Don’t Know Jack About This Fruit?

Then allow me to introduce you to jackfruit!

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Possibly my favorite fruit, it’s quite easy to find fresh this time of year. Jackfruit is the largest tree fruit and can be roughly two feel long or more; it sports a greenish brown bumpy shell, a white core, and contains dozens of fragrant, yellow pods. Each pod encases a single large seed and even the seeds can be consumed boiled, baked or roasted; their taste is not unlike chestnuts – in fact, I’ve developed a few recipes for them.

You’ll see this tropical fruit at sidewalk stands and markets, whole, halved, or quartered; you’ll also find the sweet pods picked out and packed into plastic containers for munching convenience as you wander the streets of Chinatown.

I’ve been known to buy a half or a quarter and break it down myself, but the procedure involves removing the pods leaving behind a white latex-like substance – and trust me, it’s a tacky mess. If you insist on going DIY, wear plastic gloves because no amount of soap and water or alcohol will rid the sticky stuff from your hands easily. (Those in the know oil their hands first which seems even messier but less gooey.) Personally, I think it’s worth the trouble because the price per pod plummets and I have plenty of time on my hands. (Although maybe that’s the gummy stuff and not time.)

Green unripe jackfruit can be found canned in Asian markets; it’s used for its meaty texture in numerous dishes like Indonesian rendang and other vegetarian specialties.

The fresh pods range in hue from pale canary yellow to bright Crayola yellow-orange; the deeper the color, the sweeter and riper the fruit. The first photo shows the ideal shade of gold (the last chance moment before they become overripe), but even a lighter version will be rewarding.

Jackfruit is at peak ripeness now, so please go out and support your local Chinatown – and reward yourself with a delicious treat in the process!
 
 

All That and a Bag of Krupuk

Back in 2016, I wrote a post dedicated to my interminable quest to discover the ultimate ethnic crunchy snack chip. It featured krupuk (you might see “kerupuk” as they’re called in Indonesia or other spellings since they’re enjoyed throughout Southeast Asia) – amazing crisps that are positively addictive.

In the package, they appear to be hard little chips, but they miraculously puff up almost instantly when subjected to hot oil – actually, they’re almost as much fun to prepare as they are to eat – but you can also find them sold in bags and ready to eat.

My sweet friend from Indonesia, Elika, whom I met at the New York Indonesian Food Bazaar in Elmhurst many years ago, has stayed in touch with me and recently sent me an assortment of authentic kerupuk. Each photo depicts a single variety before frying (bottom of each plate) and after (top) so you can get an idea of the transformation they undergo.

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Kerupuk Gandum. Gandum means wheat, one of a variety of starches from which kerupuk are made.


Emping Belinjo. Belinjo (padi oats) seeds are ground into flour and used to make emping, a type of kerupuk. Padi oats have a slight bitter, but not at all unpleasant, aftertaste. They’re not really “oatey” in the Cheerios sense because they’re another species, but they’re certainly more like oats than corn or wheat since there’s a satisfying nuttiness to them. Elika suggests a sprinkling of salt on these to lessen the bitter taste.


Emping Belinjo Udang. Udang means shrimp. Emping are available in styles such as manis (sweet), pedas (spicy) and madu (honey) and flavors including garlic and shrimp.


Rengginan – sweet rice puffs.


Kerupuk Udang – my absolute favorite of the group!

But you don’t have to take my word for how delicious these are! If you’d like to taste them yourself (and maybe get some to take home) you can find a wide variety of krupuk on three of my ethnojunkets, Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst, Snacking in Flushing, and Manhattan’s Chinatown. Food tour season has begun, and I’d be happy to introduce you to these crispy, crunchy gems.

To learn more about my food tours, please check out my Ethnojunkets page and sign up to join in the fun!
 
 

Green Jackfruit Confit with Fish Mint

Part eight in a series of reports.

