Today marks the colorful Hindu festival of Holi, or as it is known in Indian diaspora communities in South America and the Caribbean, Phagwah. One of the most vibrant places to celebrate the holiday outside of Indian is actually in Queens, NYC, which is home to Hindu diaspora communities from around the world including Trinidad and Guyana. The New York Times covered the Queens Holi festivities in detail in 2011, along with a photo album. The NYT also has a great Caribbean recipe for the holiday, Gogola banana fritters.
Tag Archives: Queens
The neighborhood of Astoria in Queens, NYC is known for its huge Greek population (which is still growing today), and accordingly, you can find some of the best Greek food in the city (and country) in this one neighborhood. It also means that a diversity of Greek and Mediterranean cuisine not seen elsewhere abounds. We were happy to find that one of the few Cypriot restaurants in the US was located in Astoria, Zenon Taverna (34-10 31 Avenue, Astoria, NY 11106 ).
Cypriot food is similar to what most Americans think of as typical Greek food, but with more Middle-Eastern influences, given its history and location. The menu at Zenon is staggering, with a huge option of cold and hot meze appetizers including favorites like hummus and tzatziki as well as more unusual options like quails and stuffed mushrooms. For entrees, there are dozens of pitas; chicken, lamb and fish platters; as well as meat and veggie samplers. Each day, there are also upwards of 6 specials including: Keftedes Kypriaki ($10.50 S / $17.99 L) pork and potato meatballs; Louvia me Lahana – blackeyed peas with Swiss chard ($6.50 S / $12.50 L)and pastitsio (a lasagna-like layered lamb dish). We didn’t really know what to pick, so we went with 2 samplers to share among our group, along with an appetizer of char-grilled octopus ($17.95) and Cypriot rabbit stew on special for the day- Kouneli Stifado ($19.95).
The Cyprus Meze sampler ($24.95 a person) came with a total of 16 meze – 8 hot and 8 cold. Everything was bright, fresh and delicious, but there were a few standouts. Zenon did a great job with classics like tzatziki and hummus, but we really loved some of the more unusual choices like the tarama – carp roe with potatoes and the fresh, vinegar-y pantzarosalada – beet salad. In terms of the hot dishes, there was a heavy emphasis on fish and pork. We highly enjoyed the smoked pork loin – lunza, the loukaniko spitisio – Cypriot pork sausage cooked in wine – and the keftedes arnisia – garlickly lamb meatballs. Of course another winner was the baked sheep and goat milk cheese halloumi, doused with lemon juice. The octopus appetizer we ordered was another favorite, and the special-of-the-day rabbit stew cooked in red wine was tasty, if a little game-y.
If you leave room for dessert, there is baklava and semolina desserts like siamali and halouvas, which you can wash down with a traditional frappe or Greek coffee. Alas, we did not leave room, since our Cypriot Meze order was so huge! We are a big fans of Greek food, and we really enjoyed trying something a little different at Zenon. One caveat – they are cash only! This is not a super-cheap place, so we went to the ATM in advance instead of testing our luck with the ATM around the corner. We recommend you come to Zenon with a crowd – there are so many dishes and mezes to share – the more, the merrier!
We think we have found the best Indian food in NYC – in the basement of a Hindu temple. The Ganesh Temple Canteen (45-57 Bowne St, Flushing, NY 11355) is tucked into a quiet, residential neighborhood of Queens – you wouldn’t know the temple was there until you drive right up to it and see the ornate architecture up close. In order to reach the canteen, you descend the stairs to the basement, where you are greeted with a vast, simple cafeteria, complete with linoleum floor and buffet line. But don’t let the humble presentation fool you! At almost any part of the day, the cafeteria will be packed with worshipers and non-affiliated neighborhood folks alike. The canteen has been churning out food since 1998, and attracts crowds a all times, even at breakfast.
The focus of the canteen is vegetarian South Indian dishes, in particular: dosas. The vast range of dosas, thin wheat crepes, come with a variety of fillings from spicy potatoes, to lentils and chilis, to paneer cheese. And you’ll be pretty pleased about the prices, too (nothing is over $7). You wait in line to place your order, and while in line you can check out at the menu on a suspended flat-screen TV and consult with the dosa experts in line. There are also a range of appetizers like iddli (steamed rice cake) and vada (savory fried dough) to go with your dosas, as well as a selection of sweets and mango lassis. There are also a few additional temptations while waiting: little boxes of sweet and savory snacks for sale to take away. Looking around the room, you will notice some hints that the restaurant is attached to a Hindu temple, including the prominent statue of Ganesha.
We ordered a side of tamarind rice, two masala dosas and a Pondicherry dosa. After no more than 10 minutes, our food came out, fresh off the griddle. Dosas are usually pretty generous in size, and these were no exception. The dosas themselves were butter and flaky, and were completely packed with delicious vegetarian fillings. The potato filling of the masala dosas were perfectly spiced – just the right amount of heat. The Pondicherry dosa was also filled with green chilis and onions, which added an extra kick. We also appreciated the soupy veggie sambar and coconut-yogurt sauce that came alongside. We washed everything down with a mango lassi (which is a bargain at $2 – you may want a second one).The Ganesh Temple Canteen may be a little out of the way for most New York visitors, but it is definitely worth the trip for the great hospitality and the tasty dosas. This is some of the best Indian food we have ever had, and definitely the best we have had in NYC. Plus, you’ll get a huge amount of food for the price! If you stop by, don’t forget to indulge in a mango lassi (or two).
One thing we love about NYC is that there is food from literally corner of the globe. However, even for us, finding a Bhutanese restaurant is something of a coup. Bhutan is a notoriously difficult country to enter and doesn’t have a very large population, but there is a small Bhutanese community in NYC, as evidenced by Bhutanese Ema Datsi (67-21 Woodside Ave., Woodside (Queens), NY 11377).
Being cheese lovers, M and I absolutely jumped at the chance to try what my cousin deemed “the best grilled cheese in Astoria” at the Queens Kickshaw (40-17 Broadway, Astoria, NY). The vibe inside was warm and cozy, and had the feel of a gastropub. There was a small but well-curated menu of grilled cheeses, along with burgers, soups and some other entrees. Not to mention a full menu of imported beers, coffee drinks and even mead. As for the grilled cheeses, Queens Kickshaw had the classic rendition of a grilled cheese, Cheddar & Mozzarella ($8.5) on a brioche roll, which was even served with a comforting cup of tomato soup. M got the gouda grilled cheese ($10), topped with black bean hummus, guava jam, pickled jalapeños, and with a side of green salad with jalapeño vinaigrette. L got a tomato burrata grilled cheese, ($12) on herb focaccia with heirloom tomatoes and herb pistou. How can we resist anything with burrata?
We figured they also would do other cheese-based dishes well, so I had to try the Mac ‘n Cheese ($14) which had a mix of Gruyere, cheddar and smoked mozzarella. The sandwiches were delicious and the cheese and bread were both extremely fresh. We also appreciated the interesting add-ins like black bean hummus and herb pistou that elevated the sandwich to another level. The gouda and black bean was definitely one of the best grilled cheeses we’d had recently, and we’d venture to say that it may be one of the best in the city. Not to mention that the Mac and Cheese was absolutely killer. What could more comforting (and tasty)? The Queens Kickshaw is definitely worth a stop if you get a craving for grilled cheese!