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22 October 2018

Bunsik Nara

SOUTH KOREA 馃嚢馃嚪

During the 1960's rice was scarce in the Korean Peninsula, so the government started promoting foods that were made from flour (bunsik). Nowadays the term is more generally used to talk about all manner of inexpensive Korean dishes, and many restaurants take on this name if that is the type of business they are offering.

While Palisades Park is lined with all types of Korean restaurants up and down Broad Avenue, Bunsik Nara has certain charms, mainly for its ease of getting in and out and vast variety on the menu.

Since the logo is a hot dog on a fork, I felt certain that some type of hot dog needed to make it into my meal.


An order of cheese boodae jjigae ($11.99, above) satisfied all needs and was surprisingly available in an individual portion. Sometimes translated to "Army Stew" in English, this hodgepodge of terrible things US soldiers brought with them during the Korean War is something I can rarely resist. The cheese version even throws on a Kraft single for good measure.

Underneath the Spam, hot dogs, cheese and ham is packaged ramen noodles. The stew is spicy and just as delicious as it sounds. The banchan here is probably the only complaint.

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Bunsik Nara Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

21 October 2018

J & C Delicias

COLOMBIA 馃嚚馃嚧

For the past few years, a walk by J & C during lunch or dinner has always seen the place at various levels of busy, between moderately and very. This enthusiasm of the neighborhood's Colombian community made me want to give it a shot, but somehow it never happened until recently.

The best way to do this is with a big group. It is not a large restaurant, but they are friendly and will accommodate. The menu has all the favorites and it is nice to try as much as possible.


The plates of empanadas ($1.50 each) above include all three of their choices, beef, chicken, and cheese. Colombian empanadas are made of a "crust" of masarepa cornmeal, similar to what they use for arepas. Ingredients are surrounded with this and then deep fried. While they are fine to eat on their own, don't be stingy with the house made ajis they have available for heat.

Colombian style ceviche de camarones.

Tostones mixtos.

Tostones de chicharr贸n y guacamole.

Arepa paisa.

Arepa mixta.

Picada J & C.

Pechuga caribe帽a.

Bandeja paisa.

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J & C Delicias Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

18 October 2018

Weekender Billiard

BHUTAN 馃嚙馃嚬
Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

From the outset, Pema Gyeltshen, the co-owner of Weekender Billiard, got his ratios wrong. When he opened his snooker hall in 2014, four of the larger-than-billiard tables filled the space with a kitchen and a few dining tables placed as an afterthought. Over time, one snooker table was removed in favor of more space for dining customers, and then another. Now the space is almost evenly cut in half: two snooker tables for gaming on one side, and about a dozen dinner tables for satisfying the demands of the many regular customers on the other.

Over a cup of his homemade and probably best-in-the-borough butter tea, Pema told me about his casual relationship with snooker, a game very popular back home. The decision to open Weekender as a gaming location with his cousin Lhendup Zangmo and her husband, Jamyang Tsultrim, who is from Tibet, mostly stemmed from not wanting to make people wait for their meals without something to do.

“Our food takes longer to prepare than most,” he explained simply.

Shamu datse and ema datse. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

But based on the constant stream of business in evidence whenever the restaurant is open, most do not mind the wait even if they have no idea how snooker works.

Amateur billiards players will often boast that somewhere between their second and fourth beer, their game is at its peak. But you will not often find the players here with beers because snooker is not a game for the drunk: The pockets are so much smaller than billiards and the distances to them longer. As a result, most people have that butter tea or possibly a can of Red Bull. The tables are often empty during weekdays, but on the weekend (as the name of the place suggests), you will probably have a bit of a wait for one of the $13/hour tables. This is also the time you may find an impromptu jam session breaking out on Weekender’s stage if people have brought their instruments and have a beer or two.

When the snooker hall is open, the kitchen is too, but from the street you might think you have arrived before opening time. Unless it is dark out, the tinted windows almost obscure everything within, and heavy drapes sometimes block the rest. But if the metal gate is up, be confident you can swing open the dark, heavy wooden door and come inside.

