>> Eat the World New York City

30 August 2016

Caravan Bazaar


Caravan Bazaar was not even on my radar until last week when my S53 bus whizzed by it just after descending from the Verrazano Bridge, headed to places further into the interior of Staten Island. I frantically Googled and wrote down the place immediately, now needing to return. It satisfied my curiosities with flying colors and is a very fun market to enjoy.

Just under two years old, the market does not seem to get many walk-ins being on busy, car-centric Hylan Blvd, and focuses on satisfying the demands of the Russian and Central Asian populations that live in the island. The hot food and salad bars focus on the tastes of pan-Soviet cuisine with some Korean salads, cooked by Korean immigrants who landed first in Uzbekistan. (This is not unusual, for more on this read about it here).

Unlike some of the city's restaurants with Korean chefs from Uzbekistan, the cuisine here seems to focus more on the Russian and Uzbek flavors than the Korean. They have plenty of Uzbek favorites from kebabs to samsa, but cater to their more "focused" Russian customers with chicken Kiev, kotleti, and the like.

The entire length of one wall is dedicated to providing many options, with cold salads to the left and hot dishes to the right. I got a combination of as much as I could muster and ended up paying $12 and change for the portions below, well more than one person should eat in one sitting. Each item has a different price, so you end up using a lot of different containers.

The only thing I did not like was the Korean "spicy marinated fish" ($6.99/lb, top left), which like most Korean salads takes on that red pepper character of kimchi. When I started loading up my container, the proprietor warned me "Oh, that's SPICY." Those are good words to hear, I thought, and assured him I would be fine. Weirdly, it is not spicy at all, and the fish is flimsy and odd. Head to Brighton Beach for much better hye options.

The salad olivie ($4.99/lb, above right) is always a satisfying favorite, and good here. I noticed a Russian who had come in after me fill up a cup and I followed suit jealously. Afterwards, I asked for recommendations and received pretty broad strokes. There were two specific dishes that were narrowed down on though, the kotleti ($6.49/lb, bottom left), juicy and delicious ground chicken meatballs of sorts. It is surprising to find ground meat so moist, there must be plenty of butter and cream in these. The second was "beef with sweet and sour sauce" which I immediately hoped was solyanka ($8.99/lb), a stew made sour with pickles. I was very happy when I took my first bite at home, although this version was the least soup-y I had ever had.

"Bazaar" is a lofty goal, but they do import many products from Russia and former Soviet Republics. If you suspend reality for a moment, stepping into the store from the noise of Hylan Boulevard, you can reach these goals though, possibly. The prized booty of a long camel caravan just arriving from distant lands with all manner of products from the places of one's childhood.

Many products, including some interesting beverages from the fridge, are all in cyrillic without helpful words for English speakers, so you have to go with the photos and colors. This is all part of the fun though. I chose a couple toxic-colored sodas, and would only order the tarragon flavor again. The barberry tastes like liquid bubblegum.

Caravan Bazaar also has baked breads and desserts that look very good, as well raw marinated meats to take home and grill yourself. It really is a one-stop bazaar for many of the island's Russians. The only drawback for those of us that have to travel a bit to get there is that there is no seating and Hylan Boulevard offers nothing in the way of comfortable shaded areas. A 15-minute walk north would lead you to Brady's Pond Park, which looks favorable from Google Earth for a picnic spot. Let me know.

29 August 2016

G-Knows Cheesesteaks


In Philadelphia, you are either a Geno's person or a Pat's person. Just south of downtown, the pioneers of popular cheesesteaks are just across the street from one another, and locals and visitors alike pick sides and line up for long periods of time to enjoy them. For the uninitiated tourist, this can be somewhat intimidating and stressful as people in both lines do not appear that different from each other. It must all come down to politics. I am sure some choice disparaging remarks about the wrong cheesesteak in the wrong place could definitely cause a political uproar in Philly.

Thankfully obtaining a good one in Staten Island is very unstressful. An Italian-American named Giacomo (we'll assume he is the "G" who knows) has opened up a spot in homage to the city he spent much time in. He seems to let his affiliation known in the title, but I don't think any philosophical arguments need take place here. It's just a small casual spot with friendly people. The people I saw come and go in the short time I was eating my sandwich seemed like regulars.

So onto the cheesesteak, a creation of thinly sliced ribeye on bread that comes with American or Cheese Whiz. My cheesesteak ($7.50, below) came with a 75 cent upgrade to grilled onions and peppers and picked "wiz" rather than American cheese. I thought this was in fact the standard, but some further research online reveals the sandwich is enjoyed many ways.

