Sunday was hot. Not quite the oppressive nastiness that threatens to descend onto New York City in a few weeks, but it was quite uncomfortable in the hot sun. After wandering up and down sunny streets in Jackson Heights, the almost shocking cool of the air-conditioning inside Patel Brothers supermarket was most welcome. As was the incredible array of exotic produce, the aisles and aisles of bulk grains and the floor to ceiling stacks of spices. The produce section looks diminutve but each bin is filled with something alluring. Of course there are the usual things like tomatoes, grapes, kale, potatoes, and so on but there is also tindora, karela, chappan kadu and tarmarind. And no, tindora is not a new dating site that combines Pandora’s music algorithms with Tinder’s judgmental dating functionality. Actually that’s kind of brilliant, Tindora could be a new dating site that matches you with potential partners in your area who are listening to the same song. Though I guess that listening to “Drunk in Love” on repeat isn’t exactly grounds for compatibility. A tindora is actually a little gourd about the size of a tube of lipstick that closely resembles a mini cucumber. Also known as an ivy gourd, baby watermelon and even gentleman’s toes. I bought a pound of tindoras and haven’t decided what to do with them yet but I will definitely be calling them gentleman’s toes from now on.
I think tindora can best be described as cute as opposed to the monster that is karela or bitter melon which can only be described as terrifying. Karela looks a zucchini that happens to be infected with a rare form of small pox that results in spiny skin lesions. Sometimes called bitter melon, the karela is known as goya in Okinowan cuisine and is the main ingredient in one of the most memorable meals of my life: a plate of goya chanpuru (stir-fried bitter melon) at a little Okinowan restaurant in the hip Tokyo neighborhood of Koenji. So it’s a bitter squash that looks like the devil; no idea what I’m going to do with this one.
Don’t just take my word for it.
I have a tendency to buy anything and everything unfamiliar when it comes to exotic produce so I had to seriously hold back. I’m planning to make tamarind-stuffed eggplants this week and these gorgeous little thai eggplants were irresistible.
Before the shopping there was eating. This time the focus was on Tibet and there were two things on my mind: laping and momos. Laping is a cold mung bean noodle dish and momos are Tibetan steamed dumplings. Tibet as you are probably aware is angrily part of the People’s Republic of China. The Tibetan people want independence and deserve independence, China won’t hear of it. So needless to say Tibetan food is very close to Chinese food. Momos look very similar to soup dumplings that you might find at places like Joe’s Shanghai. These momos were from Thakali Kitchen and were filled with intensely flavored beef.
Forgive the lousy iPhone photos, it was too hot to carry a bulky camera around all day. Thakali kitchen, like Patel Brothers was delightfully air-conditioned. I would even go so far as to call it “upscale” compared with the other steam-tray filled eateries in the area. Thakali is known for it’s thali which basically means vegetable sampler plate. We were eating light in order to hit multiple places so it was just momos and a delicious samosa chat which is basically just a plate of smashed samosas with delicious and cooling yogurt, mint chutney and tomatoes on top.
The next stop was Phayul, probably the most well-known himalayan restaurant in the neighborhood. This tiny ethnic enclave off the Jackson Heights/Roosevelt Ave 7, E, R stop runs along 74th Street for 5 blocks between Broadway and 37th Ave.
The cold gummyness of the laping noodles was delightful even if though the texture and sight took some getting used to.
There were also potatoes. In rich marinade with fragrant whole mustard and caraway seeds. They looked unassuming and I have to say a little boring at first but after a bite I stopped judging. Without a doubt, this is one of the best potato dishes I’ve ever had.
Then it was more grocery shopping. Limited to a single black Penguin books tote bag, I had to seriously edit my purchases. I couldn’t resist the packaging of these pysllium husks which are traditionally used to help move things along after a heavy meal.
So many lentils and chickpeas at Patel Bros.
This is tamarind, which will flavor the onions which will be stuffed into the Thai eggplants. Remind you of anything?
$3.49 for a giant box of Tamarind?! I must be dreaming!
Fresh curry leaves.
So now I have a fridge full of exotic vegetables. Stay tuned for the recipes.
Should you want to follow my footsteps, here’s where went for EFAC #4, that’s the ethnic food adventure club.
74-14 37th Ave, Jackson Heights 11372
(Btwn 74th & 75th St)
37-65 74th St, 2nd Fl
Jackson Heights, NY 11372