Daniel and I love adventure, we love exploring different cultures and delving into new worlds - and what better way to do that than with food? An expression of each culture is found in their favorite dishes and spices. When traveling, we always ask the locals for their recommendations - whether it’s conch in the Bahamas, shawarma in Israel, or In-N-Out in California (read about our experience at In-N-Out here), we’ve found that one way to truly immerse ourselves into the culture is through that culture’s cuisine.
That’s why we love our neighborhood, Jackson Heights, here in Queens, NY. The second-most diverse neighborhood in America, Jackson Heights is bursting with authentic ethnic food that I only have to walk a few blocks to taste.
Last weekend, Daniel and I took our good friend, Christopher, on a food tour in Jackson Heights. Here is what we tasted:
We started with momos - a beef filled dumpling native to the Nepalese region. Though they are similar to the Chinese dumplings that most Americans are familiar with, they are topped with a chili pepper sauce and bursting with broth - sort of like a soup within a dumpling shell. As a result, they’re a little precarious to eat. We got these momos at Amdo Kitchen, a street cart that can be found at Jackson Heights’ Diversity Plaza. (Out of the six things we ate that day, I'd rate them #5, Daniel would rate them #3.)
Second up, halal. There is a street cart in Jackson Heights - Sammy’s Halal - that won the “Vendy” Award for best mobile food cart a few years back. Halal, being the Islamic equivalent of “kosher,” is meat allowed to be consumed within Muslim law. We got a lamb+chicken combo platter with rice, beans, onions, lettuce, tomatoes and “white sauce.” Every legitimate New Yorker knows the wonders of the ‘mystery white sauce’ - and we can’t recommend it enough. (My #3, Daniel's #2.)
Our third stop was for aloo dum, the Indian (or, more specifically, ‘Kashmiri’) equivalent of potato salad. Previous to the food tour, Daniel and I had wandered into an unnamed restaurant down a staircase, and we visited it again with Christopher to get aloo dum - a delicious (and spicy!) cold dish with fried potatoes cooked in a gravy and a burst of spices. One thing Indian cuisine always gets right is the spices. (My #2, Daniel's #5.)
Next, we stopped at Samudra - an Indian diner - and got an order of “chaat” to go. Chaat is Indian junk food - the equivalent of a walking taco, if you will. It’s a mixture of potato, fried bread, chickpeas, saunth (dried ginger and tamarind sauce), coriander leaves and yogurt. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) Daniel and I have had better chaat, and we probably won’t ever go back to Samudra. (Both of us rated it last out of all we ate - #6.)
Nearing the end of our tour (and the end of our ability to eat another bite), we stopped at Arepa Lady. This restaurant was definitely a change of pace from the street carts and hole-in-the-walls we had been visiting. It was a sweet little sit-down place with cool decor and friendly staff. Unfortunately, we were so full from the rest of the tour that we could only split 2 small arepas - but Arepa Lady is definitely on our list to visit again. An arepa, primarily part of Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine, is a flatbread 'sandwich' made from cornbread, ground maize dough or cooked flour. It can be stuffed with cheese, or topped with different meats, cheeses, vegetables and/or plantains. We tried a sausage-and-cheese stuffed arepa, and a beef-filled cornbread arepa. I personally loved the cornbread one - it was the perfect blend of savory and sweet, especially when adding the pineapple relish our waiter recommended. (Daniel's #1, my #4.)
For dessert, we had a cholado. Perhaps my favorite part about living in Jackson Heights is the cholado. It’s sort of like a shaved ice, but with a twist. We got a coco y pina (coconut and pineapple) cholado with (yet another) mystery cream. I don’t know what’s in the cream that they top their cholado with, but it’s absolutely the greatest part of the dessert. These cholados can be found at street carts all over Jackson Heights during the summer. And since $3 gets you the largest helping you could probably ask for, they’re absolutely worth it. (My #1 - but I'm a sucker for desserts - and Daniel's #4.)
All in all, the tour left us completely satisfied - and very full. We got to tour the flavors of the world, all within our own neighborhood, and all for only $15 a person! If you live in NYC and are looking for overwhelmingly delicious - and overwhelmingly cheap - eats, then make your way to Jackson Heights.
Daniel and I definitely fall into the “foodie” category. He and his family inspired that in me, and I embraced it without looking back. Especially after living in New York City where good food is always at our fingertips, I believe our credibility as ‘foodies’ holds up against the best of them. Check out another sweet food-opinion here. And stay tuned for more; we will be writing about our 2 favorite restaurants visited during our month in California, and - next week - we visit Chicago! You best believe there will be food-centered blog posts after a week in Chicago. New York may be the place to go for authentic and delicious ethnic cuisine, but there’s nothing like the all-American food you can get in the Windy City!