>> Eat the World NYC

13 October 2017

Park Hill Community Market and Festival


Staten Island often gets looked down upon by liberals in other boroughs as a bastion of suburban, Republican-voting people that could just as well live on the face of the moon rather than New York City. While majorities in the borough might describe this as a whole, there are quite a few pockets of migrants like the well-known and sought out Sri Lankans as well as a rapidly growing Mexican and Central American population.

One of the biggest pockets is in the Park Hill Houses area just up the hill from Clifton, home to many people of Liberian descent and every now and then referred to as Little Liberia. Upwards of 10,000 Liberians have immigrated to the city, at least half of which came to this area of Staten Island. The biggest waves came in the 1990's and early 2000's when two civil wars caused many to flee.

These refugees, asylum seekers, and regular migrants have not found everything so simple here and have had to rely on each other and their social structures from back home more than anything. There are often small makeshift markets and food vendors set up on various streets in the area, but on a couple visits I was unsuccessful in discovering the prepared foods available or having any significant conversations. There are many good reasons they might have to be leary of an outsider coming in asking questions, and I was that outsider.

About a year ago, I discovered Napela, an organization that was created with the goal of helping women and their families navigate life here in the states and ultimately improve their livelihood. This group organized the community market and festival on the 30th of September and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn more.

Before the festivities officially begun, a few vendors had set up shop offering mostly colorful patterned clothing. On this windy day the weather always seemed threatening and they were constantly picking up dresses that were blowing down. Like the people I met traveling in West Africa, the responses to adversity were smiles rather than frowns, and there was always someone to help out when a big gust came through.

A popular vendor was also selling kala ($1 for 3, below), a slightly sweet ball of fried dough usually eaten as a streetside snack. This vendor and others may or may not be part of a group of women that normally sit under the shade from trees on Sobel Court a short distance away, just north of the Home Depot. I have approached this group a couple times without success as described above, but hopefully after this interaction a future visit will yield more.

West African and Liberian cooking are known for the use of scotch bonnet peppers and high heat in many of their dishes. A couple of the vendors had bags of these available and what looked like homemade hot sauces in reapportioned bottles. Even if a Liberian dish is not served spicy, one of these colorful peppers will be placed on top so that the individual diner can cut it up and add as necessary. In this regard, I would assume a Liberian kitchen must keep a healthy amount of the peppers around.

It did not take long to peruse the five or six tables of goods, but around this time the festival got going with some announcements and welcome remarks followed by dancing, a solo hip hop artist, and an award for one lucky princess. This all kept the audience very entertained while a few containers of prepared foods arrived.

It was unclear what the food situation would be at the festival, and I was happy to just be a part of what was going on already, but these food containers turned out to be free for all guests to try some typical West African food.

There were containers of both fish and chicken for the main entree, cooked in what appeared to be the same recipe of spicy leafy greens. They offered generous portions to anyone who wanted some, with plenty of rice and a slice of cornbread as well. The dish was delicious, and despite probably being toned down for an event with so many people, still carried a good amount of heat.

A big thank you must be said to Napela and the Liberian community of Park Hill for being so gracious as hosts for this fun event. I sincerely hope that there are more of them to come. To check out more of what they are doing, go to their website and social media.

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10 October 2017

Rangoon Spoon


Hey look at that. The city is now awash in Burmese restaurants. And by that, I mean there are now two... both of which are not far from each other on the Bensonhurst-Gravesend border. The latest is Rangoon Spoon on 86th Street, which is technically still in a soft opening period but has been offering open hours many days the past two weeks.

In the space of what was once a couple different beauty and hair salons, a modern renovation has turned this address into a restaurant. A few pieces of art, marionettes, and some Buddhist statues make it feel a bit Burmese, but the cooking is just right and thoroughly exudes the culture.

During the soft opening, the menu is limited but still offers quite a few options. A quick glance at the full menu shows an almost overwhelming array of choices.

Like with other "tofu" dishes of Shan state origin, the fried Shan tofu ($3.99, below) is made from chickpea flour which gives it its yellow shade. Paired with a tamarind chili dipping sauce, it makes an excellent appetizer and a quick way to get your tastebuds going.

