Category Archives: International Food of NYC

Vietnamese Pho Sure

It’s the middle of midterms and everybody’s procrastination and exhaustion is catching up with them. So the only thing that can really make you happy this time of year is a good meal. All this cold weather and snow has had me craving pho, so I decided to venture not too far out to Saiguette on 106th and Columbus. I really love Vietnamese food, but there are so few of these restaurants in the New York area. I was first introduced to Vietnamese food many years ago while visiting my cousins in Washington D.C., where there is an abundance of restaurants. Saiguette is not the best Vietnamese food, but with the limited options around Columbia, it suffices.

Vietnamese cuisine is popular for its use of fresh ingredients and low amount of oil, which also makes it considered one of the healthier cuisines around the world. The most common flavors are lemongrass, ginger, mint, lime, and chili. Each dish has either a variety of these flavors or a strong feature of one. Some interesting philosophy behind Vietnamese food is that, traditionally, each dish incorporated five fundamental tastes: sour, spicy, salty, bitter, and sweet, to correspond to the five organs: large and small intestines, gall and urinary bladders, and stomach. Clearly, there is a deeper meaning behind the food and its taste, which makes eating it more of an experience.

Saiguette is a really small restaurant better for take out, than eating in. So the good thing about it is that everything comes very well packaged. Their pho is simple, but good. I would request more toppings be included: more lime, basil and sprouts, because these ingredients are what freshen the dish up. The only complaint I have about their pho is the oiliness of the broth, which leaves you feeling heavy rather than cleansed after eating it.

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I also ordered the summer rolls, which lacked flavor. They were filled with a lot of rice noodles, but not too much shrimp or mint, which is where the flavor comes from. However, the peanut sauce that it comes with makes up for this.

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When there is a craving for pho, nothing can quite replace it. But, if pho is not a priority, the best things to order at Saiguette are those that include grilled meat of some sort, all of which are marinated with a mouth-watering blend of lemongrass, garlic, cilantro, ginger, scallion, chili, and lime. On the bright side, their grilled chicken thigh and banh mi are delicious. The grilled, boneless chicken thigh entrée is a very generous portion and well priced. It has a nice sweet, barbequed flavor to it. There is a sweet, chili sauce that comes on the side, with some cut up vegetables and rice. Overall, the dish is satisfying and worth ordering. The banh mi sandwiches are really good at Saiguette. I did not order one when I went this time, but I have had it before and highly recommend it. The bread is light and crunchy, with a deliciously well-flavored grilled meet inside in addition to vegetables and a spicy mayo spread. A friend of mine ordered the chicken satay, which was very similar to the grilled chicken thigh, but with peanuts, and she enjoyed her meal.image

imageNote for vegetarians, Saiguette does not offer the most variety in veggie options, so I would steer clear. My friend who is a vegetarian came with me and ended up ordering a noodle dish that was very plain, because the sauce could not be put on since it contained meat. However, I have looked on the menu since my meal at Saiguette, and they have a vegetable section, but I am not sure how it tastes. So there may be choices, and we happened to order the wrong thing.

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I do not want to give Saiguette such a bad rep, because it is definitely an easy and quick place for take-out and the food really is not that bad. If you know what you like, then that is what is best to order. Do not go expecting a delicious, traditional Vietnamese meal and you will not be disappointed. I seem to always build up Vietnamese meals in my mind, because I so rarely get them. Hopefully, this kind of cuisine will become more popular in the area and there will be more options in the future!

 

 

 

 

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Quick and Delicious Indian

Indian food! We all love it, at least I do. But I rarely get to enjoy it. My entire life I have been fascinated by the colors of India – both in the textiles and in the food. I have been craving Indian food for the past few weeks and when the time came for me to choose what cuisine to explore next, there was no better option. In order to find a good Indian food place around Columbia, I decided to ask a natural expert in all things Indian, my friend from Delhi. I ceaselessly ask her questions about the different festivals that she celebrates, the kind of food she eats, the way she eats it, and Bollywood films. Luckily, she is eager to teach me everything. Thus, I came to her with one request – bring me out for a good Indian meal, please. And so she brought me to Doaba Deli on 107th street and Columbus Ave.

She warned me that the restaurant was very casual (and by that, she meant very casual) and different from Indian food commonly served at restaurants, but more like home-cooked food. I had a feeling I was in for a treat, and boy was I right!

We walked into a make shift seating area with three tables, each with four chairs, and an area to stand to quickly eat. Up two steps was the way into the kitchen where you order your meal. There is a cart with the daily specials. The basic order is a tray with four special options and a side of naan or rice. Additionally there is an entire menu of different vegetarian dishes, different bread sides, and different desserts to order.

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During my meal, I got to try a large selection of different dishes and they were all absolutely delicious. If you tend to shy away from Indian food because of the heavy spices, then you would prefer the food at this place as it was relatively less spiced than other Indian food I have had and it definitely did not feel as heavy. The list of the dishes is as follows: gourd squash, yellow curry yogurt sauce, mashed greens, spinach and potato, eggplant and potato, dal (lentils), paneer with peas, and chickpeas.

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We also ordered a dish called ‘samosa chaat’, which was samosa (fried, potato-stuffed pastry triangles) and chickpeas topped with yogurt, coriander sauce, tamarind sauce, and a spicy red sauce. It was a burst of flavors, but well balanced. This is a typical Indian street food dish. The warmness and heaviness of the samosas was cut by the tanginess of the yogurt and the fresh flavor of the coriander.

