Nostalgia and a Bronx run
I used to post on Outer Boroughs very frequently when I was still in high school (before I moved to the UK at 18.) While I was back for nearly a year in 2010 and 2011, I am almost never in New York anymore. The following is a bit of a highlight of my (grand total of four day long grumble) trip last week.
I'll start with my Bronx crawl. Chris Crowley of New York Serious Eats took me for a highlight run across a variety of Bronx eateries; some new to me and some of which I was instrumental in exposing (Neerob.)
We started at El Atoradera in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. This crowded little bodega carries one of the best ranges of Mexican products I've ever seen and it is also host to amazing food on the weekends. I had serious carnitas here pictured below on a picadita. 10/10 carnitas for New York. I have never had anything like it and it completely altered my conception of carnitas. Luscious chunks of marinated pork belly sit above a cauldron of consome into which the chunks are soaked before serving. The fat melts while the meat maintains a pleasurable firmness all of which tastes incredible. The spicing is not particularly intense, but it allows the pork to really shine though. They sell this stuff by weight as well and it is basically pork crack. it's up there on the best things I've eaten in months list. At only $2 for a picadita, that pretty much kills any potential complaints about train fares, distance, the lack of seating, any gripe one could think of involving the weather, etc. Go here.
There is also an El Salvadorian woman who works as part of the grill team and she knocks out some of the best pupusas I've ever had. 2 picaditas, a pupusa and a fantastic cup of cafe de olla (basically Indian masala chai meets coffee) all came in at a whopping $9.
Next we went to Lechonera La Pirana, a food truck which rivals my trip to a canteen in the bottom of a project in Paris' northern suburbs for Malian food on the "damn yo, s--- is hood" scale. Awesome atmosphere with some very well made lechon. The skin is as crunchy as a hard candy and it is intensely flavored. Some bites can be a tad bit salty, but this stuff is also pretty serious pork. It comes straight out of a smoke shack attached to Angel's trailer and on the greater question of too much versus too little seasoning, I'd have to prefer the former. Awesome garlic sauce covers every inch of this porky feast and the meat shreds into melty goodness upon contact with your teeth. Like I said, the occasional fattier bite can be a bit salty, but the other 10 bites are all insanely good. His picallila with shrimp was also seriously delicious. It came out of the fryer about 5 seconds before it was handed to me (resulting in a few serious mouth burns, one of which still has not gone away fully) but every ingredient was fresh. The thing little steamed with the intense smell of oregano and every bite was like an ocean of shrimp. He does not skimp on the fillings and I think roughly 15 shrimp sacrificed themselves in a blaze of glory for this awesome empanada-like snack.
We had a return trip to Neerob which was lovely as I got to see Khokon (the owner) for the first time in over a year. We also happened to be there for an Awami League rally out of the restaurant (which I found interestingly fitting as my other favorite Bangladeshi restaurant in London has been hosting Jamaat-e-Islami rallies in total opposition to everything that is going down at Neerob) which was rather interesting in that "wow, that's what 1970-1971 Bangladesh war cries like "Joy Bangla" sound like. Appealing to the niche Bangladeshi history fan in me. All in all, everything was amazing. We had a simple meal of bhartas, rice, sardine like fish in a tomato based stock, and a selection of vegetables. Everything was crazily good and as usual for Neerob.
Finally, this entire massive post finishes with an extremely nostalgic trip down memory lane. I have been going to Chengdu Heaven in Flushing's Golden Mall since late 2006. Despite a visit from Fuschia Dunlop, this place has consistently remained an under the radar spot in the area. I still love many of their dishes, but this time I went right for what I have so often eaten there, ma la tang, and oh was it glorious. Perhaps due to the comparative lack of attention that this place garners, virtually nothing has changed here in 7 years. This is in all honesty one of the only places I love in New York where the only things that have changed since I started eating there are the prices, the fact that the owner now has pretty good English (I once ordered all of my dishes in Mando and then realized I couldn't remember how to say rice; I had to get someone else eating there to translate rice to the woman who owns the place. Not anymore!), the ma la tang menu now has various choices, and they have an additional seating area. I ordered a Chinese sausage ma la tang, a concontion that I often made myself by ordering the usual one and tossing in a $3 portion of sausage. It was intensely good. I added an entire additional plate of ground Sichuan peppercorn, chili flakes and salt creating quite frankly a better ma la tang than one could easily find in Chengdu. I adore this place and I hope they remain open for as long as is humanly possible as it was always an incredible little environment that A. prepared me for being in China so well that I was in no way surprised when I got there and B. totally kicked off my ethnic food writing and hunting.
Take care all,