Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Polyglot Theatre, an Australian troupe, recently introduced their interactive work “Tangle” to New York City. Participants were given skeins of elastic ribbon and encouraged to weave them around 25 poles anchored on platforms. My daughter, Zoë, and I tied one end of thread to a pole and then Zoë danced with the unraveling ribbon as if at a May Day celebration. She handed the ball back to me and navigated her way through the increasingly dense web of elastic. As I followed her into the center of the structure, I held on to my ribbon like a modern-day Theseus. I looped it through other ribbons but didn’t completely let go of my elastic ball. Would I find my way out of the labyrinth without it?

Polyglot believes theater is “child’s play,” but the group also sees “Tangle” as a “metaphor of intertwining lives and intentions.” Of course, an obvious and positive interpretation of the entwined elastic is that we are all connected. But as I crawled and climbed through the net and tried to avoid getting caught, I considered the darker implications of entangling relationships. Yet, the ribbons stretched easily and never ensnared me. And when Zoë and I returned to the outside of the structure, she took the ball back from me and started dancing again. As she waved her ribbon, it rippled through the larger web where I’d looped it earlier and the other ribbons stretched and moved with it. I forgot any negative view of entanglement. When we are all connected, we all can dance.

July 29, 2012

Josie Robertson Plaza • Lincoln Center • Manhattan

photos by Adeet Deshmukh

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ready, Set, Slurp: Adventures in Chinatown

It started with a dragon fruit. "What does it taste like?" my two-year-old daughter Zoë asked after she saw a picture of the fruit. I had no idea. I'd seen dragon fruit at Chinatown fruit markets during walks through the Lower East Side, but I'd never eaten one. This provided a perfect opportunity for a downtown adventure. We would try a dragon fruit and see where else our wandering, or our stomachs, took us. Zoë took our mission seriously and asked to wear her Chinese blouse with frog buttons. I let her try on the Chinese dragon slippers my parents had given me when I was four, but they slid off her feet so she agreed to leave them at home. She also brought along her book Yum Yum Dim Sum for our subway ride.

We took the D train to Grand Street, and when we left the subway station I immediately spotted a dragon fruit at a corner market. However, I wanted Zoë to find the fruit and set the course for our adventure. And what did she notice first? Fish! Zoë wanted to see them up close, so we parked her stroller near a tank teeming with gaping tilapia, and she jumped out to examine the catches of the day. She peered into a basket of blue-claw crabs but avoided getting pinched. She couldn't resist touching the conch shells spread out like a beachcomber's treasure, and she felt a few silvery fins of fish glinting in the sun. When a customer asked for a squid, we watched the fishmonger scoop it up and let its tentacles dangle a moment before dropping it into a plastic bag. It left an inky blot on the ice where it had rested a few moments earlier.

"Now is it time for dragon fruit?" I asked. "No, it's time for soup dumplings!" We headed to Shanghai Cafe on Mott Street for lunch, and the waiters cooed over Zoë's outfit and told her, "You look like a Chinese girl!" We ordered a basket of steamed pork and crab buns, and when they arrived Zoë announced, "Ready, set, slurp!" As soon as I vented her dumpling with a chopstick, she slurped away. During lunch Zoë leaned into me and confided, "I saw a dragon fruit on the way to the restaurant." We were both delaying our dragon-fruit gratification!

After we'd finished lunch, we agreed to finally get our dragon fruit. But then Zoë discovered bins of dried sea cucumbers, which she decided made perfect stacking toys. I urged her to play gently when I noticed the price per pound of the various sea cucumbers ranged from $29 to $89. Next, we stopped to examine a durian and Zoë ran her fingers over its hard, spiky rind. I was relieved that she didn't ask what a durian tastes like, since I lose all culinary bravado when I recall stories of its infamous smell. Instead she cried, "Look, dragon fruit!" She picked one and handed three quarters to the vendor after he weighed the fruit. Then, look! "More dragon fruit!" We stopped at another vendor and Zoë chose a dragon fruit that had long, curling tendrils. After spending another 75 cents, we walked to Sara D. Roosevelt Park to eat our long-anticipated treat. We paused to watch the men playing on the handball courts and then found a spot to eat our fruit. When I cut it open, Zoë exclaimed over all of the seeds and she smiled after her first bite. I thought it tasted like an apple or pear, but Zoë felt differently. (See her comments below.)

