Archive for ‘New York food’

December 25th, 2011

Christmas food

As my brother and I got older, we graduated from KFC to sushi for Christmas.  Nothing traditional about that.  Japanese people in general, like to eat something special on Christmas; it could be paella, it could be tandoori chicken.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this survey I saw in a Japanese magazine!

Like I mentioned yesterday, the number one food Japanese people want to eat on Christmas day is fried chicken, followed by: #2 Roast beef, #3 Pizza, #4 Fried potatoes, #5 Sushi, #6 Tandoori chicken, and finally, #20. Garlic toast.  Pretty random, isn’t it?  As a Japanese person who has been living in America most of my adult life, I don’t understand this list either.  By the same token, as a foreigner living in America for over 20 years, I don’t understand why people eat the same food on Thanksgiving and Christmas, which are both within a month of each other.

My husband is Jewish, so this year, we decided to go for a traditional Jewish Christmas dinner, Chinese food.  This year, we were in New York City on Christmas day, so we hopped in a taxi to my favorite Chinese joint, Congee Village restaurant.  Turns out our plans weren’t all that unique.  When we arrived, we were told the wait would be 45 minutes, but after converting ‘hostess’ time to real time, our wait turned out to be an hour and a half.

I asked my husband what I thought was an obvious question: Did you grow up eating Chinese on Christmas? Surprisingly, his reply was a simple “no”. While he knows the stereotype, Jewish people eating Chinese food on Christmas was something he never experienced first hand; only on tv. But then again, he doesn’t like spicy mustard, so maybe he’s not completely in line with all the Jewish customs.  It must be a tradition as there’s even a 1992 study of Jewish people and Chinese food by sociologists!  Plus, the Chinese Restaurant Association officially thanked Jewish people for their patronage on that special day of the year!  It must be true…I saw it on Facebook!
Maybe my husband’s Christmas tradition is tainted by the fact that he prefers anything to Asian food. As for me, I hope this Chinese food on Christmas tradition will continue because I love those ultra-rare occasions when my husband enjoys Asian food with me.  At least I can eat well ONE day out of the year!  Happy holidays!

August 16th, 2011

Chicken and rice (on 53rd and 6th, SW corner, of course)

There’s one dish that I truly miss and simply can’t get in Los Angeles.  No, it isn’t fancy, pricey or found in some exclusive hidden locale.  What is it?  It’s the chicken and rice plate from the 53rd and 6th Halal Cart in midtown Manhattan.  Yes, some of New York City’s thousands of fine restaurants are being outdone by a food cart that is so famous, its positive online reviews would take up the memory of a 2001 ‘smart’ phone.  How could one street vendor serve a block long line of people at midnight, while a trendy restaurant in the Village struggles to fill the house?  The secret is:  are you ready for this… the food.

The Halal Food Cart’s signature dish is delicious.  After your first bite, you’ll immediately understand why you’ll have to endure a fifteen minute long line just to order seconds.  Does grilled, finely shredded chicken lying majestically on a bed of perfectly cooked long grain rice sound good to you?  How about if I mention the chopped iceberg lettuce, pita bread and two kinds of sauce that each has its own charm? The white sauce is something between ranch dressing and tzatziki, while its counterpart, the red sauce, is VERY hot, so be careful, and sample a bit before pouring the entire portion over your food.  Like a crazy chemistry experiment, if you mix them all together, your result is a magical junk food that other vendors just don’t deliver.  Try it for yourself and bid your taste buds ‘sayonara’ as they instantly travel from midtown Manhattan to the gates of Heaven.  The price of admission: a large dose of patience and a small serving of dollars as chicken and rice will cost you $6.  Where else can you experience a true New York phenomena for only $6?

Yes, there are lots of Halal meat carts in New York City, so why is this particular vendor the one that has them lining up until four in the morning?  One reason is the chicken itself. Unlike its competitor’s version, It’s shredded very finely and sauteed at the cart.  It doesn’t hurt a bit that it’s seasoned well.  The true mystery is how the chicken retains its moisture when the same chicken from other vendors appears dried out.  While the chicken is spectacular, the rice should not be dismissed as a mere side.  Even though it’s a shade of bright orange, the ‘Yellow Rice’ is full of flavor without that cheap Chinese take-out place rice smell.  I know you’ve been there before, right?

