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The Asia Market Guide to the Lunar New Year

About three blocks east of Union Square stands Asia Market, the unassuming retail branch of Chinatown’s Asia Market Corp, a largely wholesale operation that has long served as a chef favorite with their comprehensive lot of food products culled from East and Southeast Asia. Naomi Kwong, the 26-year-old granddaughter and daughter of the original owners, had the idea for the new store, which officially opened last May. “This neighborhood has a lot of memories [for my family],” says the NYU graduate, who attended high school in the neighborhood while growing up further downtown in Chinatown. “It’s not like all the hustle and bustle of [other parts of] NYC—it’s all locals, and everyone’s super friendly and welcoming.”

The original Asia Market Corp opened in 1988—an auspicious year, as the Chinese word for “eight” rhymes with the word for “wealth”—and quickly established itself within the restaurant industry, making twice-daily deliveries throughout the city. Kwong’s grandfather and father emigrated to the Lower East Side from China in 1966, and backed the original market for an uncle to run, with her parents taking over in 2006.

Naomi Kwong, proprietor of Asia Market in Gramercy Park

“You know the traditional [immigrant] parents where they work really, really hard for their kids?” asks Kwong. “I wanted to step in and help them. I was working at this hotel near Central Park, and I felt I was plateauing there, so I quit my job. I really feel this place has a lot of potential. Up here [in Gramercy], it will hopefully be a shop for everyone to gather, for the locals.”

Soursop leaves are Kwong’s pick for the next big health drink. The antioxidants found in the leaves, used to make tea, are believed to fight the production of cancer cells and boost the immune system.

Kwong’s previous experience in hospitality comes in handy in guiding customers through the otherwise mystifying riot of condiments, snacks, and exotic ingredients lining the shelves. “I even taught one grandma how to text her daughter an image,” she says. It’s easy for the most accomplished cook to find themselves overwhelmed, considering the options here—there are fish sauces from Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines, and even a newer brand called Red Boat, which Kwong decided to bring in after fielding multiple requests for it down in Chinatown. “It’s supposed to be the purest fish sauce out of all of these,” she says.

As knowledgeable as she is, Kwong’s always on the hunt for products customers might not find elsewhere, although the chances are pretty good she already carries it. “Next door at the dry cleaners, there’s an Indonesian person, and he came in and bought a drink that he loves, Mogu Mogu (a fruit juice with coconut jelly). He came up to me and asked, ‘Do you have Indomie?’ I instantly knew he was Indonesian, as Indomie (a popular brand of instant noodles) is very popular there. He’s become a repeat customer.” And if you fancy yourself a sriracha fan, she’ll try to steer you toward the real stuff from Thailand: “The Thai restaurants, they prefer the Shark brand,” she says. “It’s not as acidic, it’s smoother,” she says, comparing it to the ubiquitous rooster-adorned brand produced in California.

This OG Chinese vinegar makes for an excellent dumpling dipping sauce, either on its own or mixed with some soy sauce.

If bright packages of Asian snacks are as enticing to your palate as they are intimidating, Kwong is an essential advocate to understanding what lies within. “This is my favorite wall right here,” she says, gesturing from behind the register toward the opposing wall neatly organized with row after row of packaged sweet and savory snacks. “I wanted to bring things that some people were familiar with and also things that they never tried, so hopefully we can broaden their horizon and get them willing to try new things”—she smiles at the wall, just the slightest bit embarrassed—“I know all these snacks.”

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February 16 marks the start of the Year of the Dog—or more accurately, it’s the 4,715th year according to the lunar calendar. Kwong selected products—a lucky cluster of eight—that should please any unfamiliar palate.

1) Tean’s Gourmet Crispy Prawn Chilli, $4

“This hot sauce is like a savior. If any of your meals are boring, just add this, as it’s really yummy. A lot of hot sauce is really acidic, like sriracha, or very liquid-y. This one’s more solid, and I like that it’s not as oily and gives a great crunch to every bite.” Try these on scrambled eggs or steamed vegetables, then go crazy from there.

2) Wangderm Sriracha Sticks, $4.25

“These keep selling out like crazy,” Kwong says. She now keeps these arranged on the snack wall closest to the front door, for repeat customers who need their fix—party snack and discussion piece, all in one.

3) Jack N Jill Ni Mang Juan Vegetarian Chicharrones, $2

“I opened up a bag of these to sample out, and I sold out of them like that.” Dehydrated green peas with the flavor of salt and vinegar create a texture indeed reminiscent of their animal product namesake.

