Little Odessa Ethnojunkets Are Back!

Good news! COVID hospitalizations are waning and seasonal temperatures are waxing and that means it’s time to bring back ethnojunkets!

We’re getting the ball rolling with Exploring Eastern European Food in Little Odessa and I’ll be adding the rest soon.

Ethnojunkets FAQ:

 
Q: What’s an ethnojunket anyway?
A: 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 that you’ve never tasted but soon will never be able to live without.

Q: Which neighborhoods do you cover?
A: My most popular tours are described on the ethnojunkets page but there are always new ones in the works. For the time being, I’m only scheduling Little Odessa.

Q: When is your next ethnojunket to [fill in the blank: Little Odessa, Flushing, Elmhurst, Little Levant, etc.]?
A: Any day you’d like to go! Simply send me a note in the “Leave a Reply” section below or write to me directly at rich[at]ethnojunkie[dot]com 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! (Pro Tip: Check the weather in advance for the day you’re interested in to facilitate making your choice; we spend a lot of time outdoors!)

Q: I’ve seen some tours that are scheduled in advance for particular dates. Do you do that?
A: Yes, in a way. When someone books a tour (unless it’s a private tour) it’s always fun to add a few more adventurous eaters to the group – not to mention the fact that we get the opportunity to taste more dishes when we have more people (although I do like to keep the group size small). You can see if there are any openings available in the “Now Boarding” section of the ethnojunkets page. Subscribers always get email notifications about these.

Q: What will we be eating in Little Odessa?
A: Here are just a few of the Eastern European, Central Asian, Russian, and Former Soviet Union delicacies we usually enjoy on our food tour along Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn. (Not that I’m trying to tempt you to sign up! 😉)

(Click on any image to view it in mouth-watering high resolution.)
The overarching term is khachapuri, literally “cheese bread”; they’re commonly filled with tangy, salty sulguni cheese and imeruli, a fresh crumbly cheese which when melted together combine to make stretchy, cheesy nirvana. Georgian adjaruli is shaped like a kayak, the center of which is filled with cheese; a raw egg and a chunk of butter are added just as it’s removed from the oven. Stir the mixture: the egg cooks and combines with the butter and melted cheese. Break off pieces of the bread and dip them into the cheese mixture. What’s not to like?


Uzbek manti, Russian pelmeni, and Azerbaijani kutaby in the back. Azerbaijani food is similar to the cuisine of Georgia but they lay claim to certain dishes such as kutaby as their own. A thin, tortilla-like crepe filled with ground lamb and luscious seasonings, folded in half and griddled, it’s an object of universal culinary lust for anyone whose lips have ever caressed it.


Curd Snacks are not unlike a cross between an Eskimo pie and chocolate covered cheesecake; individually wrapped, they come in an assortment of flavors from chocolate and vanilla to the more esoteric blueberry, blackberry, and raisin.


Salads: At the top there’s fried lagman, a savory noodle dish (also found in soup) of the Uyghur people, an ethnic group living in East and Central Asia. Moving clockwise there’s khe, raw fish marinated in onion, spicy red pepper and vinegar. Russia and North Korea share an 11 mile border; the Korean culinary character of khe is obvious. Finally, there’s norin (aka naryn). Very fine noodles and a generous measure of cumin accompany thinly sliced beef. So good!


I hope you’ll sign up and join us! The cost 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!

For more information and to sign up, send me a note in the “Leave a Reply” section at the bottom of this page or write to me directly at rich[at]ethnojunkie[dot]com and I’ll email you with details.

I’m looking forward to introducing you to one of my favorite neighborhoods!
 
 

Shakshuka

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

I hadn’t been considering taking a photo of this and there isn’t even any backstory except that I had been reading a food website’s newsletter that happened to be singing the praises of shakshuka. I’m told that I’m hopelessly suggestable when it comes to food choices (okay, fine, guilty as charged) so you know what took place next, totally spur of the moment.

Shakshuka comes with some weighty baggage regarding its origin and consequently a predictable carry-on of spelling alternatives. Best I can tell, it got its start in Ottoman North Africa; Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Turkey, Israel, Palestine, and Yemen among others proudly include it among their national cuisines, each with its own accent of course.

Essentially, shakshuka is tomato sauce (canned tomatoes are fine if you don’t have great fresh tomatoes and great amounts of time) pointed up with onions, peppers, and garlic in which eggs are poached; the basic recipe is pretty simple although it calls for a soupçon of finesse at the stove when nestling the raw eggs into the sauce. But beyond the fundamentals, international flights of fancy take off involving an assortment of seasonings that run the gamut from sweet to spicy and the inclusion of black olives, preserved lemon, feta cheese and such, as well as representative meats and vegetables (think merguez or chickpeas). Space and deference to your plans for the remainder of the day preclude my listing them all here.

My extemporaneous seasonings that day included lots of toasted ground cumin and whole cumin seeds, smoked paprika, harissa to kick it up, and cilantro as an integral ingredient as well as a garnish. Pretty straightforward, but I was motivated, and sans forethought I used whatever I had on hand. I did veer from the canon, however, by anointing it with white truffle oil post poach.

I can’t imagine this dish without bread – but English muffins instead of a more appropriate North African or Middle Eastern bread? Say it with me: because that’s what I had on hand!
 
