shopping


It became clear to me the minute I started researching about mithai in Jackson Heights that Indians love their sweets. How else would one account for the proliferance of sweet shops, of which I counted at least 5 in the small triangle between Broadway, 74th St and 37th Avenue? Eager to reacquaint myself with Indian dessert, I arrived at Jackson Heights an hour before my scheduled dinner in search for some sweets.
sweets galore

sweets galore

The sweet shops in Jackson Heights are generally humble looking establishments. With the exception of Maharaja Sweets’ chandeliers, the main aesthetic feature at a sweet shop is its glass display filled with trays of sugary tidbits. Deep fried dough steeped in syrup, hard milk and cashew candy rolled with flecks of silver, moist milk cakes tasting of cardamom and saffron, all in full display. At the three places I did go, the shopkeepers were friendly and helpful, steering Sarah and I towards their favorites.

falooda

falooda

Curiosity got the best of me at Shaheen’s, where I opted for a very foreign sounding falooda. I am glad that Sarah was here to share the dish with me, as this dish of Persian origin was big and very saccharine. The dish, very popular in Mumbai is filled with kulfi, milk, milk curds, vermicelli, basil seeds and topped off with rose syrup, and is a myraid of textures in a bowl, ranging from icy, creamy to slithery. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I am glad I tried it. We also split a gulab jamun, a round ball, similar to a donut hole but denser soaked through with sugar. To our surprise, this was not quite so sweet, and really freshly fried and pleasant with cups of fragrant chai.

boxes

boxes

After dinner at Jackson Diner (good but overrated), I presented our group with the spoils of Sarah and my sweet escapade. From Al Naimat, I purchased Jalebi, straws of fried cake batter bent in a pretzel shape and coated with a crystallized sugar exterior. I say straws because the hardened strings seemed almost hollow, that sugar syrup flows into the mouth upon one bite. Strangely, it reminds me of Grandma Cheng’s favorite Cantonese sweet, Sa Chi Ma, also best when fresh and sugary. Al Naimat must go through a lot of Jalebi, because the box I bought tasted fresh, not tainted with the foul scent of stale oil.

From Rajbhog we had a selection of burfis, cham chams and halwas, more subtle than the jalebi, also not quite as sweet. Milk acts as a base, and mixed with other components allows the different flavors to shine. Kaju burfi remains my favorite, the smoky nuttiness of cashew clearly apparent. Cham chams are new to me and delicious, tasting faintly of rose syrup and saffron and very moist from the cream that is nozzled into it.

Indian sweets are not very easy to like, especially for people not used to the saccharine or the spice profiles that sometimes appear potpourri like. And while I still don’t know what makes one mithai good and the other mediocre, I’ve discovered a taste for sure, and am glad to extend my mithai education in Jackson Heights.  

Al Naimat

3703 74th St, Jackson Heights, NY

Shaheen Sweets and Cuisine

7209 Broadway, Jackson Heights, NY

Rajbhog Sweets

7227 37th Ave, Jackson Heights, NY

kees_logo1The economy is in miserable straits, and the companies most impacted are financial institutions. To combat plummeting revenues, financial institutions are finding all sorts of ways to boost the bottom line, from the obvious like massive lay-offs, to the more indirect methods, such as letting external vendors squat at their lobbies. I am not 100% sure, but speculate that this is how Kee’s chocolate counter in the HSBC building at Bryant Park came to pass.

I’m not complaining of course, because this move only brings one of the best artisanal chocolatier a scant 5 city blocks away from my office and removes the need to travel to soho for a quick cacoa fix on one or multiple of Kee’s delicious confections. My mouth water for the dark chocolate with balsamic ganache, the glossy dark chocolate shattering to uncover a rich ganache flavored subtly with a sourish yet mellow flavor. And I cannot decide if I prefer La Maison du Chocolat’s rustic champagne truffles dusted with cacoa powder or Kee’s sophisticated looking pyramid filled with heady alcoholic chocolate truffle. I did not purchase any of Kee’s jewel colored macarons, fearing they would compare poorly to the perfect specimens from Laduree and Pierre Herme that I have been gorging on for the past week in Paris, but they definitely looked beautiful on an aesthetic point of view, albeit somewhat lacking in height and glossiness.

To be sure, Kee’s chocolates are expensive at over $2 per tiny piece, and I have to tighten my belt both figuratively as well as literally after my excessive gorging in France. But the chocolates are super-indulgent and you can be sure it is made fresh locally by an independent artisan, therefore totally worth losing that daily cup of joe for. I guess I’ll just drink pantry coffee from now on.