Phagsha sikam pak. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

Chef Norbu Gyeltshen (no relation to Pema) is from Tibet, the place in South Asia that most closely resembles Bhutanese culture and language. Since the Bhutanese community in New York City is much smaller than the Tibetan one, the menu here (and the awning outside) caters to both. Furthering the family-owned feel of Weekender is Pema’s sister Jigme, who can be found here often but also helps out in the kitchen when dinner crowds start to overwhelm the chef.

Many folks who did not grow up in the high elevations of the Himalayas and who may have done a Google search before coming for this new food will veer towards the list of datse. The dish ema datse, a combination of chilis and cheese, is even said to be the national dish. It is wonderful here in all its fiery glory, but during one of my first visits, Pema set me straight when we talked about a typical meal and what needed to be ordered. On the menu underneath these datse—which can be eaten also with potato, mushroom, beef or pork—is listed the phagsha sikam pak (above). It is this dish of which he spoke most highly and said could not be missed.

“This is the real Bhutanese food,” Pema explained.

Jasha maroo centers a Bhutanese feast. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

And most real Bhutanese food of any variety must be eaten with the country’s unique semi-milled red rice, which grows at the high elevations. Eue chum has an earthy, nutty taste to it, and will be your only relief during the meal if you have trouble with spicy foods. The phagsha sikam pak, a dish of thick stir-fried pork belly slices, is laced with red pepper and served with vegetables or beans. This “dry” style of meat is also available with beef or fish.

In addition to the rice, Weekender now has bottled beer in its fridge, which can help with the heat of its dishes. In the beginning the word “bar” on the awning was more an aspiration, but even now I do not see many people drinking alcohol except on weekends. Instead, they are hovering over bowls of bathup, a complex meat-of-your-choice soup that is full of thick hand-cut noodles and runs an orange-red color thanks to the peppers used to make the broth. You will rarely find diners here alone; rather, groups of young and old Bhutanese and Tibetans have full tables of food like jasha maroo (above), another spicy dish that could translate as Bhutanese chicken stew, and bumthang putang (below), buckwheat noodles that probably could be categorized as an acquired taste. If people do come solo, they usually grab a quick order for takeout and chat with Pema or Jamyang while waiting.

Bumthang putang. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

Crossover dishes eaten in both Bhutan and Tibet like momos and chicken and beef chilly are found in the appetizers section and make an appearance at most tables no matter who the diners may be.

The atmosphere here might not earn any stars from food critics, but for my taste it is hard to beat. Like other favorites around the city, it knows who it is and focuses in on that. Besides serving wonderful food, Weekender feels like the place Bhutanese people in Queens come to interact and feel community. The flag is on the wall and some tourism posters surround the dining room, but the people make it more than that. As guests from places other than the Himalayas contemplate why Bhutanese food is so spicy and uses so much cheese, regulars and staff here will be happy to welcome you in and divulge these and other secrets.

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WOODSIDE Queens
41-46 54th Street
Weekender Billiard and Bar, Inc. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

http://www.eattheworldnyc.com/2016/01/map-of-eat-world-new-york-city.html

17 October 2018

Wembie

MOLDOVA 馃嚥馃嚛
RUSSIA 馃嚪馃嚭

Early in the evening on a recent visit to the Queens International Night Market, I found Wembie empty on both trips to the stand. Most patrons to the market were starting to shuffle in and look for meals, far from ready to take care of their sweet tooth. But having been fortified by other foods in Queens already, this was the perfect time to be their first customer of the night.

While Moldovan waffle rolls were the draw in the beginning, they have expanded to include another dessert from a different underserved country here in New York City, adding the farm cheese donuts native to Bashkortostan. This autonomous republic within Russia bumps up to the western slopes of the Ural Mountains in the south of the country near Kazakhstan.

