healthy vegetarian fare? woodside / jackson heights
- bigjeff Dec 1, 2008 08:57 AM
looking for something healthy; vegetarian is easy to cover with indian food, but it doesn't seem particular wholesome. mexican can be good but sorta pointless since its all meaty. other latin american choices? it all just seems so rich; any other ideas? stick with thai food? any and all recs welcome.
Not too easy around here to get fresh, healthy veg food. Indian food can be very healthy, but unfortunately for reasons of the culture of dining out in most part of South Asia from which people here migrate (they need not deter us here), what you get in most restaurants is very rich. I do not know of a good simple South Indian thali (meals) place in the area, but that would be a good option if you can find it. Some Chaat is also an option, but that is more of a snack (though many enjoy making a meal of it).
Southeast Asian food is dodgy for pure vegetarians, since fish sauce makes its way into many things. If you are not picky about this, there are a few options. Sri (and perhaps other places) has a nice dish called Bu-Du sauce in the 'over rice' section. Not pure veg since there are a few dried shrimp in it, but healthy and tasty. Another option is Thai Malay Cafe on Skillman towards Sunnyside. They have several items on the menu which are veg, some reasonably light though often with a bit of coconut milk (soups, veg summer rolls and fantastic four are winning veg dishes).
Chu Ying, the Chinese-Korean place on Woodside Ave, has nice tofu/veg soups and Noodles with Mandarin Sauce can be ordered without the seafood (not sure if the latter is very healthy, but it is not all that heavy).
Sri actually has a separate vegetarian menu, but you have to ask for it. I haven't really used it but it's huge.
Also, De Mole is a good mexican option for vegetarians. They have lots of vegetarian stuff - try the spinach enchiladas. There are lots of other things there as well. For latin american you could try one of the peruvian places (pio pio in JH, pio pio riko in Sunnyside, etc.), and stick to the sides - rice / beans / avocado salad / plantains, etc., but check with them on the preparation. I'd be surprised if the rice and beans are totally vegetarian (though if you're okay with some chicken stock that might be okay).
No one's idea of vegetarian should include fish. Last time i checked, fish didn't grow on trees, bushes, in the ground etc. I have no problem with people eating fish, or meat or anything, but please don't call a fish eater a vegetarian. Technically someone who eschews all other meats, but eats fish is called a Pescetarian.
That being said, I am Thai, TJ's Asian Bistro, Aubergine, Thai Malay, and even Sri (with their entire veg menu) have abundant choices for vegetarians.
Semantics aside, I have met and taken many people to dinner who consider themselves "vegetarians", but merely abstain from eating red meat and poultry.
I find many use the term "vegetarian" very loosely, which is why I clarified my post with "if your idea of vegetarian includes fish".
Dosa Place for all veg South India fare (dosas, idlis, uttaphams).
Mustang Thakali Kitchen for a good selection of veg options from Nepal. I find this place to be one of the better Nepali places in Queens (if not the US). What should be of particular interest to many hounds, but hasn't really been touched upon in this board, is that they actually serve the cuisine of the Thakali ethnic group from the Mustang region. Thakali restaurants are a relatively rare find even in Nepal (due to their small population - wikipedia numbers them at just 13,000). This could be the only restaurant in the US serving Thakali food.
I haven't tried all of the following dishes at MTK, but I am very familiar with what they are.. They're what I'd consider ordering if I were a vegetarian and wanted a good representation of classic Nepali dishes (not necessarily Thakali per se).
Bhatmas chiura: soy beans marinated in ginger, garlic, chiles, cilantro and perhaps mustard oil. Served with dried flattened rice. One thing I've noticed at MTK is that they tend to use raw mustard oil in some dishes, which can be a bit overpowering to those unfamiliar with it. Usually, mustard oil is heated to the smoking point when used in Nepali cooking. This helps to temper the pungent flavor. Not so at MTK.
Sel Roti: A savory doughnut of sort, made of coarse rice flour (and banana for flavor). It takes quite a bit of practice and skill to make it right. Even my mom has not mastered it. MTK makes one of the best versions I've had in the US.
Rayo saag: Sauteed mustard greens. Very good.
Titte kerala fry: Sauteed bitter melon. Only for those that really like bitter flavors.
Lentil soup (dal): Not the yellow dals you might be accustomed to. This is a uniquely Nepali dish made of split black urad lentils seasoned with ginger, clarified butter and jimbu. Jimbu is a widely used herb in Nepal, but I'm not familiar with its use in other cuisines. It's in the onion/garlic family as indicated by its Latin name, Allium hypsistum. The dal is traditionally cooked in an iron pot to impart a rich black color.
Ghundruk: Another Nepali specialty made of dried fermented greens (the best are made of mustard greens). It's usually made into a soup with dried black soybeans, potatoes and mung bean paste nuggets.