When my husband and I took our first trip to NYC together, I convinced him that he had to try this fantastic street food.  To me, the food was so tasty, I knew it would be able to stand up and defend itself against my husband’s aversion to rice.  To help sell my case, I tried to convince him by describing the meal as the inside of a burrito, without the Mexican food flavor.  In my excitement, I forgot my own advice, and bought the dish from a shady vendor downtown.  I soon paid the price for my infidelity.  Instead of a taste of paradise, I received rubbery chicken atop sauce-less, mushy rice.  To make matters worse, we both got sick!  From that day forward, I never cheated on my Halal vendors again.

Still convinced he’d like it, I asked my husband to give it one more chance and try the ‘good’ chicken and rice from 53rd and 6th.  He agreed, but just couldn’t get over the still fresh memory of nausea. I have mixed feelings when my husband doesn’t like the foods I love (and as you may have read, it happens a lot).  Sure, there’s the positive side: there’s more for me, but that’s not the point.  It’s great sharing something you love with someone you love.

PS: I tried to duplicate chicken and rice using Zankou chicken leftovers (chopped&sauteed) + rice&lettuce + tzatziki + tabasco or tapatio = close, but not the same…

June 23rd, 2011


I don’t like pizza. Shocking, I know. I guess the universe balances out–when someone excitedly exclaims that they’ve ordered pizza, I react with the same indifference and disappointment as my husband does when he hears, “We’re all going out for sushi!” It’s as simple as that; he doesn’t want Asian food, I don’t want pizza. There are some exceptions.
I do like the New York tradition of pizza by the slice.  For 3 bucks, your hunger is greasily satisfied.We actually have many pizza places in Japan, from the world famous Domino’s to a Japanese delivery pizza place called “Pizza-la”.  My mother, who is 5’2″ and weighs 90lbs, actually loves pizza.  When my dad came home late, which was often enough, my family would have pizza night– but our pizzas barely resembled their American cousins.  Japanese pizzas have interesting toppings like tuna salad, mayonnaise, and seaweed, which might scare away the typical pepperoni loving American (no worries, we do have pepperoni).  More on this another time.
The first pizza that I really enjoyed was a 3am late dinner/early breakfast, on 11th Ave in NYC.  It was a cold January night and I was working on a movie set for 12 hours as a PA, starving and freezing. In those conditions, you can imagine how satisying a piping hot piece of plain cheese pizza from Famous and/or Original Ray’s tasted amazing.  That night, for the first time, I finally understood the English expression, “it hit the spot”.

June 18th, 2011

Black, white and beyond

Black and white cookies falls into NYC classic category.  Not necessarily people grow up eating them, but New Yorkers grow up seeing them on the windows of many delis.  The origin of this cake like cookie seems rather vague.  Some says it is related to Germany’s Amerikaner cookie (only the white icing) or it is a version of half-moon, which was originated in upstate New York, and if it were for half-moon, the history goes back to early 20th century.  Cupcake stores have been popping up everywhere with tons of flavors like cotton candy, key lime and Artie Lange (not a beer).  So it was matter of time that beloved black and white cookie became a cupcake at Crumbs Bake Shop in NYC.  The texture of black and white cookie resembles already like a cake, so why not?  Taste?  I thought it was a good vanilla cupcake, and the chocolate fondant icing was rather really tasted like chocolate, whereas B&W cookie’s black fondant tastes only chocolate-y.








Then, there are variations of all different colors.  These novelty items, which is really cool, for example, for birthday, Christmas and/or Hanukkah gifts to be creative.  I’d say “so cute!” if I receive one of these for Valentine’s or something (although, note to my husband, I always prefer really good cake), and if I bring these colorful cookies as souvenir to my friends in Japan, they’ll also scream “Kawaii~” (cute).   However, black and white cookie has been in New York City staple because it’s black and white.  There are reasons that these colored variations are not in store front everyday.  Basic cake flavor is always vanilla and chocolate; so is cookies.  It’s gender/age neutral.  My dad wouldn’t want to eat a baby pink and white cookie on the street, but he won’t mind black and white.  If you don’t live near New York City, and want to try, William Greenberg Dessert will ship and has great variation in color and sizes (I tried their pink and white, it didn’t taste like strawberry), or you can go fancy with Dean and Deluca or go crazy with these guys who has many color as well as shapes!  If you wanna make it yourself, this recipe seems most delicious.