Edible Queens Sketchbook
This summer I went on a Queens food tour with a company called Culinary Backstreets. My tour guide, Esneider Arevalo, was a former chef who emigrated from Colombia to Queens in the late 1980s.
Our first stop? La Espiga, a traditional Mexican tortillaria. On the weekends, they make barbacoa (slow-cooked meats) with fiery sauces. We ate tacos al pastor with fresh, hot tortillas.
Next was Leti bakery, which Esneider called “a love story of fusion cooking.” All the baked goods are Colombian and all the savory food is Mexican. We ate a choriza cemita (a sandwich with Mexican sausage), Oaxacan string cheese, pickled chipotle peppers and papalo (a Mexican herb resembling watercress, but with a distinctive flavor closer to cilantro).
Then there was Prontito, a colorful Colombian fast-food restaurant in Jackson Heights specializing in hot dogs loaded with pineapple sauce, coleslaw, bacon, potato chips, avocado and Colombian pink sauce (combined ketchup and mayonnaise), topped with a quail egg.
We made our way from Jackson Heights to Elmhurst, passing through a concrete park where a group of men had gathered to play Chinese poker.
At US Asian Supermarket, I held an enormous, spiky durian fruit and wondered at live eels and squishy geoducks. Who was the brave soul who first determined to eat such a strange-looking creature?
At Sugar Club, the Thai grocery store on Broadway, we ate salty fermented fish and spicy papaya salad with crab, washed down with an electric purple blue-pea flower drink.
We finished the day at Kulu, an Asian café specializing in durian desserts. We ate the Durian Royale: a milk-based pudding mixed with durian and shredded grapefruit. It smelled a little like rotten eggs, but tasted mild and sweet.
I’d traveled around the world without leaving Queens.
Sari Kamin is a food writer with a strong interest in the foodways of other cultures. She is the host of “Food Without Borders” (http://heritageradionetwork.org/series/food-without-borders/) on Heritage Radio Network, a weekly podcast about food, politics and identity. She lives in Brooklyn with her rescue puppy, Max, and believes that everything tastes better with nutritional yeast. www.sarikamin.com