A fish has gotta eat…
When we were living in Asia, it took me a while to warm to the idea of night markets. It seemed like everything on sale, from street food to “Same Same But Different” t-shirts, was priced slightly higher for the benefit of looking at it in very dim lighting. But then the Siem Reap night market gradually won me over as I came to realize two advantages it provided over the daytime markets: 1) everyone feels better about getting drunk, which is really the only pleasurable way to shop for anything, and 2) there was a tank where you could pay to have tiny fish eat the dead skin off your feet, which was even better than drunk-shopping.
So needless to say, when I heard about the grand opening of this year’s Queens International Night Market, I was intrigued. Queens is an empire of ethnic food, from the feta cheese of Astoria to the dumplings of Flushing, so the idea of a night market in such an atmosphere made visions of a super-sized Smorgasburg dance in my head. Maybe it wasn’t even too much of a pipe dream to hope for a spa fish or two. I did some stomach-stretching exercises and set out for the territories near Corona Park. Continue reading
"Come, ye food pilgrims!" says this scarecrow at Nixtamal.
How far would you travel for the perfect meal? That’s not a purely academic question for most food enthusiasts I know. I’ve been contemplating the importance of the food pilgrimage ever since our friend Ben mentioned the fact that “there are about four restaurants in Queens that people in Brooklyn are willing to travel to.” He and his wife Jenny had just brought Jason and me to one of these places, Tortilleria Nixtamal, in Corona (more on their heavenly homemade tortillas in a moment). The weird thing was, Ben didn’t even need to say the names of the other places he had in mind for me to instantly fill in the blanks with the restaurants I believed he meant: Dosa Delight in Jackson Heights, Nan Xiang in Flushing, and anywhere that is liberal with the feta cheese in Astoria.
I’m not sure what makes these places travel-worthy. I can say with reasonable certainty that I’ve never had and never will have the best meal of my life at any of them. But while I’m probably willing to put more time into traveling for food than most (see: any End of the Line post on this blog), it’s a rare gem that I’ll submit to slogging to repeatedly, and Dosa Delight and Nan Xiang make that list without question.
Perhaps part of it is the travel itself, the hardship endured for the sake of taste. When Jason travels to Jersey City and Sapthagiri Restaurant, I can see his eyes get wider with longing for majjiga with every rumble of the PATH train. Majjiga is a curious beverage, a sort of spicy cilantro-flavored lassi. (Interestingly, the menu translates “majjiga” as “buttermilk.” It is definitely not buttermilk.) As much as Jason enjoys the taste of majjiga, I think he enjoys equally the experience of telling the proprietors of Sapthagiri how far he has traveled to drink it, for which he is often rewarded with slaps on the back and a big pitcher of the stuff on our table. Continue reading
A lot of people think of Astoria, Queens as being synonymous with good Greek food. But the truth is that, like a lot of New York City, Astoria is a little bit of everything. Queens’s status as the most diverse county in the nation is on display no matter which way you turn. Take, for example, the block I walked around when I first stepped off the Q line: a Chinese acupuncture place across the street from the Thai restaurant that was next to the Spanish café that was just a few steps from the Cuban bakery (Havana Express) where I stopped to get coffee and biscotti. And that was all before I even set foot on Ditmars Boulevard, where everything about Astoria becomes squared.
It’s hard not to stand on Ditmars without thinking the word “bustling,” so I decided that the Bay Ridge strategy of taking a lunch spot survey would work well here. For an hour, I zigzagged around the surrounding residential blocks, soliciting lunch recommendations. While my methods were hardly scientific, I did speak to a lot of people: white people, brown people, Greek people, Italian people, grumpy people, talkative people, dog-walking people, frat boy-looking people, tattooed hipster people, and lots of elderly people.
Their responses, of course, were no less diverse. Continue reading
A free lunch really does exist, and I was walking the streets of Flushing, Queens recently, trying to hand it out. But I was having trouble finding any takers.
Allow me to explain. For our Friday series, Lunch at the End of the Line, I’m planning to ride one of the MTA subway trains to an unfamiliar stop and then offer to take a stranger to his or her favorite restaurant. As long as the place they have in mind is within walking distance of the train station and I, a longtime vegetarian, won’t go hungry there, I’ll pay for my lunch and up to ten dollars toward theirs.
But the good people off the Flushing-Main Street stop of the 7 train seemed skeptical. They were full of restaurant suggestions (including Szechwan Garden, a purportedly great place for spicy pork, and Nan Xiang, an excellent dumpling joint that I’ve actually been to before), but when I asked if they would accompany me, they began to avoid my eyes and find excuses. Continue reading