(Updated with a savory bite). Earlier in the day, I would have ordered differently. Late on a hot sunny afternoon, my shaved ice ($3) was replete with candied winter melon, crushed peanut, condensed milk, and all the colorful jiggly add-ins you'd expect. For the clientele of the day, walkby customers at a typical Upper West Side street fair, this weekly popup ducked the issue of how to transliterate the name — yaykae thoke? yeykhe thohk? — with the easy-to-pronounce "Burmese frozen delights."
Around brunchtime, however, the more exciting prospects would be fresh paratha and vegetable fritters. The proprietor and his wife prepared these for many years at the Myanmar Baptist Church fun fair when it was held in a Briarwood, Queens, backyard. In recent years the annual fair has moved indoors, where propane is forbidden and the paratha are simply not the same. Burmese Bites returns those flaky flatbreads to the great outdoors, once a week.
On a return visit, at another far-flung Manhattan street fair: freshly flipped, folded, and griddled paratha (comped, regularly $4) with yellow peas. The gourds in the background, harvested from a relative's home garden, were destined for fritters.
On a hot day in another neighborhood, a double line of traffic at a long light might be an opportunity to trot out bottles of water; here it was an occasion for quenepas. Stripped of its thin green rind, the quenepa (keh-Nay-pah) reveals a pulpy mass that smacks of sweet lime and banana. Worked around in the mouth, it offers precious little juice and a rather large pit.
Buy quenepas for the road, and ultimately you'll be left with a bagful of rinds and pits, and sticky fingers to boot. If not refreshed, at least you'll have a good grip on the wheel.
Some like it runny: Though this pastry is named for a fish, inflected by parsley and capers, and accompanied by tabouli and a trio of sauces, the featured ingredient is egg. My Algerian-style tuna brick ($8) — often spelled brik, sometimes briq — was fresh from the fryer, and the folds of warqa, a stiff cousin to filo, were too hot to handle at first.
Eating brick with the fingers, and not with a knife and fork, is de rigueur, and by the time I managed a few bites, hélas, the egg had cooked through. A quicker-thinking fellow would have pushed aside the tabouli and cradled his brick in the lettuce leaf underneath.
Cuy alley: On weekends in temperate weather, spit-roasted Ecuadorian guinea pig can be found in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Typically four carts do business along one short stretch in the eastern reaches of the park, just as they have for some number of years. No advance notice is required to procure cuy (Coo-ee), and, at Mi Pequeño Terruño, no Spanish; English will serve you just fine.
You will, however, do well to call on your negotiating skills, and to weigh fatness of cuy against fatness of wallet: This platter cost $50 (courtesy of EthnoJunkie). For that price the proprietor included several sugar-sprinkled fritters (not shown) as an appetizer while the cuy was rewarmed on the grill (standard practice at all of these carts), and she frieghted the tray with hefty golden potato cakes and an underlayer of those outsize kernels of Andean corn. Accompaniments included, this was more than enough for two (fortunately, EthnoJunkie is always prepared to pack out leftovers).
The cuy itself was far superior to the guinea pig I tried several years ago; "tastes like turkey" had been my earlier capsule review. This more recent specimen was particularly large, and the meat from different parts of the animal had distinctly different characters — more garlicky closer to the skin, especially the fattier bits, richer in the hindquarters, gamier closer to the spine. Two kidneys were thumbnail-size treats; crisp skin paired well with everything.
Mi Pequeño Terruño Cart near the intersection of Progress and Discovery Aves., inside Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens Open daily in temperate weather, but serving cuy only on Saturday and Sunday
Despite the blue-and-white banner the featured team was Ecuador, not Honduras (Los Catrachos would play later), and the featured eats were tacos, not baleadas. On this weekend afternoon, many similar small gatherings were scattered here and there in the eastern reaches of the park.
World Cup viewing tent and snack bar Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens (The 2014 World Cup concludes in four weekends, on July 13)
Despite their differences, these two dishes represent a single item on the picture menu: "pork noodle" ($5). The meatier version was procured last winter, the better garnished but less porky, several months later. Their common bonds are ribbonlike "belt" noodles, hand-stretched on the spot. Boiled, the irregular, almost ragged noodles are still very chewy and must be eaten soon after serving, before they become clumpy. They're a bellyful.