When it arrived in front of me after a long afternoon of walking, I needed nourishment and went for a mouthful too fast. Be careful, it's hot off the grill, each one freshly made. Even with tentative plans to enjoy other food elsewhere later in the day, I devoured the whole thing and stuffed myself. It was too good to eat just half.

The place is housed in a three unit strip mall type building at the intersection of busy roads, has a few parking spots, and a small square space inside. A counter runs the length of the two windows with some stools, while two additional tables provide seating as well. It was mid-afternoon and not that busy, but half of the customers I saw seemed to get takeout.

You can take your cheesesteak a few different ways, and the menu goes on to cover fast food staples as well as "Hollywood Specialty Sandwiches" which name various creations after sports figures and actors. The only thing missing is a draught beer line, really. Philadelphia, welcome to the island.

G-Knows Cheesesteaks Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

28 August 2016

Taste of Pakistan


Taste of Pakistan almost reminds me of the feeling of going out to eat in Los Angeles, which often entails finding great food in a strip mall, parking right in front. Nevermind that I arrived by public transportation and the air was humid on both visits, Staten Island has an enjoyable "out of the city" quality that I try to enjoy whenever I come.

A lot of South Asian restaurants in the city advertise themselves as "Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi" cuisine, many times the smaller countries use India's better name recognition to entice customers inside. It is refreshing to see places like this, that celebrate the home country of the chef, even when the cuisines still overlap.

With a banner outside announcing "Best Kebab Kitchen," it seemed appropriate to order a variety of these on my first visit. Half of the fun turns out to be making flavor combinations with the assortment of condiments they bring out. Two yogurt chutneys, a sweet fruit one, and some spicy pepper sauce can combine to make each bite different.

An array of naan is also available from the oven, from plain to butter and sesame, all the way to potato and qeema varieties. I opted for a simple garlic naan ($2.50, below) to accompany my kebab assortment. It is thin, crispy, and tasty, but somehow I prefer my naan to be puffy and soft. On the second visit, a plain naan ($1, see below) was more satisfying.

While waiting for an order, a look around the place shows they probably put their focus in the kitchen. The decor can be described as "brown," while the pistachio colors of the booths do not quite qualify for interior design. Stacks of postcard adverts and a handwritten "room for rent" sign on lined paper are the decor. The smells are good though, and we're not here for design advice.

The plate below, clockwise from bottom, consists of a chapli kebab ($3.99), seekh kebab ($1.25), one order of gola kebabs ($2.99 for 2), and a chicken tandoori leg ($3.99) which as you can see had an extra piece. That chicken had a pleasantly fragrant taste and the crunch of its visible spices stuck to the skin. Inside the meat was moist and tender.

As for the kebabs themselves, the only other one that was moist was the seekh, which is ground chicken. The chapli kebab patty and gola kebabs were drier and perfect for experimenting with all the chutneys.

That first visit was on a Friday night, and my eyes immediately scanned to the "weekend special" section, browsing the choices that were unavailable that night. My next visit naturally landed on a Sunday so that I could sample some of the dishes. With plans to buy three and take two home, I was disappointed to find the paya ($10.99), a soup made of goat hooves that is cooked for festivals or special guests was not made that day.

With three other options, I settled into a nice bowl of haleem ($7.99, below), a stew of chicken, lentils, and plenty of spices. The menu describes a "thick paste" but do not let that distract you, it is delicious. It is made thicker by pounded wheat, but scoops up perfectly with the naan.

At steam table restaurants, haleem will often just be served on a styrofoam plate with rice, but here the dish is cooked special only on weekends and they serve it properly with a plate of extras to add. On that plate is lemons, parsley, fried onions, slivers of ginger and chopped chilis, allowing each diner to eat it exactly as they prefer.

Also available was nihari ($8.99, below), which I enjoyed later at home. This is another slow-cooked stew, this time of beef cubes in a rich, oily soup. It pairs well with both rice or bread.

In the restaurant it would have also been served with the plate of garnishes, and one would be sure to add a healthy squeeze of lemon and as much chili as desired. The fun story about nihari is that many restaurants in South Asia that cook the best versions are said to add some of the leftovers each night into the next day's pot. Check out this story, which claims that some shops have continued this tradition of saving the leftovers, or taar, for over a century!

Since Taste of Pakistan only serves nihari on weekends, it is safe to say their stew is somewhat younger than 100 years old. They also make a wonderful mango lassi ($3.50, not pictured), make sure to order at least one. The friendly staff is happy to answer questions, and both times I visited they warned me I was over ordering. I like their honesty.

Taste of Pakistan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

27 August 2016

Restaurante y Panaderia Guatemalteco


This weekend I set off for the Jersey City African Cultural Arts Festival in Berry Lane Park, but despite plenty of people having a good time, I did not find a fruitful food scene. The lineup was full of a wide variety of performances and the park had a decent number of clothing and accessory vendors.

