>> Eat the World NYC

19 January 2019

Ali's Roti Shop

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO 🇹🇹

For many years Ali's Roti Shop has been the kind of place that people head directly from the subway exit on Eastern Parkway before going home. The line is always long but hardly any of the tables are occupied as business is almost exclusively takeout, making it easy to find space and watch the constant ebb and flow of Crown Heights.

If you are a fan of Trini roti shops, you may have come across other purveyors of the same name, but the shops in The Bronx and on Fulton Street in Brooklyn are not affiliated. This location on Utica Avenue has a salesman outside hawking CDs and t-shirts, blasting music for the block and beyond. Opening the door to Ali's lets the music from the interior escape, creating just that cacophony that seems appropriate for the Caribbean, on whose many islands I have never come across one that did not enjoy their music loud and nonstop.


If you read up a bit online about Ali's you will mostly find two accounts: The food is great AND the service is terrible. I usually find comments about service to be vendettas against one-time mishaps, but it is fair to say that some of the ladies behind the counter here are not the friendliest folks. In truth though, I think they just prefer life at a slower pace and the constant eyes on them from hungry patrons is more pressure than desired.

No menu is offered, so this may not be the place to come if you know nothing about southern Caribbean foods, as you might not learn much from asking question. Wait your turn, order what you want, and sit down to enjoy your food. This simple formula makes everyone happy. One man who definitely knew his Trini foods but seemed to ask one too many questions got some serious stink eye.

Tamarind and pepper sauces.

The steam table gives you an idea of what to order, as most everything is uncovered. High turnover means everything is fresh and good, and you are likely to see refills brought in while you are in line.

I went for a plate of curry chicken and white rice (below), which they will also offer red beans with. I have never been able to master the art of eating a filled roti by hand, so I usually ask for an extra piece of bread on the side so that I can tear off pieces and dunk them in the curry to grab hunks of meat and sauce.


The roti here might be the best in the city, stretchy and chewy and not dry at all. There are only a few pieces at a time on the counter and it is always being made fresh. To eat a meal here without some of it would be a crime. If you do not want rice but like your roti on the side, order a buss up shot, which serves the bread already torn up for you.

Also worthy of praise are the fresh doubles (below), a ladle of chickpea curry between two pieces of fried flatbread. Make sure to get those tamarind and pepper sauces from above added in before they wrap it up.


Doubles (always "plural" even when talking about one) are the ultimate Trini street food and almost impossible to eat without making a mess at the same time. Eating one in Brooklyn always brings me back to the doubles crawls on the streets of Port of Spain that were a highlight of my time there.


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Ali's Roti Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

18 January 2019

Ines Bakery

MÉXICO 🇲🇽

Just above the entrance to the 36th Street express station on 4th Avenue, Ines Bakery always has a lot of foot traffic in front and shows itself off only as a place to buy large designer cakes. Examples in the window are for weddings, quinceañeras, and birthdays.Without exception, I have overheard orders for cakes or cupcakes being places and/or finished orders being picked up each time I have eaten here. The bakery is famous in the area and folks from every background use them for their parties. I have heard a man place an order for a bar mitzvah, and last time in a Russian woman was ordering cupcakes for a party the next day.

That being said, first and foremost in my mind are the great breakfasts at great prices available here. Depending on who is operating the cash register a plate of chilaquiles loaded with meat (below) runs $7 or $8. In addition a nice portion of beans will grace the plate in a puddle of either red or green salsa before being topped with crumbled cheese and sour cream.

Chilaquiles verdes con cecina.

If you take your meal at the small counter, it is hard to keep your eyes off the display of pastries (see last photo below). From empanadas to donuts to croissants and Mexican sweet breads, they seem to have something for everyone. The selection below includes (from left to right) a gusano, which literally means "worm" and is filled with sugar and cinnamon, a sugar dusted empanada with arroz con leche inside, and a baked empanada with guava and cheese.


The gusano ($1.25) is named of course because of the way it is scored before baking which creates the tubed pattern that resembles a worm. Inside, the bread is very soft and not overly sweet. I ate this the day after I bought it and thought it was still perfect after being warmed up just a bit.

I had never before eaten an empanada de arroz con leche ($1.25, below), but found it very enjoyable.


The kitchen churns out all manner of Mexican antojitos and some plates like enchiladas verdes ($8, below). Rather than being completely rolled like you usually see, the tortillas here are simply folded over once and the entire meat-filled wraps are again submerged in their good salsa verde.


Both tortas and cemitas also seem to be popular here, which makes perfect sense seeing as how they make the most important part (pan) right here.

And no matter what time of day or night, Ines Bakery will be open. This is a savior for many of the neighborhood's residents who get home very late from work, you will randomly see the place packed even after midnight.