Some folks look forward to the annual celebration of their birthdays or anniversaries; for me it’s the occasion to cover America’s largest food and beverage trade show right here in New York City, Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show. (Check out full coverage and a description of a past event here.) Aside from the fact that it affords the chance to hob and nob with other professional foodies, see what products and brands are trending and poised to make a breakthrough, and get a sense of what the industry thinks the marketplace is craving, it gives me the opportunity to turn you on to new products to watch for locally or order online.

The 2020 FFS was, like almost everything else, canceled because of the pandemic, but the organization has announced a 2021 iteration of the event coming soon. At a previous show, I was introduced to Nature’s Charm canned Young Green Jackfruit Confit; in its yellow ripened form it’s one of my favorite fresh fruits, but the unripe green version also figures into a number of cuisines (particularly Southeast Asian) as a savory ingredient and is especially popular as a meat substitute among vegetarians and vegans.

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I used this confit variation in a stir-fry with fresh Chinese noodles, peas, and cashews. The dish started out with caramelized onions, shallots, pressed garlic and ginger plus a paste containing dried chilies, tomato paste, and a bit of coconut milk to loosen things up. The outlier ingredient was fish mint used two ways here: julienned and sautéed with the aromatics, and fried as a garnish.


Fish mint (botanically, Houttuynia cordata) does have something of a vaguely fishy character, but that doesn’t really describe it precisely. Its common name is almost calculated to drive you away (like “mugwort”), even though it does have a toe dipped in accuracy. It’s also known as rainbow plant and chameleon plant. Better.


The jackfruit confit straight out of the can is falling-apart tender (it’s a confit, after all), not sweet in the least, and it picked up the flavor of the aromatics beautifully. I also used the seasoned oil in which it was packed as an ingredient for the sauce.


Ready to try some experiments of your own? Find Nature’s Charm Young Green Jackfruit on Amazon.com.
 
 

Honeycomb Cake

I’ve written about this triumph of texture over gravity before; in that post I described Vietnamese Pandan Cake, Bánh Bò Nướng, easily identified by its emerald hue, but Honeycomb Cake, aka Beehive Cake, has its fans throughout Southeast Asia and in China as well. It’s easy enough to find a snow white version in Chinatown bakeries around these parts (sometimes even on dim sum carts) but less frequently a chocolate colored (notice, I said colored, not flavored) variety like this one from Dragon Bay Bakery at 5711 8th Avenue in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

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Above, a slab cut from the loaf; this piece is about nine inches long. It’s sweet but not too sweet, which I know will be welcome news to many of you; its texture is the key to its charm.

How does it come to look like this? Recipes differ. I’ve read that the type of flour used can be rice (common), tapioca (often in the Vietnamese version), or even wheat; the leavening agent, yeast (common), baking soda, baking powder, or a combination thereof; even the method of preparation can vary from steamed (common), to baked, or stovetop pan “griddled”. But somehow, the results manage to be rather similar: springy, bouncy, airy, spongy, fluffy, chewy, and squishy.

(Which quite by coincidence, I think were the names of the Seven Dwarfs. But I could be wrong about that.)


A more modest slice revealing the light cakey-looking top layer and the virtually weightless honeycomb structure supporting it. Its color comes from the use of brown sugar instead of white.


Still don’t get the “honeycomb” part? Here’s a cross section of the above slice, cut against the grain.
 
 
And a reminder: New York City boasts at least six Chinatowns and perhaps a few more depending upon your definition of what constitutes a Chinatown; just pick one and go! Now, more than ever, please SUPPORT CHINATOWN!
 
 

Cooking in the Time of COVID – Pandan Rice Pudding

Instagram Post 5/23/2020

 
👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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I often insist that rice pudding is the ultimate comfort food, and we can all use a little – no, make that a lot – of comfort right now. But since I’m invariably compelled to put some kind of ethnic spin on something that was perfectly fine to begin with, here’s my pandan rice pudding.

