Monday, March 22, 2010

March Madness

This weekend consisted of whatever my wife and I happened to be doing between various March Madness matchups. It began Friday, meeting friends after work between Midtown and the Upper West Side. After far too many, my last clear memories had something to do with how wonderful the combination of Korean red pepper, SPAM and soju were while closing the night out at Po'Cha 32 in K-town (which btw more than deserves it own post, someday).

Originally the fantasy was to start Saturday early with a 9:00am visit to Williamsburg's Egg for some breakfast. But as often happens, our hangovers derailed any hopes for such an early start. Still with temperatures heading toward the mid-70's we were motivated to make it out to breakfast and still make it to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden while admission was still free (Saturday's 10am-12pm).

SooSunHwa (수선화)

The garden was absolutely wonderful. By the early afternoon it was so warm that standing in the direct sunlight was almost too hot. While the garden is still awaking from its long winter slumber, signs of spring abound everywhere. If they aren't already open, buds are about to burst, while daffodils, snow drops, crocuses, magnolias, and many other flowers are in full bloom.

Crocus Field
Crocuses light up the Brooklyn Botanical Garden

As if to show how food is always on our minds. Seeing a field of crocuses reminded my wife that we were out of saffron. As it happens, a few days earlier I was trolling the interwebs and found that Despaña (perhaps more famous for its SoHo store) had its wholesale outlet in Jackson Heights. Thus we decided that on our way back to Astoria, we'd stop by and see what kind of Spanish goods we could enjoy on this lovely Saturday.

It turned out that on Saturdays, Despaña offers a wide sampling of their goods including an array of Spanish cheeses, meats, olive oils and pastries. These included several types of and ages of hams and cheeses, as well as varying types of chorizo. To top it all off, it was all accompanied by copious amounts of complimentary wine. What was to be a routine jaunt to the store turned out to be a wonderful (and free!) siesta.

After such a busy Friday night, and Saturday morning, we'd eventually spend the rest of the day largely vegging out while watching more bball at home. As the games wound down, we found ourselves calling it an early night.

Sunday was far more mellow, yet we still managed to stumble upon some new discoveries as we made our back to Jackson Heights for some Desi lunch at Dosa Place. We left our house having skipped any sort of breakfast, thus eagerly awaited sitting down to eat. Much to our dismay we got to Dosa Place around 11:15 and were told they were still getting ready to open (though the sign and menu claim an 11am opening). However as they say back in the mothership "SaeOngJiMa!" This roughly translates into something like "every cloud has a silver lining" or for you Sino-Korean scholars out there 새옹지마 / 塞翁之馬 .

With the choice of finding alternate plans or killing time, we choose the later. It was then we found on our silver lining, as we'd eventually come upon a storefront (Bhim's Cafe) which had a sign proclaiming "Momos Sold Here." We had heard a lot about momos from our Nepali friends, but had never actually eaten them, thus we took this as a sign that the food gods had decided that now was the time.

Walking into Bhim's, we found that they too were just opening. fortunately they were ready to serve us up some momos. We were given the choice between chicken and veg, and we went with the veg. A few minutes later our auntie brought us a plateful of steamed veggie momo's.

Veggie Momos
Veggie Momos

Perhaps just like Nepalis and other Himalayan peoples, momos resemble their East Asian brethren but have an uniquely South Asian influence. With the momo initially we expected to taste something just like most other mandoo-gyoza-dumpling kind of experience we've had but from the first bite, we were to be delightfully suprised. On the outside, the momos we ate were indistinguishable from a mandoo, and even the innards were pretty much the same cabbage, carrot, etc stuffing you'd find in any generic East Asian dumpling, but the seasoning was definitely more Indian type curry tasting, and delightfully so. It is certainly something that everyone should try.

Momo Profile
Momo innards

Finally after finishing up our momos, we made our way back to the Dosa Place, where despite the name, my wife ordered Vegetable Biryani and I ordered the Thali which included the whole lot of what is pictured below for only $8.95. I can't really think of a better brunch in NY for such a price. But if its out there I know that we'll be searching for it.

Dosa Place's Thali
Two Veggies,Dal, Sambar, Rasam, Rice, Roti (not pictured), Pickles, Pappadam and Payasam

Po'Cha 32
15 W. 32nd St., 2nd fl.
New York
, NY 10001
Bhim's Cafe,
74-10 37th Rd,
Jackson Heights, NY 11372.

Dosa Place,
35-66 73rd St
Jackson Heights, NY 11372.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Flavors of Chung Moo Rollrice

Dduk BoKi
Dduk Boki

Every now and again, the most wonderful transcendent joy can found in the most unexpected places. For example, last night my wife and I went to Flushing short on time and awash in hunger. With a little over half an hour on our hands, our plan was to simply get something fast before moving on to our next engagement. As luck would have it we found ourselves near a tiny Korean snack shop, Chung Moo Rollrice & Dongas.

Previously we had been to Chung Moo before, but only to pick up some of their fried goods, which include all of the following dipped in battered and perfectly fried: sweet potatoes, squid and little rolls of rice and glass noodles wrapped in kim. What we got was always well made, but fairly average, so we weren't really expecting much. However this was the first time we actually grabbed a table, and perused the rest of the menu.

As this was what Koreans would consider our native fast food, the menu was primarily composed of BoonShik Jip (Snack Shop) classics like noodles, dumplings, and (as the bizarre translation of the house's name suggests) kimbap and tonkatsu. Always ones to err on the side of what's least likely to be screwed up we went with Korea's most common street food classics Dduk Boki (Rice Cakes in Red Pepper Paste) and KimChee ManDoo (KimChee and Meat Dumplings).

Since the room only seats about 12 people, and half the space is taken by the service counter/kitchen we only needed to shout our order to the auntie. Immediately upon ordering, another auntie brought us two bowls of complimentary o-Deng (aka o-den or kamaboko) broth. It was from that point on that we was instantly transported back to the streets of Seoul where most anywhere you're bound to run into Korea's prolific street food. We would find that these foods are Chung Moo's stock-in-trade and the Ah-jum-mah (Korean phrase for Auntie) and her assistant have done well to represent the scene here in NY.

Hye with BoonShik
Hye with BoonShik

Almost as soon as I washed down my first gulp of o-deng soup (which is also the complimentary drink of the street in Korea) we were brought our Dduk Boki which was cooked perfectly al dente while its the kojuchang sauce was just the right balance of spicy and sweet. Meanwhile our KimChee Mandoo was also cooked with care so that it was perfectly crispy but not greasy. As accompaniment we were brought a the typical Korean soy sauce dip (soy sauce with a bit of pepper, red pepper flakes, etc), however as they do "back home," we just dipped our dumplings into the Dduk Boki sauce. The sauce is also perfect for any of the other fried items on the menu as well.

While my wife and I partook silently and in contemplative wonder of the most humble and common of Korean foods, we observed a parade of all the colors of Queens come through to order take out on their way home from work. Then as other customers finished and moved on, which would eventually include us, Ah-jum-mah asked if the food was okay. We were sure to let her know we loved it, and to keep up the great work.

KimChi ManDoo
Fried KimChee ManDoo

Chung Moo Rollrice & Dongas
(충무김밥 & 돈까스)
39-04 Union Street
Flushing NY 11354.