Atoles (ah-Toll-ays) are an extended family of beverages, usually cornmeal-based, of various consistencies, that are common in Latin America. This particular Mexican atol (small, $1.50) is thin, with a faint tropical-fruit flavor. Fail to take note of the handwritten sign on the front door, and you might furrow your brow for a moment or two before you identify guayaba — guava.
Often referred to as a "Oaxacan pizza," a tlayuda (tlah-Yoo-dah) takes "thin crust" to an extreme. While even the crispest bar pie of my acquaintance is pliable in the middle, the tlayuda is shatteringly crisp from one edge to the other.
The name denotes both the bare, baked tortilla, which this Mexican grocery sells by the bag, and the prepared dish made with it ($9 to $12). For their basic version, the cooks at La Cienega smear the tortilla with pork lard and refried black beans, heat it on a flattop, and dress it with a mozzarella-like white cheese, lettuce, tomato, and avocado. Optional toppings — in my case nopales, or cactus, with good timing chivo, or goat — are heated separately and added as the dish is dressed. Though the assembled tlayuda, sliced like a pizza before serving, holds together only loosely, that courtesy plastic fork is less adequate to the task than nimble fingers.
(This venue is closed.) That tingle tells you, if you aren't on top of your East Asian geography, that Tibet borders Sichuan province and that dofu khatse ngoen ma ($5.75) is a Himalayan take on Chinese mapo tofu. (Even at Chinese restaurants the name of the dish can vary. Szechuan Gourmet, which uses an older romanization for the province, gives it a curiously Western-sounding name.) This dofu khatse lacked complexity, but the bean curd was soft and the sauce had a bite; I was glad my sweet lassi ($2.50) was already at hand.
On offer: yerba buena, also spelled hierba buena (in the little bucket), a name that denotes various species of mint, and pápalo, a peppery herb that insistently makes its presence known in cemitas. At this moment the vendor and her cart were paused outside a self-service laundromat crowded with likely customers; a nearby nail salon was the likely next stop.
Asked for a dish distinctive to Medan, capital of the Indonesian province of North Sumatra and first home to the chef, my waitress pointed to emie (Ay-mee, $7.50). Unlike most of Sky Cafe's noodles, which are served in chicken broth, these "gravy egg noodles" are swamped in a sauce prepared from long-simmered shrimp. The bowl is filled out with potato, firm tofu, a few small shrimp, and a hardboiled egg, topped with seafood-flavored crackers that snap and pop in the gravy, and freshened with a last-second squeeze of lime. Chopsticks are the traditional utensils, but for finishing off the gravy, using a spoon is more decorous than tipping the bowl to your lips.
Emie is sometimes also known as mee rebus (reh-Boos), meaning "boiled noodles." The now-closed Malaysian restaurant Mamak House served one of many variations.
Sky Cafe opened in mid-July in the space that previously was home to Mie Jakarta and Pondok Jakarta. The menu, still under development, is very similar to that at the original, Philadelphia location; prices currently top out at $9.
The commemoration of the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana (death of the mortal body) of Siddhartha Gautama is named for the the fourth month of the Tibetan Buddhist calendar. This particular event, on the premises of a Nepali social group, came to light only because I took a wrong turn; when I found myself on the Elmhurst corner that is home to the United Sherpa Association, one of the gentlemen standing by the courtyard, or perhaps it was a driveway, asked if I'd like to have lunch.
In New York, many small festivals such as this are not promulgated outside the immediate community but do welcome passersby. True, most of the chow this day had no allegiance to either Tibet or Nepal: an apple, a cup of yogurt, a sushi roll, a brand-name veggie sandwich. The sole distinctive dish was dresi, a sweetened preparation of rice cooked with butter — a great deal of butter — and featuring golden raisins, cashews, and tiny tubers called droma. These, like most of the congregation, had made the trek all the way from the Himalayas; in the scope of things, my one wrong turn was a very small matter.
Saka Dawa Festival United Sherpa Association (aka Sherpa Kyidug) 41-01 75th St. (at 41st Ave.), Elmhurst, Queens 718-779-7300 www.SherpaKyidug.org (The 2014 festival was held on June 14)
While looking for a different event featuring food from another continent, I happened on a street festival sponsored by a Bangladeshi communications company. During the warmer months, similar single-block events pop up all over the city. Even when word is published in advance, often it's difficult to find out about the organizer, the entertainment, the vendors, or anything more than the time and place.
At midday a stage was being set up at one end of the block for musical performances; tented stalls lined both sides of the street, almost all of them draped with South Asian apparel and fabrics. Just one stall sold food, and though primed for bulky but mild European fare, I bought a serving of black chick peas ($3) to tide me over. Mustard oil, evidenced by the thin stripe at the edge of the bowl, pointed my palate in a different direction.
Shaped like a cookie, yielding like a cake, it's not a ringer for a late-night, made-to-order arepa de choclo. But channeling its namesake, this arepa ($1.50) does have sweet bits of choclo — corn — scattered within. And at this 24-hour Colombian joint, it's ready when you are.
La Gata Golosa 82-63 Broadway (at Elmhurst Ave.), Elmhurst Queens 718-779-1747 (One of several locations) www.GataGolosa.com
Despite the English-language explication of "petai with belacan sauce," this was a generous portion for a lunch special (with soup and rice, $8.95). The sauce took only a slight fermented funkiness from the namesake belacan, or shrimp paste, and after a long build delivered just a small burn; the petai were firm, and not as odiferous as their moniker suggests. Typically they're assigned the warning label "stinky" beans; on this menu they're "stingy."
Pulau Pinang supplanted a longstanding member of the Penang mini-chain in December 2013. The staff are Malaysians of Chinese heritage; the chef hails from Kuala Lumpur.
Pulau Pinang 82-84 Broadway (45th-Whitney Aves.), Elmhurst, Queens 718-672-7380