Corner-cutting in the meat-sauce department is almost certainly a product of close competition; on a given afternoon, as many as four Queens-based carts will set up near Columbia's Broadway gates and beckon the university's large Chinese-born student population. Auntie Wang (王阿姨, wong Ah-yee) is the only vendor whose name isn't rendered in English, but young and willing translators abound. And, as indicated, the menu is presented in English, too, with the standard caveat that pictures are for illustrative purposes only. Your serving may vary.
The Henan-born proprietors of the Auntie Wang cart also apparently run Taste of Northern China, a new, smallish storefront at 88 East Broadway. Chowhound squid kun made the connection based on the commonality of one rare menu item, "hot dry noodle," and, even more tellingly, a shared telephone number.
Auntie Wang Cart near Broadway and 117th St., Manhattan 646-229-8107 Hours irregular; most days, lunchtime through dinnertime
Lángos (Laan-gohsh, $6) is a deep-fried Hungarian flatbread. Though generally known under similar names elsewhere in Europe, lángos has also acquired the waggish moniker of "Slovak pizza" and has even been likened to the Native American frybread that's the foundation for an "Indian taco." On request, yours can be heavily loaded with extras or served in the (relatively) lightweight version shown here, with sour cream and cheese. A brush with garlic, as it emerges from the fry oil, gives the lángos an essential bite; it's an option you shouldn't pass up.
Has the sight of lamb face salad, and its vaguely recognizable, chewy chunks of meat, given you pause? This taco de cabeza ($1.50) will not. The veal is finely chopped and very tender, and without a hint you wouldn't guess that the muscle meat comes from the head (cabeza) of the animal. At taquerias where whole heads are cooked on site, diners can accommodate preferences for particular parts, each with its own texture, as in a taco de ojo; at this street cart, and perhaps also in the parent restaurant, veal cheek meat may be the default.
These tacos are small, and you'll surely want more than one; it's more common to see three or more crowded together on a single plate. Whatever the size of your appetite, that surprisingly sweet grilled onion is a great palate freshener.
Tacos El Bronco Cart stationed daily (except Thursday) on 50th St. near the southwest corner with Fifth Ave., Sunset Park, Brooklyn 917-436-6156 (One of several locations) www.TacosElBronco.com
St. Brigid's, a Roman Catholic church on the Ridgewood-Bushwick border, was named in 1887 for a patron saint of Ireland, and in the early years of the 20th century it came to serve a largely German-American congregation. Today many congregants and neighbors are Ecuadorian, judging by the abundance and pedigree of the street food nearby on a recent Sunday.
This plate of mote pillo ($5) has its roots in Cuenca, a city in Ecuador's southern highlands also famous for fanesca. At the simplest mote pillo consists of eggs and hominy scrambled in the presence of onion, garlic, cilantro, and (for color) achiote. A few members of our scouting party suggested that meat would improve it, and indeed in Cuenca a related dish, mote sucio, also includes kernels of hominy (mote) that have been sauteed with pork, or in pork gravy, so they become "sucio" ("dirty").
The question then arises: What is "pillo"? The only translations I've been able to find suggest "rascally" or "roguish," which is a stretch for a dish that is not even very piquant (at least in this instance). If you can supply a better etymology for the pillo in mote pillo, please do.
On the side: quaker (Quack-air, not shown, $3), a beverage that smoothly blends oatmeal, name-brand or not, with a little orange juice. In Ecuador, quaker traditionally includes naranjilla, also known as lulo; the O.J. is a U.S. substitution. This quaker was also flavored with apple and cinnamon (nicely noted, missmasala!), giving the impression, in the best possible flashback-to-childhood sense, of packaged instant oatmeal, now in drinkable form.
El Bochinche Street cart on St. Nicholas Ave. between Linden St. and Gates Ave., Ridgewood, Queens Friday through Sunday, early afternoon till early evening, year-round