February 1, 2012
Everyone has meals that remind them of home; one of mine is a Taiwanese breakfast.
The family and I don’t dine out for breakfast very often but, when we do, we almost always go a Taiwanese restaurant called Yung Ho in the San Gabriel Valley, known for their soymilk and other Taiwanese breakfast eats. We only go maybe once or twice every year, at no particular time and for no particular reason, but I consider our inevitable yearly trip an unofficial family tradition.
Even though I now live far from the family, I like the idea of carrying on tradition (even if only with myself) so I found King 5 Noodle House in Flushing – a Taiwanese breakfast place to call my own.
If you’ve never had a Taiwanese breakfast, let me give you the lowdown: Of all the things on the menu, I feel like there’s only one thing that you have to get, and that’s a bowl of hot soymilk.
When I was a kid, I actually hated soymilk. (I drank a lot of regular cows’ milk at the time so soymilk tasted funny in comparison.) I obviously learned to love it but, even now, I still prefer the sweet soymilk over the savory. Sweet soymilk is simply fresh soymilk sweetened with sugar while the savory soymilk is filled with bits of fried dough, shredded dried pork, pickled veggies and all sorts of other things. To this day, I’m still not fond of the savory version – the saltiness just doesn’t appeal to me.
Other than the soymilk, there’s a variety of foods you can order. My personal favorites are the following:
Fried Cruller (“you tiao”)
Literally just a long piece of fried dough, you can either eat it as is or get it sandwiched within a sesame pancake. I like giving them a quick dunk in the soymilk, just enough to get some flavor but not so much that they dough becomes soggy. (If you get the savory soymilk, pieces of it are already chopped up in the soymilk to begin with.)
Rice Roll (“fan tuan”)
The rice rolls also come in both a sweet and savory variety; I only order the savory. It’s essentially a fried cruller wrapped in shredded dried pork and sticky rice, and sometimes includes pickled greens as well. It’s been so long since I’ve had a sweet one that I’ve forgotten what they’re even stuffed with! (Sugar? Red bean paste? Sesame? Honestly, I have no idea.)
Egg Roll (“dan bing”)
The last thing I always get is an egg roll – a soft green scallion pancake with a egg fried on it.
Besides the dishes shown above, you can also order for breakfast anything from sesame pancakes stuffed with beef to pork and/or vegetable dumplings and buns to beef noodle soup. As you might have noticed though, most Taiwanese breakfast foods are heavy in carbs; therefore, as long as you don’t let your eyes order for your stomach, you’ll be good to go!
King 5 Noodle House
39-07 Prince St.
Queens, NY 11354
January 11, 2012
If anything was made apparent to me in 2011, it was this: I am supposed to be in New York.
I may have only lived here for 14 months but I already feel like NYC is turning into home. I may have been born and raised in LA but, every time I went back to visit this past year, I became bored and antsy and only wanted to be back in the city. There’s something about New York that makes me feel so alive; here, I feel like I’m slowly becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be.
My best of 2011 list reflects a similar perspective as my life; as I created a home for myself in NYC, I immersed myself in food that reminded me of home. It’s surprising how many places I didn’t eat at in 2011: I only had one fine dining meal (Del Posto, for my birthday). I missed out on most (if not all) of the big name restaurant openings. For a girl who prides herself in trying new restaurants, this year was definitely not the norm.
Even though I may not have indulged in my typical extravagant fooding adventures, I feel like my time this past year was spent wisely. I discovered casual eateries and hole-in-the-walls and reignited my love of comfort food. I found some of my favorite restaurants in the entire city this past year – places that I will go to over and over again, no matter the season or occasion. So what if this year’s list may be a bit tame compared to years past – I have all of 2012 to eat!
The Food Ledger’s Best of 2011
(If you’re not aware of my “Best of” policy, this list only includes restaurants I ate at for the first time in 2011. Carryovers from prior years not allowed.)
I Can’t Live Without
(I’m somewhat obsessed with knife cut noodles at the moment.)
- King 5 Noodle House (NYC) – If I’m headed to Flushing, there’s a very good chance I’m going so I can eat here. The only place I know of that serves an authentic Taiwanese breakfast, King 5 Noodle House reminds me of the restaurant the parents used to take me on Sunday mornings.
- Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles (NYC) – When I think “Chinese comfort food”, I can’t help but think of beef noodle soup. I was at the edge of death (or maybe just severely hungover) the first time I came here but by the time I was done with my bowl, I was feeling almost 100%. I’ve been coming back here ever since.
- Rockaway Taco (NYC) – I love fish tacos. I NEED fish tacos. I found a fish taco place in NYC that actually compares to LA fish tacos. ‘Nuff said.
One Bite and I’m Yours
(It’s a fig cupcake with prosciutto and a balsamic reduction. These are the cupcakes of your dreams.)