Kee’s Chocolates

80 Thompson Street  

452 5th Ave (within the HSBC Bryant Park building lobby)

http://www.keeschocolates.com/index.html

Forget what savvy advertisers have been telling you. Disney is not the happiest place on earth. Costco is. Well… at least for a money pincher with 12 mouths to feed for a weekend, and a grand old budget of $200. While Walmart staggers you with the breadth of choice, Costco stuns you with sheer quantity. Family sized is clearly the way to shop. For an urbanite used to shopping for one (i.e. buying 2 bananas, an avocado and 2 bars of chocolate at the bodega), it was refreshing to purchase 10 pound bags of chicken drumsticks and a clamshell of washed salad greens enough to feed a dozen yet cost the same as a lunch salad in my Manhattan deli, filling the car’s trunk at one go. A brick of cheese at Costco costs as little as 2 slices from Murray’s, albeit without the cheesemongers and the stickers with cute animal figures that informs if the cheese was made from cow, goat or sheep’s milk. Even the shopping carts are larger than life, big enough to truck a few people at once. As we got to shopping, my menu ideas changed with the sight of excessive food. Instead of a 2 pound pack of ground beef for my bolognese sauce, I ended up with 5. What to do? Make beef tacos the next day. And the giant bag of baby carrots ended up in the salad, the stew, was roasted as a side and eaten raw throughout the day. 

Best of all was the post shopping meal, when my fellow partners in crime and I noshed on jumbo hotdogs from Hebrew’s National replete with do it yourself condiments and a hand crank onion mincer, and washed it down with a 16 ounce cup of flat soda. All for $1.50 each. While sitting on a picnic table inside the warehouse. Gray’s Papaya, even with your recession proof deal, you lose.

Costco

Multiple locations with the closest in Queens

www.costco.com

Summer is not officially over until the 22nd, but today is the psychological end to a brief but sunny 3
strawberries in june

strawberries in june

months. I confess that summer is my least favorite of the 4 seasons given my childhood in ubiquitous heat and humidity, but I did a lot this year and consequently had an enjoyable summer.
I moved from Hell’s Kitchen into a tiny studio in the East Village and welcomed a host of visitors there. A sister, two cousins, both college roommates, the boyfriend and my dad. I explored east village restaurants with my siblings, countered the worst heat wave with pakshun by eating a lot of frozen yogurt, entertained friends for the first time in a long time in my building’s central courtyard on shopping from the greenmarket, whole foods and specialty grocers, ate my weight in fragrant berries and juicy stone fruits, and got to make amends to my father by bringing him around New York in summer, where we visited a musuem, shopped and people watched while dining al fresco in my neighborhood. It must have infinitely more interesting than his last trip made in winter, when mum and I made him sit through a not very interesting musical. 
Nathan's hot dogs

Nathan

I finally made it to coney island to eat a hot dog from the original Nathans, to ride the ferris wheel and take in the view of the boardwalk and ocean. We shared the beach with seagulls, mountains of trash and the assortment of people that made up the crowds.

Howard's fish, steamed Cantonese style

Howard's fish, steamed

Not satisfied with merely sitting on the beach, I joined rosie and co on a deep sea fishing trip, on a fishing boat docked on Sheepshead bay, Brooklyn. Despite over 20 cumulative hours of choppy waters and terrible sea sickness shared between the 6 of us, we caught fish in waters so populous with sea bass that the first catch of the day bit less than 30 seconds after Yu Gang lowered his bait. Once onshore, we sped to Flushing, Queens, begged the chef at Imperial Palace, a fancy for Chinatown Cantonese seafood restaurant- to steam our largest catch (courtesy of Howard) and devoured our spoils of war. It was one of my most well earned meal and darn delicious, as it should be, given the fish was still flopping around, alive, less than 2 hours before being cooked.

And now on labor day, after a few hours in the office, I am doing a stint as a tourist in the city, on a beautifully sunny but breezy day, one of those days when the city conspires to make you fall in love with it. I am sit beneath the shade of a palm in rockefeller center, bustling but mercifully not overrun with people, with a book (now blackberry) in hand and a cup of creamy gelato from a stand operated by the rock center cafe on the rink. It is an indulgent cup of bacio gelato by a Philadelphia base company called Capogiro, and the cold treat is both luxe in ingredients and in price, expensive even for NYC standards. Of the 2 fruit base sorbets and the sinful chocolatey gelato, I of course choose the fatty, creamy, sinful gelato. When one wastes empty calories on sweets, one might as well go for the extreme. The chocolate is sweet but not cloyingly so, and the luscious gelato is generously speckled with fresh roasted hazelnuts before it melts. A perfect antidote for the heat and 5th Avenue crowds.  
It has been a good summer indeed. I’m sad to see it go as everybody else is, but at the same time looking forward to fall fashion and cold weather foods. I wonder what I’ll be eating.

