>> Eat the World New York City

20 April 2017

Spring Mongolian Food & Networking Day

The first sign of being in the right place

After failing to find food at last summer's Mongolian cultural party in Central Park, I was much more determined to eat at the Spring Mongolian Food & Networking Day, the brainchild of Byambakhuu Darinchuluun, who runs Made in Mongolia NYC and the Mongol Heritage Foundation. Luckily the event took place on Roosevelt Island on a Saturday with barely any subway service to begin with, but also had a track fire in Queens that halted the F line completely. After four transfers and a tram ride, and two hours and fifteen minutes after departing, it seemed that my commute actually was lucky compared to others.

When Byambakhuu first showed up in my life, it was unfortunately for an event that I was unable to attend. Our dear friend Charles helped put on an amazing fundraiser that featured Mongolian food and culture back in 2012. When his smiling face greeted us as we apprehensively approached his group, all the previous high praise was instantly verified.

He immediately directed us the the cauldron of "tea" that was brewing on one of the park's public grills (above). Unlike any other tea we had ever tried, there were meat dumplings and a fatty milky liquid. We were assured it was green tea, although I grabbed a fork just in case.

A photogenic plate of homemade cheeses (below) was the second most noticeable dish on the spread this day. I asked about the process of cheesemaking, which seemed simple enough, but lost count of the steps. There was boiling milk with a certain kind of yogurt, fermenting, separating, making shapes and design, and drying, amongst others.

The plate that stood out most was the goat meat (below), which was topped with the smiling head of the unfortunate animal that became the meal.  Sliding this to the side, one could find ribs and other parts to take and eat, all of which were rather fatty but very good. We started noticing that people were adding pieces of it to their tea as well.

Along the buffet line were also homemade rice and noodle dishes (below). The noodles in the middle took best in show, while the sweet rice with raisins was also enjoyed.

When combined on a plate with a lamb dumpling (below), a well-rounded meal started to take shape.

After some time and when the group started growing, quite a few plates of buuz, or Mongolian dumplings typically filled with mutton began to get places around on tables. These seemed to be the favorite of everyone, and admittedly I went back for a second.

As advertised on the Facebook event page, there was a $20 per person charge for the event. This basically afforded each person the ability to eat as much as desired, and by the look of some empty plates of buuz, this was the case. It was a small price to pay for the crazy amount of work that had been put into the preparation of all these foods.

After enjoying the event for 90 minutes or so, quite a few others started trickling in, apparently worse victims of the MTA. Some famous NYC Mongolians were in attendance, broadcasting the event live on Facebook. We were just happy to have made it for the day and for the chance to meet these very friendly people.

16 April 2017

Kanchanjunga Restaurant


The namesake mountain that is drawn in the logo of this restaurant lives partly in the far east of Nepal and partly in the mountainous Indian state of Sikkim. When I asked the owner, she simply said it was in Nepal. An Indian answer may have been the reverse despite there being no border disputes in the area. Either way, this lesser known brother of Everest is the third highest peak in the world and certainly worthy of its own restaurant in Jackson Heights.

As the mountain straddles a border, so does the cuisine, with the menu reading as much Tibetan as it does Nepalese. The awning and menu say "Taste of Himalaya" and maybe this is more accurate, as the cuisines always overlap.

Inside the restaurant, which has been home to a rotating list of other quick Himalayan joints, things seem more settled and welcoming. The dining room has been expanded from previous iterations and there is time to sit down with friends and take in a meal. Dark colors surround you on the walls, while nondescript cheap tables become background to the flags and fabrics of the Himalayas.

Dining alone, a modest bowl of noodles was ordered at the outset. Thenthuk ($7, above) has always been a favorite, a mild soup that focuses on its biggest asset: the handmade noodles. This version uses wide wedges and came with beef cuts of similar size.

Nepalese thukpa is somewhat similar, but bowls of Tibetan thenthuk can almost outnumber bowls of the native, spicier soup because of high numbers of Tibetan refugees in Nepal now. Since thenthuk does not have the chilis that thukpa automatically comes with, sauces are offered. The waitress asked if two were desired but turned around and fetched them before she got an answer, knowing the right answer was yes.

The spiciest sauce is already on the table and should be handled with caution. Nepalese cuisine is decidedly fiery, and this stuff was causing the two Himalayans eating momos when I came in to cough uncontrollably. It really only carries the "flavor" of spiciness though, and nothing more. A small drop or two into the soup was enough to add quite a bit of heat.

