetables, fold and enjoy. My only (very minor) complaint is that we could have used a few more bao!

[Left] You’ve probably seen these Radish Puffs whizzing past on dim sum carts in Chinatown. A good (and good-sized) rendition here.
[Right] The xiao long bao, soup dumplings, were fine.
 
 
Little Alley is located at 550 3rd Ave in Manhattan. Yes, Manhattan. 😉
 
 

Dumpling Galaxy

Instagram Post 5/9/2019

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While shepherding folks through Flushing’s food courts on a recent ethnojunket, the thought struck me that with so many tempting treats to be had, it makes the job incredibly easy. At the same time, it also makes it incredibly difficult. Take dumplings for example. (Take several, they’re small.) Dozens of purveyors fashion hand-crafted bespoke specialties while displaying ennui-tinged sprezzatura as they vie for our appetites and confound our decisions. What’s a tour guide to do?

Why, sample nearly all of them, of course. (On my own time naturally.) A few standouts emerged, one of which was the venerable Dumpling Galaxy. A far cry from its days in the dingy rabbit warren of Golden Mall, it’s now a proper restaurant touting about 100 varieties just half a mile from this newer outpost at Super HK Food Court, 37-11 Main St, Flushing where there are just enough stellar examples to please everyone.

[1] Shown here are pan fried lamb dumplings with green squash, steamed pork dumplings with dill, and the less commonplace cornmeal dumplings with pork. The filling is what it promises to be; the unusual wrapper is thick, dry, and a little akin to a corn muffin bereft of sugar.

[2] The inside view of that last one.
 
 

He Ji Noodle House

Instagram Post 5/3/2019

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About forever and a half ago, when I was a tyro trying to get a leg up on world food, I asked a Chinese friend what she ate at home with her parents. Expecting to hear about some magnificent culinary concoction that would put the chicken chow mein served up by my local China Inn deservedly to shame, she matter-of-factly replied, “tomatoes and eggs”. My education had begun in earnest and I never looked back. So I always experience a moment of heartwarming nostalgia when I see this combination on a Chinese menu.

Alas, I don’t know where she is now, but I do know where to find this duo in Flushing’s New York Food Court, 133-35 Roosevelt Ave, in the form of Tomato Egg Noodle at He Ji Noodle House, stall 25, purveyors of gratifying Henan food. The addition of hand pulled noodles and some veggies (ask for it dry) makes it special yet it’s still homey and unpretentious.
 
 

Little Pepper Restaurant

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 as four posts, published on April 29–30 and May 1–2, 2019.


If ever there were a Sichuan standby, it’s Little Pepper Restaurant at 18-24 College Point Boulevard, Queens. Despite its move from Flushing to College Point, the kitchen continues to turn out solid journeyman work that’s difficult to find fault with, delivering exactly what you’d expect and precisely what you traveled there for. In no particular order:

(Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)Fresh Cucumber with Mashed Garlic Sauce is an exercise in balance. The dish only seems simple: seeded, smashed Persian cucumbers blanketed with a salty, sweet/sour garlic dressing. Applied with a heavy hand, it would have been suffocating, with a timorous touch, it would have been an afterthought; here, it’s a dexterous thumbs up.

Silken Tofu with Fresh Scallion. Gossamer cubes of cloudlike tofu in a very spicy, somewhat salty sauce dressed with peanuts and fresh scallions. So good.

Sliced Pork Belly with Chili Garlic Sauce from the Appetizer section of the menu. Unquestionably sweet, a little spicy, intensely porky, with a substantial hit of garlic because pork and garlic, right?

Braised Sliced Fish in Spicy Soup Base. Just what it sounds like – melt in your mouth fish in a spicy broth that begs to be poured over rice.


Dan Dan Noodle with Minced Pork – with a nice chew and redolent of málà oil, it’s a classic rendition. Second photo: the obligatory noodle lift.

Smoked Tea Duck Sichuan Style. Does this really need a description? Smoky, crispy, fatty, ducky, infused with star anise and other enhancements, the meat was so tender it practically fell apart. I could have eaten the whole plateful by myself. Next time, I just might.

Tree Mushrooms with Chinese Spices. You might see cloud ear, wood ear fungus, black fungus or a dozen other names, but it will appear as 木耳 (“tree ear”) on the menu. Garlicky, a little vinegary, and spicy from the red peppers, the cilantro was a necessary diversion. Did I mention garlic? Like all of the appetizers we enjoyed that afternoon, this was a bit salty, but in a good way.

Dried Sautéed String Beans. A prime example of wok hei (you might see wok hay, wok chi, or wok qi): “the breath of the wok”; its flavor and aroma are unforgettable – and nearly impossible to achieve in the home kitchen. Attainable by stir frying over incendiary heat, it’s a hallmark of Chinese cuisine; the char you see on the fresh green beans is its badge of honor. Tiny bits of Yibin yacai, the stems of pickled mustard greens, de rigueur in Sichuan cooking, provide contrast and are customary in this dish.

Minced Pork with Clear Noodle. I know this one by its more fanciful moniker, Ants Climbing Up a Tree. It consists of bits of ground pork in a bean paste based sauce poured over “cellophane noodles”, translucent noodles usually made from mung bean starch. The bits of pork (the ants) cling to the noodles (the tree limbs) because of the slightly sticky nature of the sauce, hence the name. Second photo illustrates. At various restaurants where I’ve enjoyed this, the sauce has ranged from almost soupy to rather dry which was the case this time; it was also less sweet, saltier, and spicier than what I’m accustomed to, but highly enjoyable.

I once made this for someone as part of a mini-banquet and she refused to eat it. I assured her that no ants were harmed in the making of this dish. She said she realized that, of course, but the idea of noodles made from cellophane put her off.