But that isn't the end of the adventure. "I'm ready to go to the Lower East Side now," Zoë said after finishing her dragon fruit. I had told her about a LES pickle shop near the Doughnut Plant, and pickles and doughnuts are two of her favorite foods. We stopped at The Pickle Guys on Essex Street and first Zoë had what she called a "regular pickle." She ate it while perched on top of a barrel outside the store, which delighted her just as much as eating the pickle. Then we went back inside to try some pickled mango. We both enjoyed the sweet-and-sour mango and then Zoë declared it was time for The Doughnut Plant.

I had to sit out this part of the eating tour and ordered a matcha green tea doughnut to take home. Zoë, however, could handle the next round. Her only requirement was that her doughnut be pink. The wild blueberry doughnut has a pink glaze, so I got her a blueberry "dough seed." This smaller doughnut is still substantial and as a bonus, is filled with custard. While Zoë waited patiently for her treat, the woman next to me in line complimented her and then asked me, "Did she choose her outfit herself?" I explained that she had dressed for her trip to Chinatown. She probably wondered why she hadn't changed into something with a doughnut print for this part of our adventure. 

After we left the Doughnut Plant, Zoë wanted to stop at The Pickle Guys again and tell them "thank you." The mango pickles (and sitting on the barrel) had made a big impression. The pickle man appreciated the kind words and gave Zoë two temporary tattoos. "The pickle has a face!" Zoë laughed when she saw the design on the tattoo. Then she showed him the temporary tattoo she was already sporting. He admired it but admonished, "I don't want to see you getting any real tattoos. And don't bring any motorcycle guys in here, only men in suits!" The advice was happily lost on her.

Now for some exercise. We went to Seward Park to climb, play tag, and see how often I missed catching Zoë's new yellow rubber ball. And before going back uptown, I introduced Zoë to the Chinese department store, Pearl River. She didn't know where to begin: "Look, Angry Birds toys! Look, dragons! Oh, I want to show you something really crazy!" The something "crazy" was a waterfall cascading down a wall. I bought her a pair of Chinese slippers that fit her properly and matched her blouse, and then we finally made it to the subway. When I told Zoë to say goodbye to Chinatown, she said she didn't want to leave. I'm sure we can think up a reason for another Chinatown adventure soon. As long as it isn't to find out what a durian tastes like.

I had told Zoë that I would blog about our dragon-fruit adventure, and after she finished her doughnut she asked for my pen and notebook. She explained, "I want to be a blogger today. I want to write down everything we ate!" She did scribble away but I also took notes. Here are Zoë's comments:

On the fish market: "I liked the crabs because they pinched. The fish was swimming around on the ice. The fish smelled 'yums.' They looked red, silver, and white. I liked the fish swimming around. I liked the conch. The shell felt cold." 

On Shanghai Cafe: "I feel happy here. I liked the soup dumplings because they were very, very chewy."

On sea cucumbers: "They come from the ocean and people pulled them out. I like to play with them."

On dragon fruit: "I picked that one because it had spikes on it. It tasted a little like a blueberry."

On the pickles: The mango pickle "tasted sour." "I liked it because it was so good. I like that they [the pickle guys] made it."

On her doughnut: "I like that there's cream inside."

At Seward Park, Zoë said, "I'm going to tell you a joke that will make you laugh really hard." Here it is: "Pickles eat cupcakes!"

