Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Looking for Corn Along the 7 Train

This was originally posted on Serious Eats as Corn Around the World in Queens
But makes just as much sense here!

Corn Around the World in Queens

It all started with a picture of grilled corn on the cob at the grand opening of Tropika, a new restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue. I had no idea what kind of restaurant it was (Malaysian/Indonesian, it turns out) or what was on the corn—but I wanted that grilled corn. And then I got to thinking about Mexican-style elotes, which made me want esquites. I thought about the Brasilian hot dog with corn that I ate for the Hot Dog Round-up, and the Turkish baked potato topped with corn that I had for the Hot Dog Round-up Two—and it wasn't long until all I could think about was corn and all the ways in which it is prepared.

So I embarked on a very long walk along the route of the 7 train to see how many ways of serving corn from different countries as I could find, and eat, in one day. My journey began in Sunnyside and ended in Corona. I tried corn that was spicy and corn that was sweet; some were sticky, some were soupy, but they were all good.

Tangra Asian Fusion


Sunnyside. First stop. Tangra Asian Fusion is Indo-Chinese food—a very large, ornately decorated restaurant with murals on the walls and a disco ball hanging from the ceiling. I got the chicken and corn soup to go—delicious, once you get past the viscosity. It had a nice salty chicken base but a sweetness from the corn, as well as a nice textural contrast of soft chicken breast chunks and the crisp corn. A splash from the small container of green chillies in vinegar added spice and acid to the mix, rounding out each spoonful. (On an unrelated note, the lollipop chicken at Tangra is delicious.)

Price: $3.50 plus tax

39-23 Queens Boulevard, Sunnyside (map)

Lou Cheng Bakery


I couldn't resist the one Chinese bakery on Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside once I saw the corn and ham buns from the window. They are a little much. The sweet and yeasty bread is topped with crunchy corn and diced ham, and held together by lots of mayonnaise. Not a light snack—but I do think that the sweet and salty combination of ham and corn is pretty perfect.

Price: $.80/bun

57-09 Roosevelt Avenue, Woodside (map)



I headed into Sripraphai and straight for the refrigerator case, in search of the perfect pudding. There are two desserts with corn in them: the sweet tapioca pearls and coconut milk with corn kernels, which I tried, and then something more like a dumpling, made with tapioca starch and filled with corn.

The pudding is meant to be eaten warm, so I took it home and warmed it up later. The thick top layer of sweetened coconut melts instantly into the pale green tapioca, and the dots of yellow corn make for a pretty dish. Each bite is sweet and smooth, and then there's that fresh crunch from the corn. If you like tapioca, you will love this pudding. Thailand, thanks for putting corn into your desserts.

Price: $3.00/container

64-13 39th Avenue, Woodside (map)

Tropika Grill & Cafe


I am always excited when a new place opens along my regular route, and this one, only open for seven days at the time of my visit, was definitely excitement-worthy. Along with all sorts of smoothies, bubble teas and shave ices, as well as fried snacks, there is a whole section of the menu dedicated to grilled corn. It's their specialty, they told me, and are very excited to serve it. They have many, many flavors to be brushed onto their corn: spicy, sweet, BBQ, Asian Style BBQ, and "Maxican" street style to name a few.

I went for the spicy. One very eager counter person explained to me that the corn is brushed with a paste, a mixture of fresh green chillies, garlic, onions, and other things that she did not share. The corn, while not spicy, had a great grilled flavor; I could definitely taste the garlic and onions, and a hint of something, maybe soy sauce, that gave it an "Asian Style" sort of flavor. I would like to go back and try all of the grilled corn, except for the Maxican, since there are lots of those around.

Price: $2.50

82-18 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights (map)

La Flor de Guererro Deli & Grocery


I walked past this deli and noticed a line of people, either waiting for or already enjoying corn on a stick. Since that was exactly what I was looking for, I took it as a sign, and ordered one as well. It's hard to find a great elote. The best ones come from the ladies with their shopping carts, and since they're not usually licensed to sell, they can be hard to track down.

At La Flor de Guerrero, they have elotes and esquites ready around 4:00 pm every day, and always in the same location, which is a plus. And they are good. Tender boiled corn, slathered with mayonnaise, a heavy coating of cotija cheese, a squeeze or two of lime juice, and a nice shaking of powdered chile. Warm, sweet corn, cool mayo, salty cheese, spicy chile, and a little citrus at the end. Perfect.

Price: $2.00

87-16A Britton Avenue, Elmhurst(map)

Tacos HNS Rodriguez


Esquites are the more mature sibling of an elote. The same basic ingredients, but with a few small differences that coax out even more flavor from the corn. The kernels are cut off from the cob and simmered in a pot with water, butter and some epazote leaves, then served with the resulting golden liquid, which is topped with the same garnishes of the elote: mayo, cheese, lime juice, and powdered chile.

The esquites sold from the window of Tacos Hermanos Rodriguez were everything that they should be. A good amount of liquid, neither soupy nor dry, lots of epazote, and the right amount of toppings. I appreciated that the woman preparing my esquites squeezed a fresh lime into the cup, while so many stands and wandering corn sellers use the bottled stuff. Esquites are a great snack, and if you see someone selling elotes, most likely they'll have esquites as well—just ask.

Price: $2.50

89-04 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights (map)

Picaditas La Cacerita Cuenca Ecuador


The last stop on the corn tour was Corona, and I decided to end it with Ecuadorian corn on the cob, or choclo. This variety of corn has much larger kernels, is paler in color, is starchier, and is less sweet than the eating corn that is grown here. It is also much heavier. The choclo gave me the chance to represent another area of the world of corn to be found in Queens: South America. There is a line of vendors on that block, mostly Ecuadorian, and selling the same items, so it would be interesting to taste-test and compare them all.

Price: $3.00

Corner of Warren Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Corona (map)

This is just a small sampling of corn that can be found in Queens, on my favorite beat, under the 7 train.

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