ethnic emporium Archives

New York City’s {Thai} Emporium: Bangkok Center Grocery

BGSK's Pad See Ew

I started Big Girls, Small Kitchen because I love to cook at home–obviously. But when I’m inspired by the cuisine of a far-flung place, sometimes it’s hard to find the right ingredients to follow even a simple recipe, and the only option is to go out. To equip ourselves to cook any cuisine in the confines of our small kitchens, we’re sending contributor Lauren Rothman off to visit the Russian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French, Greek, and Italian supermarkets of New York City. Her shopping expeditions will yield the specialty ingredients we need in order to make the food we’re craving at home these days.

Today, Lauren’s off to Bangkok Center Grocery, a Thai emporium in New York City, located in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Will the store have everything she needs for pad see ew and som tum?

Here’s Lauren:

As an avid home cook and an enthusiastic eater of New York City’s myriad cuisines, my appreciation of southeast Asian dishes goes way back—all the way to middle school, when some like-minded friends and I (read: total geeks) formed an “ethnic” cooking club. As de facto president, it was my responsibility, each month, to comb through my mother’s extensive selection of cookbooks and select the 4 or 5 recipes that club members and I would prepare together before sitting down to feast. Ostensibly, any type of fare could be eligible for the “ethnic” moniker, but over and over again, I found myself drawn to fragrant Indian rice pilafs; bright, cilantro-and-mint-stuffed Vietnamese summer rolls; and, above all, fiery, fish sauce-heavy Thai curries and noodles. More often than not, the cooking club sat down to a meal redolent of galangal, palm sugar and Thai basil.

Part of the fun of preparing for these monthly feasts was the excuse, as an intrepid young subway rider, to hop a train to parts of the city previously unknown to a brownstone Brooklyn native, in order to seek out those exotic ingredients. That’s how, all those years ago, I first discovered what remains my favorite Manhattan source for Thai ingredients: Bangkok Center Grocery. A tiny, supremely well-stocked store located on Chinatown’s Mosco Street, Bangkok Center crams all the essentials of larger southeast Asian groceries onto its well-curated shelves, from fish sauce and dried shrimp to fresh herbs and bitter melon.

New York City’s {Indian} Emporium: Patel Grocery

Pulses from Patel's in Sunset Park | Big Girls Small Kitchen

At Big Girls, Small Kitchen, we love to cook at home. To equip ourselves to cook any cuisine in the world in the confines of our small kitchens, we’re sending contributor Lauren Rothman off to visit the Russian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French, Greek , and Italian supermarkets of New York City. Her shopping expeditions will yield the specialty ingredients we need in order to delve deep into the kinds of cuisines we’re craving at home these days.

Up next, Patel Grocery, an Indian emporium of New York City, located in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Here’s Lauren:

As a native New Yorker, I’ve always ranked my favorite neighborhoods according to how good their eats are. For that reason—never mind its handsome brownstones and lush eponymous park that affords a stunning view of Manhattan—Sunset Park, in south Brooklyn, has always topped my list. I love good food, but I love it even more when it’s cheap, and Sunset Park’s grub meets both criteria: un-fancy taco-and-cerveza joints line Fifth Avenue, their cumin-and-grilled-meat aromas wafting out of unpretentious storefronts; walk a little further east, down to Eighth Avenue, and the sights (and smells) change: Chinese lettering advertises the strip’s many noodle and dim sum joints. It’s hard to beat the area’s restaurant options, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: Sunset Park is a great destination for the home cook, too.

“Little Latin America” and “Brooklyn Chinatown” might be the area’s most well-known sub-neighborhoods, but Sunset Park is also home to a sizeable Gujarati Indian population, and when I feel like stirring up some delicate curries I head to Patel Grocery, which opened on Fourth Avenue just steps from the 53rd Street subway station in 1981. Inside a tiny, somewhat haphazard but well-stocked store, owner Ishwer Patel sells all the Indian ingredients a cook dreams of, from the dozens of “pulses” (legumes) that are the main ingredient in Indian dhals and porridges to well-curated ground and whole spices to fresh produce such as gingerroot, curry leaves and bitter melon.

On a recent visit, my shopping list included paneer, the squeaky fresh cheese indispensable for paneer bhurji or saag paneer, or stewed spinach and cheese; black mustard seeds, tamarind paste and curry leaves, which I use in a variety of Indian dishes; some kind of dried legume; and kulfi, or Indian-style ice cream, for dessert. I knew from previous shopping trips that I’d find everything with ease, so I lingered in my favorite aisle of the store, where Patel stocks its pulses and spices. Hoping to score something unusual, I zeroed in on two of the store’s more vibrant legume offerings, opting for a bag of bright-green dried chickpeas (“you cook them just the same,” Ishwer’s wife volunteered) and similarly grassy-colored mung beans, which resembled tiny beads. Browsing the spice selection, I remembered that I needed asafoetida, the funky-tasting dried, ground resin of a perennial herb that in small quantities lends a leek-like flavor to dishes such as the aforementioned saag paneer.

Patel’s prices are low, low, low—before I knew it, my basket was full of $3-per-bag legumes, a $4 chunk of paneer and a 59-cent nub of fresh ginger, and it was time to hop back on the R train and head home.

New York City’s {Greek} Emporium: Titan Foods

Titan's cheese counter is a fromage-lover's paradise. Loukaniko, the traditional air-dried pork sausages dangling above, are typically flavored with orange peel and fennel seed.

At Big Girls, Small Kitchen, we love to cook at home. To equip ourselves to cook any cuisine in the world in the confines of our small kitchens, we’re sending contributor Lauren Rothman off to visit the Russian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French, Italian, and Greek supermarkets of New York City. Her shopping expeditions will yield the specialty ingredients we need in order to delve deep into the kinds of cuisines we’re craving at home these days.

Up first: Titan Foods, the Greek Emporium of New York City, located in Astoria Queens. Here’s Lauren:

Queens is a food mecca. Though to most people, New York City’s largest borough simply holds the distinction of being one of the most diverse geographic areas on earth–nearly 50 percent of its occupants were born abroad–to me, that means you’ll find Chinese grocery stores hawking pristine bok choy just a stone’s throw from Pakistani shops filled with fragrant spices and, a couple of blocks away, Puerto Rican bodegas serving up soupy rice and beans and crisp-fried tostones. As a Brooklynite, I don’t get to spend much time in Queens, but when I do make it there, I’m taken aback by the abundance.

Titan's Greek signage is the first indication of the traditional ingredients to be found inside.

When I’m looking for Greek ingredients, I head to Astoria. This neighborhood, known for its handsome Tudor-style row houses, was the destination for immigrants arriving from Greece and Cyprus in the 1960s and ‘70s, and the Mediterranean population left its mark in the form of countless restaurants, casual tavernas and bakeries, and a number of well-stocked grocery stores that are a dream for the home cook. (See all of BGSK’s Greek recipes here.)

My Greek supermarket of choice is Titan Foods, a large but not overwhelming full-service grocery that stocks an amazing selection of all the Greek ingredients you’d ever need, from aromatic dried oregano to milky fetas to countless varieties of olives—and much more. Need phyllo for homemade baklava? It’s here, in about nine varieties. Prefer to pick up a prepared spinach pie? In the freezer section. Titan has three grinds of bulgur, from fine to coarse; dried fava beans, both split and whole; and a wealth of dried fruits and jams in flavors like sour cherry, fig and bitter orange.