The green tea salad ($6.99, below) is the best in the city since the passing of the long gone Burmese restaurant that used to be on Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside, Queens. Known as laphet thoke, this salad is a combination of fermented green tea leaves and many textures and flavors. Rangoon Spoon makes it beautifully, with all the right proportions of ingredients.

Each morning on my two trips to Myanmar, I awoke craving a bowl of either mohinga or ohn no kauk swe, both of which are breakfast dishes available here all day long. One of the best aspects of this was that each vendor would have their own recipe and tastes between them and from city to city would be different, making the dish always fresh and never old. Another good rendition of mohinga ($6.99, below) is now available here, and New York City is all the better for it. While we might still be partial to the version at Together Myanmar Restaurant, once a spoonful of the dried red pepper flakes was added, the bowl came to life.

With no real restaurant culture for noodles in Myanmar, you will find all the dishes we sampled here on the street sold by vendors. Everything is always mixed and served to order, and most are eaten at room temperature like the nan gyi thoke ($6.49, below), made with thick rice noodles and chicken. Parsley, onion, and crispy crackers garnish and should be mixed in as desired.

As with the Shan noodle ($6.99, below), the basics and traditional flavors of Burmese cooking are all there, but the last dash of flavorful seasoning might be just off. Once the chef finds this, both dishes will be delicious.

The Shan noodles come with a pile of pickled vegetables which would also benefit from being more sour, as these usually play an important role in the dish. That being said, our next visit will order these two items for sure.

I never noticed calamansi in Myanmar, but the calamansi juice ($2.50, below) here is worth ordering as your drink. Burmese teas are also available and recommended.

We are sure to go back soon and I will tweet updates when the restaurant opens officially and keeps consistent hours. Please follow us on Twitter for information like this.

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Rangoon Spoon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

04 October 2017

New York Koshary

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In Egypt, finding koshary is no problem in any setting. You might find it on restaurant menus, but there are also places that make the dish exclusively as well as myriad vendors on the streets mixing to order. New York Koshary is the type of place that sells it exclusively, offering one traditional version and a few "worldly" options for different flavors.

The setup is a bit like a Chipotle, in that the ingredients are laid out in front of customers and combined when ordered. Theoretically you can ask for more or less of certain items and get the ratio just right for your tastes with the build-your-own version.

The most traditional style including meat is the Mediterranean Medley ($8.49, below), a combination of pasta, lentils, couscous, chickpeas, and grilled chicken that is topped a tomato sauce, cranberries, baby spinach, and fried onions. This style builds on the original koshary they offer for $6.49, a vegetarian version which is more like the versions found in Egypt.

Koshary has been around since the 1800's, a time when Egypt was enjoying a good economy and people had a lot of food in their pantries. This was also nudged along by the multiculturalism in the country at the time, with ingredients from India and Italy being introduced.

New York Koshary goes after a bit of multiculturalism themselves, offering Asian and Italian-inspired versions as well as the spicy fiesta koshary ($8.49, below) which was chosen to see what the spicy "Mexican" sauce would add. This version unfortunately lacks the cranberries and spinach which were tasty in the Mediterranean.

Quinoa replaces couscous, and to be honest the spicy sauce is not spicy. As seen in the above two photos, the restaurant offers good drinks made of hibiscus and tamarind, $1.99 each.

So New York City, meet koshary, the friend you never knew you wanted close.

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New York Koshary Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

03 October 2017

Nansen Lodge Heritage Fair


The day chosen by the Nansen Lodge for their celebration was the very first legitimately chilly day of autumn. This gave fair-goers the pleasure of wearing their jackets and sweaters emblazoned with the red, white, and blue Norwegian flag or that simply just said Norway in large letters. Having never seen Europeans engaging in this behavior before in their own countries, this seemed like an "Only in the USA" kind of thing. If someone had made their way from Norway for this, it would have been entertaining to see their reaction.

But as the sign on the property said, these are the sons of Norway, folks at least a generation removed and probably a few from the sound of it.

In the main tent, quite a few tables were set up with gifts and Scandinavian-themed ornaments and the like. There were also many items being raffled, so quite a few people were going to go home happy.

When I stepped up to the table for a portion of labskaus ($9, below), the lady ladling it for me said "You sound like a good one from the other side." Apparently my Brooklyn by way of Ohio "accent" was the most Norwegian thing she had heard on the day, which did not signal great for how the food would taste.

