Soft-serve taro yogurt with passion fruit, lychee, and strawberry boba (39 cents per oz.). Tapioca pearls aren't really to my taste — this was a shared dessert — but the sourness of the yogurt was very appealing.
Conway BBQ New World Mall Food Court, stall 22 136-20 Roosevelt Ave. (Main-Union Sts.), Flushing, Queens
From out front, it doesn't look like much. Faded letters on the awning still read "New Restorant Malaysia," one of multiple previous incarnations. Larry Reutens, chef of the now-shuttered Masak, called it "dive-y in a good way; he was reminded of home.
Malay Restaurant is my kind of dive, too. I followed the lead of the fellow at the next table and ordered clams chow kuey teow ($7.95), which evinced a respectable amount of wok hei, the fragrance and texture coaxed out by an attentive cook working with high heat. What's more, in response to my request the kuey teow was spicy as served; all too many restaurants will only prepare such dishes mild, at least for obvious non-Malaysians like me, and insist that the customer add hot sauce himself rather than risk that an order might be sent back to the kitchen. True, the deep red paste in that tiny dish did offer additional chile heat, but its primary contribution was fermented-shrimp funk.
Another welcome sign: Malay Restaurant didn't simply trot out a slice or two of orange, or a wrapped mint, after the meal. In late spring, according to the restaurant's Facebook page, oranges gave way to honeydew melons in the spirit of the season. At the time of my meal, in midsummer, honeydew had been supplanted by watermelon; after a spicy meal, it was as sweet as can be.
Several dishes at this bazaar, sponsored by the New York office of Bank Negara Indonesia (BNI), illustrated the archipelago's culinary connections with its neighbors. The rolled, sliced noodles in burgo (first photo), a specialty of South Sumatra, at first called to mind Chinese cheung fun; the savory coconut gravy suggested a closer kinship with Malaysian laksam. The extruded rice noodles in putu mayang (second photo) resembled nothing more than Sri Lankan string hoppers, except that these were bathed in coconut milk further sweetened with palm sugar.
Liquified palm sugar also filled klepon, coconut-covered balls of glutinous rice known as onde-onde in Malaysia and Singapore. (As with the putu mayang, the artificial colors were for looks alone and not as an indication of any particular flavor.) The payload inside some was already seeping out, which perhaps serves as a safety measure; take a bite and you may find that the liquid filling shoots out in the most awkward direction. Better to pop them into your mouth whole.
Turmeric balances the kaffir lime, the Penang-born chef-owner told us, but her ayam rendang isn't spiced with coriander or the like as an Indonesian rendang might be. "Just" galangal, lemongrass, ginger, onion, and garlic season her Malaysian rendition of this classic chicken dish. Oh, and roasted coconut, too, to add a further dimension to the coconut milk.
The pyramidal rice dumplings that answer to zongzi often seem leaden and gummy. But, as prepared by Ipoh, Malaysia-born Aunt Ooi, who called this by its Hokkien name, bak chang, the rice was moist and abundantly laden with chestnuts, shiitake mushrooms, pork, black-eyed peas, and dried shrimp. I've never tasted a better one in New York.
This restaurant recently changed cuisines, from Shanghainese to Sichuanese. Prince Noodle's current menu and business card still list that English-language name, but they also include Chinese characters reading "Lao Cheng Du," that is, "old Chengdu," the capital of Sichuan province. The awning gives the same signal. Even if you don't understand Chinese characters, you surely understand chili pepper.
Sometimes the Chinese name tells you more about a dish than the English name; sometimes a key ingredient is unexplained. The Chinese characters for "stir-fried string beans with Yibin veggie buds" ($8.95) make plain that the vegetables are dry-fried but are silent about the crumbled buds that garnish them. Several other New York menus are equally unilluminating. A web search for "Yibin Dunlop," however, reveals that the first is a southern Sichuanese city and that the second is an invaluable source of info on Chinese cookery. Though Ms. Dunlop doesn't spell out the preserved vegetable for which Yibin is famous and that is a "vital ingredient" in this dish, I believe the veggie buds are pickled mustard shoots.