You win some, you lose some.

This is Sliced Pork with Wood Ear. You already know about the captivating flavor and aroma of wok hei, “the breath of the wok”, derived from stir frying food over intense heat; the pork in this dish is infused with that magic and at the same time is moist and tender, most likely the result of velveting, a marinating technique used in Chinese cuisine. A great choice.

Sauteed Snow Pea Leaves, for those at the table who crave their veggies; these are simply prepared and excellent.
 
 
Revisiting Little Pepper is like getting together with an old friend you haven’t seen for a while; not necessarily any surprises to shout about, just that warm feeling that everything you loved about them in the past is still going strong and had just been waiting for you to reconnect.

Lao Bian Dumpling

Instagram Post 4/25/2019

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Happy to report that I’m still eating my way through the spacious, brightly-lit Super HK Food Court, 37-11 Main St, Flushing, in the basement of Super HK Supermarket. This visit brought me to Lao Bian Dumpling, stall number 19. After a couple of disappointing attempts involving pointing at menu items and learning they were unavailable, I settled on these pork and amaranth dumplings. Because of a somewhat similar flavor, amaranth (莧菜 or xiàncài) is sometimes called Chinese spinach, but so are other leafy greens so stick with the proper designation. An unassuming but tasty vegetable, it paired well with the mildly seasoned pork; the dumplings benefitted from the application of some kicked up sauce. A satisfying snack on a rainy afternoon.
 
 

MaLa Project

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 as six posts, published on March 25 through 30, 2019.


I may be late to the game in terms of writing about MáLà Project, 122 First Ave in Manhattan, but that doesn’t stop me from working my way through their menu now. Their famous Dry Pot notwithstanding, four of us set out to explore other menu items, so we started with ten (count ’em ten!) dishes from the Appetizers, Snacks, Vegetables and Rice sections of the menu; I’m posting a barrage detailing the whole lot.

Here they are, in no special order. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)

MáLà Duck Neck

I’ve been nibbling my way around roast poultry necks since I was a kid. At Thanksgiving, some families argue over politics; we argued over who’s going to get the turkey neck. So I was happy that there were enough MáLà Duck Neck joints for the four of us. I don’t recall these being particularly spicy though, neither má nor là. Good anyway.

Husband and Wife Lung Slices

Fuqi Feipian 夫妻肺片 is a Sichuan málà classic. Choice of specific ingredients varies among chefs (not to worry, it never includes actual slices of lung) but tripe and tendon are traditional and ox tongue and beef shin can appear as alternate paramours – always two items though and always delightfully spicy.

MáLà Pickles

MáLà Pickles, 四川泡菜, from the Snacks section. Just what it sounds like: Sichuan homestyle spicy pickled vegetables of sufficient variety that we worked our way to the bottom of the crock with ease.

Fried Pepper with Thousand Year Egg

Shāo jiāo pídàn, 烧椒皮蛋. These eggs are of a certain age, but not in sync with their moniker; thousand year eggs, also known as hundred year eggs, century eggs and preserved eggs undergo a process that actually takes closer to weeks or months. They’re covered in a mixture of lime (the calcium compound, not the citrus fruit) and salt and packed into clay or ash to cure (a bit of an oversimplification, but you get the idea). As you can see, the yolk becomes greenish grey and the white a gelatinous translucent brown. The funky flavor pairs perfectly with the fried spicy green pepper.

Xiangxi Fried Rice

Xiangxi Fried Rice, 湘西炒饭, with egg, Chinese bacon, pickled vegetables and chilies. The waiter informed us that it would be spicier than its menu mate “Leftover Fried Rice”; I believe him having not tried the alternative, but this portion, although certainly delicious, wasn’t especially fiery. Good comfort food though.

Liangfen of Happy Tears

Liangfen of Happy Tears, Shāngxīn Liángfěn, 伤心凉粉. I’m not sure when shāngxīn (伤心) which I thought meant sad or heartbroken became “happy tears” but I suspect it has to do with the zesty deliciousness that this dish delivers. Liángfěn refers to mung bean jelly “noodles” – long, thick-cut, slippery, wobbly chopstick challengers (for some) in a spicy soy sauce based dressing. Good eats.

Candy Garlic

A powerful snack: Candy Garlic, 糖蒜.

😠 It’s Candy! 😣 It’s Garlic! ✋ Stop! You’re both right! 💑

Think pickled, not candied – neither dessert topping nor floor wax. Of course, if it’s date night you might want a breath mint after consuming a couple of them, but these piquant cloves are approachable…with Certitude 🙃.

#RUOldEnough2GetTheJokes

Eggplant with Roasted Garlic

Eggplant with Roasted Garlic, 蒜蓉茄子, is a surefire winner. Eggplant and garlic seem to have an affinity for each other like chocolate and nuts, or bacon and pretty much anything. Again, MáLà Project did a good job with this one.

Mouthwatering Chicken

Mouthwatering Chicken, 口水鸡, another classic Sichuan delicacy. Often made with white meat chicken (one of the few recipes in which it’s a worthwhile choice IMHO), it’s poached chicken in chili sauce and this version was excellent.

Sticky Rice Stuffed Lotus Root

Sticky Rice Stuffed Lotus Root, 桂花糯米莲藕 was delicious. The Chinese characters read osmanthus, glutinous rice, lotus root. As I understand it, the cavities in the lotus root are stuffed with sticky rice and the root is simmered in a sweet syrup, often with the addition of goji berries and red dates, until tender. It’s sliced and then gets a bath in its cooking sauce for serving. Osmanthus flowers adorn the top. It’s a sweet dish, but not intensely so. Excellent.

Okay. Next time, we’ll save room for the Dry Pot!

MáLà Project is located at 122 First Ave in Manhattan.