New York City
In New York, I can't find fresh huitlacoche anywhere, and the canned stuff is pretty awful: musty and mushy, and too slick and black. A friend told me about Endotzi, a small company based in Mexico that recently started exporting to the U.S. So far you can only find it online in one place, Old Mexico Gourmet, but it's worth ordering. The kernels -- which you can actually distinguish one by one, unlike the messy black canned stuff -- are plump and flavorful, and a purplish-blue color like they're supposed to be. A few months ago I sautéed some with a little American corn and serrano chile, and spooned it into a quesadilla. The taste brought me right back to Mexico. I'm hoping more stores in New York will stock it. In the meantime, I will definitely be ordering more, particularly as gifts for my Mexican foodie friends.
Shun Wang, a Chinese restaurant near my house in Queens, my mouth opened a little. Caramel-brown, glistening ducks hung on a hook inside the kitchen, next to what looked like a chunk of pork belly. I’d want to stay and gawk, but usually some surly Chinese dude in a grease-splattered apron was hanging out outside, smoking a cigarette. So I’d look and hurry on, down into the subway, the laundromat, the hardware store. Shun Wang was always crowded. But what did they serve? It wasn’t clear. Bright construction paper signs in the window showed Chinese characters only. The only other English item was its health sanitation rating, a piece of white paper taped to the window. It was a C. “You have to try hard to get a C!” my friend said, when I told her about the place. “No really. You have to try HARD.” I could overlook the sanitation thing. (I lived in Mexico.) The place was almost always crowded, so I went one day with my friend Jeff. The duck looked beautiful, shining on its oval plate, already cut into pieces. The skin was crackling and crisp, but the meat was a little rubbery. Was this normal? It was also lukewarm. Tried not to think about bacteria multiplying. The waitress had helpfully suggested a few dishes, since the menu had probably close to 100 items. (Note to self: research Cantonese food before trying the next Cantonese place. I had learned the place was Cantonese from Yelp, by the way, which had two separate listings for the place.) We tried the salt and pepper beef, which had oomph and spice, and gristle. Neither of us could tear into a piece with our chopsticks. The rest of the food -- fried fish, fried tofu, and pea shoots with garlic -- was decent and satisfying. We refilled our tea kettle a few times and lingered. On the way out, I saw a big plate of crullers. Like churros, sort of, but without the ridges. I asked a man smoking outside what they were, and he said they were donuts. I said, “Savory or sweet?” and he looked confused. I said, “How do you eat them?” He looked at us. “Eat?” I said. He cupped one of his hands, and mimicked the motion of dunking the donut in a bowl of soup. Ahhhh. Shun Wang opens at 7 a.m., so we are definitely coming back for breakfast. Since my visit, the sanitation grade has changed, too. Now it says "grade pending." If you know the best things to order at Cantonese restaurants, please let me know -- I'm completely new to this type of cuisine and would love to learn more.Every time I’d walk by
IACP conference, a huge annual gathering of culinary folks from all over the U.S. -- chefs, food writers, bloggers, entrepreneurs. As part of one of the official pre-conference activities I'd signed up to take an Indian food tour of Queens with Madhur Jaffrey. I was particularly jazzed about this. Madhur Jaffrey is one of the world's foremost authorities on Indian food. Her first book, an Invitation to Indian Cooking, was published in 1973 and is still widely considered a classic. She has written more than 15 books on Indian cuisine and hosted Indian cooking programs on the BBC. She's also a film and television actress. (For further study: Madhur Jaffrey's lengthy IMDB entry.) Meeting Madhur, and getting ready for Indian food On the morning of the tour, Ms. Jaffrey -- an elegant, regal woman -- showed up at the conference hotel in a chic black jacket with a fur-lined collar, oversize sunglasses and sparkly stud earrings. She passed out handouts that listed what we'd try: Gujarati sweets, homemade chapatis, parathas, chana masalas, paan, goat curry, plus chaat and curries from Kerala. We'd also visit an Indian grocery store. Twelve of us piled into a small white bus near Times Square and set off for Jackson Heights. About 20 minutes later we pulled up to Rajbhog Sweets, a bright, spotless cafe owned by a family from Gujarat. Rahjbog Sweets: chapatis, sugar, hand-rolled noodles and more The sweets were already on the tables: sticky, syrup-soaked jalebis, creamy milk-fudge squares of barfi. We sipped hot chai and nibbled on the sweets -- "Not too much, there are several meals to come," Madhur warned -- and we tried a light, spicy, canary-yellow piece of dhokla, a garbanzo-flour cake topped with chili oil, mustard seeds and cilantro. I kept asking Madhur questions. "So people eat this in the morning?" She said yes. "They eat them both at the same time?" She said the sweet and savory combo was very desirable. Before we got off the bus, Madhur had said that Rajbhog's chapatis were the best she's tried in the U.S. Owners Nirav and Neha Shah invited us into the kitchen, where we watched the cook, Sabita, roll out the dough with a thin rolling pin. She heated the chapatis on a grill and then placed them on a gas flame, where they ballooned into puffy ovals. Madhur also gave us a short history lesson on where the word "chapati" comes from -- chapat means to slap, so chapati is a bread made by slapping or hand-patting the dough into a thin sheet. Parathas, paan and ogling the Indian produce aisles The next stop was just a half-block away: cauliflower and potato parathas from Raj Sweets, and black garbanzo bean curry. "The garbanzo bean was originally black," Madhur told us. (As an aside, this is about where I pinched myself for the fifth time that day. How did I get lucky enough to take this tour?) We stopped for paan, a digestive snack wrapped in a betel leaf, sold from a tiny, closet-sized stand. It reminded me of a similar paan stand I'd seen in Mumbai. Our last three stops were just as great as the rest: a stroll through Patel Brothers Indian supermarket, where I ogled the fresh curry leaves, and a sumptuous goat curry from a place called Kabab King. We visited Kerala Kitchen -- the only Keralan food restaurant in New York that Madhur knows of -- where we tried creamy and smoky fish curries, several types of dosas and coconut mung-bean rice. But there was still one last stop to come: chaat. Chaat: the snack I've always wanted I thought chaat, an umbrella term for Indian snack food, meant fried crunchy potato chip-like things, or some sort of breaded, fried nugget. Totally not true. Bhel puri, from Usha Foods in Floral Park, was just as baroque as any of the street snacks I'd see in Mexico -- cold garbanzo beans lay mixed with potatoes, tamarind and puffed rice, topped with crispy-fried garbanzo noodles and lots of cilantro. It was like an Indian-Mexican potato salad. Why was the whole world not eating this? Madhur saw my look of glee (I was shoveling in the stuff as if I had grown an extra stomach) and she smiled. "I love chaat!" I said. "Good," she said. "Indians love chaat. They can't live without their chaat." I'm so grateful to have been on this tour. An Invitation to Indian Cooking is in my Amazon queue. Can't wait to get it and start cooking.Last week I was in New York for the
I'm visiting New York this week, and more specifically, Queens, which is the land of fabulous ethnic food. A few days ago, my friend Joy and her friends Dora and Gene took me out for Chinese hot pot. (I'd been begging for anything Asian.) We went to Flushing. You know how people visit large ethnic neighborhoods, and they can't believe how many signs are in a different language, and they say, "It's like little [insert country here]"? I never really identified with those sayings, because obviously the neighborhood wasn't really like China/Mexico/whatever, it was built in America. No matter what the area has an inherent Americanness, because this is what America is all about -- different languages and cultures, mishmashed together with our own. That said, my mind felt totally blown in Flushing. The closest I've come to Asian culture in Mexico was the time I walked those two blocks near Parque Alameda that are lined with Chinese food restaurants. And then there was one time we had Chinese food for Alice's birthday. But this… this…. Wow. I did feel like I was in China. Like, seriously transported. ...