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I apologize for not being able to particularly point out each individual flavor in the dishes, but Indian food is all about the mixture of spices. To make up for this, I have done some research about the typical spices used in Indian dishes. Cardamom adds a fragrant flavor, chilies add spice, coriander adds a fresh and earthy flavor, cloves give a rich flavor, tamarind gives a tart flavor, and turmeric gives a bright yellow color. Most of the dishes include a variety of these spices in different proportions. Thus, each dish has a hint of each of these flavors, and depending on the dominating flavor it is evident which spice was used most heavily.

There is no fork or knife served with the dish, only a spoon for the rice. The rest of the meal is eaten with your hands. You rip a piece of naan and scoop up food into your mouth or spoon food into your bowl of rice and mix it.

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During the meal, I could not help but notice all of the Indians coming in to get a quick dinner or chai tea. They were definitely regulars and were friendly with the old lady who served the dishes. It did not feel as if I were eating in public, but rather as if I was in someone’s kitchen. Many people shared their tables, if there was no other room. Do not expect to have a private or served meal. Instead, expect a very comfortable and casual atmosphere with no pretentions.

For dessert we ordered a gulab jamun (fried dough ball soaked in sugar and oil). It is good, but nothing extraordinary. In fact, it is quite bland compared to the rest of the meal. Before taking a bite, you should press it down to squeeze out the oil.

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Overall, the meal was an incredible experience full of satisfying food and cultural immersion. It feels as if you have left New York walking into Doaba Deli and have stepped into a true Indian corner shop with the smells of the local cuisine and the sounds of the local language. There is even a small section to buy all sorts of Indian biscuits. Another benefit are the very low prices. A generous meal can easily cost between five to ten dollars per person. I am so glad to have found such a good, casual eat-out place right by Columbia. I definitely plan on coming again, and highly recommend it to anyone.

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International Foods of NYC: Ethiopian

Hello and welcome to International Foods of NYC! New York City is an ethnic and cultural microcosm of the world around it and is one of the culinary capitals of the world. One can find nearly any kind of food walking the bustling streets. These international foods are just as quintessentially “New York” as a pastrami sandwich or bagel and lox. I decided to start this blog with a completely new type of cuisine that I had yet to try. I headed to down to Ethiopian restaurant Injera in the West Village, where the ambiance is relaxed, yet cheerful and the service is very attentive. It feels as if you are eating in someone’s home. The servers appear to be the owners and they care that you enjoy and eat the food properly.
Ethiopian food not only tastes delicious, but there is a ceremony to ripping the bread, scooping the sauce and quickly, without letting any sauce fall, putting the satisfying and flavorful bite into your mouth. This is the meal that you get to eat with your fingers without your parents scolding you. To start the meal off, we ordered meat sambussa, which is a triangle-shaped, meat-filled pastry. It came to the table very hot and freshly fried with a cooling yogurt sauce on the side. Juice spilled out with the first bite and immediately my taste buds were in heaven. It had the perfect crunch and oil-to-spice ratio.

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As a main course we ordered a combination of the meat, chicken, and vegetable dishes to try as much variety as possible. This is where the meal becomes fun. All of the food is served on top of a large flatly laid out piece of injera, Ethiopian bread. The injera is moist and airy. Its texture is a cross between a crepe and crumpet. It does have a sour taste from its fermentation process that takes a little getting used to. At first, this taste threw me off, however, it compliments and balances out the heavy berbere flavor that is in many of the dishes. As I tasted each of the dishes, I noticed a similar taste in the ones that were usually a dark-brown color. Each of them contained berbere, which is a mixture of spices including garlic, chili pepper, basil, ginger, and other spices local to Ethiopia. It has a hot, even smoky, sort of taste, which is delicious, but overwhelming after a few bites. There were also dishes with lighter flavors, usually grilled meat or chicken in a sauce of sautéed tomatoes and onions. Most of the vegetable dishes did not contain berbere. I really liked the beet and cabbage dishes, which were both sweet, cooked with onions and garlic. The one dish I did not like was the blended split pea. There was an off-putting, almost marzipan-like flavor to it which I cannot quite pin down. It was the only dish I chose not to have another bite of.

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The meal was concluded with a chocolate crème brûlée and Ethiopian tea. The crème brulee was light and creamy, but definitely not essential to the meal. If you are full, as we were, there is no need to finish with the crème brûlée. It does include a pepper-flavor in the sugar crust that comes in the aftertaste, which differentiates it from other crème brûlées. The Ethiopian tea is definitely worth ordering. It is a light herbal tea that really helps to settle all the flavors consumed earlier in the meal.

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One warning, Ethiopian is food is best eaten at the restaurant. I brought home left overs, which I heated up the next day. It was a messy process. The injera underneath the food had become soggy and completely broke apart so everything was mixed together. Instead of enjoying each dish, there was one mélange of everything that was too spicy to be enjoyed.

The flavors are definitely unique to Ethiopian food. They are strong and it is possible that there are people who may not like it, but it is definitely worth a try. Both the food and the experience at Injera are worth the trip to the West Village. It was a treat to sit down for an Ethiopian meal and I plan to do it again.