They're slim: Each of these three, variously filled with beans, potatoes, or pork (shown), could have been slipped into a letter-sized envelope. They're not made to order: Except for spoonfuls of green hot sauce, applied by me, all of the preparation was completed long before I arrived. They're also cheap ($1 each), unique in New York (to the best of my knowledge), and delicious.
Tacos de canasta, also known as tacos al vapor and tacos sudados, are steamed ("al vapor") and traditionally held in a basket ("canasta"), where their collective warmth gives them a sweaty ("sudado") texture. Ideally, keeping close company with several hundred of their fellows also helps them develop an enticing juices-soaked-into-the-tortillas texture, as evidenced here.
At Viva La Comida!, where these tacos were pointed out by festival organizer Jeff Orlick, the basket simply sat on a checked-cloth tabletop. If you visit the vendor on his regular street corner, Jeff noted, look for the basket on the back of a bicycle.
Tacos de canasta vendor Junction Blvd. at Roosevelt Ave., Corona, Queens Early evenings
At one time Taste Good's kari laksa (now $7.25), with rice noodles, bean sprouts, tofu skins, chicken, shrimp, and half an out-of-place hardboiled egg, rivaled the laksas I've slurped down in Singapore and Penang; the coconut-chili gravy was particularly lip-smacking. The bowlful shown here, however, is a laksa of years past; since a change of ownership, the gravy has fallen back a step or two.
From a subsequent group dinner, the one dish I would recommend without hesitation features sizzling bean curd ($10.95) surrounding a savory pool of minced-pork sauce. The lightly fried bean curd is crispy outside, almost creamy inside.
Taste Good 82-18 45th Ave. (82nd-83rd Sts.), Elmhurst, Queens 718-898-8001
In Thailand khao niew ping, sticky rice and banana wrapped in a banana leaf, then grilled, is an everyday if not commonplace street snack. At the counter of this Elmhurst grocery, the window of availability is much narrower: weekends only, from late morning until they sell out in early afternoon ($1.50). A similar timetable applies to what looks like sesame chicken (below, $5); it's actually sesame plantain. Both snacks are often available with a taro filling, too.
Previously: Given the choice between two varieties of fruit-in-ice (170 g., $3.25), my natural impulse was for a new flavor. Why go for the mangosteen, one more time, when I could try santal? A quick web search via iPhone revealed nothing about it.
I declined the shopkeeper's offer to hunt down a plastic spoon, and just as well: The cup's transparent seal was made of tough stuff. After the pull-tab and all available edges tore free, I finally punctured it with a metal spork (part of my regular field kit). But despite the spork and even after warming my purchase between two palms, I made frustratingly slow progress on the icebound (and unphotogenic) mass underneath, and I didn't fully appreciate the flavor.
That evening I belatedly recalled another near-encounter with santol, as it's more often spelled, years earlier. As it happens, one of the fruit's many other vernacular names is faux mangosteen.
The bulgolgi ($7.99) is well and good; it was the smell and sizzle of grilled beef that first lured me to tiny Pajunia's window. (Though generally open to the sidewalk, it's not a service window, it's a come-see-what's-cooking window.) Even more enticing are the hotteok (four for $5), "nut cakes" that are flattened on the griddle with a handheld press that resembles an air-hockey mallet.
The filling, brown sugar and a crushed mix of peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds, suggest brown sugar cinnamon Pop-Tarts, both for the flavor and for the ability to burn your mouth if you take your first bite too soon. The hotteok, as you can see, have a pancake-like texture and a viscous, drippy filling, so burned fingers are a hazard, too. Give 'em a minute.
The nut cakes, alas, are not always available. Late afternoon seems to be the most promising time, though a reliable neighborhood informant tells me that she's had Pajunia's hotteok for breakfast.
Guava and cheese go great together in pastries throughout Latin America, but only at a Colombian bakery will you find this combo in an empanada de cambray. "Cambray" — it may be a proper name, but its origin is unknown to me — seems to be associated with Valle del Cauca, the department on Colombia's Pacific coast whose largest city is Cali.
The shell of this baked empanada ($1.50) was unusually thick. I suspect that the dough, and not just the filling, incorporated some sort of cheese, and possibly yuca flour as well.
Villacolombia 40-42 82nd St. (Roosevelt-41st Aves.), Elmhurst, Queens 718-476-3500
Just inside the entrance of an Elmhurst supermarket, this Thai kiosk serves smoothies and stocks a variety of prepared food for takeaway. Some, like the cassava leaf curry recommended by my tipster (thanks, Elika!), may be cooked by the Maengun folks themselves. As at nearby Sugar Club, however, many bear labels from other Thai businesses. The appearance of these "coconut pancakes" ($3), from Playground, and their lack of sweetness bring to mind paeng jee.
Maengun Thai Dessert Kiosk inside Hong Kong Supermarket 82-02 45th Ave. (82nd-83rd Sts.), Elmhurst, Queens 718-578-2850
This Colombian raspado (lemon, $2) differs from its its Dominican counterpart in a couple of ways. Delicias Calenas keeps crushed ice at the ready inside the restaurant, then crushes it further in a snow-cone machine at the cart just outside. The raspado man, who otherwise would be scraping away by hand from a solid block, saves elbow grease, though the end product is still on the granular side.
The distinction that makes a greater difference is the addition of condensed milk, striped on the inside of the cup and layered on as the ice is loaded. As with a cholado (also on offer here), you're provided with both a straw and a spoon, so although the condensed milk tends to settle, you can get to the sweet stuff as quickly as you please.
On occasion, Puerto Rican piraguas and Dominican raspados do offer the option of condensed milk. Invariably, that I've seen, the milk is simply poured or dribbled on top, often straight from the can.
Delicias Calenas 95-41 Roosevelt Ave. (at Warren St.), Jackson Heights, Queens 718-507-0414
This Mexican-style seafood cocktail of shrimp, octopus, and squid (small, $5) was soaked in clam juice, tomato juice, and a half-lime squeezed a la minute, garnished with cilantro, raw onion, and hot sauce, and crowned with avocado. Like many customers, even before I crossed to the shady side of the street, I didn't wait to dig in.
Note: At the time of my visit this street vendor was doing business under the awning of Elmhurst's Glober Market (sic), across from Clement Clarke Moore Homestead Park and its ample seating. Reportedly he's since moved to Roosevelt Ave., where there's much more walk-by traffic, to be sure, but standing room only.
La Esquina del Camaron Mexicano Roosevelt Ave. at 80th, Elmhurst, Queens Saturday and Sunday, 11:30-3:30
The color scheme of this tiny eatery, subdivided from a shipping store, suggests that both businesses are Colombian-owned. Four named dogs are on offer ($3 to $4): a Hawaiiano, which includes pineapple sauce, a Mexicano, with pico de gallo, a Romano, which features bacon, and this Iraqui. Its sole distinguishing ingredient seems to be a salsa verde, here camouflaged by other sauces. If you imagined it might be an MRE, that's not quite the case: My meal wasn't ready to eat until the dog was popped in the microwave.
Los Perros D'Nico 40-09 81st St. (Roosevelt-41st Aves.), Elmhurst, Queens 786-337-2689
In addition to packaged goods, such as sambals and various other assertive condiments, this Indonesian grocery — affiliated with nearby Java Village — stocks an intriguing selection of locally prepared items. One of the most portable: a dense, not-too-sweet square of rice imbued with brown sugar ($2).