When we got home, Adeet asked Zoë, "How was Chinatown?" Her response? "Amazing!"

photos by Kate Deshmukh

New G.S. Food Market (fish market)
250 Grand Street • Manhattan

Shanghai Cafe
100 Mott Street • Manhattan

Sara D. Roosevelt Park
East Houston Street to Canal Street, between Chrystie and Forsyth Streets • Manhattan

49 Essex Street • Manhattan

379 Grand Street • Manhattan

Seward Park
Canal Street, Essex Street, Jefferson Street, and East Broadway • Manhattan

477 Broadway • Manhattan

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lunch Is Elsewhere

In college I bought a postcard that declared, “She was often seized with a desire to be elsewhere.” Restless? Yes. Discontent? No. Just curious to know firsthand how people live everywhere else. It’s fitting, then, that I’ve ended up in New York, a city of myriad “elsewheres.”

The five boroughs boast a league of “diminutive” nations, from Little Guyana and Little Russia to Little Sri Lanka and Le Petit Senegal, and more than one Little Italy. When I eat Guyanese doubles in Richmond Hill or varenyky in Brighton Beach, I get a taste, literally and figuratively, of another culture. But just as I start to imagine I’m in another time zone, I catch a glimpse of an NYC landmark or spot a Post headline. However, when I visit the decidedly not little Chinatown in Flushing, Queens, I check twice for a customs agent as I leave the subway station.

When I step onto Roosevelt Avenue, Chinese shops, restaurants, and newsstands engulf more familiar locations (Starbucks, Duane Reade), and predominantly East Asian shoppers hurry down Main Street. While Manhattan’s vibrant Chinatown is still more popular with tourists than its Queens’ counterpart, Flushing “rivals [Manhattan’s] Chinatown as a center of Chinese-American business and political might, as well as culture and cuisine.”

Until recently my husband, Adeet, and I ventured to Flushing to eat soup dumplings at Nan Shian Dumpling House or to slurp spicy cumin noodles at Xi’an Famous Foods. Then we discovered the New World Mall. The mall, which opened earlier this year, gleams unapologetically next to its stodgier looking neighbor, Macys. Its designers apparently adopted a “more is more” philosophy regarding the number of chandeliers hanging in the atrium, and they didn’t limit the mall’s tenants to clothing and jewelry stores. The New World Mall also houses a 30,000-square-foot Asian grocery store, a karaoke bar, and a dim sum restaurant. But the food court holds the most allure for me.

I’ve tended to consider food courts a culinary detour, not a destination, but this one dazzled me. I scanned the names of the more than 30 food stalls and happily didn’t spot a single Sbarro or Panda Express. Instead, I found signs advertising “beautiful memory desserts,” “infinite creamy ice,” and “tenderous ribs.” I imagined myself in one of the food courts Anthony Bourdain always seems to be enjoying in Singapore or Hong Kong. We heard little English, and flat-screen televisions played Mandarin-language news broadcasts. Unfortunately, the images on the TVs were all too familiar to us. It was the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, and the program showed footage of the towers collapsing. We chose to focus on our food and were not disappointed.

While Adeet and I decided where to eat, our daughter, Zoë, danced from vendor to vendor and elicited a number of smiles from employees and other diners. We settled on Pho Bac, a Vietnamese stall, where I ordered spring rolls and grilled shrimp on vermicelli (Bun Cha Gio Tom Nuong). Adeet had pho, the traditional Vietnamese soup topped with rice noodles, and Zoë tangled with a plate of sticky vermicelli. For dessert, we skipped the infinite creamy ice, which looked infinitely overwhelming, and chose ice-cream crepes at Mojoilla Fresh. Separately, ice cream and crepes are two of my favorite desserts. However, I quickly learned that an ice-cream cone fashioned from a crepe is better in theory than practice.

A few days after this meal, Zoë and I rode the 7 train back to Flushing and had lunch at the mall’s food court. I carried her past each food vendor while I debated the merits of hand-pulled noodles versus hot pots brimming with fatty beef. I finally decided on a stall called Live Seafood, where my daughter waved to the lobsters bobbing in a large tank. I took my chances that the soft-shell “carbs” would turn out to be crabs, and for $8 I received a plate of crabs, fried rice, and salad. I skipped the anemic looking lettuce and enjoyed the pleasantly ungreasy rice and pan-fried crabs. We went back to Mojoilla Fresh for dessert, but this time we had our ice cream in a cup, not a crepe.