The hearty stew consisted of a thick base of potatoes, shredded beef, carrots and onions.

With room to spare after the small portion, I walked up to the Swedish Coffee Bread stand to see what was available. Kaffebröd can mean any number of bread or cookie eaten with coffee, one being the small sweet stick ($1) seen below.

After you grab your snacks, the grounds of the place are good for a wander, with athletic fields and a small viking ship you can climb on if desired. Eat at a picnic table or take a stroll. The cafeteria was also open outside, selling hamburgers and hot dogs as well as beer and wine.

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29 September 2017

Zoodo African & American Restaurant


Newark is not a secret for neighborhoods full of culture and cuisine, but most people from out of town head to the Ironbound section east of downtown that is home to many Portuguese and Brazilian people. To the west of Broad Street is a concentration of West African and Caribbean restaurants, catering to the residents with roots in these countries. West Newark still has a bit of an image problem, but sit down for a meal at one of these places and your mind will be changed instantly.

The satellite above the awning of Zoodo reads "Africa TV." Wall posters inside advertise long-past Burkinabé events around town and bits and pieces of African or general tropical decor do their best to spruce up a rather bare environment. Small, colorful plastic gardening buckets are cut and hung upside down to make light fixtures. Five tables with four chairs apiece allow for plenty of diners, but unless you say so, it will be assumed that your order is for takeout.

A brief look at the menu will reveal West African favorites, the list of available dishes reads much like their neighbors in Senegal. As in many similar restaurants, more is available at dinner than at lunch, so ask what they have before setting your mind to something. After placing an order to stay, the dining room is comfortable on a pleasant day. The music shifts from reggaeton to West African and back to Caribbean. Overheard were songs from Puerto Rican, Gabonese, and Guadeloupean artists.

Above is an order of mafe ($10), also known as sauce arachide or peanut butter soup. The "side" of white rice is actually an entirely full container seen in the back, far too much for one to finish. Hunks of tender goat meat on the bone accompany the sweet sauce made of groundnuts, peanut paste, and tomatoes.

As the stomach fills up, it is fun to flip through the available copy of the African Abroad newspaper, a bi-weekly that covers as many countries as possible for expats and has advertisements of various African stores selling products throughout New York City and New Jersey.

Zoodo is located at the former location of Mimi's African Restaurant, which occupied the spot since at least the mid-aughts. The current awning shows up in the June 2015 Google Street View photo, so this Burkinabé owner has run things since at least that point.

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Zoodo African & American Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

17 September 2017

Joeper's Smokeshack


In this part of Brooklyn, Flatbush Avenue becomes a major thoroughfare on its way out to the Marine Parkway Bridge and eventually the Rockaways. A rooftop pig in a chef apron marks the wedge of space between Marine Park, Mill Basin, and Flatlands, a tiny triangular corner has become home to Joeper's Smokeshack, a Brooklyn barbecue joint that replicates the dry rubbing and smoking styles of Memphis.

On a lazy weekday, I wandered in and enjoyed the small space and had a chat with the friendly proprietor, a man with a thick Brooklyn accent but definite southern hospitality. Open for six years now, Joeper's seems to be the culmination of decades of work cooking meats in the backyard.

The results are good. New York City is not known for its premium barbecue, but a few different styles have popped up here and there to generally mixed reviews. To my knowledge, Memphis-style barbecue is only represented by Joeper's, and a welcome addition to anyone seeking out good barbecue in the city.

Shown in the top left of the photo above is a trio of Memphis-style ribs, which attain their greatness from a dry rub. People in Memphis do not get caught dumping sauces on their already perfectly smoked ribs. Knowing not everyone has this good sense here in New York City, Joeper kindly has spent years creating his own recipes for different barbecue sauces. Seen to the left are what he calls "hot" and "sour" when offering, both of which can go nicely with the brisket, served in thin slices.

The "sour" version was most interesting, somewhat of a combination of different styles from the Carolinas with both mustard and vinegar. I also added a side of the bacon mac & cheese ($3.50), which rounded out the plate very well.

A bottle of bourbon used to sit in the window and is still the most important ingredient in the popular bourbon bread pudding, if you happen to have any space leftover for dessert.