The two bottles brought from the fridge were the medium and mild versions, seen in the background of the above and below photos. The deliciousness of the sauces seems to go in reverse though, with the mildest tasting the best.

The food here was hearty and good, not yet at the level of knock your socks off. The khaki meal continued with an order of chicken momos ($6, above), not so much because there was hunger as there was a desire to use the other sauces. After a few tries with different combinations, the best seemed to be slathering on the great mild orange sauce and then adding a squirt of the red medium to each bite.

One stomach should have probably been too small for these two orders, but it pressed on regardless. As it reached its limit, a local man came in asking for a job, first in broken English, and then switching to a language everyone seemed to share. His information was left, and the newly installed television was tuned to a Himalayan music channel.

Nepalese sadheko and chili dishes were further down the menu but would have to wait until another day.

Kanchanjunga Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

13 April 2017

Boon by Moldova


Moldova and Romania have had overlapping and intermingling histories for centuries. At many times, they were part of the same principality or country and still share language, culture, and cuisine in common. Some of the most famous dishes of each country are commonly eaten by the other.

The two also share a relative lack of representation in New York City, with one Romanian restaurant left in Sunnyside not too far away, and a Moldovan place in Midwood, Brooklyn. The owners of that Moldovan restaurant are the new owners here, and have taken over the space that was previously occupied by Bucharest Restaurant. Sunnyside still has a small population that will be the largest client base of the operation.

Boon is primed for big things. The dining room and bar area are expansive, and another large back room is ready for catered parties. If no one is there, the place feels strangely empty. The design is done with a charming combination of white and the burnt red-brown color of terracotta. Like its sister in Brooklyn, the staff wear traditional dress.

A nice start to a meal here is with one of the cold sampler platters. The darurile Moldovei ($11.99, above), an assortment of "European" pastrami, cheese, and vegetables. Our plate had the addition of pork and chicken roulade, which has either migrated from another dish or was used because something else was out. Either way, the appetizer presented was to the benefit of the entire table.

Cheese factors heavily into the foods of both countries, and one of the best ways to eat it is within one of the Moldovan pies, or placintele. The version below is filled with farmers cheese and herbs and comes with a side of sour cream like most everything else.

The bill read meat pierogi ($7.99, below), but unless my memory fails me the menu said vareniki, and they look more like pelmeni regardless. Either way, the restaurant makes them nicely.

The table decided to forego our portions of mamaliga until the main dishes came. The round yellow balls of maize flour come in a puddle of sour cream and topped with cheese. The dish is similar enough to polenta that it is often referred to as Moldovan polenta, but this would only be used for people unfamiliar with the food as they are the number one staple of Moldova and stand without comparison.

They are tasty if not mindblowing, but importantly it seems that no Moldovan meal should go by without them.

The restaurant very nicely split an order of sarmale ($7.99, above) for the table with half cabbage and half grape leaves. The interior of meat and rice was the same, but the different wraps did provide a nice contrast.

The scale in the photo makes it look small, but the piece of lamb served for the picior de miel cu mamaliga ($16.99, below) was straight out of medieval times and gave the three at our table ample portions.

The lamb is slow cooked and topped with a rich brown gravy, mushrooms, and herbs. The tender hunks of meat fall right off the bone as expected, and another side of mamaliga completes the meal.

While no Moldovan beer is in attendance, grab large bottles of Romanian Timisoreana for $4.99.

Boon by Moldova Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

20 March 2017

La Carreta Restaurant


While Ecuadorian restaurants are a dime a dozen in Jackson Heights and Corona, Queens, the situation in Sunset Park, Brooklyn is a little more scarce. That being said, the options are top notch. In November, Mi Castillo Ecuatoriano was featured here, and now seven streets down 4th Avenue is La Carreta.

The space seems small, but is actually divided between three storefronts. The kitchen is off the main dining room, which has seven tables, while an adjacent room provides a handful more. An active jukebox divides the two rooms and competes with the TV which is tuned loudly to talk shows during the afternoon.

The walls are painted the color of a pool or possibly tropical waters. The restaurant serves beer and wine but the space does not quite set itself up for drinking. It does however serve an unbeatable lunch deal, which many people from the neighborhood come in for on a daily basis.

Go for the caldo de bola ($12, below), probably the best version in the borough. The bola, or ball, is plantain mash around ground beef, egg, and vegetables. This can be eaten on its own or sliced open to seep into the rest of the stew, rich and brown. Also find more meat, potatoes, yuca, and a wedge of corn still on the cob.

Seafood dishes here do not have the gusto that they did at Mi Castillo, so we recommend going there if you are in the mood for creatures not from the land.