Thankfully I had planned a long, circuitous walking route to explore a good chunk of lands I had never explored, south and west of Journal Square before arriving at the park. My to-do list gained about ten places, Egyptian seafood restaurants, a couple new Filipino spots, and a number of Central American steam tables.

One of these, which immediately got crossed off the list after I did not find food at the festival was a tiny Guatemalan spot on Pacific Avenue. The company is actually split in two (above), with a bakery on the left and a small steam table kitchen on the right. The bakery has a long list of elaborate celebratory cakes on its roster, as well breads and sweets, but I needed real sustenance after 10 kilometers on the hot pavement.

A look through the menu reveals a rotating menu of Guatemalan standards, similar to the steam tables in Brooklyn and Queens and nothing on par to the still amazing Tierras Centro Americanas. Soups, various guisados, carne asada, etc. The stewed chicken, or pollo guisado ($6, above) looked the tastiest on the table, so I ordered it with rice, beans, and a sweet plantain. At this price, we need not ask any questions, and I was full for the rest of the day.

Although this area seems very far off the Grove Street PATH station, there is a "hipster" coffee shop right around the corner on Communipaw. Coming from the west, I would have never imagined this world arriving here yet, but it does seem like the edge of a frontier, as a couple walked their dog to get a coffee and returned immediately to the east. With plans to continue that way towards Grove Street, I instead turned back to search more promising non-hipster lands. Thankfully a couple Honduran joints popped up before I got back to Journal Square, as well as the murals below.

If you are in the area, check out the "Aqualand" project created by the Jersey City Mural Arts Program, as well as some other large format vacant building works:

Restaurante y Panaderia Guatemalteco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

23 August 2016

Tlacoyos Zacapoaxtla


Sunset Park is more family oriented than Jackson Heights, Queens, and therefore has a much smaller street scene when it comes to eating at night. If you walk down 5th Avenue after dark, most of the businesses are closed and all is pretty quiet. There are a few very strong options for those that look around though, like the Tacos El Bronco truck near 37th and a gorditas and esquites vendor at 45th.

Further down between 50th and 51st is a tlacoyos vendor that I started noticing a couple months ago. Usually there are plenty of patrons here, so I finally went for myself to try their popular specialty.

The street vendors I came across in Mexico City usually had tlacoyos in a basket, which seemed to be their trademark. When you ordered, they would take it out and dress it with the salsa of your choice, some cream if desired, and a bit of cheese. I never saw options for meat on them in Mexico, but could not resist putting different choices every time I visited this cart in Brooklyn.

The first order was one cecina (left, good) and one enchilada (right, forgettable) ($4 each, above). You can order a tlacoyo regular for $3, which is the original version of the antojito without any meat, focusing your palate on the beans cooked into the thick masa vehicle.

As seen below, that vehicle holds up a hefty amount of toppings. Besides a choice of six or so meats, they will also ask if you prefer red or green salsa, which you can also take on the side. Tlacoyos have to be fresh and stay moist, otherwise they start to get very hard and unappealing, but for this reason it is a good option for street snacking because they are almost always made recently.

On another night, an order of tinga (below) was made, another great option. This seemed much fresher and homemade than the enchilada, and paired very well with their red salsa, complementing smoky flavors.

The cart has a list of items, and also make sopes and huaraches. Last time I was at the cart, I stood admiring the making of a huarache while my tlacoyos were being prepared. The huarache is thinner but also has beans inside, made the correct way with no shortcuts like you see by many vendors.

19 August 2016

Little Saigon Pearl


There might be a trend. It is slight, and possibly just wishful thinking, but a second "different" Vietnamese eatery has opened up in the last year. Our small east coast town of New York City cannot quite claim to be on the level of places like Atlantic City yet, which is full of good Vietnamese, but maybe a trend is brewing? We'll see...

Little Saigon Pearl, just across the border of Bensonhurst and Bath Beach in Gravesend has small ambitions from the look of things. The awning is adorned with the family's favorite market from back home in Ho Chi Minh City called Cho Ben Thanh. On the menu it says "Go here for real Vietnamese food." No superlatives necessary, just some good advice from people who know.

Now those people in the know are cooking a small menu just off 86th Street.

You do not often see the finger food tom hoa tien on menus in New York City, the preparation probably too intense for the standard assembly line Vietnamese we find throughout our city. Little Saigon Pearl seems to have taken this as a challenge and have made it their goal to popularize the dish and make it their flagship appetizer. Sometimes translated in English as "rocket shrimp roll" or something similar, the main feature is a whole shrimp amongst other ingredients that is fried in a thin wonton wrapper.

