Himalayan Yak Restaurant

Himalayan Yak Restaurant has been a Jackson Heights fixture since 2004. Specializing in Tibetan and Nepali cuisine with a soupçon of Indian and Bhutanese dishes sprinkled in for good measure, they’ve recently added a new “Yak, Yak, and Yak” section to the menu so, having dined there years ago, I had to go yak – er, back.

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My understanding is that the principal meat consumed in Tibet is yak, so we ordered the Yak Sizzler since it appeared to be the most straightforward presentation of the meat. Salubrious health claims notwithstanding, yak tasted a lot like beef to me but that’s giving it too much credit. To these taste buds it didn’t have a lot of personality and it was a little tough and chewy. It arrived with linguini-like noodles that stuck to the pan a bit which made for a little pleasant crispness, and that’s as it should be – it’s a sizzler after all – and they released when mixed with the meat juices. Since that “sauce” is primarily pan drippings (and perhaps some butter?), their flavor was intense and particularly good.


Yak Shapta (you might see shaptak) features the meat in a more elaborate guise, stir fried in a medium spicy chili sauce with onions, red pepper and scallions. Again, the meat was a little chewy, but that’s yak for ya.


Yak Gyuma Chilli. Gyuma is blood sausage, the Tibetan answer to morcilla and so many others, prepared from ground yak meat, chilies, and a starchy filler, served here with onions and bell peppers in that medium spicy chili sauce. Less dominant character than some blood sausages, but in this case, that’s a good thing.


Not to neglect yak appetizers, these are Yak Chilli Momo. Flavorful whole wheat dumplings filled with ground yak, onion, scallion, cilantro, garlic and ginger covered with onions and bell peppers in that familiar spicy chili sauce…


…and Yak Cheese. An Emmentaler doppelganger. Seems like the next word in sequence should be “expialidocious”. Go ahead, try it. I’ll wait. Apologies for the earworm. (Anyway, wasn’t Emmentaler-Doppelganger the third stop on the Orient Express?)
 
 
So I gathered a group of world food lovers for a subsequent visit. We tried almost everything above, in addition to these yakless selections:

Chili Momos with Pork. If you’re going to do Himalayan food, then you’re going to do momos in one form or another. These crunchy (because they were fried, not steamed) yumballs were slathered in that medium spicy chili sauce with red and green peppers, onions, and scallions rounding out the dish. Good way to start things off.


For a change of pace from steamed momos, we ordered Fried Momos with Chicken. Good, but they benefited from this array of sauces:

Akin to traffic light protocol, green was the mildest (avocado!), red warned us of spicy chili, and the yellow (well, sort of orange really, but I’m taking license – literary, not driver’s) fell somewhere in between.


Choila. A cold appetizer of chicken chunks marinated with onion, garlic, ginger and mustard oil. We enjoyed this particularly spicy Nepali dish so much that we ordered two.


Pork Labsha is a Tibetan radish curry; the word labu refers to daikon. The sweet pork contrasted perfectly with the slightly bitter daikon in this home-style dish – not spicy but quite good.


Gundruk Ko Takari. Gundruk is a fermented mustard green curry, a signature dish from Nepal. We opted for the vegetarian version which highlighted dehydrated potatoes and mushrooms. Kinda funky but in a good way, and a proper contrast to everything else we enjoyed that evening.

Fried Thenthuk. Pan fried Tibetan flat hand pulled noodles with pork, daikon and bok choy. Thenthuk noodles often show up in soups, but this stir fry was welcome in the context of our dinner.


Ngyashya Zema, a Tibetan chili fish recipe. Slices of tilapia, breaded and stir-fried with garlic, ginger, red onions, broccoli, mushrooms, and bell peppers, falling apart tender in a medium spicy sauce. Again, a tasty dish that was unique among our choices.


Sekuwa. From the Nepali side of the menu, tender lamb, marinated and charcoal grilled, served over crispy puffed rice. A fine example of the Maillard reaction; no complaints.

Alas, I didn’t get a photo of the Nepali Khasiko Sukka Masu, dry goat curry, but it was excellent – good to know in case you head out to Himalayan Yak.

Himalayan Yak is located at 72-20 Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens.
 
 

Khawachen

Instagram Post 6/17/2019

My quest to eat my way through the new HK Food Court in Elmhurst, Queens at 82-02 45th Ave continues. It’s not born of gluttony, I assure you. One of the goals of my food tours is to present guests with unusual and delicious examples of international treats from the neighborhood, and the only way I can do that authoritatively is to experience a wide variety of what’s available myself. Hey, it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it! 🐷

Khawachen presents the cuisine of Tibet, certainly a welcome change of pace in any food court. If the video tout heralding the stall looks familiar, I believe it hails from the original Lhasa Fast Food in Jackson Heights – you know, Queens’ worst kept food secret – because of the ownership link between the two.

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Lamb Thenthuk Fried. Hand-pulled thumb-sized wheat noodles (also available in soup), sautéed with peppers and onions. The accompanying condiments were a good idea. If you like thick, chewy noodles, you’ll be happy with these. If you don’t…really?


[1] Fried Beef Momos were distinguished and tasty.

[2] The obligatory peek-a-boo shot.

More to come from HK Food Court soon.
 
 

Phayul 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 six posts, published on May 24-26 and June 21, 23,and 24, 2019.