An humita ($2.50, below), is Ecuador's answer to the tamal game.

Usually more simple, humitas often contain just cheese within the ground corn. The dish, despite being an appetizer, tastes quite sweet because of the corn and is very enjoyable. The last layer of corn husk is left on here after steaming, holding it all in one piece. In an Ecuadorian kitchen, you will often see a pot that has been especially designed for steaming humitas.

A plate of seco de chivo ($12, below) is also satisfying, a rich red stew of goat. Lean and fatty chunks are given and pair well with spoons of yellow rice. Try the homemade salsa with some of those bites.

The salsa is given with a freshly toasted loaf of bread before each meal. It is hard not to dive in and fill yourself before main courses start arriving.

Grab a glass of jugo de maracuya ($3.50) to wash everything down. They blend a whole array of juices and shakes fresh to order.

La Carreta Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

13 March 2017

Together Burmese Food


In the span of one week, our city has been blessed with a new grocery store with products from Myanmar, and now a brand new restaurant. Near the Bay Parkway N station in Bensonhurst lives a new Burmese restaurant named Together. Chef owner Myint, known as Oscar, used to have a small stand inside of a grocery on Avenue U in Gravesend, where he made wonderful Burmese soups and curries. Thankfully he has resurfaced, hopefully for good.

There are not too many Burmese people in the neighborhood, or the city in general, so Myint has decided to put sushi on the menu as well as basic westernized Japanese to cater to the potential customers that may find his home country's food too exotic. But for those of us that love Burmese food and everything Myanmar, first impressions are very good.

On all three of my visits to the restaurant which opened Friday, I saw Burmese people that seemed to know Myint already. A smattering of locals seemed to wander in as well, mostly checking out the sushi rolls.

Don't follow their lead, follow the Burmese, and order from the first page.

Early in the morning in Myanmar, you will find steaming pots of soup ready for people going off to work. The most famous of these, mohinga ($5.99, above 2), is excellent here. The broth of mohinga is made from catfish, but the dish never seems fishy. The rice noodles instead grab their flavors from lemongrass, ginger, onions, and garlic, as well as many spices. This version has a nice kick to it, and wants a good squirt of lime. Crispy fritters and parsley adorn the top.

Also good is the ohnnotkhauswe ($5.99, below), a curried coconut milk soup with chicken and thick wheat noodles. This soup is more sweet from the coconut than spicy, its comfort level very high like Chiang Mai's khao soys or Malaysia's laksas. The restaurant is open at 9am daily, so enjoying these traditional breakfast soups is possible, but they are served all day if you come for lunch or dinner.

On one of my visits, I was given a nice side of mudfish sauce with fresh vegetables (below).

When morning turns to noon and the sun is high in Myanmar, people start eating salads of vegetables, fruits, and noodles. These dishes are served at room (or outdoor) temperatures, ingredients mixed together by vendors selling them on their front porches or roadside.

[UPDATE APRIL 2017: Chef Myint is now preparing a good, fresh version of laphet thoke (below), the famous Burmese fermented tea leaf salad]

One of my favorites, especially in Shan State, was kha yann gyin thee thoke ($6.99, below). In this area of the country, many of the fruits and vegetables taste like magic, including the tomatoes. These magic tomatoes are the main ingredient in this salad which also includes peanuts, onions, garlic, lime juice, and fish sauce. In New York City our tomatoes are not magic, but this dish still exceeds expectations.

Similar preparation is made for the tha yet thee thoke ($6.99, below), a salad with sweet mango and crispy fried garlic. This is also served with white rice, which works well with the sweetness of the mango and peanut sauce. Recommended.

The thin baw thee thoke ($6.99, below) uses green papaya and less sweet peanut sauce. Mixing in a good portion of the dried chili flakes makes for a good flavor combination.

In addition to these, there are many "salads" made from noodles in Myanmar. Often on the street a vendor can make the dish as a salad or a soup by adding broth, but it was almost without exception that the salads were better and more flavorful. One of these is the Mandalay nan gyi thoke ($5.99, below), a dish of thick rice noodles and chicken curry.

While that was indeed delicious, even better is the si jet ($5.99, below), egg noodles with chicken and dried garlic. On all three visits, Burmese people seemed to be ordering this more than anything else.

Sitting down in formal restaurants in Myanmar is still casual, but the dining experience is quite different. An order of curry will bring many dishes to the table, the small dish of curry itself and many fresh vegetables, herbs, and other tasty things to add, making each bite a different taste. There will be small dried salty fish, a plate of rice, and a little bowl of simple chicken broth to cleanse the palate. Curries are also served at room temperature, something I constantly saw foreigners getting weird about. They also have plenty of greasiness in the bowl, which mixes perfectly with bites of rice but may not align with some tastes.