The bright green color comes from the leaves of the pandan plant, aka screwpine, a popular flavoring and coloring agent in Southeast Asian cuisine. It has exceptional compatibility with coconut much the same way that chocolate has with nuts, baked goods, or depression, so this version uses coconut milk along with rice as its foundation.

The cherry on top is the cherry on top.
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

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.

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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!
 
 

Santol

Instagram Post 6/14/2019

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There are few moments more rewarding than stumbling upon some sort of food that I’ve never experienced. (Okay, so it takes all kinds, I guess.) Consequently, I was delighted to find santol (you might see santal) in the refrigerator case at Pata Market, 81-16 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens.

The fruit hails from Southeast Asia and according to my research looks a little like a peach-colored mangosteen before preparation. Fortunately, the troublesome work of removing the thick shell-like rind and carving the edible part into delicate slivers had already been accomplished. I separated the seeds (don’t swallow the seeds!) from the slices; it had a flavor I found mildly sweet and a little tart, and a soft, pulpy texture like a pear that’s not quite ripe.

It’s sold with a sweet, very spicy sauce made from palm sugar, fish sauce, shrimp paste, pounded dried shrimp, and chili along with a little cup of roasted coconut and peanuts plus a touch of cayenne.

Dressed with its accoutrements, it was a pleasing change of pace. If you secure one of these, be forewarned about the spice level of the syrup; it won’t assault you, but the taste of the fruit is subtle and you don’t want to overpower it. It’s a righteous complement, however.

<rant> In researching santol, I found a number of videos on the web that were actually embarrassing to watch (sorry, that’s the only word that fits) with more misinformation than I could countenance based on my own limited experience. I do understand that YMMV regarding specific cultivar and degree of ripeness, but really. If so many people in that part of the world consume and enjoy these, maybe you’re missing something and should consider giving it another go? </rant>

Have a nice day! 🙂
 
 

The World’s Fare – Coney Shack

Instagram Post 5/10/2018

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Coney Shack was one of the thrilling attractions at April’s World’s Fare event. They featured their inventive Southeast Asian fusion hotdogs along with creative tacos like Garlic Lemongrass Chicken, Vietnamese Caramelized Pork, Five Spice Calamari and Crunchy Tofu. Shown here is their Beer Battered Crunchy Fish Taco: deep fried Southeast Asian basa plus cabbage, cilantro, scallion, and red onion with lemongrass aioli and toasted sesame seeds. So good!
 
 

Ethnojunket: Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst

An ethnojunket is a food-focused walking tour through one of New York City’s many ethnic enclaves; my mission is to introduce you to some delicious, accessible, international treats (hence, “ethno-”) that you’ve never tasted but soon will never be able to live without (hence, “-junkie”).

Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst
It is said that Queens is the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world. Its Elmhurst neighborhood reflects that characteristic in its own microcosm of Latinx and Asian populations, and on this tour, we’ll zoom in still further for a look at the sheer diversity of its Asian community and their culinary treasures.

On this ethnojunket, we’ll savor goodies from Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Tibet, Nepal, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia and parts of China – surprising snacks that are practically addictive, unique Himalayan dumplings, exotic noodle dishes, sweet yogurt comfort food from South Asia, Taiwanese street food, and lots more! And if you’re into cooking, we can explore a large Pan-Asian supermarket along the way.

Some photos from past visits:

Details:
The cost of any tour is $85 per person (cash only, please) and includes a veritable cornucopia of food so bring your appetite: you won’t leave hungry, and you will leave happy!

Tours usually begin at 1pm and typically run about 3 to 4 hours (depending upon the neighborhood).

Sign up!
Simply send me a note below and tell me when you’d like to experience a food adventure and which ethnojunket you’re interested in – I’ll bet we can find a mutually convenient day! I’ll email you with details.