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Joeper's Smokeshack Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

City Tamale


Hunts Point usually figures into our imaginations with generally negative connotations; the prostitution that makes documentaries, high crime levels, and blocks dominated by faceless industry. Walking the neighborhood reveals more though, as colorful murals, some new parks overlooking the Bronx and East Rivers, and a few spots to eat here and there now vie for attention.

One of these small restaurants is City Tamale, one of the only brick and mortar establishments you will see that focuses on this steamed masa dish eaten in México and throughout Latin America. They do provide walk-in breakfast and lunch service to local customers and always have a few options available, but it seems that a lot of their business is also done with small restaurants around the city.

Five varieties are on the menu board, but the place is more than meets the eye. Ask which kinds they have available at the time you arrive and there may even be additional options not shown. Tamales (below) are $2 each or 3 for $5. What also is not shown on the board is that they also make tacos, tostadas, and other Mexican antojitos here for lunch customers.

All wrapped up and ready to go.

The tamal is such a wonderful invention, usually eaten for breakfast in México, and a stand-alone unit that has everything necessary already inside. No silverware is needed, so one or more tamales can be picked up on the go and eaten relatively cleanly using the corn husks to hold everything. In Mexican neighborhoods throughout the city, tamal vendors are spread out on different blocks making it always easy to find one. The best normally sell out quite early in the morning.

The version pictured above and below is the verde, full of shredded chicken and tomatillo salsa. It has a nice little kick and is moist and flavorful throughout.

The shop also has empanadas ($1.50, below) that are light and fluffy. This version was full of beef and very tasty, a good excuse to use some of their homemade salsa.

In addition to the verdes, City Tamale also advertises rojos, rajas, tinga, and dulce, all of which besides the sweet one we picked up for later consumption at home (below). All were of the same high quality and enjoyed equally.

Housemade jamaica or fresh juices including sandia fresca, a watermelon drink are available as well as horchata and tamarindo. If you have time, take your food south to Barretto Point Park or north to Hunts Point Riverside Park to see some of the newest improvements made to the neighborhood.

As seen in the top photo, the shop has a small pushcart and a street vending cart, which are not just for show. You can find them at a festival here and there, as well as Smorgasburg if you're lucky.

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City Tamale Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

08 September 2017

Grin African American Restaurant


I often get the sense that West African restaurants are not exactly trying to get new customers. They have a bit of a formula and telltale signs of this: darkened windows or pulled shades, a lack of menu or information on the outside, and a weirdly common "African American" moniker on the awning that would be deciphered completely incorrect by a unknowing passerby.

Before opening the door, it is often impossible to know what atmosphere you will find on the inside. On a sunny day, this is especially true as your eyes struggle to adjust to the dark interiors. At Grin in Morrisania, the interior could not be more different from what you see outside, as tables full of boisterous men are dining and laughing together.

These groups of friends are at least partly cab drivers, as the street in front is densely double-parked with green and livery cars. A third row of vehicles stops and jumps in to order takeout. These waves of people were on and off during the whole time we dined in, and various other couples and women with children filled the other tables. Even before taking the first bite it is apparent that Grin has something special happening.

You will get by here no matter what because everyone is super friendly, but if you know a French-speaking friend, bring them along as all the ladies speak French as in Côte d'Ivoire. A white board behind the plexiglass and counter serves as a way of advertising what dishes they are cooking on any given day, but by having a conversation you may find even more available.

The cooking styles here are simple, so dishes are listed mostly just as the animal that you are eating. Our server went through a good list of choices, including the lamb (above, actually goat) and chicken (below). Both are lightly fried and covered with a sauce of onion, pepper, tomato, and lemon juice. The magic here is the marinade though, as deep within the flesh there is always so much flavor in every bite.

Using the same style, the guinea fowl (above) was also a treat, but the fried fish (below) was possibly the most popular dish on the table.

All main dishes are priced at $15, include the choice of one side, and are vastly too much for one person to finish. Besides the cassava and salad below, the table also enjoyed fried sweet plantains and a heaping portion of rice.

The demographics of our dinner group spanned four continents, but everyone seemed thoroughly delighted with the meal. It is hard to quantify exactly how well everyone took to the experience here.

Do note that Grin is quite far from any trains and hills will be a part of any walk here. Check out the bus connections and/or plan on grabbing a cab if necessary.

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Grand African Amer Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato