This series of typewriter artworks by Nutthawut Siridejchai illustrates dishes prepared by his mother, in Thailand, on paper plates like those used for dollar slices of pizza in New York, the artist's home since 2009. The flavors of his mom's cooking are expressed using a Thai keyboard, then garnished with a token of his current cheap eats. Shown, one of a series: casseroled shrimp with glass noodles and pizza seasoning.
For some true believers, an Italian beef sandwich can never be too wet. The beef is slowly roasted, sliced thin, deposited in a spicy, garlic-enhanced broth made from the roast drippings, and simmered. When finally the beef is heaped on the bread, a ladle's worth of liquid invariably comes along.
Before relish is added — sometimes sweet peppers, for me a spicier giardiniera — a native Chicagoan would probably have the whole thing dunked in the broth. "Wet," in such case, is a term of art that reportedly signals restraint; "soaked" puts the bread to the test. (Compare this torta ahogada, "drowned" in a spicy sauce.) My sandwich ($10) simply received the pour-over treatment, which was plenty messy enough — especially when I swabbed the caddy to clean up the last of the liquid pooled at the bottom. Next time, one more ladle.
Piña, mango, tamarindo, limon, fresa, frambuesa, and maracuya — if not by their bright colors alone, many of this raspado vendor's syrups can be readily identified by their Spanish labels. (You may know them as pineapple, mango, tamarind, lemon, strawberry, raspberry, and passion fruit.) As flavors for shaved ice, they're common to many Latin American countries. Most of them, and several more, can probably be had at the well-regarded Dominican grocery El Bohio, a half-mile to the east.
An eighth syrup, in an unlabeled container, was also available on the afternoon of my visit; recognizing it, I quickly guessed the previous home of the raspado man (and not woman; if there is a Mama Celina, she remained behind the scenes). The fruit in question is sometimes called naranjilla, or little orange, which describes its outward appearance, but as lulo, a name that seems to have an Incan root, the fruit is indelibly connected with Colombia. The greenish pulp, sometimes a very murky green, is used in a number of sweet and savory dishes; the flavor is often described as a very tart and acidic combination of lemon and pineapple. For my lulo raspado (small, $2), of course, that tartness was tempered by the sugary syrup. The color was washed out, too; condensed milk will do that.
Mama Celina Kiosk outside 89-45 Elmhurst Ave. (at Case St.), Elmhurst, Queens Afternoons in warmer weather
(Slideshow updated with additional photos.) Mont lone yei baw — loosely, "rice balls floating in water" — seldom surface except during Thingyan, the water festival that marks the Burmese New Year.
They're labor-intensive to prepare, except for special occasions, though preparing them as a group is part of the communal fun. At the station where this bowlful was prepared, one woman employed a nutcracker to break up large nuggets of jaggery, unrefined brown palm sugar, into pea-sized tidbits. A second woman pressed them into small wads of glutinous rice-flour dough, folded them shut, and rolled them between her palms into their final shape. A fellow set them into a cauldron of boiling water and then, once they floated to the top, shocked them in a small pot of cold water so the cooked dumplings wouldn't stick together. Another woman, who dressed the filled bowls with grated coconut, filled in along the assembly line as needed.
There's a tradition, a Burmese friend warned me with a smile, of jokesters who replace the jaggery with bird's eye chilies. Luckily, neither I nor my dining buddies, who brought their own toothpicks to this tiny bowl, got pranked.
This annual celebration is organized by the Light of Dhamma Buddhist Association (LDBA) for the benefit of Visoddaryon Dhamma Ramsi Vihara, a local Burmese Buddhist monastery. For more photos from multiple years of the festival, see the slideshow.