Astoria, Queens, has long been associated with the Greek community. Back in May I went with some friends to the annual Greek Festival at St. Demetrios Cathedral, which has been going on for almost 40 years. But on the same day we also went to a mosque about a mile away from the cathedral, where they were hosting an Indonesian Food Bazaar. Just two weekends ago I went back to Queens, this time for Burmese food. I don't know what's going on up there in Queens, but I love it.
The Burmese food festival started as a fundraising event for victims of a typhoon in Myanmar, and is now in its eighth year. I went the first year and loved it, but kept forgetting about it in subsequent years. Lucky for me, my friend Donny reminded me this year. It was packed, held in a high school up near Long Island City. My favorite dish of the day is pictured above: samusa thohk. A potato samosa was cut up in the bottom of a bowl and topped with an herb salad -- cilantro, mint, cabbage, and onions. Then that was covered in a split-pea broth, and I added a sprinkle of chili flakes and a squeeze of lime. So many fantastic flavors and textures combined in each individual bite: crisp raw veggies, smooth potato, deep notes from the spiced broth, bright pops from the herbs. For more information on the charitable foundation check out the Moegyo Humanitarian Foundation.
I know, I know, it looks like brown lumps on a plate. The vendors at the Indonesian Food Bazaar were very excited for me to try them, after I asked for vegetarian food. The big hunks are spiced tempeh and tofu, and they're paired with a peanut sauce. I'm not usually a fan of tempeh, but this was a good one. The tofu was firm and chewy, and the peanut sauce was phenomenal. I also had a great veggie curry over rice, not pictured.
The Greek Festival was one of the more traditional NYC street fair. There were rented mechanical rides, and games of chance (win a live goldfish!), and of course food vendors. I was a little put off at first, and the spanikopita wasn't great. I was thinking that there was something to be said about the vibrancy of the Indonesian festival versus the tired cookie-cutter feel of the Greek one, and the changing demographics of Queens. But as we sat there, I started to notice the similarities. On a food level certainly - there were stewed meats with rice at both places, and both had desserts so sugary they could melt your teeth. On a bigger level there were similarities as well. Being able to converse in your native language was a big deal -- at the Greek festival there were men singing songs in Greek; at the Indonesian festival the main language being spoken was (no surprise) Indonesian. Yes the culture of Queens may be changing, and new traditions are taking root, but it's easy to miss just how similar the traditions are at their core.