The neighborhood of Floral Park, Queens, is located as far east as you can go and still be in New York City. The neighborhood cozies up against the Nassau County line, and is made up of wide, quiet streets lined with small brick houses with yards. It also happens to be home to a large Indian community, mainly, I’m told, Punjabis and Gujaratis. The 2000 census found that about 15% of the population was Indian-born, but a 2007 NYT article about the neighborhood says that the number has climbed since then.
Credit goes to Eating in Translation, one of my favorite blogs, for cluing me into the neighborhood by writing about Mumbai Xpress (256-05 Hillside Avenue). This is a relatively new and truly excellent little restaurant specializing in all the myriad fast food and street food of Mumbai.
A few blocks down, New Kerala Kitchen (267-05 Hillside Avenue) seems to be barely hanging on–the owner told me that business is bad, so they didn’t have many of the Keralan specialties available–but is still turning out very fresh, flavorful rustic food.
In fact, those restaurants have so much going for them that if they were near a subway, you can bet they’d be full of Chowhound obsessives. As it is, you can take the F to Jamaica Estates and then take the Number 43 bus to Hillside Avenue. Or, the Number 68 bus runs back and forth from Hillside Avenue to midtown.
I’m going to save the delicious details on Mumbai Xpress and New Kerala Kitchen for a future column in the paper, but there are two great grocery stores and one great sweets and snacks shop to tell you about now.
There’s a Subzi Mandi grocery store branch on Hillside, and a few blocks down, a Patel Brothers market that’s much bigger, better stocked and pleasent than the one in Jackson Heights. It’s practically as big as a suburban Stop and Shop.
From Subzi Mandi: Three pickles from a line by Sanjeev Kapoor (a famous Indian chef): Hot Mango, Stuffed Red Chilli Pickle and Punjabi Mango Pickle. ($2.99 each) Mix these pickles with plain rice, mashed, roast or boiled potatoes or eat it with flatbread.
The “Stuffed Chilly” ($1.49) is a bag full of dried chiles, stuffed with a combination of salt, fenugreek and turmeric. Warm a few tablespoons of oil in a skillet and fry the chiles until they’re warm. Then you just pop them in your mouth, preferably with a beer.
The little circular wooden board ($5.99) underneath the pickles is a workspace to roll out chapatis, roti or paratha. The rolling pin is to roll them out. ($3.99)
From Patel Brothers: Sitafel (custard apple) ice cream ($5.00 quart) is awesome–Floral, fragrant and perfumey-sweet, the ice cream is pleasently grainy with puréed custard apple.
Frozen methi ($1.29) (fenugreek)–you can’t often get fresh fenugreek leaves, so frozen is almost as good. Fenugreek is a little like spinach, but it has a tasty bitter edge. You can use it as a flavoring in lentil soups, or make a simple stir-fry of fenugreek, with ginger and garlic.
Whole wheat lower-fat paratha ($2.49)–I don’t usually go in for low-fat stuff, but I love frozen parathas way too much, and the regular ones will probably kill me eventually, so I’m switching to these marginally healthier versions. You can get them stuffed with methi (see above) or cauliflower.
These goodies are from Usha Sweets and Snacks.
Upper left: Dhokla, a fluffy, savory chickpea cake from Gujarat. Flavored with turmeric, mustard seeds, cilantro and green chiles, the version at Usha is homemade by a very sweet older Gujarati woman.
Below, center: Ditto this khandvi, also a Gujarati snack, which is a kind of chickpea flour pasta, served rolled into spirals and sprinkled with mustard seeds. Yum.
Upper right: A box of mithai (sweets). ($8.00 per pound) Especially good is the milk burfi and besan (chickpea flour) burfi.
24912 Hillside Avenue
Bellerose/Floral Park, Queens
25108 Hillside Avenue
Bellerose/Foral Park, Queens
Usha Sweets and Snacks
25915 Hillside Avenue
Floral Park, Queens