There’s a lot of interesting street food to be found in here in NYC, what I’ve had that I remember I tend to love. Three vendors:
1) The Dosa Guy (Thiru is his name) on Washington Square Park
Come noon everyday, Thiru, the “dosa guy” is swarmed by hungry NYU students, itching for a quick meal. Lots of them probably don’t realize that they’re getting totally top quality food, because most of them order the same things, samosas, masala dosas, or uttapams. Which is fine, he makes those well; but what really makes him special is all of the little other things. The iddly (steamed rice/lentil patties) he makes are outstanding, if you ask for the “iddly lunch” he’ll put a few in a plastic container and soak them in sambar, coconut chutney, same with the medhu vada. He makes this thing which people call “roti curry”, of which I don’t know the origin (maybe it’s west indian?), lots of chopped up paratha with fresh veggies, potatoes, and soy gluten (everything he cooks is 100% vegan). I usually head out to lunch like 15 minutes early to avoid the lines; in the summers it’s nice that he isn’t so busy, but after labor day, if you come around 12:30, you’ll wait like a good 15-20 mins, which can be not so fun when it’s cold.
For those that care, Thiru used to be the chef at Dosa Hut, the South Indian place next to the Mandir in Flushing. That ought be enough to substantiate his cooking chops.
2) The Tamale Cart on 61st and Roosevelt Ave. in Woodside, Queens.
Just as it says. As far as I can tell they serve cheese and chicken tamales, along with Arroz con Leche. I think they serve other things, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out what they are. Often, I pull the, “I’ll have what he’s having” maneuever, which has once ended in something different (a chicken tamale in a piece of bread, not too exciting.)
3) The taco truck on 65th St. and Roosevelt Ave.
The taco truck pulls up to the triangle around 65th. st (where Sripraphai is) sometime about 10-11pm and stays till late, late at night. To be truthful, the other tacquerias around Roos are just as good, if not better, but man, this food hits the spot, and it’s cheap too; $2 for a taco, $3.50 for a torta. I’m usually (pretty wasted) and the only person there that doesn’t speak spanish, but I’m always successful in getting something tasty. I’ve yet to manage the get the toungue tacos, but the chorizo and bistec ones are always tasty.
…may I interject with one of it’s pains? I believe that my kitchen is infested by weevils. Or some such vermin.
I’ve spent the evening alternately looking up the offending parties, comparing them to actual samples thereof, and emptying my cabinets. All in all, the damage is about 12 or so pounds of beans and like 5 pounds of rice. Pretty terrible, I can hear my grandmother psychically screaming at me from India about the waste of precisous food, but damn, I really don’t want to eat beans that other creatures have had a go at first.
Why am I finding that it’s becoming a fairly regular occurance that I’m spending saturday night at home, cleaning my kitchen? Disgusting.
I became a fish eater last April, when I visited an old friend in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We were at the pub, and I was through with eating gobs of hummus and fafel to satiate my titanic vegetarian hunger. So I had some fish and chips. No great revelation, it tasted not too unlike tofu.
So, a few months later I go to Sripraphai (thai food champions in Queens, assburn spicy style) with a few friends, and we decide to order a whole fried fish, with a chilli+basil sauce. They serve it up, I startle at the bones, and wonder what I’ve gotten myself into. The eating turns me half brute, snapping bones, licking my fingers, making a mess. I look at the head and ask my friends, “If I crack it open, will I find more to eat?” They look at me funny and don’t say much. I decide that since one of my friends hasn’t finished his share of some curry thing, I’ll finish that off and not look like I’ve devolved too far. When my friends aren’t looking, I poke at the eyes, and see that there’s not too much there, just charred black little beady things.
Fast forward to my birthday in July, another fish comes, this time at Mina (my favorite restaurant ever, which closed it’s Queens location; the cook is now at Angon, in Manhattan, a 6th st place that I’m boycotting because the prices are fucking outrageous, and they’re probably catering to the lame taste of all of those people that go to the [mostly] lame places on 6th St.). A friend’s grandma is from India, via Jamaica, and she says that the eyes are the fish’s best part, and it’s good luck to eat them. I’m all for good luck, so down they go, and you know what? They really *are* the best part.
So I’m becoming a real fish eye fan; and am making subtle distinctions, and slowly notice that the more the cooked eye shows it’s structure, the less overcooked the fish is. Case in point: last weekend at Fiesta Mexicana (excellent new slightly upscale Mexican place on 75th and Roosevelt Ave in Queens, their ensalata de nopalitos is worth writing home about) the eye of the red snapper I ate was almost totally intact, even to the point of retaining the fluid. The hard thing at the back of the eye was still white and not crunchy like it is when the fish is overcooked. And it was the yummiest fish I’ve ever had, with stew tomatoes and onions, so soft and fresh.
In other news, this weekend I’ll be heading to a few Greeks places in Astoria in quest of Myzitra (inna Cretan soft stylee, not the hard stylee like everyone else.) It was the first cheese that I ever really loved, I consumed pounds upon pounds of it during my 2 week stay in Crete.
When a wineglass that has stayed overnight with a few drops of wine in it is filled with water, the smell of rose emerges.
