Saturday, October 4, 2014

Tastes of the World Walking Food Tour of Queens

Guava-filled cheese bread from Las Delicias de Pandebono: Colombia
Along with its great bookstores and storied history, one of the great pleasures of New York City for me has always been the food. I'm not a foodie by any stretch, but I do like to eat out and there's probably nowhere better in world for that than New York. The borough of Queens lacks the flash of Manhattan or it-ness of Brooklyn, but so what. It's home to people from all over the world, and where folks live and breathe, they cook and eat. And sell their food to anyone who'd like some.
Mexican fish empanadas courtesy of La Esquina de Cameron.
Count me in.

It all started with my recent forays into Tibetan food in Boston. Knowing I was moving to NYC, I did some research on Tibetan food here and found an event called the "momo crawl," in which foodies visit Tibetan restaurants around Jackson Heights for samples of the traditional dumpling treat. Jeff Orlick, a self-styled "Queens Ambassador,"  ran the event and that brought me to his tours.

The momos above come from a Tibetan restaurant at the back of a cell phone store in Jackson Heights.
Plate of curried deliciousness from a Halal cart near TD Bank, Jackson Heights
Orlick has made it his thing to learn about and teach the ins and outs of Queens ethnic food, from grocery stores to food carts to restaurants and more. He offers his services on three different tours, a "Tastes of the World" tour that takes in 6-8 cultures in 2-3 hours, a "Midnight Street Crawl" on Roosevelt Avenue, and a "Queens Fiesta Crawl," which takes in Latin food. All three tours are based in the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Corona, home to a panoply of cuisines from around the globe.
Bangladeshi jalebi, Haat Bazaar Bangladeshi market.
My husband and I signed on for his "Tastes of the World," and visited the Philippines, Nepal, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Colombia, Tibet and Mexico in the course of a 2.5 hour stroll. We were joined by a friend of mine and longtime New Yorker, and two tourists visiting from Nashville.

The first place we stopped at specialized in Filipino food and I fell in love with these eggplant omelettes, called Tortang Talong.

From Fritzie's Bakery Filipino
I couldn't tell you what my favorite new food was. I tried everything, and there was only one thing that was not absolutely delicious for me. Those empanadas were incredible and I don't even like fish. And don't even get me started on the cheese-bread-stuffed-with-guava. Yum. I sort of expected yummy baked and fried things though. This was something I didn't expect:

Behold the Quaker, a blended oatmeal drink from Ecuador, in this case flavored with passionfruit. This particular sample came from a food truck on a quiet side street. Orlick also told us about the politics of food trucks and their cultural and economic import. He talked about the difficulties obtaining permits and the maze of bureaucracy that enterprising cooks must contend with. He also talked about how in Queens, the trucks tend to stay in same place day to day- different from Manhattan, where the trucks move around. This tendency lends the Queens trucks more of a permanent, neighborhood vibe. Fascinating! They are such a part of city life here.

We had such a great morning walking around Jackson Heights and eating little bits of lots of different things. I was definitely full by the time the tour ended, but to paraphrase Anthony Bourdain, I was hungry for more!


Allison E said...

I used to live in Jackson Heights and if I had to list the things I miss about it most the first three things on that list would be: 1) Food 2) Food and 3) Food.
There is so much within one neighborhood! Filipino, Colombian, traditional Mexican, Indian (dosas!!), Tibetan, Thai...
Oddly enough when I was there, about seven years ago, there was no pizza! Haha. But you have the rest of the city for that!

Marie Cloutier said...

Alison, I actually noticed a HUGE pizza/Italian place on Roosevelt Ave as we were walking back to the subway. But I'd rather eat those empanadas!

Booksnyc said...

I grew up in Queens and have lives in NYC for most of my adult life and had not heard about these tours - thanks for sharing! (And welcome!)