- Robicelli’s (NYC) – I am not a cupcake person but I will travel long distances for a Robicelli’s cupcake. Once, I traveled from Manhattan to Brooklyn, just to eat ONE of their cupcakes. That’s right – I rode the train there, bought one cupcake, ate the cupcake, then rode the train back. Their flavors are unique, inspiring and absolutely incomparable.
- Dough (NYC) – Dough’s light, fluffly pillows of fried dough haunt my dreams. Forget those other doughnut shops (*cough* Doughnut Plant *cough*), none of them have the airiness of Dough’s.
- Del Posto (NYC) – My goat cheese, celery and fig dessert was easily the best formal dessert of 2011.
2011’s Favorite Restaurant Group
(Sadly, Totto Ramen doesn’t count for this year’s list since I first tried it in 2010. Luckily, its sister restaurants are just as good!)
- Yakatori Totto (NYC) – Two words: Chicken liver. I have never had chicken livers as creamy as the ones at Yakatori Totto. Order more than one skewer – you’re going to want as many as you can get.
- Soba Totto (NYC) – Soba Totto is like the best of both Totto worlds. Their yakatori is of the same quality as Yakatori Totto’s and their soba noodles in broth is as comforting as a bowl of ramen fromTotto Ramen. This is my go-to restaurant on the east side.
One Step Closer to a True New Yorker
(See that pizza on the counter? That was MY pizza.)
- Di Fara Pizza (NYC) – Everything they say is true. The waits will be long. The crowds will be impatient. The pizza is worth it.
Almost…But Not Quite
(A ceviche tostada for less than $5. You can’t get anything like this in NYC.)
- Marisco Jalisco (LA) – One delicious fried shrimp taco covered in slices of avocado – less than $2. That would have easily cost me $5+ in NYC. (NYC Mexican food just cannot compare to LA Mexican food.)
- M. Wells (NYC) – Brunch at M. Wells was amazing. Sadly, it closed too soon to try anything else on the menu.
- Shopsins (NYC) – Order the Mo’ Jemima: poached eggs, bacon and mac and cheese pancakes. Yes, macaroni and cheese pancakes. This is epic breakfast food.
- Neptune Oyster (Boston) – The best lobster rolls I’ve had to date. If you go, just remember – butter is better!
- Tia Pol (NYC) – Their tapas are delicious and affordable but their fried chickpeas are easily the most addicting thing on their menu.
…Well, look at that. I’ve been so busy reminiscing about 2011 that I’m almost two weeks into 2012! Into the new year we go!
November 30, 2011
I’m sure you’ve heard of the travel tip, “go where the locals go”. Well, let me take that to the next level – don’t just go where the locals go, go where the cabbies go.
Across the street from Katz’s Deli, Punjabi Grocery & Deli (NOT to be confused with the Punjabi grocery a couple doors down from Katz’s) is where you find the taxi drivers of New York chowing down. It’s a true hole-in-the-wall – there’s no seating whatsoever and only has a counter to rest your bowl while you eat – but like many other hole-in-the-walls, it serves some of the cheapest, tastiest eats in the city.
Seven vegetarian dishes are stored in a refrigerated case, scooped into Styrofoam bowls and nuked in one of the half dozen microwaves sitting atop the case. The bowl then goes straight from the microwave, into your hands, into your mouth.
(What? Not sold on microwaves, Styrofoam bowls and cabbies? Fine…)
Like I said before, Punjabi serves one of the cheapest meals in the city. How cheap? You can get fatty samosas with potatoes and peas for $1.
Or, if you’re looking for something more substantial than that, you can order a small bowl of rice with two sides for $3.
I personally have a soft spot for the chickpeas, but pretty much everything I’ve eaten here has been delicious. And here’s another tip: I didn’t find this out until much later but they’ll put yogurt on top if you ask. (Make sure you ask.)
If you get thirsty, wash your meal down with some chai tea. They have two types here: a standard chai and an authentic Indian chai. Obviously, get the real stuff – the flavor is much more robust and full of spice.
And you know what’s the best thing about Punjabi Grocery & Deli? It’s open 24 hours. If your stomach can withstand Indian food at 2AM in the morning, there’s nothing better to soak up all that late night alcohol than a bowl of rice and curry.
Thanks cabbies! You introduced me to a real winner with this one.
Punjabi Grocery & Deli
114 E 1st St
New York, NY 10009
November 17, 2011
I get abnormally excited when I hear of a person defined by what they cook. If you’re know as “THE ______ man/lady”, I’d like to think you make a damn good ______ (whatever that may be).
The Arepa Lady was no exception. When I first heard of her, I immediately put her on my bookmarks list without doing any research whatsoever. (I mean, if you’re THE Arepa Lady, I’m going to assume your arepas taste like clouds stuffed with rainbows.) Only later, when I actually read more about her, did I realize that she’s:
- Sort of a big deal on the internet (the foodies, they love her!)
- Located on 79th and Roosevelt in Jackson Heights (a bit of a trek but okay)
- Only out late on Friday and Saturday, usually around 10pm or later (…wait, what?)
