AROUND THE WORLD IN NYC
Written By: Rachael Dimit
Because I am as broke as a recently graduated idiot who decided to move to New York City with no money too many credit cards, a trip around the world just isn’t going to work at the moment. Thus, I went around the city where I live to momentarily satisfy my worldly cravings.
INDIA – THE JACKSON DINER
The first stop was India. Of course not literally, but rather to Jackson Heights in “The World’s Borough,” Queens. Jackson Heights is located in northwest Queens, and is known to be one of the most diverse neighborhoods in New York City. Upon arrival, a Nepali ceremony was going on in the square at Roosevelt Ave. and 73rd Street in which Nepali was largely being spoken; a block from there, Hindi prevailed. Of course I didn’t recognize these languages, but my Punjabi friend, who I’ll be from here on out referring to as “Duke Silver,” did. He grew up visiting this neighborhood with his parents after they moved to the States from New Dehli.
The trip to Jackson Heights started with a meal at the Jackson Diner; though there were no cheeseburgers or pots of stale coffee at this diner. The Jackson Diner serves up an Indian lunch buffet, with a spread of Northern Indian food including but not limited to palak paneer, chicken tikka, curry, naan, and rice palao. A separate station cooked up South Indian dosas. How do I know the difference between Northern and Southern Indian food? Again, thank Duke Silver. He explained the difference—Northern Indian food is much more common in the United States, because it more often contains meat, usually chicken.
I felt a level of apprehension upon hearing the word “buffet,” with scary flashbacks of cold corn and dry mashed potatoes, but Jackson Diner was a far cry from the meccas of gluttony I knew growing up in the Midwest. The guy making freshly cooked dosas was not at all reminiscent of the man who slices baked ham that’s been sitting under a lamp for hours. The dosas were light, crispy and filled with a spiced, but mild potato filling. The chicken tikka made for a great display of color and flavor. The plate itself looked like the cooking Rainbow Brite would do if she was a chef. A vibrant mixture of colors and flavors, this Indian food was as aesthetically pleasing as it was delicious.
KOREA – SIK GAEK
The first page of the menu screamed in large block letters “ARE YOU READY TO EAT?!” Largely unsure of what I was getting into, the answer to this question in hindsight, is no. This was another meal in the World’s Borough, or Queens, but this time to Sunnyside for Korean hot pot.
The restaurant, Sik Gaek, was recommended by a Korean friend. Without meaning to sound hyperbolic, I experienced one of the most intense meals of my life. The restaurant was completely vacant upon entry, which is never a desirable situation, but it filled up shortly after we were seated. The waiters doubled as servers and as chefs; our waiter brought over water, a frying pan, and three eggs. He lit the fire in the middle of the table, as is typical to hot pot, cracked the three eggs and began frying them in front of us. He then left to do the same for another table. There was nothing to the eggs–they were simply fried eggs with salt.
A bizarre element to this dining experience was the old-folks-home-style, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” button that was on the corner of the table. One click, and a loud dinger notified the waiter that our table needed something. Almost drowned out by the loud Beyonce playing, the ding summoned the waiter and he was table-side within seconds. We ordered the “Fresh Octopus / Lobster / Rib Eye Hot Pot.” Again, in hindsight, this was just so much more than we had anticipated. Within minutes a 25-pound pot of bubbling, steamy, saucy seafood was sitting in front of us.
The hot pot was more confusing than Kylie Jenner’s lips pre-fillers confession. Each bite revealed a new discovery of starchy noodles, vegetables, mushrooms, and squid. Lining the outside, there were clams the size of lacrosse balls. On the surface, there were mussels, baby octopi, giant abalone, a lobster tail, and, of course, the other half of the lobster as well. This lobster had obviously been chopped at the tail, put in the boiling broth, and placed on our table in front of us all within 30 seconds. The lobster gave the last nerve spasms at our table, which then slowed, the twitching stopped, and it lay still as we dug into the other seafood around it. A waiter came to the table with a menagerie of tools, cracked open the claws and tail, sliced the abalone, and used a scissors for the legs of the baby octopi which up until that point had been difficult to eat with chopsticks.
The hot pot was a suggested serving size for 4-6 adults. There were four of us at the table, but truly there could have been 4 more and we probably wouldn’t have finished the massive amount of food in front of us. Unable to leave the food to waste, we asked for it to go, with the full knowledge that none of us would be able to eat again that day; seafood wasn’t going to stay in the refrigerator for very long either. We resorted to time-stamping the gallon bucket of leftover food, and left it on a picnic table in Williamsburg. Hopefully, someone picked it up and enjoyed a seafood feast that night.