As an attempt at a revisionist account of my mother’s cooking (perhaps one day I will be able to discuss cooking without simultaneously discussing my mother, but this is not that day), today, with some friends, I decided to try to incorporate fresh veggies into bhajji pau. Traditionally, this is street vendor fare throughout India, a mash-up of cauliflower, peas, potatoes and carrots, spiced with whatever masala that bhaiyya or his friends have cooked up, scooped up with whitebread that’s buttered and given a turn over the skillet. Mom uses frozen peas/carrots and frozen cauliflower, mostly because a) she hates the taste of fresh peas, and b) it’s a pain to cut the cauliflower and shell the peas.
So, after hearing an program (it’s the Laura Shapiro bit) on the Leonard Lopate show about how the food industry used frozen foods as a way of keeping up market demand for mass-manufactured food after WWII, I decided to sub in fresh produce for instances in which I had mostly experienced them in frozen form, hoping to open up new avenues of goodness in what had been quite nice before.
Little, however, did I realize, that it would take more than just a line-substitution to realize actual, substantial difference in yumminess. It didn?t help that my friends and I were under a lunch-crunch, ‘coz we were slated to watch some old Wes Craven movies at the Brooklyn Academy of Music that evening. And as a further hindrance, the only thing that would stand a chance at really changing the taste on dish on it’s own, the green peas, weren’t in season (how am I supposed to know this?! In my world, all vegetables are always in season, I don’t know what planet I fell on today where they aren’t.) They were purchased frozen, at the super awesome Subzi Mandi in Jackson Heights, along with fresh versions of everything else.
The method whereby I realize the bhajji pau, in the style of my mother, goes about as follows:
Two things are to be started at approximately the same time; the pan and the pressure cooker. In the pan go oil, onions (chopped), garlic (shredded), peppers (minced, the hotter the better) turmeric, coriander and tomatoes (also chopped), whatever masala you’ve managed to procure (I get mine from some guy who works down the blocks from my grandparents, but MDH probably makes one) and salt, in that order, with a good interval between the adding of the turmeric and the tomatoes. Into pressure cooker go potatoes, cauliflower, carrots and green peas, all cut into kinda small pieces, with a little bit of water at the bottom. When the things in the pan are sufficiently cooked (indicated when the oil comes out, having taken on the color of the spices), turn it off, and use the time before the pressure cooker whistles to chop some fresh sweet/red onions, coriander, and to butter some bread. After the pressure cooker whistles, remove the pressure by means you feel appropriate and add the veggies to the onion/et al. Mush and cook with a little water, add salt or masala, or ground red pepper, whatever it needs. Serve with the bread (browned butter side down on the skillet), onions, coriander, and a bit of butter melted over the mashed veggies.
In retrospect, it makes complete sense why nothing was really different upon the inclusion of fresh cauliflower and carrots. Since they were pressure cooked to death along with everything else, you don’t get a chance to let them have much character on their own. In the future, along with the addition of good green peas, maybe the way to go is to steam the peas and carrots, while allowing the cauliflower and potatoes to become mush in the pressure cooker? I would add the former to the onions a good while after I’ve added the potatoes/cauliflower, and having decreased the total mushing, I might be able to up the heterogeneity. Just a thought.
Y’all CANNOT understand what this, most unassuming of fruit means to a poor little city boy like myself (New York City, thankee). As a former resident of more tropical climes (that’s Florida, where America goes to Go to God), this time of year, of all times of the year, seems to be the finest. For now is when Kent mangoes are in season. And this is when Indian families thrive.
In India, they’re called Haapoosh, at least as I transliterate it, but universally they’re the sweetest, and least fiber-y. While I’m normally one that doesn’t mind things that are a little stringy or coarse, with mangoes, it is absolutely not allowed. For, in summertime, they’re almost always the crucial part of the ground across which the meal is built. The mango must offer the least resistance to it’s adaptation, it must be prepared to submit to blending, pickling, and being served up raw, but it can’t be spotted in the same way twice. If the mango is fibery, then you’ll know that it’s the same fruit that’s in three parts of your meal, but if it’s a Kent, then the mango will be appropriately invisible, the substance in which lunch/dinner inheres.
First: the mango pickle. The mangoes are cut raw, covered in spices (my mom gets them from India, she knows what’s in them, I can hardly guess, other than there’s lots of chili, and lots of coarse stuff). They’re dried for an afternoon or so, covered in the spices, and soaked in oil to soften over months. Whenever I go back to college, I take a big bottle back, it’s amazing in very plainly cooked lentils and rice with a little yogurt.
Next: the Ruus. Mango blended with ice and sugar. Some heathens would elect to add some rum (I’ve suggested this) but since my family hails from Gandhi’s stomping grounds, no such things will be allowed at the dinner table, if you want something, I’ll make you some tea. What have they been teaching you in college?! Ummmmm…nothing. Sorry.
Last, cut up plain, with almost every meal of the day. The best part is the bit around the seed (the Goatloh), mostly because the juice gets all over your hands and the table. And you can be like a big kid and lick it off and no one looks twice.