4) Garden Pop-Pan Curry Crackers, $2.85

Another bestseller at the store, these thin, buttery crackers deliver a smooth, strong punch of  spicy curry notes.

5) Combine Thai Foods Chopped Pickled Radishes, $2

These minced pickles are served often as a topping for congee, as they’ll liven up the texture and flavor of any mild, bland foods, including scrambled eggs and rice.

6) Sun Ming Jan Taiwanese Sausage, $6.25

The best introduction to Asian cured meats, these addictive sausages are sweet and savory, with a chew reminiscent of hearty slab bacon or dried chorizo. After cooking, try them thinly sliced on their own.

7) Spring Home Glutinous Rice Balls with Sesame Filling, $2.15

The Chinese version of mochi, tan yuan are chewy rice balls filled with a decadent black sesame filling that fans of halvah will swoon over. Sold frozen, they’re a quick dessert simply boiled in plain water and served like a soup. Tan yuan are often served at Chinese New Year family dinners, as—written out—the characters resemble the characters for the word “union.”

8) Jufran Banana Sauce, $1.45

A bit sweeter than regular ketchup and with a spicier option as well, banana sauce is the Filipino version of ketchup. “They didn’t have a lot of tomatoes in the Philippines, so they use bananas as a substitute.”

Red is the official color of luck in Chinese culture, which might explain the “Lucky Candy” name bestowed on red-and-gold-wrapped strawberry cream-flavored hard candies.
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FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Favorite Dishes #74: Mission Chinese Food’s Oil-Cured Anchovies

When Danny Bowien reopened his hit Mission Chinese Food (171 East Broadway) in a larger, more stately space, appointing Angela Dimayuga to run the kitchen, the playful chef and restaurateur added so many new dishes to the menu that the incendiary Sichuan cuisine for which he’d become famous all but disappeared into the background. While you can still get your kung pao pastrami fix, there are plenty of hits among the restaurant’s newer offerings.

Taming chile heat with sourness and fat, Dimayuga smothers oil-cured anchovies with a heap of mashed pickled chiles. Served simply in their tin, the fish buzz with brine and spice, set against fresh sprigs of parsley and a squeeze of lemon. Tear off hunks of the accompanying round of puffy sourdough bread, baked in the wood-fired oven the Mission crew inherited from the space’s previous tenant. If you feel like inspiring some of the punk-rock ethos of the restaurant’s original incarnation, consider ordering a pepperoni pizza (the breads are made from the same yeast starter) and topping it — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles–style — with some bodacious seafood.

The Village Voice is counting down to our Best of New York City issue in October. We’re combing the city every day, one dish at a time, to guide you to the most delicious food in NYC. These are our 100 Favorite Dishes for 2015, in no particular order, save for the top 10.

Here’s our countdown up to now:
#100: Laminated Blueberry Brioche at Dominique Ansel Kitchen
#99: Egg Shop’s Golden Bucket Fried Chicken
#98: Ramen Lab’s Torigara Shoyu
#97: Cannoli at Ferdinando’s
#96: Breakfast Sandwich at Dimes
#95: Banana Royal at Eddie’s Sweet Shop
#94: Fletcher’s Burnt Ends
#93: Almayass’s Mante
#92: Empellon Taqueria’s Fish Taco
#91: El Rey’s Sardine Tostada
#90: General Tso’s Pig’s Head at the Cannibal
#89: The Vegetarian at Meat Hook Sandwich Shop
#88: The 21 Club’s Creamy Chicken Hash
#87: Deep-Fried Olives at Via Carota
#86: Pougi at Loi Estiatorio
#85: Shelsky’s Hot Pastrami Sandwich
#85: Pearl & Ash’s Smoked Bread with Chicken Butter
#84: Gluten-Free Pizza at Rossopomodoro
#83: Perry St’s Chocolate Pudding With Candied Violets
#82: Whit’s End’s ‘Fuckin’ Bluefish Dip’
#81: Morgenstern’s Salt and Pepper Pine Nut Ice Cream
#80: Levain Bakery’s Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie
#79: Delmar Pizzeria’s Pizza
#78: Cafe Cluny’s Avocado Toast
#77: Brooklyn Star’s Cinnamon Bun
#76: Pork Belly Cotton Candy at Carnem
#75: Ippudo’s Pork Buns

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Datebook Events FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

This Week’s Five Best Food Events – 12/1/2014

Holiday party and ugly sweater season is upon us. But if you’re tired of watching co-workers act like a fool, here are five events that should prove equally entertaining,

Chinese Take Out Cooking Lesson, The Brooklyn Kitchen, 100 Frost Street, Monday, 6:30 p.m.