The new banner is up with their new logo and emblazoned "Moldovan-Bashkir Cuisine," although this is a bit of a misnomer. These desserts are a connection to each proprietor's childhood, but exist completely separately except here at this market, probably the only place in the world that will see this particular fusion.


The original Moldovan waffle rolls ($5 for two, above) are filled with your choice of chocolate or vanilla whipped cheesecake, thicker than what appear to be simple frosting and much more enjoyable and rich. Extra sweetness is sprinkled on top in the form of powdered sugar, the booth's "secret" weapon.

On this chilly autumn evening, they even brought a pumpkin version in celebration of the season.


After ordering and eating both, I asked the Moldovan partner which one had been more popular since they expanded. With a stern face, he told me that people could not resist the word "donut."

That word of course is part of their other creation, the Bashkir farm cheese donuts ($5 for four, above and below).


These are also sprinkled with sugar and further sweetened by a trail of condensed milk, but the insides are slightly savory from the cheese and quite enjoyable. Freshly deep-fried, the little warmth they provide your body was also nice on this cold night.

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CORONA Queens
Queens International Night Market

14 October 2018

Cafe Metro

ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA 馃嚘馃嚞

This interesting section of Teaneck that Google Maps calls "West Englewood" gave me more questions than answers. A small hub of businesses that acts like a sleepy miniature downtown is full of Kosher restaurants of all varieties, but also has your normal New Jersey entries like a bar & grill and a gas station. On one main corner sits Cafe Metro, which advertises itself as a "Caribbean American Restaurant."

There are quite a few Caribbeans in Teaneck, but as I looked outside the window during my meal here, the only foot traffic was coming to and from a Jewish books and Judaica store. I was also the only patron inside the restaurant during the entire span of time, making sure I had the full attention of the friendly woman in charge who hailed from Antigua.

"What do you know about ducana?" she asked me as I put in my order for the Friday through Sunday only item.

After convincing her I knew what I was doing, we talked drinks and she offered to mix her homemade fruit punch and ginger beer ($3, below), saying many people did this to cut the spiciness of the fresh ginger. As I watched, it seemed her rationing was about two thirds fruit punch, which is good since it was still quite spicy! An interesting idea I never thought about, but only possible because she makes large batches instead of small bottles and can do the mixing.


They have some standard pan-Caribbean entrees and lunch specials the rest of the week, but to truly experience her Antiguan fare, the Friday-Sunday menu is the reason to come. The rest (and bulk) of the menu is made up of a mixture of breakfast, burgers, and southern cooking to cast a wider net and stay in business.

As is often the case back home, ducana ($13, below) is served with saltfish and chop-up, which she just calls "eggplant" on the menu. Ducana can also be eaten alone, but as a meal these dumplings made from primarily sweet potato want to be paired with salty flavors. The sweetness is intensified by coconut milk and sugar and spiced with cinnamon or possibly nutmeg. This flavor combination was completely new to my tongue, and grew on me the further I went into the meal.


These boiled dumplings are not completely exclusive to Antigua but are most commonly associated with the island more than any other place. It is a treat to come here and experience them. Unfortunately this lunch was a solitary occasion and I could not try the other items on the weekend menu like fungi, something like grits but made with cornmeal and okra, or the curry conch.

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Cafe Metro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

12 October 2018

Boran

THAILAND 馃嚬馃嚟

Depending on the neighborhood it opens up in, often times it is natural to be quite skeptical of new Thai restaurants. Most of them unfortunately have went the way of the standard Chinese takeout on almost every block: altering cuisines for Westernized consumption. Obviously people like this and there is a large market for it, but it is not really my beat.

On a recent trip back to the wonderful Ugly Baby, possibly the city's most innovative Thai restaurant, Boran showed up on the map about a block away. A look through the photos online make it fairly clear that Boran is not just your regular neighborhood Thai joint serving this kind of take away.


Indeed, walking inside is a relief from the cookie-cutter modern designs usually used in that Thai template. The name of the restaurant is an often used adjective in Thai meaning "ancient," always used in a positive sense especially when talking about food and cooking.