HLY Chinese Cuisine 43-23 Main St. (Cherry-Elder Aves.), Flushing, Queens 718-353-0278
From the show-through where this black sesame and sticky rice cake ($1.75) had been sliced in two, I expected the Chinese equivalent of a marble rye. I also imagined that the sticky rice would be integrated in the crumb, not concealed as rubbery bands that, once bitten through, would slink back slowly toward the loaf. The taro cake, which promised no add-ins, might have been a less disconcerting choice.
QQ Cafe & Bakery 42-57 Main St. (Franklin-Blossom Aves.), Flushing, Queens 718-888-1990
They're like fruit roll-ups, but a little moister and messier, and in a flavor you won't find at the corner convenience store: black sesame (three for $2). Among the other not-too-sweet sweets on offer: osmanthus jelly.
Express Tea Shop 41-28 Main St. (inside the Golden Mall, downstairs, and with its own entrance on 41st Rd.), Flushing, Queens
Until recently the Chinese characters for this stall — it's on the lower level of the Golden Mall, across from the pulled noodles — had generally been rendered as House of Xie. That sign has been joined by others, in English, indicating an expanded emphasis on boiled dumplings including sea bass (shown, 12 for $6) and lamb with green squash.
The adjoining glassed-in display still features cold dishes from Tianjin, a neighbor of Beijing and the proprietors' former home. Previously: smoked, pressed tofu ($3) smacked of sesame with pert touches of chili (less, to be sure, than I applied to the dumplings).
Also shown: a closeup of a stool near the shop's narrow dine-in counter. Though of different manufacture, these are as comically low as stools I've perched on in Saigon. A fragment of a plastic bag was knotted to each, probably to identify the stall they belong to; compare this beribboned tray in Singapore.
Tianjin Dumpling House (previously best-known as House of Xie) 41-28 Main St. (at 41st Rd., inside the Golden Mall, downstairs), Flushing, Queens
While walking along Henan Zhonglu, Shanghai, a number of autumns ago, I came across two ladies operating roasted-chestnut carts. By all appearances they had trundled their heavy carts into position, one on each walkway of the bridge over Suzhou Creek, by human power alone. There each lady employed a long paddle to stir chestnuts and hot gravel in a broad roasting pan while calling out her wares.
Though sitting within a booth little larger than one of those carts, the lady who sets up shop on Main St., Flushing, each winter benefits from some modest technology. Her roasting pan churns chestnuts and gravel mechanically, without need for a handheld paddle (or elbow grease). And rather than tire out her lungs shouting into the wind, she makes continuous use of a headset minimike. But she doesn't break totally with Old World tradition: Reportedly her chestnuts ($3 per quarter-pound) are imported from Tianjin.
Chestnuts King Outside Oriental Express Food, 41-40 Main St. (41st Rd.-Sanford Ave.), Flushing, Queens 718-581-9077 Colder months only
In Islamic tradition, the Festival of the Sacrifice called Eid al-Adha commemorates the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice a son in submission to God, after which God intervened by providing a ram to be sacrificed instead. Today, it is incumbent upon affluent Muslims to perform qurbani — to sacrifice a livestock animal for the festival.
Though it is preferable that the owner of the animal slaughter it himself, in the five boroughs of New York and elsewhere, often this is impractical. Hence, many halal meat markets accept qurbani orders from their customers, slaughtering a animal, usually a goat or sheep, on their behalf. One traditional guideline recommends that one-third of the sacrificed animal be retained for personal consumption, one-third given to family and friends, and one-third offered as charity to the poor.
Qurbani orders Signs in Jackson Heights and Flushing, Queens, and elsewhere throughout the city The three-day, two-night celebration of Eid al-Adha begins in the evening of Thursday, October 25, 2012 (by the solar, Gregorian calendar), 10 Dhu al-Hijjah (by the lunar, Islamic calendar)
Qiao mian jiao tuan ($5), offered at Biang! but not at its modest Xi'an Famous Foods siblings, is a thick, warm buckwheat pudding. The menu notes that it is "similar to Japanese soba-gaki," which occasionally is served in sweet dishes, but this Chinese pudding is decidedly savory, owing to a soy-sauce dip spiced with mustard oil. I imagine it will be a popular accompaniment once the liquor license comes through.
Biang! 41-10 Main St. (41st Ave.-41st Rd.), Flushing, Queens 718-888-7713 (for reservations only) www.Biang-NYC.com