Nathan’s Famous

1310 Surf Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11224 ( the original, multiple locations nationwide)

www.nathansfamous.com

Imperial Palace

136-13 37th Ave, Flushing, NY 11354

Capogiro Gelato Artisans @ the Rock Center Cafe

20 W50th St (Between 5th & 6th Aves, right by the rink)

http://www.capogirogelato.com/main.html

I have not forsaken watermelon as my favorite fruit per se, but these days my traitorous stomach has been yearning for fresh figs, particularly the thin-skinned california mission figs that are so easily available during summertime but disappear from the marketplace once it turns cold. I love ripe figs, the feel of the tiny seeds popping against my teeth, the squishy texture, and don’t care how I eat it, whether plain or wrapped in prosciutto. But when fresh ricotta is available, I like to plunk a few figs on the white curds and drizzle a little honey to finish. The creamy, grainy ricotta with a touch of saltiness balances out the honeyed sweetness of the fruit perfectly. Delicious.

Figs and tomatos go well with cheese

Figs and tomatos go well with cheese

While figs are a seasonal affair, I get my supply of to die for ricotta throughout the year at Di Palo’s, a scant 20 minute walk away. With a corner shop in the increasingly touristy and crass Little Italy, Di Palo’s remains a bastion of good taste and amazing Italian foodstuffs. They sell everything Italian, from cans of olive oil, fresh pasta  and bottles of brined capers. However the real action is at the counter, where countermen slice cured meats paper thin, scoop creamy ricotta and lure you into buying mozzarella that’s so fresh its still oozing milk. Come during witching hours (i.e. early in the day) and the shopkeepers are more than happy to discuss the merits of prosciutto di parma versus culatello and dole out generous samples. You feel compelled to buy more than you intended, as I found out this weekend, when I went in for ricotta but ended up buying bococcini and speck for a caprese salad and ham sandwich for lunch.

Insalate Caprese (sans basil), speck and breads makes for a rustic lunch!

Insalate Caprese (sans basil), speck and breads makes for a rustic lunch!

But even if you’re there when lines are long and tempers are short, the spoils of war are totally worth it!

Di Palo’s Fine Foods Inc

200 Grand St (on the corner of Mott St)


If you managed to pick Jeff Koon’s oversized balloon dog out of the pictures above, congratulations. It suggests a certain eye for art while marking some sort of disinterest towards summer fruits and vegetables in their glorious rainbow colors. It means you are more likely to spend time in museums and less energy and money food finding. But if you are like me and my father who was in town last weekend, and your interest lies in the edible realm, then there is no place better in the city than the Union Square’s greenmarket to feed that passion, and no time better than summer, when the wares are at their most florid and abundant. Here amongst other food-minded people, the rare minority in the city who cook, pints of berries in their height of ripeness emit fruity perfumes, and tables of fresh, leafy greens artistically stacked lends promise to a healthy lunch. Even those who don’t cook can join in the fun at stores hawking fresh baked bread, or munch on sliced tomatoes that’s sweet, juicy, and fruit-like as my dad and I did. In fact, all that food was making us so hungry that we took a detour uptown to the Met for Koons, Chinese art and Near Eastern sculpture to stop us from overeating before lunch!

http://www.cenyc.org/files/gmkt/map.pdf

Fans of the Simpsons will be happy to know that not only is the full length feature a scant 3 weeks away, they can now also live out life in Springfield by way of its convenience store. Indeed, in a brilliant product tie-in move, several 7-Elevens in the country have been converted to Kwik-E-Marts, Springfield’s leading convenience store, complete with boxed cereal endorsed by Krusty the Clown and Buzz Cola. Unfortunately for some, Duff Beer is not available.

Below are pictures from my maiden trip to the Kwik-E-Mart in NYC on 42rd St, right across Port Authority Station:

The only Kwik-E-Mart in the metropolitan area, this one suffers from not having the vast, empty parking lot emblematic of suburban Springfield.

Buzz Cola, looking to provide more caffeine than other colas

Ooh.. Krusty O’s – The best you can expect from a TV clown. Like cheerios, only better… I couldn’t resist and bought a box…

Donuts… How could you not have donuts? D’oh!!!

Apu says goodbye and thanks you for loitering… This is one of the only twelve 7-Elevens in the world to have received such life-altering transformation =)

For more information about the movie and other Kwik-E-Marts near you, visit:
http://www.simpsonsmovie.com/main.html

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