Avoid going into take-out food debt by learning how to make your own cashew chicken, BBQ spare ribs, and scallion pancakes at this hands on class. Students will also learn best stir-fry practices and what products to look out for when stocking up on ingredients for homemade Chinese cuisine. Tickets are $75 and include beer; reserve through the Brooklyn Kitchen website.

Cocktail Legends Crash The Daily, The Daily, 210 Elizabeth Street, Tuesday, 8 p.m.

Need a reason to brave the freezing city streets this week? The Daily’s Eben Freeman is inviting his cocktail loving friends and guests out to celebrate the old fashioned. Cocktail historian David Wondrich and noted spirit mixers Julie Reiner and Sasha Petraske will be in attendance, and a line-up of bartenders will create their own favorite old fashioned recipes. Each bartender will have to make their drink in the time it takes to play their favorite rock anthem, which means guests are encouraged to cheer on or playfully heckle each contestant while rocking out to monster ballads. Tickets are $80; secure them by emailing david@public-nyc.com.

Fung Tu One Year Anniversary Party, Fung Tu, 22 Orchard Street, Wednesday, 7 p.m.

First birthdays are always memorable — especially in the restaurant world — which is why Chef Jonathan Wu is thanking customers with food and drink specials all night long. Guests can sip on $3 Tiger beers and $5 wines by the glass while snacking on starters and family style main courses. Wu’s menu for the evening includes spicy mustard chicken wings, brisket and rhubarb fried rice, and whole steamed fish. Dinners are $35 and include access to all passed appetizers and main courses.

The Baking Bible, 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue, Thursday, noon

Author Rose Levy Berenbaum will discuss recipes from her latest collection of tart tales geared towards the home baker, and the James Beard award winner will sign copies following her discussion. The book includes recipes from around the global baking world and covers breads, pastries, and pies. Tickets are $24 and can be secured through the 92nd Street Y’s website.

Coquito Making Class, La Casa Azul Bookstore, 143 East 103rd Street, Friday, 6:30 p.m.

If you plan on serving egg nog this holiday season, consider a class focused on a slightly spiced up version called the coquito. The drink uses rum, egg yolk, coconut milk, sweet condensed milk, and spices, and students will have a chance to make and sample three different variations during class. Empanadas will also be served, and students will get the chance to vote on their favorite coquito at the end of class. Secure your spot for $30.

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Datebook Events FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

This Week’s Five Best Food Events – 9/8/2014

September is a glorious month in New York City. Make the most of it with these five events, our best food events in NYC this week..

New York City Honey Week, multiple locations, Monday through September 14

Enjoy honey without having to fight off the bears and the bees at this seven day celebration, and taste everything from honey-based cocktails to a honey dinner in The Cleveland’s backyard. Check out talks about urban beekeeping and tours of local apiaries. Find the full line-up of events as well as tickets on the NYC Honey Week website.

Mid-Autumn Festival with Weird Chinese Food, China Blue, 135 Watts Street, Monday, 7 p.m.

At this festival, China Blue will prepare a few obscure Chinese dishes just for the sake of a good time and because some friends wanted a party. Beer, wine, and mooncakes are also included in the cost of admission; you’ll need a ticket to attend.

Tomato Fest 2014, Alobar, 46-42 Vernon Boulevard, Queens, Thursday, 5 p.m.

In celebration of the harvest season, Alobar will offer a special five-course tomato tasting menu from chef Greg Profeta on Thursday. The festivities include a live jazz performance, and a portion of ticket sales will also go towards the efforts of No Kid Hungry, a charitable organization designed to address child hunger issues. Tickets are $48.

Brooklyn Oyster Riot at New York Oyster Week, Palm House at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 1000 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, Thursday through September 28

On Thursday, New York Oyster Week begins an 18 day celebration that includes shucking showmanship, a chance to meet growers, and plenty of slurping back shellfish. Select events, such as the Brooklyn Oyster Riot on Thursday, include access to an open bar; others pair the mollusks to spirits — like the September 25 oyster and sake pairing menu. A full line-up of events as well as option to purchase tickets can be found on the event’s website.

All the News That’s Fit to Eat: Where Food and Media Intersect, 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue, Thursday, 7 p.m.

If you’re still sitting on that great food blog idea and need a boost, consider heading to the Upper East Side for an evening of advice. Listen to an expert panel — which features people like Kerry Diamond, author and owner of Nightingale 9 — talk through making the transition into food media from various careers. Tickets start at $29 and can be purchased through the venue’s website.