MEXICO & CUBA – HABANA OUTPOST
While of course it is completely impossible to be in two countries at once, at Habana Outpost, the lines are blurred–definitely not in the same way as the Robin Thicke song. This place transcends time and space, and suddenly you’re somewhere back in time on the most perfectly quaint Latino street corner. Despite being in Fort Greene, it’s pretty easy to forget that you just got off the subway in New York City—instead you’re enjoying frozen drinks in Havana for the day. If you feel like leaving Cuba, enjoy a few bites of Mexican elotes and suddenly it tastes more like Mexico City.
Habana Outpost is completely run off solar power–the first of its kind in NYC–contains outdoor seating, and serves frozen margaritas; it is a summer-time paradise. After ordering at the indoor counter, you can go outside and choose a spot at one of the many picnic tables, where you’ll likely end up sharing your meal with the strangers who are sitting next to you, because it’s just that kind of place. Who can be mad while sipping a frozen mango mojito?The plastic trays at our table were the perfect combination of rice and beans, chips and salsa, sweet plantains, Mexican tacos, elotes, and the god of sandwiches: the mixto, better known in these parts as the Cuban sandwich. All of this was served on paper plates, each heaped with an overwhelming amount of delicious eats.
Elotes are grilled pieces of corn on the cob, typically slathered with mayonnaise or butter (sometimes both) and then covered in salty cojita cheese and chili powder and served with a lime wedge. Being photographed while eating this tasty treat was no easy feat, thus no photo will be featured with such content. Perfectly tender, salty, and acidic, you’ll no doubt accidentally snort some of the chili powder and cheese while you’re snarfing the corn off the cob, and thus you can enjoy the flavor straight to the brain. To the person who created the Cuban sandwich at Habana Outpost, I salute you, dream of you, maybe even love you. The combination of salty ham, pulled pork, pickles, melty cheese, chipotle mayo, pressed in the middle of a roll of crusty bread made me forget how truly hungover I was, which no amount of Gatorade, Advil, or coffee has ever done for me.
Yes, Habana Outpost is both Mexican and Cuban, and despite making two types of cuisines, the atmosphere reeks of authenticity. The food is incredible, and at our table alone, a guy from Mexico City, a woman from Uruguay, and another guy from Spain all enjoyed the meal together. The food is perfectly complementary, and simple enough to enjoy while a white guy in a fedora spins Sister Nancy and other reggae favorites.
CHINA (Sichuan Province) – LITTLE PEPPER
Basically a lot of parts of Asia smel awful, but beautiful all at the same time—a steaming hot mix of durian, fermented fish sauce, and smog, all alongside fresh flowers, produce, and burning incense but damn that fragrance is so familiar and actually comforting after a while. In New York, luckily you can retreat to the sweet and rank smelling streets of Flushing to reminisce whenever you want.
I spent an afternoon in Flushing in Queens and all these scents came rushing back to me and suddenly I felt like I was back in Asia trying not to breathe, but relishing every moment of it. The streets are overly crowded; the fruits are unfamiliar; the seafood is still alive. After exiting the train, I dipped immediately into a small grocery store, because I was on a hunt for the fruit of life—the most delicious sweet and sour little fruit that you’ve probably never tried or even heard of—mangosteen. Even as I’m typing this, Microsoft Word is telling me that “mangosteen” is spelled wrong, and probably isn’t a word at all. Well, let me tell you, Microsoft, it’s the most delicious small purple fruit with a delectable inner white flesh. The search proved unsuccessful, so I settled for some rambutan–another tropical fruit. It’s small, red, and has green hair, with a sweet inner white flesh, like a 13 year old emo chick, but a lot more interesting.
Flushing was the chosen destination because of a small restaurant in College Point known as Little Pepper. Little Pepper is a Szechuan restaurant so deep in Queens that you get off on the last stop on the 7 train, and then get on a bus another 20 minutes from there—but it’s Michelin recommended, and for good reason. After our hour long trek there, during which we mostly discussed circumcision prevalence across the globe, but I digress, we were hungry and ready to eat.
The menu at Little Pepper is huge. We ordered the spicy and fragrant mapo-tofu, the marinated tree mushroom salad, pork dumplings, a chive pancake, vegetable fried rice, and the cumin lamb with scallions. Along with a Tsing-tao and a Diet Coke, the bill was a mere $60. The food had a palatable amount of spice as is typical to Szechuan cuisine–notably the cold mushroom salad and the mapo-tofu. Most interesting of the dishes was the lamb. It was spicy, herby, and had a strong flavor of game meat, all cooked inside a piece of tinfoil so the flavors were fluid.
I can’t go back to Asia right now, mostly cause I’m piss poor and spend my money on the wrong things–but Flushing is a good distraction until I can drink my next bucket of booze on the beaches of all the “koh”s (that’s Thai for island).
While I continue to pay off student loans and drain my bank account every first of the month for my exorbitantly high rent, traveling is going to have to be done in my city. Luckily, New York has it all; foods abound from Kazakh to Peruvian to South African. If you’re craving it—you can find it (almost always). That being said, anyone know where I can find Chilean pastel de choclo? It’s elusive.