Adeet, Zoë, and I are going back to the food court tonight. We’ve discovered an elsewhere where we might end up staying awhile.

New World Mall

136-20 Roosevelt Avenue • Flushing

photos by Adeet and Kate Deshmukh

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

From Food to Friendship

Our daughter, Zoë, recently ate her first solid food. She consumed her rice cereal with such gusto that Adeet and I are convinced she’s ready for culinary school. We snapped photos, shot video, and applauded after she opened her mouth for more after each spoonful. Of course, we were excited that she’s achieved another milestone, but I was especially happy to think that soon she’ll participate in the communal experience of eating. I cherish the bond she and I have established through nursing, but I look forward to the joy she’ll experience when she shares food with others. For me, eating is a social activity. When I recall my favorite meals, I remember not only the food, but also the people who made it or who ate with me.

One recent meal in particular stands out. Earlier this winter, our friend Zaman, who cooks at one of Sammy's award-winning gyro carts
, invited us for dinner at his home. We had expected that the food would be delicious, but we were impressed with just how much of it he had made: two kinds of rice, eggplant, salad, chicken, lamb, goat, and ilish, a popular Bangladeshi fish. The kitchen in his studio apartment is smaller than the gyro cart, and yet he had managed to create a feast.

When Zaman set the dishes on a blanket on the floor, they nearly ran the length of the room. We ate with our hands, which only heightened the pleasure of eating such good food—we could smell, taste, and feel the spices. He watched us carefully and kept track of what we had, or had not, eaten. “You haven’t tried the chicken!” he admonished me. No, but I’d had more than one piece of fish, two servings of each kind of rice, and several helpings of eggplant. But I tried it and was happy that he’d chided me. I don’t eat chicken often, but this was so flavorful and tender that I would happily make a habit of it.

Zaman held Zoë on his lap and wanted to give her a taste of his dinner. She was too young for solid food at that point, but I could understand his desire to share the meal with her. We had all come together that evening because of food—his food—and he wanted her to fully take part in the experience. And he was likely missing his young daughter, who is still in Bangladesh.

In a few weeks, Zaman will take the U.S. citizenship exam. When he gets his green card, he’ll apply to bring his family here. I can imagine the happiness they’ll feel when they eat together again, and I picture Zaman sitting with his daughter and sharing food from his plate.

We had enjoyed a delicious meal with Zaman, but we’d also learned about his home in Bangladesh, his early experiences in the States, and his take on street-cart politics. And in turn, he was curious to know more about us. I hope that sometime soon our daughters will eat together. Zoë will undoubtedly delight in the new tastes, from coriander and cumin to garlic and ginger. And even more importantly, she’ll savor the company of the person eating with her.

photos by Adeet and Kate Deshmukh


The immensely talented Allyson Murphy has a web site called Real Honeymoons, which features, well, real honeymoons! I'm her guest blogger this week and am fortunate to have Adeet's photos to illustrate my posts. There's a new installment every day. Today you can get a little bit of Spain and a little bit of North Africa all in one place: Melilla!

My earlier posts are on the site or you can get to them here:

First installment:



Sunday, February 21, 2010

Playing Favorites: Soup Dumplings

My cousin Jennifer recently visited from Milwaukee and asked me a question that threw me for a loop. “What’s your favorite place to eat in New York?” Isn’t that like asking a mother to name her favorite child? She prodded, “Well, then, what’s one of your favorite kinds of food to eat here?” Ah, that made it easier. Soup dumplings! And the best place to eat soup dumplings in New York City is at Nan Shian Dumpling House in Flushing’s Chinatown.

A dumpling is worth its weight in dough, but a soup dumpling has the added burden of proving its broth is slurp-worthy. Nan Shian’s dumplings excel on both counts. The tender dumpling skins alone would make a delicious snack, but they’re also perfect vehicles for the kitchen’s savory golden broth. The soup strikes a perfect balance of flavor: not bland but not too salty, not watery but not greasy.