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Datebook Events FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

The Four Best Non-Derby De Mayo Events in NYC This Weekend

Kentucky Derby De Mayo Weekend offers plenty of opportunity to start day drinking early. However, if you’re not into crowds dressed in sombreros or seersucker, we’ve highlighted four events this weekend that are not celebrating this holiday combo.

Greenhouse Gallery at James Beard House, 167 West 12th Street, Friday through June 30, 10 a.m.

In this new food photo exhibit, Seattle-based photographer Christopher Boffoli examines our wacky and sometimes disturbing relationship with food through a series of images. Boffoli used hand painted figures against a backdrop of real food — think people living in giant ice cream cone houses — with emphasis on subjects like portion sizes and food spectatorship. Additional information regarding attending the free exhibition can be found on the James Beard House website.

Queens County Market, 73-50 Little Neck Parkway, Queens, Sunday, 11 a.m.

For $5, visitors to this market can enjoy hayrides, watch sheep-shearing demos, and take a tour of the historic Adriance farmhouse. Look for local purveyors like Carib Delights, which will offer up its Carribean cheese, and wine tastings at the museum.

Txikifest ’14, Txixito, 240 Ninth Avenue, Sunday, 1 p.m.

Instead of mint juleps, fill up on the dry sparkling wine known as Txakoli. The wine of the Basque country goes best with tapas, so a variety of chefs will gather in the restaurant’s back alley to cook up a variety of bites for the occasion. Tickets are $50, and the event is all-you-can-drink.

Chinese Take Out, The Brooklyn Kitchen, 100 Frost Street, Sunday, 2 p.m.

With the winter of discontent in your rearview mirror, you might reminisce about all those delivered dumplings that kept you warm. Learn how to create your own with author Diana Kuan, author of The Chinese Takeout Cookbook. A few of the dishes students will prepare include cashew chicken, barbecue ribs, and scallion pancakes. Beer will also be provided. To reserve your spot, tickets are available through The Brooklyn Kitchen website.

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Datebook Events FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

What’s Happening This Weekend: Burmese Taste Testing, Woks and Lox, Tango Party, Uni Dinner

After a week spent traveling, eating, and drinking more than you really need to, we don’t blame you if your weekend plan consists of lying on a couch with a remote control. If you’re game to go out, though, here’s a selection of happenings around town you can squeeze in before the end of 2013.

Burmese Taste Testing, Straight From the Lab Studio, 36-57 36th Street, Queens, Saturday, 5 p.m.

If trying new cuisines is right up your alley, traveling to Queens for a Burmese-style taste test is a no brainer. For $20, diners can sample ohn-no khao swe, a coconut chicken noodle soup, as well as access an open bar from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Early attendees will also have the chance to sample danbauk, a spiced chicken and rice dish similar to Indian biryani. There will also $5 shot specials along with $6 lychee martinis for attendees. Pick up your tickets in advance.

Woks and Lox, Nom Wah Tea Parlor, 13 Doyers Street, Saturday, 10 p.m.

Fans of cultural mash ups are invited to come out to this third annual party, which features a special SingleCut brewery born Woks and Lox beer made with matzoh and sichuan peppercorns. Nosh on Jewish-Chinese food courtesy of chefs Chichi Wang and Noah Arenstein in between traditional party games, and make a bid in the auction — all proceeds go towards relief in the Philippines from Typhoon Haiyan. Tickets are $68.

Happy New Year 1954, Centro Español Club, 41-01 Broadway, Queens, Sunday, 6 p.m.

Head out to this early New Year’s celebration where you can party like its 1954 with a night of tango, Spanish wine, and period-appropriate clothing: Gentlemen are invited to break out their fedoras and rock a crisp suit, while women are encouraged to put on the old circle skirt and gloves. Tickets for the performance by the Astoria Tango Orchestra are $20, and a selection of Spanish style food and beverages are available at an additional cost.

Uni Dinner, Louro, 142 West 10th Street, Sunday, 7 p.m.

If you want to cap off the year in style but don’t want to deal with the craziness on New Year’s Eve, check out David Santos’ all uni dinner on Sunday or Monday. Expect uni in each course, be it with short rib, ravioli, or a dessert pudding featuring sea urchin roe. Seatings are $75 per person and reservations can be made by emailing the restaurant directly at nossamessa@louronyc.com.