Aloo dum/aloo chilly: potatoes cooked with cumin, chiles, etc.
The Thakali specialty seems to be served as a thali only. Its defining characteristic is the starch component, which is made of buckwheat (in contrast to rice which is predominant in most of Nepal). You have the choice of getting the buckwheat as a crepe or a mash (similar texture to the African fufu, etc.). I'd recommend the crepe. If you get the mash, ask for clarified butter (ghiu) with it if you're not vegan. Unfortunately, both versions are served with a meat dish, but they should be more than willing to replace it with a veg item upon request.
They also have a vegetable thali listed as "rice, vegetable, lentil soup, pickle" as well as a ghundruk thali.
MTK was still BYOB last time I went.
Mustang Thakali Kitchen
74-14 37th Ave
Jackson Heights NY 11372
re: Joe MacBu
Appreciate this great info! Finally made it over there and enjoyed it a lot.
The ghundruk lends an amazingly deep flavor to that dark brown broth. I thought there was something else boosting the flavor, maybe soy or another protein element, but the server said it was just the dried greens (she likened them to kimchi). That's something I'll be getting again.
Same for the bhatmas chiura. It's brightly flavored, almost salad-y, like some Burmese dishes, and I love the shot of mustard oil.
In both dishes the play of textures is almost as appealing as the flavors: the slight crunch of the beans, the sharper crunch of the rice flakes (a great neutral foil), the chewiness of the ghundruk greens.
The sel roti had a nice chewiness too, something like mochi, and I liked the sweet note from banana. I'd have liked this more if it had come out hot and freshly fried, but maybe that's not how it's done. The mustardy radish pickle on the side hits the spot (this shows up with some other dishes, too).
Like Widmark on another thread, I enjoyed the vegetable momos. They're assembled to order (you're advised they'll take at least 15 minutes), and it shows: they taste fresher than most.
Joe - I know your recs focused on healthy vegetarian food. But what do you recommend here for carnivores?
Mustang Thakali Kitchen
74-14 37th Ave, Queens, NY 11372
re: squid kun
The beef momos, buff(alo) chilly, and goat curry are all good.
I did not care much for the sukuti sadeko, though it is one of my favorite Nepali dishes. Think of it as a very dry jerky (usually goat, beef, buffalo or venison) which is slightly re-hydrated to to a chewy firmness in a powerful marinade of raw ginger, raw garlic, raw onions, some spices, cilantro and lime. The dish supplies a great textural experience, augmented with heat from the spices, brightness from the citrus and raw pungency. At MTK, the use of raw mustard oil throws the dish off-balance from what I am used to (a comment that I've made in regards to other items as well). Since you seemed to enjoy the bhatmas, you will probably find this one agreeable. It too is served with the flattened rice (chiura). I recommend it with a lager.
Goat is the celebrated meat of choice in Nepal and should be yours in any Nepali restaurant. I imagine that the mutton (actually goat) fry would be excellent, but I have not tried it. Nor have I tried the ones to follow, but surely will on a future visit. Some rarer preparations served at MTK include bhutuwa goat (described as "liver stomach intestine sauteed with a touch of spice"), phokso (stir-fried lungs), pangra fry (gizzard fried with sauteed onions and spices; another favorite of mine) and sekuwa (a spiced buffalo kebab).
The sel is at its best when hot and fresh. It keeps for about a week and is better when served warm, even if it is reheated in a microwave. I was served a fresh one and it was fantastic. They should not feel offended if you request one to be fried to order. Demand it.
re: Joe MacBu
I had that dried meat dish and while it was (predictably) tough, I really enjoyed the taste.
Also had the goat stir fry and it was delicious. Little bits of bone to pick the meat off of, with a bit of a crispy fired texture.
Had the beef momos which were decent but I'm going to stick with the veggie momos, esp. since I'm usually with vegetarians.
Also want to say that while the service is a bit inconsistent on suprisingly busy nights, they're really nice and accommodating. I was at a small table when they brought out momos that simply wouldn't fit, so I asked if they could hold off. When they brought them out like 10 minutes later I was told they made a fresh batch because the others would've been sitting out.
re: Joe MacBu
The remote, inaccessible, forbidden kingdom of Mustang was a holy grail for travelers back when I was in Nepal. None of us could get there, but we pored over the Michel Peissel book (he sneaked in wearing Tibetan clothes) and at night we dreamed of the fabled walled city of Lo Manthang. So this is thrilling news for me (even though at the moment Queens is remote and inaccessible to me, in Oklahoma).
But are the people who run MTK from Mustang? Although the Thakalis are originally from Mustang, many have settled in the Kathmandu area; some are successful businessmen there. But those who stay in Mustang are culturally part of old Tibet without having suffered the devastation of the Chinese invasion.