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Please note: While I generally have a pretty good idea of what ingredients go into whatever we’re consuming, I can’t vouch for salt or sugar or gluten or so many other clandestine buzz killers. If you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies, please be mindful of that and take responsibility for them just as you would if you were dining under any other circumstances. (I’m a foodie, not a doctor!) By the same token, if something troublesome happens to you along the way, I can’t take the liability for that any more than if you were just walking along the street or in a shop by yourself. (I’m a writer, not a lawyer!) In other words, when you join one of my ethnojunkets, you are taking complete responsibility for your own welfare and safety.

What I can do is bring you a few hours of entertaining, educational, and delicious fun!

Questions? Feel free to write to me directly at rich[at]ethnojunkie[dot]com.

Goodness, Gracious, Great Balls of…Fish?

You’ve undoubtedly seen these if you shop at Asian markets whether Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Southeast Asian because they’re a favorite everywhere in that part of the world. (Scandinavia has its own variant, but we’re not going to venture that far north this time.) There are even fish cake emoji like 🍥 (narutomaki) and 🍢 (oden). In local Asian markets, you’ll find fish balls and fish cakes in the freezer case packaged in bags or plastic wrapped in a small tray, but if you’re lucky they’ll also have bins of loose assorted varieties where you can cherry-pick as many or as few of whichever ones suit your fancy – my style of shopping, of course.

At their most basic, fish balls are made of fish paste: finely ground fish (pulverized and pounded), egg white, starch, plus a little seasoning. You may have also encountered fish paste as Japanese surimi which is used to make imitation shellfish like the crab stick you see in those ubiquitous California rolls. Incidentally, you can often purchase a few types of fish paste by the pound at the larger markets in the fresh fish/meat department. These are generally the stores’ own blends and are worth trying, but they’re easier to work with as filling for a dumpling or stuffing a vegetable, dim sum style, rather than for rolling your own fish balls, so I strongly recommend getting the ready-to-go frozen ones as an entry level fishy requisite.

Anyway, I was shopping at Jmart (136-20 Roosevelt Avenue in the New World Mall in Flushing, Queens) and fortuitously happened upon one such bin – fortuitously because I had just made a savory Chinese duck soup from a pair of carcasses that contributed their meat to a Thai duck salad I crafted and I had been trying to decide whether to put noodles or dumplings in it. This bounty made the choice easy – and now I had the perfect excuse to buy a few of each kind.

It’s difficult to rate them on some sort of 1 to 10 scale because they’re all quite good but the cuttlefish balls and all of the filled varieties were especially tasty; the shrimp ball filled with pork and sea cucumber and the fish ball with pork filling were excellent. By way of identification, from left to right in the photo above:

Row 1: shrimp ball, fish tofu, imitation lobster ball, Chinese brand mini bite sausage

Row 2: beef tendon ball, fish dumpling with lobster flavored filling, fish ball with fish roe filling, cuttlefish ball

Row 3: fish tofu with shrimp filling, fish ball with pork filling, pork and chicken patty ball with pork filling, shrimp ball filled with pork and sea cucumber

Preparing them is a piece of cake (no, not fish cake) because they’re already cooked. The easiest method is to simply drop them into boiling soup/water; they’ll float to the top when they’re good to go. Alternatively, they can be fried and served with just about any Asian dipping sauce; you’ll find them on skewers at some food trucks, and I’ve seen them served with a curry sauce as well. Obviously, they’re incredibly versatile.

The flavor is mildly fish-like (except for the ones made from meat which are mildly beefy or mildly porky) which partly accounts for their affinity for various dipping sauces and also for their adaptability in combining with other ingredients. The texture is tender and frankly springy/bouncy, but in a happy way.

The final photo was taken just before adding more soup since it would have completely covered them up; there are some greens in there for good measure.

So I’m curious: let me know if or how you’ve used these little wonders in the “Leave a Reply” box below! (If you don’t see it, click the reply button next to the title of this post.)