So if I wanted to meet this Arepa Lady, I would have to schlep out to Queens (a good 45+ minute train ride) in the middle of the night on weekend? Just to eat street food? Oh, great. This isn’t ever going to happen.
…But wouldn’t you know it, because of coincidence and a little bit of luck, I recently found myself in Queens at 11pm on a Friday in time to visit her cart! It may have taken me a while but I finally tasted the arepas from The Arepa Lady.
Before I get to The Arepa Lady’s arepas, a little background about arepas in general: My first arepa experience was at Caracas Arepa Bar, where the arepas were hard and crispy on the outside with very little doughiness in the middle. After Caracas, I began seeking out arepas in LA; all the ones I found were also crispy on the outside. Therefore, I (mistakenly) assumed that that was just the way all arepas were.
The Arepa Lady opened my eyes to a totally different variety of arepas. All those arepas I’ve had in the past? They were Venezuelan-style arepas. The Arepa Lady, she serves Colombian arepas.
Unlike Venezuelan arepas, which are first cooked and then stuffed with filling, Colombian arepas are usually eaten with the filling either mixed into the batter before cooking or piled on top afterwards. Filling on top vs. filling stuffed inside…doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? In actuality, it creates very noticeable differences in both flavor and texture.
For example, The Arepa Lady’s arepa de queso is made by mixing corn flour with mozzarella cheese and then topping it with butter and queso blanco once the patty has been cooked to a light brown. The resulting consistency is a soft and tender, almost doughy disc – a completely different texture than the crispy pockets you get at Caracas. (Btw, I’m using the word “doughy” loosely. The arepa is neither gummy nor mealy nor does it taste undercooked, it’s just very, very soft because of the mozzarella cheese which melts while cooking.)
Then there’s her arepa de choclo, which is essentially a large sweet corn pancake. Sweetened plain corn batter is poured onto the griddle, cooked on both sides, then sprinkled with queso and folded in half. I found that, while the arepa de choclo is described to be the sweet to the arepa de queso’s savory, both arepas have a slight sweetness from the corn flour. The arepa de queso does have more cheese though, which means more salt to offset the sweetness.
Now if you really want something salty to go with your arepas, order a skewer of meat. She has chorizo and chunks of pork, which can be topped with either lemon juice, bbq sauce or hot sauce with your choice of a potato, small arepa biscuit or bread on the side. I’d recommend the potato – there’s something so satisfying about chowing down on a hot potato when it’s cold outside.
Lastly, if you don’t live in New York or don’t feel like trekking to Queens for arepas, she did publish her arepa recipe for you to recreate yourself. However, I think I’ll still make the trip the next time I get a Colombian arepa craving – after all, she IS The Arepa Lady.
November 7, 2011
In December 2009, Caracas introduced to me to the arepa.
…Wait, let me be perfectly accurate: In December 2009, Caracas introduced me to the Venezuelan arepa. (I just didn’t know that at the time.)
I make the distinction because…well, honestly because I have another post in the works I talk about different types of arepas. However, I’m also making the distinction because I know more than I did in 2009. Before Caracas, I had never heard the word “arepa”, let alone that there were different types of arepas. Now, I know better. That’s one of the reasons I love food – a single bite can open your eyes to something completely new.
…But I digress. This post is about arepas. Venezuelan arepas.
If you’ve never had a Venezuelan arepa, think of a corn flour disc that is grilled then baked until it’s relatively crispy the whole way through. This hard arepa shell is then cut in half and stuffed with fillings that range from meat and seafood to avocados and plantains. It reminds me a little of an authentic Mexican gordita, but baked and without the breadiness in the middle.
Caracas serves 12+ varieties of arepas at any given point in time, which can be a bit intimidating. (Even more so when you consider Caracas also serves appetizers, salads, empanadas, shakes and desserts…) If you’re not sure what to order, you can’t go wrong with a combination platter – I usually order “La Popular” because it contains two of my go-to’s: The “Reina Pepiada”, which has shredded chicken mixed with avocado, and the “De Pabellon”, which has beef, black beans, cheese and plantains. The weekend special arepas are also good; one of my all time favorite arepas was the seafood arepa special with grilled squid.
No matter what filling you choose, make sure you try a bite with the yellow house sauce. (There’s a bottle of it on every table.) I don’t know what’s in it – it’s “a secret” – but I do know it’s like crack. Tangy, slightly fruity with just a touch of spiciness, I douse everything I order in it.
Lastly, a word of guidance: Arepas may look small but they’re actually much more filling than you would think. Order 1 if you want a hearty snack, 2 if you’re really hungry and 3 if you want to feel like you’re giving birth to a food baby. Whenever I order 3, I always curse myself for ordering that last one. Seriously, 2 will fill you up just fine.
(Btw, I apologize for the quality of these photos. Caracas’ food is great but its lighting…not so much.)