Be warned, an order ($7.65, above) comes piping hot. The dipping sauce nuoc cham accompanies the rolls, but each bite once cool does not really necessitate the spicy sweet sauce. It was our first taste of the restaurant, and already we knew the care and ingredients coming from the kitchen were a step up from the norm.

Also wonderful was the pho tai, nam, gan, bo vien ($7.45, below, punctuation theirs), the soup listed first on the menu. While the different beefy ingredients may come in slightly short supply, the real marvel here is the soup itself, which tastes of fat covered bone. It instantly warms the soul as good pho should.

Before ordering pho, check the specials board, which always seems to include bun bo hue, another great soup option that should arrive already spicy. It also might be possible to find banh cuon here, a dish I would love to try next time along with their two banh xeo options.

The big disappointment here is the bun dishes. The bun cha gio thit nuong ($8.45, below) is inexplicably served with hot noodles instead of cold, while the spring rolls seem soggy and possibly microwaved. This dish is one of my favorite comfort foods, especially on a hot day, and can be mostly relied on even in the most standard New York City joint. Not sure if this was an off day for the dish, or if this section of the menu should be avoided.

Despite this bowl, our feelings for Little Saigon Pearl are still very positive. Is the D train in South Brooklyn becoming the city's new corridor to better Vietnamese? We've been back to Pho 18 Ave a few times since writing about it in April and still think it is great. Now another shop opens further along the line. Keep the trend going!

Little Saigon Pearl Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

18 August 2016

Georgian Deli and Bakery


About a year ago, the awning went up for this bakery, but each time I came back in the following months there was still paper in the windows. By the end of the year, they were up and running, but my meals did not bring me back to the area. One day a few months back, I grabbed one imeruli khachapuri ($7, below), which are easy to transport and heat up well in a home oven. It was easily tasty enough to want to return.

This deli/bakery is takeout only, but has quite a large variety for such a small place. A refrigerated case in front has a good selection of soups and salads, all the classic Georgian favorites including soup kharcho ($5.99, not pictured) and lobio with walnuts ($7.99, not pictured). Coupled with the five versions of khachapuri and many other baked breads and pies, someone could create an epic Georgian feast for themselves. For anyone in the southern part of Brooklyn, they deliver at least as far as Sunset Park.

On our second visit, in addition to the khachapuri above we took home a container of chashushuli ($6.99, below), a beef stew that has tomatoes, sweet onions, fresh herbs, and plenty of Georgian spices. It is hearty, slightly spicy and soaks into bread perfectly.

There are good Georgian restaurants in the area (Mtskheta Cafe, Georgia Kiziki), but the food here at the deli might actually be better. Unfortunately they have no seating, but anyone with the ability to transport their foods home or have it delivered should definitely check it out.

Georgian Deli and Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

17 August 2016

Sranan Dei (Suriname Day)


In the past, interested New York City diners could hop on the A train and take it to the Lefferts Boulevard terminus to enjoy the beautifully complicated cuisine of Suriname. Both restaurants that I have eaten at (Warung KarioCaribbean Suriname Restaurant) have shuttered, leaving a void for the country. Once a year though, seemingly all the expats from the country here in New York gather in Roy Wilkins Park in St. Albans, Queens, so it seemed only duty for me to make sure there was at least one surviving chance on the website.

Sranan Dei, or Suriname Day, is just that, a festival that celebrates the country. Better yet, it is not just an opportunity to see various parts of their culture through food and people, it is a fantastic event well worth the time and effort it takes to get to St. Albans.

There were two main food vendors that gathered very long, slow-moving lines and were clearly popular chefs by all in attendance. I arrived about an hour after the opening time of the festival and these lines only grew in length despite a couple other tents beginning to serve, so it is definitely recommended to be on the early side and get in line as soon as you know what you want. Talk to the people in line around you, who will be happy to tell you everything about their country's cuisine and what each vendor is best at.

Suriname is a country of collisions between cultures and history, a fact celebrated by its citizens. The festival matched suit as bodybuilders, drunks, busy chefs, running children, and some stragglers all mixed to enjoy their afternoon.

To read more about the country of Suriname and its collisions, please read the links above and check out a cool article by Ethnojunkie, who I ran into and shared food with at this event. He talks more about pom, the festival dish that inspired a former roommate of mine to create a Surinamese-flavored Thanksgiving meal after our dinner at Caribbean Suriname Restaurant.

Photos for this event are currently lost in Milan, Italy with a friend who documented the day and then went on vacation. I will post those as soon as I have them, so please check back in September to see all the deliciousness we devoured.