Even the moo satay ($10, above and below) stands out, using decent quality chicken and a combination of very good dipping sauces rather than just a sweetened peanut. On the right is ajad, a mix of vinegar, sugar, red onions, and cucumber. This sharp dip does well in cutting the sweetness of the satay and coconut.


Yum woon sen ($12, below) is well advertised here and something they seem proud of. The glass noodle salad is a mixture of shrimp, squid, and ground pork with vegetables, and the chef is not shy about adding Thai chili.


Even better is the maeng mushroom ($12, below), another salad served cold consisting of fried mushrooms, ginger, limes, and red onion. The base liquid for both of these salads is similar, a combination of lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and plenty of Thai chili.



The Isaan Classic Set ($18, above and below) is just how it sounds, a set of Isaan Province's most famous foods, som tum, larb, gai yang (grilled chicken), and sticky rice. This is a good deal and also a great way to sample small amounts of different foods.


Khao kook gapi ($18, below), translates to "rice mixed with shrimp paste," the central ingredient in this dish. This mixture sits at the center, with a good portion of sweet roast pork on top and surrounded by Chinese sausage, egg, and many vegetables.


You do not see this type of presentation much in the states for pad thai, so it was exciting to order the pad thai boran ($15, below), which is made with a thinly cooked egg wrapper around it. This is called pad thai hor kai (hor kai means "egg wrap"), and in Thailand you will see it advertised special.


Originally this would mostly be done in a street cart specializing in the dish, but now certain restaurants will do it as well instead of the normal way of cooking the egg into the noodles. Here at Boran they give you extra peanut, herbs and veggies, and chili flakes to add to your mixture once you break it open so as to suite it to your tastes.


You can also find a lot of the sweetened standards favored by western palates here, and most likely you will hear other tables ordering them during your visit, but stick to some of these specialty foods and the "boran" dishes offered here and you might be pleasantly surprised.

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Boran Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

11 October 2018

Behind The Racks

M脡XICO 馃嚥馃嚱
Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

This article originally appeared in the 11 October 2018 edition of The Queens Tribune:

The three-neighborhood border between Jackson Heights, Woodside and Elmhurst might be the consummate spot in the entire city for surrounding yourself with the culinary magic of the world.

Parachute into the 74th Street transit hub on one of many trains or buses and options can be overwhelming for the uninitiated. Backtrack a few streets to the Filipino blocks of Woodside on Roosevelt Avenue. Explore one of many Bangladeshi strongholds right outside the train. Walk down to Woodside Avenue in Elmhurst for the city’s tightest bunch of good Thai restaurants. Stay under the 7 tracks and find the greatest concentration of Colombian and Ecuadorian fare in the city.

This last route will also bring you past all manner of Mexican-owned establishments catering to one of the city’s largest blocs of people, the sheer force of which always makes certain that options for good meals are never far away. Immigrants and children of immigrants have been turning into entrepreneurs since the sun started rising, and some of these businesses have expanded to cooking food. Many times a sidewalk stand or a weekend barbacoa stall will get so popular that tables are added and a sign goes up in the front. Word of these spread through the neighborhood from person to person, but non-Mexicans with a keen eye can also partake in these unique experiences. The deli or market might still exist, but in many cases the food becomes the big draw.

Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

Rules for vendors and restaurants are a bit more relaxed in M茅xico, so walking down any street in the country’s cities makes finding food easy. Taco shops have cauldrons of meats bubbling with all your options right in plain sight. The taquero constantly chopping meats on his wooden block and shoving them into a double tortilla is not hidden from passersby. To conform with codes here in New York City, places that replicate this experience usually have to slide to an indoor setting with some regulations, but the spirit is just the same. You can find these stands and stalls on almost every block in some parts of Jackson Heights and Corona, with high concentrations on Roosevelt and 37th avenues as well as Northern Boulevard.

Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

A five-minute walk under the elevated tracks of the 7 line brings you to a very nondescript deli and La Esquina del Camar贸n Mexicano (80-02 Roosevelt Ave., open daily), born from a proprietor who got popular in the area making coctel de camarones at various locations during summer months. These shrimp cocktails in a tomato-based sauce full of clam juice and lime are staple foods back home, the rush of memories almost visible on the faces of people eating them here. The weekend stand churning these out during summer months still exists, but in 2014 a full kitchen and seating area requiring a bit of contortion to sit down was added to the back of the deli, along with a menu full of seafood antojitos. Fried fish and octopus tacos, fish empanadas and shark flautas are all delicious, but tops are the tostadas of both octopus and ceviche. The former is simple, fresh pieces of the mollusk, while the latter is a daily-made sea bass cooked in lime juice with touches of cilantro and tomato. As is the case for most of these spots, a trip late in the afternoon or evening might yield limited options after a busy day of sales.

5 de Mayo Food Market. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

The 5 de Mayo Food Market (81-06 Roosevelt Ave., open Sat.-Sun.) is one block farther east, and at first glance appears to be a fruit-and-vegetable stand. Piles of mangoes, pineapples and onions are being inspected by shoppers, but right above their heads is the key to discovering what lies within. A very limited amount of Spanish comprehension brings into focus what the neighborhood already knows: A wonderful taco stand sets up on weekends (fines de semana). The stand also doubles as a butcher of sorts; marinated and cooked meats can be purchased by weight to take home for parties or home cooking. The most popular type for both eating in and take away is its wonderful barbacoa, a type of preparation that traditionally takes place in an earthen pit but is adjusted for city life here in Queens. The market does both goat (chivo) and lamb (borrego), the latter being the absolute star of the show in all its fatty glory. Available year round but more enticing for the impending winter is a nice consom茅 de chivo, an oily, rich and spicy goat stew that is ordered by the gallon for take-away customers. A friendly seating area that holds 10 or 12 is just the right kind of place to make friends and hear stories.

Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

San Antonio Farm & Grocery (85-25 37th Ave., Fri.-Sun.) has a slightly longer window for weekend tacos, again at the back of what appears to be a regular grocery store. The standout offerings here are the luscious pernil, slow-roasted pork shoulder; and the chile relleno, somewhat of an oddity for a regular taco. This consists of a poblano pepper stuffed with white cheese, breaded, fried and placed on the double tortillas with a dollop of guacamole on top. The chorizo here is also rave-worthy, so if your stomach can handle it, order one of each and enjoy some Spanish football with the other customers who sit down briefly to eat.

Pambazo from Horchata Deli. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

Farther east is Horchata Deli (90-02 37th Ave., open daily), home to an exterior stand cooking all manner of antojitos. Pambazos, named for the soft white bread they are made with, are sandwiches of potato and chorizo that get dipped whole into guajillo sauce. Along with quesadillas and tacos placeros, this seems to be what the chef here is known for, and it gets ordered often.

Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

Continuing along north and east almost all the way to Citi Field, Carnicer铆a Mexicana (105-09 Northern Blvd., open daily) has another kitchen that seems to be a bigger draw than the original function of the space. As the name suggests, this is also a meat market, but hand-drawn signs placed on every surface show an ever-expanding menu and confident kitchen. There are a few seats in the rear taking advantage of every sliver of space the tiny market has, but you can also walk up to the exterior window and place your order there. The women here have created house specialties (de la casa) for many of the antojitos, a great place to start your explorations. The quesadilla de la casa is unique, a riff on the classic squash-blossom version that adds crunchy chicharr贸n and the herb epazote.

Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

These five are by no means an exhaustive list; there are shops in between all of them in which to eat and explore. The neighborhood shifts and grows constantly, with stands popping up and shutting down, opening behind groceries, next to delis, and even under sports bars. While New York City has a deserved bad reputation for lacking regional Mexican foods, its antojitos are as good as can be found anywhere.

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JACKSON HEIGHTS/CORONA Queens
Various Locations