Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Melting Pot: From China to Venezuela and Down Under

New York City is a blending of many cultures, a true melting pot.  Back in the day, this is where immigrants would travel with hopes of a greater life and bigger opportunities.  Today, it's a place where people come to make it in the big city.  Sinatra had it right.  If they can make it here, they can make it anywhere.  Not much has changed if you really think about it.  New York is a beacon of hope, a symbol of America, a multicultural epicenter.  That's honestly one of the things I enjoy so much about living here.  We're all in it together.  It's our city.  It belongs to all of us.  I love that you can find just about any type of ethnic cuisine here, at an incredible price range, from top dollar to bargain basement.  Unless someone wants to fund future outings (I'm serious, I'm always looking for a benefactor) I will most-likely limit my explorations to a moderate price range (you're welcome).  Let's get started with a bargain basement pick from the Far East...

Vanessa's Dumpling House
118 Eldridge St
(between Grand St & Broome St)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 625-8008

I selected Vanessa's after an afternoon of trolling Canal Street for the perfect bag.  A friend had recommended it, and said it was worth biking miles out of her way for late-night dumplings when a craving hit.  Well, anywhere in New York that's worth going completely out of your way for a craving must be pretty good. After waiting in a somewhat lengthy line, I selected an order of pan-fried chive and pork dumplings, an order of pan-fried cabbage and pork dumplings, and a scallion pancake.  My grand total for 8 pan-fried dumplings and a giant, fluffy wedge of scallion pancake: $2.75.  Yes, I meant to put the decimal point after the 2.  Each order of dumplings was $1 and the plain scallion pancake was only 75 cents.  They offer scallion pancake sandwiches which are stuffed with various fillings and cost more, but I knew this would be filling enough as is.  So with my wallet less than $3 lighter, I filled my belly.  The chewy and crisp dumplings have a slightly thicker dough than what I'm used to in the past, but I prefer the extra texture here, trust me.  That bit of chewiness is all the difference.  And the scallion pancake, it's a thick, fluffy wad of dough, flecked with scallions within and topped with sesame seeds, lots of them.  You will get your money's worth, and you will never be hungry again.  Oh and for those of you keeping track, this place has an "A" for sanitation from the Health Department, so keep your "if it's cheap it must be dirty" comments to yourself :)

Half of the menu, I didn't photograph the rest, which had soups and noodle dishes, sorry :(

In action

Making some scallion pancake sandwiches!

My feast!  All for under $3!

Left to Right: Chive and Pork Pan-Fried Dumplings $1, Cabbage and Pork Pan-Fried Dumplings $1

Scallion Pancake $0.75

Caracas Arepa Bar
291 Grand St                                    93 1/2 E 7th St
Brooklyn, NY 11211     and        New York, NY 10009
(718) 218-6050                             (212) 529-2314

I've been to the Brooklyn location although the East Village one is the original.  They share a menu, so you can get the same dishes at either location, and Brooklyn is more convenient for me and much easier to get a seat, as I hear the other location is always packed.  You may remember Caracas Arepa Bar from the arepa "throwdown" where they reigned supreme over Bobby Flay.  These flat, unleavened cornmeal patties generally derive from Venezuela and Colombia.  Caracas offers up Venezuelan-style arepas that are stuffed to create sandwiches.  Though they appear to be small, they are far more filling than they look.  I decided to start with some tostones topped with mojito mayo, lemon and crumbled white cheese.  It was a great starter and even a bit filling.  It would have been plenty to share.  I selected an arepa based on a friend's recommendation, the La De Pernil, which is filled with roasted pork shoulder, tomato slices, and a spicy mango sauce.  It was very good, extremely juicy, although the mango sauce wasn't quite as spicy as I imagined it to be.  They offer a spicy sauce on the table for you to add to your dishes, but I forgot about it until after I finished my meal, but then I tasted it anyway and it was good :) Next time for sure!  They have Happy Hour specials on drinks all week long from 4 to 7 pm, and I indulged in a $4 Pacifico with my meal.  My final tally was a mere $16.50 before tax and tip for a drink, an appetizer, and a tasty and authentic arepa.  Not bad for an impromptu trip to South America!

Tostones Mochimeros - Fried Green Plantains topped with Mojito Mayo, a squeeze of lemon and white cheese $5.50

Arepa La de Pernil - roasted pork shoulder with tomato slices and a spicy mango sauce $7 

Tuck Shop
75 9th Ave                                               115 St Marks Place                             68 E 1st St
New York, NY 10014        and           New York, NY 10009       and       New York, NY 10003
(212) 979-5200                                     (212) 979-5200                                 (212) 979-5200
When I generally think of meat pies, I think of jolly old England (and of course Sweeney Todd, which is a bit disturbing, I admit).  Well wasn't Australia once a British colony, housing all the convicts that weren't fit to stay in England?  I'm sure the meat pie traveled with them too, as Tuck Shop features Australian meat pies and instructs you to "Eat 'Em With Ya Hands."  A new location recently opened in Chelsea Market, so I was very excited to try it out!  They offer ketchup and suggest you use it, and I won't argue with an Aussie in matters of meat pies... or kangaroos.  Apparently, in Australia they put ketchup on everything.  These crusts are not really flaky, but thick and firm around the edges, a good stable wall around the filling, easy to keep the pie together as you eat with your hands.  Also, it's good to note that everything on the menu is under $6.

I first tried the traditional meat pie with ground beef, and thought the ketchup was actually a great touch.  The filling was well-seasoned, tasty and moist, but not too liquidy, and stayed nicely inside the crust's embrace.  On another visit, I tried the Thai green chook curry pie, which is filled with chicken in a curry sauce of Kafir lime leaves, galangal, Coconut milk, Thai basil and chilis, and served with sweet chili sauce instead of ketchup (although you could still top it with ketchup if you like, down under they would).  The pies are not super filling on their own if you're completely starving, but would serve as a nice lunch or light meal, or can be paired with generous side dishes ($4 a piece) for something more substantial.  I tried the Tucker box which comes with a pie and 2 sides for $12.  I had the scalloped potatoes, a cheesy potato side that will fill you up where the pie left off, and the coleslaw, which is not overly mayonnaisey as some slaws tend to be.  It includes apples and a touch of sriracha, but could use some more seasoning and acid, if you ask me.  It's a fresh option great for cooling you off after a few bites of the somewhat spicy curry pie.  While a pie alone left me wanting just a little bit more, the Tucker box was too much and I took home most of the sides.  A good idea would be to split sides with a dining companion, just for a few extra bites.

Traditional Meat Pie (Ground Beef) $5.50

Thai Green Chook Curry Pie (Kafir lime leaves, galangal, Coconut milk, thai basil and chilis) $5.50

With sweet chili sauce

Coleslaw $4

Scalloped Potatoes $4


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