Astoria Grocery Stores (long): paratha, tamales,crickets & treats from the Philippiness
I have recently become completely addicted to the cook-it-yourself Paratha at Janata (on the south side of 30th Avenue about a block east of 31st Street in Astoria) Dont get me wrong, I am a dedicated fan of the Roti ladies in Jackson Heights, but these are really, really good. Flaky and tasty. They come in a yellow package with purple stripes on the side and some Arabic writing on the top along with the word PARATHA in big blue letters. The brand name is Kawan. Theyre in the refrigerated section just to the right when you walk in the door and cost about $1.50 for a package of 5.
Janata has a lot of different types of Roti, Paratha, and flatbreads, but I think these are the only ones that you cook yourself. (Just plop them onto a flat frying pan for a few minutes til they are browned and puffed up.) I like them plain or with curry or a little cinnamon. They are also great with Le Pain Quotitiens Belgian Praline Spread. (Irreverent cross cultural food combining, I know ..)
These are really popular and frequently sell out. So if you dont see them, stop back again the next time youre in the neighborhood.
Janata also has a good spice selection, big bags of cheap rice, and huge freezers in the middle of the room that are full of fish and meat.
From 30th Ave, if you go south at the Plaza Lounge, a few doors down youll find Hidalgo.
Hidalgo has a great selection of fabulous fresh tamales. "Rajas with cheese and chilies are so delicious as well as their spicy pork, chicken, mole .YUM! And the tamales are only $1! Definitely worth checking out. I am pretty sure they have them all week, but theres a bigger selection on the weekends.
This store is great. Behind the glass counter in the front, they have all kinds of things including cactus leaves, fresh guavas, CRICKETS (!), and all kinds of other assorted oddities. Their Mexican sweet breads look fresh and delicious (though I have not personally tried one) and they also carry a good selection of dried chilies, prepared moles, salsas, and other sauces. In general the store is very well stocked and the people who work there are extraordinarily friendly.
(Possible point of confusion: There is also a Hidalgo bakery on 30th Avenue on the next block that is likely related because they advertise the same tamales. They specialize in decorated cakes but also have tamales, fruit shakes, tacos, and other things, and they also have some tables where you can sit down - no grocery items)
Further west on 30th Avenue, just past Crescent on the north side of the street there is a Filipino grocery store with a name I cannot seem to remember. Just tonight I cooked up some mung bean thread vermicelli noodles with hot sauce from this little place. Very good. Cheap. They seem to have a good selection of grocery items, cookies, etc. from the Philippines, so if you happen to be craving a particular Filipino item, you might drop by.
Of course there are also numerous of Greek specialty stores in the area where you can get stuffed grape leaves, olives, spreads, feta cheese, etc.... Not really news..... the Cyprus Deli which is on the south-hand side of 30th Ave but east of the subway stop, claims to have over 500 different kinds of beer.
hey, nice post, Z.
thought i would add a couple things...
it's a really cool stretch of 30th that you're writing about. 30th west of the subway gets a lot less foot traffic than east of the subway -- and unless you look you won't think there's much to be found on that stretch. but it's a really cool 4 blocks or so. maybe the rent is lower.
another place to check out is the trade fair right right near the subway. it's a microcosm of the neighborhood, organized by ethnicity. that being said i almost never shop there because the lines are pretty unbearable most of the time.
re hidalgo: those tamales are called "rojas" not rajas. in hidalgo there are a lot of things i haven't tried: a little kitchen in the back; premade containers full of mole in a fridge (labeled almendado and anjojoli -- perhaps i misspelled them though); fresh mexican ingredients including cactus, camomile (or something that looks like it) and epazote (or at least it looks like the picture). the people working there are really friendly and happily switch into english after i make enough mistakes with my spanish.
there's also some really BAD food in this stretch, but you can find that for yourself.
Image: http://www.yucatan.com.mx/especiales/ yucateca/fotos/epazote.jpg