Last August, days before I had my daughter, Adeet, my parents, and I took the 7 train to Flushing for soup dumplings. The line at Nan Shian stretched out the door, but I decided to wait. A pregnant woman, especially one past her due date, does not enjoy standing. However, any discomfort I experienced during the wait dissipated with the steam escaping from the first bamboo basket of dumplings brought to our table. And the second basket and the third… Maybe soup dumplings would inspire my baby to make her long-awaited debut.

My parents needed a quick tutorial before eating their first soup dumplings. The rookie mistake is to put an entire dumpling in one’s mouth, which will lead to a burned tongue. Remember that the broth is inside the dumpling. It’s important to vent the dumpling by poking a hole in it with a chopstick or biting off a bit of dough at the top. You can then slurp the broth out of the dumpling. I usually hold my dumpling in my spoon to catch the broth, while Adeet picks up his plate and inhales any spilled liquid. Manners aren’t called into question. The only breach of etiquette would be letting soup go to waste. My parents quickly mastered the art of slurping.

I didn’t go into labor after that trip to Nan Shian, but I did go home very happy.

We hadn’t gone back to Nan Shian since I’d had the baby, and my cousin’s questions had made me hungry. So on President’s Day, Adeet hoisted the baby stroller onto the 7 train, and we took our daughter on her first trip to Chinatown. Once again the line at the dumpling house extended to the sidewalk. Adeet waited outside with the pram, while I squeezed into the restaurant’s narrow vestibule to listen for our turn to be called. I frequently had to flatten myself against the wall as a crush of would-be diners joined the queue. I gazed through the large window separating us from people with tables and eyed their dishes greedily. I wanted to ask them what they were eating. Maybe, I fantasized, they would offer me a taste. One table had ordered plates of long, crispy dough and what looked like an empanada. And almost all of the tables had baskets of dumplings.

I clutched a piece of paper stamped with a “3” and held it up hopefully when the hostess announced a number in Chinese. Success! Fortunately, the crowded restaurant has added another seating area since our last visit, and we were happy to find enough room for the stroller and for us in the new dining room.

As soon as our waitress came to our table, I told her we wanted two baskets of crab and pork dumplings (steamed buns). Then I quickly scanned the menu and impulsively requested an egg and chive fried bun. We waited and waited. And then a fried bun filled with scrambled eggs showed up and turned out to be the “empanada” I’d seen earlier. The hot, crispy pie unlocked my appetite and made me feel hungrier. We asked for some sweet sticky rice, but the waitress told us they had just sold out. Before I resorted to gnawing on my chopsticks, our dumplings arrived. Once again, they were worth the wait.

There are a few things to keep in mind if you visit Nan Shian. First, the restaurant’s name on the awning is in Chinese. Look above it to see a sign in English, or better, just spot the street number and the crowd of people. Be prepared to wait, both in line and after you order. It can take more than 20 minutes to get your dumplings, but know that you will be rewarded with a basket of exquisite steamed buns. Also, the service may seem rushed or even brusque, but the servers are not unfriendly. Pointing to the menu can resolve any miscommunications that might occur. And don’t be shy about slurping.

A few hours after this latest dumpling adventure, I saw my cousin again. She and her husband had also eaten soup dumplings for lunch but were not impressed. They’d gone to Joe’s Ginger in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Next time she should play (my) favorites!

Nan Shian Dumpling House
38-12 Prince Street • Flushing

photos by Adeet Deshmukh

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Smart Girls

"Help Wanted" signs aren't especially common these days, so when Deshi Biryani posted one a few months ago, I took it as a positive economic indicator.

However, the restaurant didn't find the smart girl they were looking for, as evidenced by this sign a few weeks later:

Last month a new sign went up, this one searching for a "Nepalese girl." Then the management announced the restaurant is closing for repairs.

Could the smart girls have saved the place? Or are they too busy solving other problems? I hope they show up soon. Other restaurants in Jackson Heights serve biryani, but Deshi knew how to make it with the right mix of spice, vegetables, and protein. And what smart girl wouldn't like that?

Deshi Biryani
7518 37th Avenue Jackson Heights

photos by Kate and Adeet Deshmukh