The curries at Together are also excellent. The chicken, pork belly, and beef curries are all shown below:

After a full meal, Together does not disappoint with dessert either. Try the shwe yin aye ($3.99, below), a bowl full of coconut jelly, tapioca, and sticky rice in cold coconut milk. The slices of white bread on top were discarded by our group, who found the real interest in the other bits underneath.

OK, New York City. Our man Myint is here. Go give his restaurant a call and make sure it lasts. Burmese food should really have a place here in our city, and the renditions here are worthy of a lot of praise.

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

El-Omda Restaurant


The block of Astoria's Steinway Street between 28th Avenue and Astoria Boulevard is often rightly called "Little Egypt" because of its concentration of Egyptian restaurants and hookah lounges. A few restaurants there are now part of a well-trodden tourist trail, having received sweeping and almost unanimous praise. For an alternative to this, a few blocks west on 28th Avenue is a quiet spot that sits out of the limelight. This however seems to be fine with them. El-Omda, with a spacious room and about 12 two top tables, is a great place to bring a big group. It even has an area with cushions in the back for sitting on the floor while eating. This seems to be well-suited for hookah, although I did not see any and the smells here do not indicate that this is practiced.

The decor is reminiscent of a residential interior, the odd color combinations of old highrise building hallways. The dining area is extremely well lit with a dozen or so tin lamps that you see across Northern Africa but most prominently in Morocco. The TV is tuned to a drama or Egyptian music videos, and might need to be turned down a bit as I think the chef is trying to listen from the kitchen.

Order a pot of their very strong tea, served with a side cup of mint leaves. The intensity of bitterness is high, and even people who normally do not sweeten their tea are most likely going to do just that. The sweet mint creation is superb.

The cooking here is described as "authentic home style Egyptian" and seems to focus more on ground animals than seafood. The owner immigrated to the United States in 1980 and started immediately in the restaurant business, working his way up the ranks until ultimately opening up a place of his own serving the cuisine of his homeland.

We briefly caught glimpses of the chef as she was preparing our large meal. At first we mistook our server for her daughter, but she laughed this off when we asked.

Baskets of puffy Egyptian bread (baladi) and a salad of cucumber, tomato, and parsley comes to the table with any order.

Our excitement was kickstarted with the arrival of the falafel ($5, below), which here is made from fava beans. This difference in taste is very interesting, and the little balls also hint of cumin and garlic. A small cup of hummus is served with the dish.

The missaha ($6, below) was a favorite, a cold eggplant and pepper appetizer. The flavors are full, and this is the only dish the table had that was spicy.

Never miss a chance to enjoy ful medames ($5, below), listed as "fava beans" on one of the menus. Break off pieces of baladi to scoop up this "dip." Besides fava beans, there are oils, cumin, garlic, onion, lemon juice, and hints of chili pepper.

Makaroni bshamil ($8, below) is a pasta dish (using penne, not macaroni) and a bechamel sauce, wildly popular in Egypt. Underneath the creamy white sauce are layers of pasta and ground beef, while the whole dish is baked. It becomes a very nice comfort food for winter.

In the mid-1800's, Egypt was doing quite well economically and even the cabinets of the lowest classes of people were filled with various ingredients from various places. Koshary ($8, below), became a way to use all of these ingredients in one dish, and is now as popular in Egypt as anything else we associate with Egyptian cuisine.

With a bed of rice, lentils, chickpeas, and macaroni pasta, it is topped with a tomato sauce and fried onions, perfect for the vegans in your group. Roadside stalls serving only versions of this dish are very common in Egypt, but you can also find it on menus in more formal restaurants.

With so much excitement before main dishes came out, it was almost easy to forget about them. The lamb chops ($20, below) quickly reminded us though, the tender pieces were great. The five small chops are served simply with a half moon of rice, no sauces or extras needed. Foil is placed on each piece for easy holding, no fork and knife formalness necessary.

At different times, two members of the table expressed excitement over the rabbit ($20, below), so it was also ordered. Rabbits not served in stews tend to be dry, but this one transcends this quality and is quite delicious.

The marinade seems to be baked on, the skin takes a slightly hard character. With bites of rice and the mulukhiyah soup (in the background of makaroni bshamil photo), there is nothing missing.

Unfortunately, no one had room for dessert.

El-Omda Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato