Sunday, November 30, 2008

Quick updates: 2 closings, 3 openings

CLOSED: Ariana Afghan, a halal market formerly on 42-49 Main Street in downtown Flushing. I used to take folks there on my Flushing Noshwalk. Similar Afghan and Persian products can be found at Al-Aziz Grocery at 43-29 Main Street, across from the Queens Botanical Garden. Although I don't have the exact address, there is an Afghan Market further south on Main Street near 73rd Street in the mostly Orthodox Jewish and Israeli area of Kew Gardens Hills. I take people there when I lead a tour there (which I don't do often, because it's mostly a custom tour destination).

CLOSED: Hemsin Turkish Restaurant, formerly at 39-17 Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside. I used to direct people there when MOMA was temporarily located in Long Island City. Another Turkish restaurant temporarily replaced it but couldn't make a go of it. I will probably revised my Noshwalk to include Turkish Grill at 42-03 Queens Boulevard.

OPEN: Euro Shop Meat Market at 42-07 Queens Boulevard. a few doors down from Turkish Grill This newish market is, to my knowledge, the only dedicated Hungarian market in Queens. (Hungarian Meat Market continues to operate on 2nd Avenue in Yorkville, Manhattan.) The young couple who own it promise to offer home made goulash and stuffed cabbage as the weather gets cold. When I led my Sunnyside Noshwalk this fall, we bought some delicious walnut filled pastries.

OPEN: Java Village, a new Indonesian place at 86-10 Justice Street in Elmhurst, which has a growing Indonesian community (and an Indonesian Cultural Center). I got a delicious, spicy kale dish and also an Indonesian coffee soda.

OPEN: Mo Gridder's, a barbecue place at 603 Crescent Street in Belmont. The owner has another place in Hunts Point but I think he was brilliant to move here - to capture hungry Fordham students, employees from nearby St. Barnabas Hospital and locals who want an alternative to Italian goodies! I've added it to my tour: We get a platter of spicy chicken wings!

SOON TO OPEN (or already open!): AYADA, a new Thai place on Woodside Avenue between 77th and 78th Streets. On my Elmhurst tour, we had a wonderful encounter with the folks who run Ally's Grocery at 76-13 Woodside Avenue. It's a Thai grocery that has many ready-to-eat Thai dishes, or some that need to be heated up. Well, I guess they decided it was time to "go for it" and open a restaurant. It was still in the works when I led my tour in mid-November...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wonderful food books

I usually write about places I visit, but I'm lucky to have received quite a few great free food books because of my newsletter, Noshnews. Note that I didn't say cookbooks, because the best of these are food compendia. Here are quick reviews of three recent favorites, all published by Robert Rose, based in Toronto.

My newest favorite is "The Science of Good Food" by David Joachim and Andrew Schloss, which calls itself the "ultimate reference on how cooking works." What I love about it is, well, everything. The layout is gorgeous, they use a nice heavy shiny paper stock, the photos are colorful and clear, and the language is utterly user-friendly, especially helpful for those of us who are not scientists.

For instance, the entry on "flavor" describes what it is, what it does nad how it works, discussing how our mouth recognizes the five tastes - sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savory. There are fun "fast facts" (dogs have 100 times more odor receptors per squre centimeter of olfactory membrane than humans; fish can smell in water, etc.).

There are also quite a few recipes. (They're printed in red in the index for quick reference.) I haven't tried any, but here's a tempting one: Absinthe suissesse, a beverage combining absinthe or pernod: almond syrup, creme de menthe liquere and a few other ingredints. It sounds positively sinful - but isn't that what absinthe is about?

The book also answered a few questions I'd been wondering about: What are capers (see "Flowers")? What is quinoa really: a grain or a sprout? Answer: It's listed under grains but described as a member of the spinach family.

There are extensive sections on herbs, cookware, cheese, chocolate and just about any major category you can think of related to cooking and categories of food.

My next new favorite book, though it's a second edition (I never saw the first) - is "The Spice and Herb Bible" (2nd edition) by Ian Hemphill. It answers just about every question I've had about spice and herbs and introduced to me to many more. Also - lots of photos and great recipes!

The book has extensive sections on chilies (including ratings on their heat levels) and peppers, and in some instances lists the names of some herbs or spices in other languages. One of my favorite features is the listing of the names of herbs or spices in other lanauges. You can read the names of Mustard, for instance, in Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Czech, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Indian, Indonesian, Italian, japanese, Malay, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Sri Lankan, Swedish, Thai, Turkish and Vietnamese.

Finally, as a soup lover I was delighted to receive "300 Sensational Soups" by Carla Snyder and Meredith Deeds. I thought I was creative in developing my own soups, but these two chefs have assembled a wonderful collections of cold soups and hot soups, vegetable and other soups, fruit soups and some nut soups (although they're missing the pisatchio soup that I found in a Persian cookbook). As you might imagine, my favorite chapter is called "The World of Soups" and focuses on ethnic soups.


Friday, October 31, 2008

A visit to Guatemala

In August I spent almost a week in Antigua, Guatemala, where I aimed, among other things, to get to know about Guatemalan food. Antigua was an ideal destination in many ways. It's an historic city - one of Unesco's World Heritage Sites - and although you'll see fast food restaurants there, there's a deliberate (and, in fact, mandated) effort to preserve architectural integrity and the essential culture of the city. I really loved exploring the many ruins as well as the markets. ("Antigua" means ancient).

On my first day, I stumbled, somewhat by accident, on the Antigua Cooking School, which I should have already noted, because it was in my guidebook, but I'd missed it in my prerations. Fortunately, however, I was able to register on the spot for a class the next day. Combining that cooking experience with many hours wandering through the local market as well as the local supermarket gave me a good handle - at least an introduction - the Guatemalan food. Obviously, a week is barely enough to get a sense of a place, but at least I got the sense!

The class is taught by Militza De Leon, whose Seattle-based aunt founded the school about three years ago. Each class is four hours long and the fee is US$65 - cash only, please! (I paid $50, but just checked the Web site, and apparently the costs have gone up!) When you sign up, you can choose by the menus available on the days it's offered. I went on a Thursday, when the main dishes being taught were chiles rellenos and a Guatemalan dessert called Mole, which involves cooking sweet plantains in a sauce that includes chocolate, spices and tomatoes. We also made a simple salad, a rice dish and learned how to form and cook tortillas correctly. (Could I replicate this on my own? I'm not sure!) We were given utterly thorough instructions, well-written in English. It was definitely worthwhile. The Web site,, mentions a cooking class in Queretero, Mexico, and I'm definitely tempted to look into it!

I also spent hours in the local market, wandering through its seemingly endless aisles and paths of local produce.

The market was a constant temptation, combining food and dry goods and some surprises: a huge kiosk with bras amidst all the food, and, as in other urban markets that I've seen in Central and South America and, in particular, one in Ghana, it seemed just endless. I'm sure there was an order to it, but it eluded me.

Although I had access to a kitchen at Dos Loros Inn, where I was staying, I would have needed more time to actually tackle some of the dishes I'd learned to make, and I would have loved to try using some of the new ingredients I saw - the variations of peppers and a green called loroco, which I've tasted in pupusas in Salvadoran restaurants here in NYC. I finally had a chance to see loroco (see photo below), and I bought a half-pound of it, thinking I could sneak it back to the US, but thought better of it, and tossed it before boarding the plane. I did take a couple of loroco shoots (visually it resembles tiny scallion bulbs, but the aroma is totally different).
Unfortunately, I didn't take any photos of or at Bodegadon, the lone large supermarket in Antigua. It was fascinating to see Guatemalan versions of global products (I was able to get Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi; here, the Coke was cheaper than Pepsi.) I bought a box of frozen pupusas, which I'd never seen before, and saved the box to see if I could find this product in NYC. I'm pretty sure I'd find them in Washington, DC, or California, where the Salvadoran communities are much larger, but I'm going to snoop around in Jamaica, Queens, next time I'm there to see if I can find them.
On that note, I should mention that I had pupusas two times in Guatemala, at a restaurant, where each pupusa was 15 quetzales (about $2.25) and were served with a bland sauce and guacamole, and at a street stand near the market, where they were 6 quetzales and were served with the hot sauces and spicy slaw (curtido) that I'm most used to getting. I think the first pupusa targeted the ignorant gringo consumer; the market pupusas were so much better! (The second picture isn't very good - I later realized that instead of photographing the pupusas and the woman who made them, I mostly took pictures of the little boys hanging around there - her son and his friends.)

Monday, August 4, 2008

August 2008 - Staten Island

First of all, my big news: Noshwalks was featured in am-NY on Tuesday, July 29th, in a nice article on page 13. I'll try to post it later today!

I'm in the process of finishing Issue #21 of Noshnews and am pretty excited about after many months.

In this post, I'm going to share some photos and previews of the issue.

"Little Sri Lanka" - Many foodies know that there's quite a bit of Sri Lankan food to be found in Staten Island, especiallly in Tompkinsville, not far from the ferry terminal in St. George. But this past week, a new restaurant opened, and three weeks earlier, a rather tattered Sri Lankan place re-opened with a new owner and much different approach to dining in this neighborhood, i.e., both new restaurants have a lot more seating and are decorated to attract a more upscale clientele. Lak Bojun at 324 Victory Boulevard and Dosa Garden, across the street at 327 Victory Boulevard, each will offer a much nicer ambiance for eating than has existed to date.
Sanjeewa Wickremaratne opened Lak Bojun (324 Victory Boulevard) in early July.

Dosa Garden was set to open on Saturday, July 31. I was leading a Noshwalk in Sunset Park that day so I didn't have a chance to go to opening day. But owner Mogan Chinniah has carved out a beautiful and fairly spacious eating area for customers. By the way, the restaurant canopy and menu describe it as an Indian place, but when I visited them as they were putting the finishing touches on the place two days before opening, Chinniah told me that it's both Indian and Sir Lankan. The menu looks great, with about 15 different types of doas and utthappam (crepes and pancakes), biryanis and other mouthwatering treats.

Meanwhile, I had an amazing lunch at Lak Bojun, with chicken curry, carrots cooked in cocoanut milk, eggplant and a chewy dried fish in a savory rice. It reminded me of the Indonesian dish nasi goreng, which combines textures and flavors. I hope both restaurants are hugely successful!

I can imagine, now that there are four Sri Lankan eateries within a block that foodies will "discover it" and flock there in big numbers, if they can convince themselves that Staten Island isn't a faraway country. (The other two places are New Asha, next door to Lak Bojun at 322 Victory Boulevard, and Colombo Cafe at 12 Cebra Ave., around the corner. New Asha has been around for a pretty long time and is known to NY Noshers. Colombo Cafe was known as Lakshmi's until about a month ago. I think the new name is better, and the food is great, but the space needs improvement.)

Besides the Sri Lankan places, this neighborhood also has several Albanian shops. The three food venues include Chuck's Pizza (which, like many NYC pizzerias is owned by Albanians), Rey's pizza (next door to Dosa Garden) and Emil's Halal Meat Market and Groceries. Chuck's and Emil's are owned by the Dedovic family (340 and 342 Victory Boulevard). Chuck's -which opened earlier this year, in a really beautiful space - also serves bureks, the delicious fillo pies filled with cheese, potato, meat, spinach and, sometimes, combinations of these. Check out the menu, because admidst all the typical Italian dishes are a number of Balkan specialties.

Elez and Emil (Chuck) Dedavic pose together with a pan of fresh-baked burek! They're at Chuck's Pizzeria at 340 Victory Boulevard not far from the ferry. You can get there on the S61 or S62 bus, which takes 5 to 8 minutes to zip up Victory Boulevard to Cebra Avenue.

There are tons of Mexican places on Victory Boulevard, but my favorite by a long shot is Tulci-Mex Cafe at 104 Victory Boulevard. Owner Marcelo Farciert (whose surname is French, but he's 100% Poblano from the city of Tulcingo)was doing so well serving up Mexican dishes in the back of his market two storefronts up at 108 Victory Boulevard that he took over an old 99-cent store and made a successful restaurant. He offers four different types of tamales. Everything I've had there has been delicious.

Marcelo Farciert has operated his market on Victory Boulevard for about 15 years, but opened the cafe within the last couple of years.

I have LOTS more to say about Staten Island, but you'll have to get Noshnews #21 to read it. It will be done later this month. Check for more details!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Catching up after almost ONE YEAR of not blogging!

It has been close to one year since my last blog entry! I want today's to represent a new beginning. For the first time, I've added photos, but you'll soon see photos on the older posts as I go back and add images. Thanks to my long-delayed implementation of a high-speed connection I can now make changes more effectively and quickly! So - enjoy - AND please comment!

These are the first pictures I've put into my blog. The top pictures a studetn and teacher from a high school in the east Bronx (Throgs Neck) who were part of a large group exploring the Lower East Side. They're eating matzoh and lox. Interestingly, many of these students had never been to the Lower East Side and couldn't identify the Williamsburg Bridge!

The second group is of students I took on a Noshwalk + history tour of Harlem last year. They're studying English as a second language at CUNY and have to take 4 semesters before they can matriculate into one of the CUNY colleges. I love leading student groups, especially with kids who really want to learn about New York City and are experiencing things for the first time. The first group was at First Park at First Street and Houston Street; the second is sitting on the steps of the Langston Hughes House on West 127th Street.

Anyway, I'm amazed that the last time I formally blogged was in August nearly 11 months ago! How did this happen, when I'm always seeing and doing so much that I should be blogging about?

Anyway, I'm writing this in the early evening after leading a custom tour today for another group of ESL students. I met this group in downtown Flushing, but we then took a bus to an area of Flushing also known as Kew Gardens Hills. (It's one of those confusing things, where some maps call it Flushing, but the post office is Kew Gardens). The students were great! They came from China, Uzbekistan, Colombia, Haiti, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru. Some have been here as little as six months, other for a number of years. In consultation with their teacher, I decided that it would be fun to take them to this kosher stretch of Main Street where they would see sights and taste foods quite new to them.

We started at an Afghan market, where we taste freshly baked Afghan bread. For the rest of the tour we focused on kosher foods and discussed what we saw. This is the fourth tour I've done for this program, and I loved seeing the reactions of these students, who know downtown Flushing well but, similar to a tour I led for another group last year, are clueless about the existence of kosher food. These types of cultural crossovers are precisely what I love to highlight in my tours, even to the point of showing them mezuzahs. At one market, the owner came out and briefly discussed what they mean.

Since last August a lot has happened. I created a new tour of Ridgewood, where I found a great Bulgarian market on Myrtle Avenue (Parrot Market, near 58th Street), an Italian bakery that has the very best gelati I've tried (Monreale, near 59th St., available in warm weather only) and rediscovered an Balkan kebob place (Bosna Express) where the chef is Mexican (Forest Ave. near Palmetto Street).

Some other "finds:"

Two Surinamese restaurants on Liberty Avenue in Guyanese Richmond Hill, both relatively new. (Only one, Surinam Garden, is truly appealing, and the owner is wonderful!); Chocolate Castle (not that new), a great confectionary place on Division Ave. in kosher Williamsburg; Grill Point, a popular better-than-felafel place on Main Street in Kew Gardens Hills; a Venezuelan arepas place on 36th Avenue in Astoria; a terrific Ghanaian restaurant in the Bronx where, a block away, I found ginger beer that was so strong I had to water it down - and I've enver done that before. I bought it at a Guinean place called Halal Coffee Shop on McClellan Street near Sheridan Avenue.

What I love are the constant discoveries as well as the rediscoveries of places I've already been where I see things with a fresh eye. So often I miss things the first time around...

More to come, including pictures!