 

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FOOD ARCHIVES Media NYC ARCHIVES

Crossing the Bridge Noodles at Lotus Blue

First to arrive at your table is a deep bowl filled with rice noodles, chicken, shrimp, pork, and edible blossoms (sometimes Lotus Blue skips the flowers).

As far as I can tell, crossing-the-bridge noodles has never appeared on a New York menu before. This specialty of China’s Yunnan province features hot broth topped with a thick layer of oil, which keeps it piping hot until other ingredients including rice noodles are added raw, so that they cook as you eat the soup. This week’s Counter Culture review recounts the fable behind the dish – which involves a disgruntled scholar and his patient wife – and explains why the version served at Lotus Blue is perhaps less than optimal. Try it and decide for yourself. Otherwise, you’ll have to go to Yunnan.

Read the entire review here.

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Next, a plate appears with (from top left going clockwise) cucumbers, pickled greens, enoki mushrooms, carrots, sprouts, and, in the middle, spice-rubbed pressed tofu.

An unseen hand pours broth way too bland into the noodles.

The add-ins are then swept into the bowl, either indivdually or all at the same time.

What Lotus Blue’s version really needs is a much richer broth, a little soy, and gallons of chile oil!

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FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Pot Stickers From A Pou’s Taste

Welcome to 100 Dishes to Eat Now, the tasty countdown leading up to our “Best of 2012” issue. Tune in each day (weekends too!) for a new dish from the Fork in the Road team.

See More:
Presenting the Pastrami-Reuben Egg Roll

Mozzarella in Carrozza, Italian or Italian-American?
Escarole and Kale Salad at Back Forty West

UPDATE: The food truck has been identified as A Pou’s Taste.

Dish #5 comes from an unidentifiable food cart around the corner from The Village Voice office.

Potstickers: $3.50

Because I can’t read Chinese, I asked the dude behind the window at this food cart found right on Astor Place for the vender’s name as I ordered some potstickers. “Uh, I don’t actually know,” he said, a bit sheepishly. He continued, “The owner is Chinese, and I just work here.” I asked him what name I should give people if I want to recommend it, and got more stutters. “Uh, a Chinese food cart?” Oh, okay. Thanks buddy!

Anyway, this apparently nameless place actually makes some pretty freaking delicious potstickers. For a couple of bucks, you get five little treats fit for a perfect little lunch. The skin is spongy and thin, and filled to the max with pork. Be sure to grab a package of their chili sauce, too. Just be careful, or you’ll end up making trip after trip to the water cooler trying to put out the fire.

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FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Hot and Spicy Whole Flounder at Rural Restaurant, Dish #45

Welcome to 100 Dishes to Eat Now, the tasty countdown leading up to our “Best of 2012” issue. Tune in every day (weekends, too!) for a new dish from the Fork in the Road team.

This is altogether one of the most enjoyable fish Fork has yet encountered. The specimen is probably locally caught, an estimated one-and-a-half-pound beauty that has been stuffed with typical Northern Chinese spices and herbs — including cilantro, dried chiles, Chinese celery, and maybe a trace of Sichuan peppercorns — and fried, and maybe broiled, too. We’re not really sure of the cooking technique.

Rural Restaurant is one of four Dongbei restaurants in Flushing furnishing the cooking of China’s extreme northeast, near the North Korean border.

The fish is flaky, crunchy, and hyper-delectable, and most of the bones are edible (though not the larger interior ones). The flounder easily satisfied five diners, along with a half-dozen other dishes on a recent Sunday afternoon.

Rural Restaurant
42-85 Main Street
Flushing, Queens
718-353-0086

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FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Snow Fungus from Palais de Sweet, Dish #98

Welcome to 100 Dishes to Eat Now, the tasty countdown leading up to our “Best of 2012” issue. Tune in each day (weekends too!) for a new dish from the Fork in the Road team.

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Papaya and Snow Fungus in Syrup ($3.75)

This Chinese dessert shop in Sunset Park offers plated jellies, ices, layered desserts, and a changing menu of daily specials, many of which are hardly sweet at all (today it was a sesame-tofu pudding with vanilla ice cream and a sesame tuile). This bowlful of papaya and snow fungus, floating dreamily in sugar syrup, is a cool and slippery afternoon soup. Don’t be turned off by the rehydrated parasitic fungus that likes to grow on dead trees–the snow fungus may not taste of much, but it’s beautifully gelatinous.

Palais de Sweet
706 60th Street, Brooklyn
718-439-8084

Read the most recent posts on our food blog or explore our restaurant reviews. Contact the writer at trao@villagevoice.com.