I first came across nutrela, a dried soy product, while I was traveling in Nepal, and that’s where chef Tenzing Tsering came across it as well. Pre-cooked Nutrela has, I think, something of an image problem. In fact I think it looks a little like dry dog food. But when cooked properly, as Tsering does here, it’s delicious and quite beautiful. Despite the simplicity of the finished dish here it was amazingly rich, and my favorite of all of the many dishes that Tsering cooked for us that day. And he cooked us a lot of food. This project has introduced me to many wonderful and generous chefs, but I have to say that Tsering may be one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. He genuinely cares about people and sees feeding people as an act of community service. When the food is as good and as fresh as his, it’s hard to argue with.
In addition to my usual collaborators — Donny Tsang and Scott Lindrup with cameras, and Bayard Russell providing music — I want to thank Jeff Orlick for recommending Chef Tsering and Punda Tibetan Restaurant to me.
Punda Tibetan Restaurant — 3935 47th Ave, Sunnyside
I make semi-regular trips up to Flushing to visit the Chinese restaurants and food courts, even though there is a Chinatown food court right here in Brooklyn. The Fei Long food court is attached to a series of small shops and a large supermarket, but I have to admit, it doesn’t draw me in the way the food courts in Flushing do. On my most recent visit only eight of the ten stalls were actually doing business, the others were closed for “renovations.” The main reason I don’t often go, however, is that it’s not particularly vegetarian-friendly. Unlike the big food courts in Queens, where there are usually multiple stalls with vegetarian options, only one stall at Fei Long seems to have anything to offer. Luckily it’s pretty good stuff. It’s stall #1, which according to Eating in Translation is Shanghai Family Dumpling. In addition to a few veggie dumpling options they also have some noodle dishes that can be made with mock duck. Above you see the “lo mein,” which in this case was wide, flat egg noodles tossed in a tasty peanut sauce with a few veggies and some strips of wheat gluten. It’s tasty and cheap, which is exactly what you want from a Chinatown food court meal.
Fei Long Supermarket Food Court — 6301 8th Ave
I first tasted these lumpia at Smorgasburg last year, and I was blown away by how good they were. Filipino food isn’t known for being vegetarian-friendly, and yet at Lumpia Shack they have plenty of vegetarian (and even vegan) options. In this episode of “Lost Vegetarian Presents…” Lumpia Shack chef and owner Neil Syham talks about why he has so many vegetarian dishes, making the lumpia, and waiting for Filipino food to break through to the mainstream. Enjoy!
Off of the southeastern end of Prospect park you’ll find a ton of Jamaican and Caribbean restaurants and bakeries. Strictly Vegetarian, on Church Ave, serves vegan food in the tradition of Ital cuisine, the Rastafarian tradition of eating only “pure” foods (the name is a derivation of the word “vital,” and has noting to do with Italian food). They make different dishes every day, and you don’t really have any control over what you get. You order a small, medium, or large plate, and the server will pile up a little bit of everything they have that day. I ordered a medium plate, which sounded like a good idea, but it turned out to be waaaaay to much food for one person. “I thought you knew what you were doing!” said the server, when I mentioned the enormous portion. “So did I,” was my reply. Among other things I sampled some rice & beans, kale with onions, and a few different types of wheat gluten stewed with veggies. Some of it was a little underseasoned, but the good stuff was really good.
As I stopped to take a photo a woman walking by outside came into the restaurant. “I was going to ask why you were taking a picture of your food,” she sad. “But now that I see it I understand. It’s so beautiful!” She walked over to the server. “I’ve never been here before,” she said, “but I’ll be back for lunch.”
2268 Church Ave
Regular readers of this blog may know that Paulie Gee’s serves some of my favorite pizzas in all of NYC. What you may not know is that Paul has an extensive vegan menu, with some really incredible pies. In this new episode of Lost Vegetarian Presents, Paul walks us through making his In Ricotta Da Vegan pie, talks about why he has so many vegan options, and wonders why customers thank him. Click the like button if you enjoy the video!
Paulie Gee’s — 60 Greenpoint Ave
Back in the day one of the most common vegetarian items you’d find on a menu was a portobello mushroom sandwich. The portobello was usually grilled or baked whole, and put on a bun like a burger. Well here’s a confession: I hated those portobello sandwiches. Lucky for me the mushroom sandwich had evolved over the years, and I’ve had some good ones. At Esme in Greenpoint they have what they call the Veggie French Dip, and it’s one of the good ones. Made with roasted button mushrooms and crispy shiitakes, the sandwich is topped with cheese and served with a flavorful mushroom jus for dipping your sandwich into.
Right around the corner from Esme is Archestratus, a bookstore that specializes in food books. Not just cookbooks (though they have those too), I found some interesting books about food in history and religion. It’s definitely worth a trip to the neighborhood all on its own.
Esme — 999 Manhattan Ave
Archestratus — 160 Huron St
Episode 1.2 of “Lost Vegetarian Presents…” features Chef Amanda Cohen at her restaurant, Dirt Candy. Enjoy!