Friday, September 27, 2013

A Taste of Queens

Space, the next frontier
Queens is a borough of mystery to me—winding streets connect the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in New York, yet nothing sits on a city grid. Yesterday I was out and about in the industrial area of Long Island City, Queens. Under the overpass and over the bridge I went to Organic Food Incubator. They have new facilities that I wanted to see. Proprietors Mike  and Angie gave me the tour of the new rooms and filled in the details of installation and lease stipulations. I’m very excited as I move towards the future of my kimchee fermentation company, Kimcheelicious. The next big step is fundraising. I’ve researched my business requirements and licenses for food manufacturing. I’ve priced equipment and services that I’ll be needing. But there’s still more work ahead.

OFI provides facilities for manufacturing gluten and animal free foods. Mike Schwartz is also operations partner of Bad Ass Organics—he was busy was bottling kombucha that day. I don’t know how he juggles everything, but when you love what you do it lightens the burden of task. I met the folks at the natural juice company and got see the organic olive oil manufacturer’s set up. On my way out I introduced myself to Karen Freer, an OFI tenant and partner in FreeBread, Inc., a gluten and nut free bakery. I just followed my nose towards the sweet aroma of bread. She said “I have nothing but great things to say about these people!” as she motioned to Angie with a full pallet of freshly-baked gluten-free bread. Although many Americans enjoy naturally aged cheese, a cold beer, fine wine or a breakfast yogurt, fermentation is still an odd word in the US. Meanwhile a movement towards natural foods is on the rise.

All this talk about food made me hungry, so I went in search of a familiar flavor. I took the subway a little further into Jackson Heights and meandered my way to below the elevated 7 line past Ecuadorian and Colombian restaurants and Chinese markets. There I found Little Manila on 69th Street. Filipino food is a mainstay on Guam’s banquet tables.

I had a toro-toro lunch at Fiesta Grill. I tried to speak some Tagalog, but resorted to pointing because I forgot what most of these dishes are called. They had quite spread of hot Filipino food—whole fried fish, two kinds of pork, crispy lechon, pancit, sauteed marungay greens, sweet rice cakes steamed in banana leaves and the infamous blood stew.  I had the grilled pork and pancit with a generous helping of rice for $7.50. Each table had the essential sauces: patìs, coconut vinegar with garlic and soy sauce. For those who are more daring, they had fermented shrimp paste (bago-ong) at the side counter.

As I closed my eyes I could almost hear my grandmother yelling “Eat now!” over the fence, and we’d come running. With the next bite I could hear my dad yelling “Close the door!” over the clanging of plates, as he pointed at the AC. And as with all family meals we sat down as a family and ate with our hands.

The food was not as good as my mom’s home cooking, but it was as delicious as I remember. I don’t have many relatives out here, and I’ve come to the conclusion I’m the only guy from Guam in New York. So home-town foods are very rare for me. Yet I wanted more. Right next door I saw Pan de Sol in the window at Fritzie’s Bakery. I walked in a bought a bag for $3.50. I was so tempted to rip into it on the train home; I could smell the sweet dough through the plastic wrapper. But I practiced restraint and when I reached home I prepared it the way my father did—lightly toasted with a shaved sharp cheese and very light dusting of sugar. Along with lapsong sausage and scrambled eggs, this was the typical Sunday breakfast before rushing off to church.

It’s funny how the food can jog your memory take you to a far away place, or how a wonderful smell can be more like a time portal than an olfactory sensation. They say you can never go home, but it’s good to know that some of the familiar sweet things in life are only a train ride away.

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