 

Toros Restaurant

Instagram Post 2/18-20/2020

Home to a multiplicity of international restaurants, bakeries and markets, Paterson, NJ is a magnet for ethnic food lovers. Peruvian, Mexican and Dominican restaurants flourish if you know where to look, but on Saturday we revisited the Middle East strip and focused on Turkish cuisine for lunch. Here are a couple of starters from Toros Restaurant at 1083 Main St (just past Nablus if you saw my last post).

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Manti, considerably larger in most cuisines, are diminutive in Turkey – mini dumplings filled with ground lamb and topped with garlic sauce.


We ordered the Large Meze appetizer consisting of (menu’s spellings) lebni (yogurt, dill, walnuts); hummus; patlican soslu (eggplant and red peppers in tomato sauce); patlican salatasi (charcoal grilled eggplant salad); babaganus; and acili ezme (spicy vegetable salad). EVERYTHING was deeply redolent of garlic, of course.


Bread, obvs.


Arnavut Cigeri, tender, juicy (yes!) chunks of beef liver, floured and fried with delectable seasonings.

These next two are a bit of a mystery to me – not on the menu. One of our group approached the steam table area and chose them, so I didn’t catch the names. The check read “az yemek” for each of them; az means small, yemek means meal or dish, so I’ll go with a loose translation of “small plates”.

This is some kind of chicken and pasta thing…


…and this is some kind of greens and cheese thing. Your guess is as good as mine. (Probably better if you’re Turkish. 😉)


Izmir Kofte – minced beef and lamb blended with onions, garlic, herbs and spices, grilled, sauced, and potatoed.


These were (past tense by design) Sigara Boregi: sigara (cigar or cigarette shaped) boregi (think burek, etc.) referring to baked pastries made from phyllo dough, filled, in this case, with tangy feta cheese. (Yes, we started with more 😉.)
 
 

Istanbul Bay

Instagram Post 8/25/2019

As I was eating my way through Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge in search of candidates for my Little Levant ethnojunket, I stopped by Istanbul Bay, the Turkish café and restaurant at 8002 5th Avenue.

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

Here’s their version of Karisik Pide; the Turkish word karışık (note the undotted letter I, a giveaway that you’re reading Turkish) means “mixed” and this pide is topped with a mix of Turkish sausage (sucuk, aka sujuk), savory seasoned air-dried cured beef (pastırma, root word bastırmak meaning “press”) and their spin on mozzarella cheese. A generous measure of meat and a nifty boat within a boat presentation too.


The obligatory cheese pull.
 
 

Hazar Turkish Kebab – Pide

Instagram Post 8/7/2019

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In Turkish cuisine, “pide” is one of those chameleon words whose meaning changes with context. Always describing something bread related, it can refer to a pita cousin used to wrap around meat and accoutrements, a circular, puffy, seeded (sesame and nigella) loaf traditionally earmarked for Ramadan, or this canoe-shaped dish. Think Turkish pizza if you must: it starts with soft wheat dough called yufka laden with a cargo of cheese, meats (here: chopped lamb and the Turkish sausage sucuk – multiple spellings abound of course), green peppers and onions, baked and crowned with an egg because #putaneggonit.

This one came from Hazar Turkish Kebab, 7224 5th Ave, Brooklyn, one of the stops along my Bay Ridge Little Levant ethnojunket. They offer at least six pide variations along with a raft (no pun intended) of other skillfully executed entrees and desserts. Definitely recommended.

(Okay, the pun was intended.)
 
 

Antepli Baklava

Instagram Post 6/27/2019

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

A favorite stop along my Middle Eastern Bay Ridge food tour is Antepli Baklava at 7216 5th Ave, Brooklyn. They offer an assortment of savory Turkish dishes as well as desserts including baklava, künefe, and dondurma, the dense, chewy ice cream crafted from cream, salep, mastic, and sugar; you may have seen my past post about booza, a similar treat that hails from Syria. But lately, I just can’t get past the chocolate baklava.

Now, despite my sweet tooth, I’ve never been a fan of standard issue, regulation, honey drenched baklava, but this chocolate version is a cut above. Sweet but not cloying, chocolate forward, the upper flaky layers provide the crunch while the compressed substratum is the repository for restrained syrupy goodness, the two interspaced by a thin barrier of finely chopped nuts. Droolworthy.

When I was told it’s imported from Turkey, then baked on the premises, I remembered a post (and a sample too 😋) from my Instagram friend @gustasian not long ago about the same item with the same appearance and the same taste and the same story that she found in Sunnyside. I’m willing to bet they came from the same distributor too.
 
 

Pretty Pastries from Portokali

Instagram Post 8/21/2018

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

Whenever I’m in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, I pay a visit to Portokali Gourmet Market at 1509 Sheepshead Bay Road. As their signage reminds us (see second photo), the name comes from the Turkish word for orange, portakal. In addition to Turkish delicacies, you’ll find a respectable assortment of Russian and near-Russian products in this medium sized well-stocked market as well: cheese, meats, olives, coffee, dried fruits and nuts in bulk, preserves and the like, candies, cookies, and fresh baked goods. My guess is that local carbnivores come in to grab a “coffee and” before they start their day.