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Ines Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

17 January 2019

Rondel

UKRAINE 🇺🇦

The block of Coney Island Avenue between Avenue P and Quentin Road has become sort of a Black Sea dining destination over the years, with the nations that surround this continent-straddling body of water almost all represented within a few meters of each other. Taci's Beyti (Turkey) has been around longer than most restaurants in the city, while newer ones like Slavyanskiy Bazar (Russia) and Argo Restaurant (Georgia) seem to have taken hold as well. Azerbaijan, removed from the Black Sea by a few hundred kilometers is there too at Village Cafe. While Bulgaria and Romania are unfortunately left out, the northern shores of the sea have representation here at Rondel with its Ukrainian food.

Ukrainian cuisine might be seen through at least two different lenses if you look beyond the names of common dishes. The first would be if we had a Ukrainian grandmother and visited her in Kiev during holidays, enjoying the feasts she prepared for the family using recipes passed down from her mother and grandmother. The second, and the lense in which Ukrainian food is seen here at Rondel, is that in which some of its dishes were co-opted by the Soviet Union after its creation and became part of the spectrum of Soviet foods enjoyed throughout the vast empire. Foods from Ukraine and the Caucasus, particularly Georgia, become well-known and beloved throughout after the first world war.


For this reason, you will notice some differences between the food here and the simple preparations at Streecha in the East Village. Waves of Ukrainian immigration has landed many tens of thousands of people in the East Village since the end of the 1800's, whereas the Russian-dominated landscape of South Brooklyn and its foods is more Soviet-style.

Unfamiliar to both most likely is the Rondel salad ($10, above), a mixture of mushrooms, red pepper, and tomato combined with pastrami, mozzarella, and mayonnaise. Despite such a hodgepodge, it has good flavors and multiple textures.

A huge plate of assorted pickled vegetables ($13, below) is such a good value that it should probably make its way to every table. Much of the food can get heavy, so these crisp tart vegetables can easily remedy that.


Blintzes, thin rolled wheat flour pancakes are available with either red caviar or with meat and mushroom sauce. The latter is shown below, two pieces cost $6.


There were a few oohs and aahs at the table when the bowls of Ukrainian borscht ($7, below) showed up and we started digging in. The soup held its own and was quite delicious, full of hunks of beef just below the surface. Feel free to spoon in as much sour cream as desired, and eat the soup with a hot garlic roll known as a pampushka.


The English phrasing of One Big Potato Pancake ($16 with meat, below) caught our attention and deserved an order. Cheese was not part of the description, but dominated the dish as you can see. The fairly thin pancake is folded over the meat and mushrooms within.


Despite being possibly the most dramatic dish, arriving at the table with a fluffy top of bread, the beef stew ($19, below) was also the most expensive and the least interesting. It lacked much flavor. Check out our Instagram for the shot before the stew took its top off:
https://www.instagram.com/eattheworldnyc/


Somehow the little beauties known as vareniki, or Ukrainian-style dumplings, did not make their way onto the menu but they are available in both savory and sweet varieties. We chose the sour cherry version ($12, below) to double as our dessert and were not disappointed. These are just slightly sweet but supremely satisfying.


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Rondel Ukrainian Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

15 January 2019

Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai

JAPAN 🇯🇵

When talking about "Big 3" regional styles of ramen, most people outside of Japan have heard of Hakata and Sapporo styles, both having evolved from large metropolitan areas with many vendors and varieties. But a third lesser known style was developed in northern Honshu in the small village of Kitakata which gives it its name. Known for its storehouses full of soy sauce, Kitakata-style ramen uses this as its base, a type of shoyu.

The bowl itself appears simple, a broth full of noodles and topped with chashu and some thinly sliced spring onion, but do not let this fool you. This broth has been extracting pure umami from pork bones for "long hours" which gives it an almost smoky and toasted taste, full of earth and charcoal.

Ban Nai is the most famous source of this style of ramen, with 62 locations around Japan. Here in the United States there are now two in Orange County, California, one outside of Chicago, and now one tucked into a grocery store in Jersey City.


The broth of their standard Kitakata ramen ($8.99, above and below) is already full of flavor, but the chashu is a flavor bomb. Some might call this salty but their "secret recipe" marinade is wonderful, the pork belly is definitely its own product and not just full of taste from the bowl. For an upcharge to $12.50 you can get a bowl completely covered at the top with chashu (see plastic model below).


The noodles of Kitakata ramen are thick, curly, and chewy as seen above. More water than usual is used in these to give it the soft texture and they are hand-crumpled for the waviness. This character seems to be perfect for the interaction it has with the broth.

Plastic models (shokuhin sampuru) of all the three most popular items.

Inside of the 99 Ranch Market, a clean and not so busy grocery store which itself is within the Old Colony Square, there are also a few stalls selling Chinese food, both a la carte and buffet style. You can get self-serve dim sum, bubble tea, and sweet cakes from other vendors.


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Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

14 January 2019

Yummy Tummy Asian Bistro

SINGAPORE 🇸🇬

For many years now, the businesses at this Northern Blvd address, almost exclusively Korean, have come and gone quickly, never taking a foothold. As another year ticks by, 2019 brings a new tenant and a new cuisine behind a bold green facade. Yummy Tummy Asian Bistro has a menu full of Southeast and Far Asian foods, but focuses its heart on the cuisine of Singapore, a nation with an incredible mashup itself.

Anyone who has traveled to Singapore comes away with an awe from the food. Simple eateries are everywhere, but most pack such an immense amount of deliciousness. There are collisions of culture that make the food so satisfying, as if it is growing and evolving right before your eyes. No matter what ethnicity a resident of the country might be, it is the cuisine that is an immediate unifier.

It is nice to see the emergence of another casual Singaporean eatery since the closing of wonderful Chomp Chomp in the West Village. While you may not walk out of the doors like you walk out of the food courts and hawker stalls of Singapore, skipping and whistling after amazing meals, the mostly Chinese-influenced Singaporean standards here are done pretty well and worth seeking out.


It is possible to eat a very odd and eclectic meal here, full of pasta and calamari and Taiwanese BBQ squid tentacles, but stick to Singaporean standards rare in New York City like the Hokkien fried noodles ($16, above), a mixture of egg and rice noodles with shrimp and fish cake served slippery with a seafood-based "broth" that is not quite pooling.

Take your cues from the front awning, which promises "Asian comfort food," and combine those noodles with an order of cai tow kueh ($8, below), thick hunks of radish cake with egg that can be stir-fried either sweet or spicy.


Behind maybe only chicken rice and air conditioning, soft shell crab might be the third most loved thing in Singapore, and you cannot go long without being invited to join new friends to eat it. One of the most popular ways is to deep fry it and smother it in chilli sauce, which they do here as well ($28, below). I remember being overwhelmed with heat in Singapore, and while this dish is served with a slow burn that eventually comes up, it may be worth asking for some extra heat to eat the dish as intended.


Unfortunately Yummy Tummy does not offer alcohol, so the match made in heaven of this with a Tiger Beer is not possible. Plenty of the sauce should be left by the time the crustacean is devoured, but you can order extra buns ($4) if necessary.

Hainanese chicken ($18 for half chicken, below), another regional specialty and half of that "chicken rice" mentioned earlier, is available here and served with a red chilli and green "pesto" sauce.


The Indonesian and Malaysian influences on Singapore might not be more obvious than in the dish otah otah ($8, below), two steamed fish and shrimp cakes grilled inside of banana leaves. In those countries it is usually transliterated to otak otak, but this is the same dish. A tapioca starch is used with the ground seafood to give it the fluffy texture.


At our table of five, I overheard at least one person say the Singapore bah kut teh ($12 small, below) was their favorite dish, and another say it was their least favorite. This photo unfortunately does not show the tender pork ribs ready to fall off their bones, but does give a sense of the herbal quality of the soup. If you directly translate the name, it means "meat bone tea," which about sums up everything you need to know.



As sides for our meal, we ordered both the achar ($4, above), spicy pickles more commonly eaten by the Indians in Singapore, and marinated chicken gizzards ($4, below), thinly sliced and soaked in vinegar. Both of these added crisp and tart counterpoints to otherwise mostly savory options.


Bandong ($5), a sweet drink with jelly.


At the end of the meal we could not turn down the call of a slice of durian cheese cake ($7, above) and a cup of coffee just like they love it in Singapore: full of Carnation condensed milk.


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Yummy Tummy Asian Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

08 January 2019

Ix Restaurant

GUATEMALA 🇬🇹

Unless you take an interest, it is hard to ascertain just what Ix is all about from the outside. In a rapidly changing neighborhood, it seems to be a hangout for many of the newer residents of the area. The menu is absolutely all over the map, with Spanish tortilla de huevo, sandwiches, kimchi soup, and plenty of breakfast options with high end coffee and tea.

But look a little closer to some of the items, especially in the soups list, and you start to see some standouts. Alternatively you could find some of these soups on the menus of a Mexican or Guatemalan restaurant, but what they share in common is their roots in centuries old Mayan kitchens. Guatemalan dishes like pepian and jocón are just the tip of the iceberg for using ingredients to this culture that spanned the lands of what is now Guatemala and southern México.

For more on this, read our article about Tierras Centro Americanas in Jamaica, Queens.


One of my favorite dishes in the entire city is the jocón at Tierras Centro Americanas (link above), so I was ecstatic to see the dish listed on a second menu finally. The version here ($13, above) comes out looking perfect, topped with crisp green beans and a deep green color from tomatillos, cilantro, and green peppers. Toasted pumpkin seeds called pepitos, garlic, and onions provide the rest of the palate. Oddly left out was the heat that is usually a big part of this dish, which I later learned from the owner was an unfortunate byproduct of his customers who for the most part do not like spicy food.

On the next visit I will be certain to order it with this "special" request and recommend you do the same.

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