Sunday, March 2, 2014

Queens in the House

There is a comic by the Oatmeal that gave me big chuckle the other day.  It is a drawing of a restaurant storefront that is a combination Japanese/ Chinese/ Korean/ Thai/ Vietnamese.  It has a bit of a smug superiority complex to it, since not all small cities and town can support a restaurant dedicated to one ethnic cuisine.  I myself have eaten many times in such restaurants, with mixed level of satisfaction and stomach upset.

This weekend, we were in Queens, New York, running several errands.  I've mentioned how Queens is the most diverse area on the planet and the likelihood to encounter some previously untried ethnic cuisine is pretty high.

This is an anti-Oatmeal photo.  This was taken on my phone from a moving vehicle so you picture is sucky, but in that one strip mall there are two Vietnamese restaurants in fierce competition, one pizzeria, one Malaysian restaurant, one Chinese restaurant that also serves bubble tea and a huge Chinese supermarket.  Of course down the block in either direction are numerous Taiwanese restaurants, Pakistani, Indian etc places.  It's almost a level of variety that is embarrassing.  Moving to the suburbs, this is probably the thing I miss the most.
Today I share with you what I had at one of the Vietnamese restaurants (minus the spring rolls, which were wrapped up in lettuce and herbs and devoured too quickly by the family to be photographed).

This is in Elmhurst, a neighborhood in Queens.  Nondescript interior, but soul satisfying food.
I love the fresh herbs.  When I lived in Korea, I was able to find Vietnamese restaurants, but they never served fresh herbs nor lime wedges.  Limes were really expensive in Korea, so there were rare.  Also, even at a very high end cocktail bar, it was rare to see fresh lime in drinks.  Also the broth in Seoul was plain beef broth as opposed to flavored with all the spices, which was altered for local preferences.

Hmm, lemons.  This was disappointing to me as they always served limes before.  But the basil and mung bean sprouts were nicely crisp and fresh and abundantly provided.  We nibbled on the sprouts dipped in hoisin sauce.  Each table is provided with various delicious saucy condiments.
The rest of the family ordered Pho Tai which is a bowl of rice noodles served in a most magical beef broth loaded up with all sorts of spices (all spice, clove, etc) and raw beef sliced paper thin which is cooked in the piping hot broth.  I ordered the "weird meats" version of it which in addition to the raw beef had also sorts of weird cartilaginous tendon, tripe and unidentifiable jelly (maybe knuckle?) in it.

Here's mine dressed with sprout, a drizzle of pungent sriracha sauce and squeezed with the citrus.  (would be better with lime)  Also various additional herbs are tossed in for additional fresh flavor.
It was simultaneously light, soulfully rich and beefy and full of all the freshness of the cilantro and other herbs.  Whatever ails you, this might make a good cure-all and may give chicken soup a run for its money.

And because I love coffee, I always try to order the Vietnamese ice coffee when I am in a Vietnamese restaurant.  Dark french roast coffee is is put into a little drip press over a little cup.
After the coffee drips into the little cup, you stir it into the pool of delicious condensed milk in the bottom!
The dark strong coffee is poured over ice, well stirred and sipped into delicious happy oblivion.
I would never attempt to make the pho at home.  I just don't have a culinary proficiency for working with spices I don't normally work with.  But Vietnamese iced coffee is something I make from time to time and offer when I have friends over for brunch.  Because really, who doesn't like condensed milk?!

Brew strong French roast coffee.  (I lie, I just brew my regular Dunkin Donuts extra strong)
Fill a tall glass with ice.
In a separate cup mix your hot coffee and condensed milk.  (to whatever happy dark sweet ratio you like)
Pour coffee mixture over ice.

Sip with straw.
Enjoy your buzz.

What delicious eats have you had this weekend?

27 comments :

  1. Hahaha the comic! I have long learnt not to trust restaurants that serve both Chinese and Japanese food, or something of that sort :p

    You know what's really strange? You can find many pretty decent Vietnamese restaurants in Brussels, but not really in my town (which is 20 minutes away and not THAT small)! I love pho so much, but I've never tried to make it on my own! Vietnamese coffee? Now we're onto something :)

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    1. I like places that serve true hybridized foods with Chinese foods. Korean Chinese & Chinese Indian. Alllll goooooood. :) But a place with menu compartmentalized always gives me the:
      >.> feelings.
      Make that coffee, so easy it feels like a big cheat in life. :D

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  2. I love Pho! There was this amazing restaurant called 'What The Pho' when we lived in Bellevue, and their pho was perfect for a cold, rainy day - I loved the beef version but the seafood one they had was fantastic too. They always gave you heaps of sprouts, lime wedges, cilantro and Thai basil! So, so good :)

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    1. The restaurant name! :DD Love all the fresh stuff you can put into pho. I need to search out a good chicken pho now. jenn f has me droolin'

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  3. OMG I must try Vietnamese coffee!!! Do you think this would work with espresso? Would my taste buds go boom?

    I have a love/hate relationship with lime and much prefer lemon. In fact I think I'm obsessed with it, I do have a Pinterest board just for it! Soooo....

    Sending you a vitual truckload of limes! :D :D :D

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    1. Helene!!! Any dark roast (or even medium roast) is acceptable to my low standards. But the key is to brew really really strong so that when pored over the ice, the ice doesn't dilute it to insipid yuck-ness.
      Pinterst board for LEMON??!!! I need a pinterest board for limes. I AM obsessed with limes. Completely!!!!! :DDDD *awaiting my limes*

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  4. I need to try Vitenamise coffee... as a coffee lover, it's a must for me!!! Yet, I have to find a vietmanise restaurant here... I've seen Japanese and Korean... and of course Chinese, but there are large communities from those countries living in Mexico (we even have a Japanese Licée).
    I went yesterday to a Lebanese restaurant, I really enjoyed it but I didn't take pics, I was too busy catching with the belly dance show, I even tried to do some lol
    By the way, I just tagged you... please check out blarg for it, seems it might be fun and you will be able to rant -again- on Dyptique candles as props lol

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    1. YUSH, ANNE! Try the coffee. Theoretically you use some french roast, but I think any kind of coffee is fine. It's kind of a heretic thing to say, but for me, it's the condensed milk that makes it so delicious. :D
      I sawwwwww your tag! Much ranting to follow!!!

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  5. I love pho! LA has great food - lots of immigrants from many different regions of the world running restaurants. Some of the food is in specific neighborhoods though, rather than mixed together like it sounds like they are in NYC.

    I live in Koreatown, and we've gradually been exploring the local restaurants. I really need to do some reading on Korean food to figure out what to order. I've been getting a lot of bibimbap because I know I like it and don't know what anything else on the menu is.

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    1. LA! Oh yes! I would love to go on an eating tour through all the neat stuff in LA. I remember a huge uproar when NYT wrote that our tacos were just as good as those found in LA. :) Elmhurst in Queens is very Asian. But the population shifts from one group to another to another, so we tend to see lots of various businesses represented in one area.

      Bibimbap is awesome. If you are a meat eater, bbq is always a win. Also any of the stews. I will send over some specific recommendations. :D

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    2. YES I love kbbq. Please do send me specific stew recommendations if you have time, would love to have a better idea of what to order. I can do moderately-spicy-for-a-white-person, but not super spicy.

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  6. We have some great Vietnamese places in London, most concentrated around the same area/street (Shoreditch). I'll take you there when you come to visit! <3

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    1. A date! with cheap beer! Also we watch the 50 movie. :)

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  7. I loved Vietnamese food until my onion intolerance kicked in. We can get condensed milk in a tube, I said to my coworkers as a hypothetical guilty pleasure, I would eat it from the tube lol

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    1. In... in a....tube??? O.O
      Does heaven come in a tube, because apparently the answer is YES! SQUEEZE SOME INTO MAH MOUTHS!

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  8. I love The Oatmeal! His one about his dog had me cracking and then sobbing all over the place. Now I've got a hankering for Pho for dinner. Hope you had a great weekend!

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    1. the Oatmeal is one of my favorite reads. The dog one was so sad. The one with the house fire and the cats also made to dissolve into a puddle of snot and tears... with hiccups from laughing.

      Hope you weekend was excellent!! :)

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  9. This is the plus about the DC suburbs; the ethnic food havens and strip malls that look just like your photos, are all in the 'burbs here.

    With regards to lemons and limes in pho, it's been a point of mystery for me. I have a friend from NYC who lived in DC for school and is now back in Manhattan. I have never been to a pho place in DC or Philly that served lemons with pho (both hot beds of large Vietnamese populaces), but that is the majority of what is served in NYC according to my friend. He didn't even know about limes + pho until he lived in DC.

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    1. All food is ethnic food. :)

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    2. Large swathes of Queens looks like strip malls, but instead of beauty salons and Dress Barns, there are filled with restaurant treasures!! AHHHH! I'm drooling, because where I work in a fancy-pants part of Manhattan is barren of all good foods. I see DC burbs and parts of NYC would have a lot of in common!

      Did you friend go to really good vietnamese places? I can't imagine a place worth its salt serving lemons. I don't understand why my regular place was serving lemons??!!! >.<

      Or is lemon used in Vietnam and I am clueless?

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  10. My last meal would most definitely by rice noodles. Stir-fried is okay, better still in a vat of broth. But I absolutely cannot ABIDE mung bean sprouts in my noodles. I don't mind bean sprouts if they're their own dish, but when added to noodles, my brain flies into a rage. >:-(

    The Oatmeal comic is a cheap laugh. I don't care if my food isn't "authentic", a term which is problematic to begin with, but I care deeply if it's not delicious!

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    1. Please don't be mad at me but thinking about how adding sprouts to noodles making you go ape is making me laugh! :DDD *soothes*
      I also get angry at Korean restaurants making bad Korean food. Good point. Most important would be the nomminess. Did I tell you that the Korean restaurant we went to Orlando had alligator bulgogi? Should have tried it. Inauthentic maybe, but intriiiiiiguing!!!!

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    2. Wait. Is inauthentic a word or is it unauthentic?

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    3. Both are acceptable! What is not acceptable is mung bean sprouts interrupting noodly goodness. :P

      My first year in the States, I had no idea how or what to order in Chinese restaurants because I was only used to family style or banquet style servings, none of this hog a whole beef and broccoli + hot & sour soup (WHAT IS THIS?) + brown rice to yourself nonsense. Though I quickly grew to appreciate individual servings because I am greedy. :P

      Alligator tastes like chikin! I guess you'll have to go back to Orlando to try it now. XD Was this the restaurant that was full at 5pm??

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    4. I missed American Chinese food so much in Asia!! Is this wrong? Am I wrong to have these feels?

      I've had deep fried gator bites which totally taste like generic chikin. XD HAhha! The restaurant was very empty at 5pm. Do you think it was the gator?

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  11. i LOVE PHO even better, i loved eating a bowl of chicken pho at 5am on the side of the street in hanoi. that was an experience i keep remember lately.

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    1. Oooooooh. That sounds amazing!!! I need to go back to Asia for more copious consumption of street foods.

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