If you liked the old Phayul where you climbed a dubious flight of stairs, turned a narrow corner, and waited patiently, hungrily, in anticipation of snagging one of the handful of tables for some great Tibetan food, then you’re going to love the new Phayul. Technically, the address is 37-59 74th St in Jackson Heights, but you’ll find the entrance on 37th Road, just across the street from the old digs – which, by the way, are still going strong. Phayul redux is spacious and agreeably appointed with the kind of lavishly art directed menu popular with nouveau Sichuan restaurants in Flushing these days. The food itself is top notch and the new menu yields a few surprises that will ensure my return. In no particular order, here are the dishes we enjoyed on two separate occasions.

(Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)Soup to start, specifically Shoko Phing Sha, a medium rich, beefy broth with tree ear fungus, vermicelli noodles, and potatoes.

Spicy Tofu, simple and potent, tasted as good as it looks.

Phaksha Solo Ngoenma – now we’re getting real. Fried pork with leeks and green pepper, a little kick, a little sweet.

Phaksha Gotsel Ngoenma. By way of comparison to Phaksha Solo Ngoenma above, described on the menu as pork with garlic and red pepper. The dish features chives along with the pork and peppers which add immeasurably to the mix.

The cuisine of the Himalayas is well represented in this area of Jackson Heights, and although Tibetan food is influenced by Chinese and Nepali by Indian, momos traverse the region with little regard to provenance. Thick skinned, steamed or fried, nobody doesn’t love momos. These were stuffed with beef and fried, and frankly I lost count of how many plates we ordered.

In my opinion, the fried chicken momos were even better than the beef because of their noteworthy savory seasoning.

Described simply as Cucumber Salad, this spicy, refreshing side was augmented by scallions and peanuts; cheers for the peanuts.

Chicken Chilly by any spelling would still taste as bright. The heat sneaks up on you, but it is perfectly spicy for sure; the occasional veggie provides an essential contrast. A dish that won’t leave you cold! 😉

Fried Lamb Ribs. Fried and lamb are two words that invariably leap off a menu at me, so we ordered these impetuously and they were great. Later I saw that there were a couple of dishes by the same name; it may have had more to do with size and cut rather than preparation.


Steamed Beef Momo. What can I say? You know they’re good, especially with a jot of hot sauce (two different types on the table along with vinegar and soy-based mixtures). Also available in vegetable or chicken varieties.

Gyuma Ngoe Ma. Fried blood sausage with onions & green chilies. I confess that I love this kind of thing but I was pleased that the rest of the group were into it as well, comparing its savory, mealy, grainy filling to ethnic food from their own diverse backgrounds like the Eastern European/Jewish dish, kishka (stuffed derma).

There are many soups from which to choose at Phayul, and Bathuk Tibetan Noodle Soup was high on my list because of its little hand-rolled noodles; they’re called bhasta and are often likened to miniature Italian gnocchi. The soup is meat-based and contains veggies and a blend of herbs that started us off in the right direction.

Chele Khatsa. My kind of food: red peppers, onions and garlic are the support system for spicy slices of beef tongue. A good choice – tender and savory.

Lhasa Fried Noodle. The menu offers this dish with chicken, pork, beef, or vegetables. Pro-tip: Ask for a mix and you can taste them all!

Chicken Manchurian. “Indian influenced,” I was told by the manager, Lobsang. “Another winner,” I was told by the group.

Shogo Khatsa, spicy fried potatoes, seemed so straightforward that I almost didn’t order it, but the group took a vote, yea or nay. And I’m glad we did because indeed, upon tasting it, the yays were overwhelming.
 
 
The new Phayul Restaurant is located at 37-59 74th St in Jackson Heights, Queens.
 
 

Weekender Billiard

Instagram Post 1/2/2019 & 1/3/2019

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Bhutanese food is scarce in NYC and if you find it, it’s often keeping company with the cuisines of neighboring Himalayan countries like Nepal and Tibet. Weekender Billiard, 41-46 54th St, in Woodside, Queens, doesn’t characteristically share its menu with them but does share its venue with several billiard tables. Today, however, let’s not to billiards but rather to the tables earmarked for dining as we take our cue from chef Norbu Gyeltshen.
 
I can’t say it’s the national dish of Bhutan, but it’s probably the best known. Ema Datse (aka ema datshi: ema = chili and datse = cheese) is simple but it packs a punch; it consists principally of very spicy chili peppers with a little cheese sauce for mollification plus some garlic – as though it needed it. Intense and potent.
 
Bumthang Noodle – Buckwheat noodles (soba) in combination with garlic and scallions.
 
Phagsha Sikam Pak – A Tibetan dish made from very dried pork with daikon and other vegetables.
 
Kagkur Soup – beef bone broth cooked for hours and enriched with squash/pumpkin and green chili peppers, of course.
 
Listed under Appetizers, this is Chicken Chili with tomatoes, garlic, and ginger. Did I mention the green chili peppers?
 
A Tibetan dish noted under Side Orders, Shap Tak is a stir-fry of beef, onions and tomatoes with garlic. Oh yeah, and green chili peppers.
 
Everybody loves momos! These are beef and, remarkably, not spicy. (Unless you kick them up yourself!)

It’s a cuisine you should certainly try once. What it lacks in variety it more than makes up for in intensity!