Plotzing for Masa (Not Matzo)
"Oh my god I'm plotzing." Those are the inspired words of chowhound Nina W. (many usernames are abbreviations or nicknames), in response to a post on chowhound.com's outer borough message board, which provided a detailed description of the food stalls that border Red Hook Park's ball fields. (For non-Yiddish speakers, to plotz means to explode, crack, or burst). "Louise", who had written up the original report (which fellow 'hound Bob Martinez called "the definitive post on the ball fields"), replied with a confirmation: "Totally plotz-worthy."
This exchange is just a drop in the obsessive bucket. There are pages and pages of tips and updates about the "Red Hook ball fields" on the chowhound site. So, what's all the plotzing about? Louise raved about Columbian beef skewers and empanadas, Ecuadorian ceviche, pupusas (Salvadoran), and plenty of Mexican delights, like huaraches and tacos. Other "hounds" are fixated on the pineapple juice or a drink made from cashews, and the grilled corn (elotes) with chili powder, lime juice, mayonnaise, and crumbled cheese.
Over ten years ago, the first of these stalls was set up, simply to feed the soccer and baseball players who compete in local league games on the weekends. One of the pioneer stands was established by Eleazar Perez, who is originally from Puebla, Mexico. She and her husband have since opened a restaurant, La Asuncion, in Borough Park. Her children, Perla and Fabian, 21 and 18 respectively, have both been cooking at their parents' stall every weekend (through October) for a few years. Despite her particular expertise in tacos, flautas, and tostadas, Perla, like those drooling hounds, has strong opinions when it comes to any of the diverse delicacies. "Oh, you got pupusas at the first stall?" she shrugged, in pity, saying "I only like them from the second one. They're smaller, but better. Whatever."
Packing a pupusa: Masa gets a cheese-and-pork filling before heading off to the griddle.
photo: Nina Lalli
Despite her nonchalant delivery, she knew this tip would be irresistible, and it was. I headed immediately over to pupusa stall number two, where two women were forming little masa balls at superhuman speeds. Masa (meaning "dough") is made from corn kernels dried by fire or in the sun, which are boiled and ground to a thick paste. It can also be dried to make flour, which just needs a little water to form tamales, tortillas, etc. Foodies generally become hysterical when they see the real thing, and with good reason. A freshly made tortilla is more than just a vehicle for its fillingit is crisp on the outside, but thick, soft inside, hot, and tasting truly of corn. I devoured a pork and cheese-filled pupusa, which is flattened into a fat pancake and cooked on a griddle until the cheese is melted and oozes out when cut with the side of a fork. For perfect contrast, it is served with a heap of pickled cabbage.
At a Columbian stall, I had a plate of deep-fried pork belly, chopped and topped off with sweet, soft onions. At the Perez's stall, I had a steak taco, made on a grilled tortilla (not a fresh one, but great nonetheless) and at the biggest, most elaborate Mexican stall, I sampled a fresh-made quesadilla with pork, beef, guacamole, radishes, and cheese. To end the weekend, I had one more fresh tortillasmall and perfect, and stuffed with braised lamb, lettuce, cheese, and topped with hot sauce.
Waitwas there a soccer game going on there, too?
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