(Updated with additional photos.) Our party spent more time admiring the sunlit nave of the Romanian Orthodox church than we did inquiring into the making of pastramă de oaie (pronuounced "why"). "Smoked sheep" was the gist of it.
You'd be hard-pressed to find pork on the menu at any of New York's Indonesian restaurants. The world's largest Muslim-majority country, however, has room for an incredible variety of cuisines; this periodical indoor bazaar is fast becoming the best place in the city to seek them out.
The chef of Ai So Ise, one of 20 vendors at the most recent bazaar, was born in North Sumatra. His recipes draw on the traditions of the Batak peoples, many of whom practice Christianity or indigenous religions rather than Islam — hence the embrace of pork. Both the pork-blood-stewed saksang (above and first photo below) and the grilled babi pangang (at bottom) were prepared not only with garlic, shallots, and lemon grass but also andaliman. This close relative of Sichuan peppercorn delivers a quick tingle rather than a lingering numbness or burn; think of it as a lemony pepper.
For more photos from multiple bazaars (some held last year, at a smaller venue), see my slideshow.
Bubur sumsum (Boo-bor Soom-Soom, shown after stirring, $3.50), an Indonesian rice-flour pudding, is lightly flavored by pale green pandan and sweetened by brown sugar. "Sumsum," Indonesian for bone "marrow," gives a good sense of the texture, which is creamy and yet a little slippery, too.
(Slideshow expanded with many more photos.) Once a year, members of this Burmese congregation dole out home cooking. The personal touch is everywhere in evidence: In the wrapping of the spring rolls, in the mixing of the elaborate salads, in the snipping of chili peppers to add a kick to just-griddled parathas. Many dishes are made to order, mixed by hand (gloved hand) immediately before serving for maximal stimulating freshness.
Dishes that have been prepared in advance can be equally engaging. Davoy kanut, shown here, is a mix ("kanut") of vegetables served over rice noodles. Its namesake, and the chef's previous home, is "an attractive town halfway down Burma's tail-of-the-kite south coast," Naomi Duguid writes in Burma: Rivers of Flavor. Nowadays it's better-known as Dawei. This rendition was well-supplied with eggplant, ladyfinger (that is, okra), long bean, and cabbage; young jackfruit and banana blossom were more difficult to detect. Finishing touches include fried onion, roasted sesame seeds, and two different chiles, one for heat, one for flavor.
At one time the fun fair was held in a canopied backyard. In recent years the event has been confined to indoor meeting halls, which afford a little less space but dampen spirits not a whit. For photos of many more items from multiple fun fairs, indoors and out, see the slideshow.
Myanmar Baptist Church Fun Fair St. James Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway (St. James-Corona Aves.), Elmhurst, Queens www.MBCNewYork.org (The 2016 fun fair was held on September 3)
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.