It has been fascinating to see the changes taking place in the commercial area in Jackson Heights, running from about 75th to 72nd streets, bounded to the north by 37th Avenue, and Roosevelt Avenue to the south. A neighborhood whose numerous South Asian alimentary offerings were once dominated by Punjabi and South Indian fare has had to make room for the arrival of a steady influx of Himalayan eateries.
Now it’s hard to say which is more prevalent. There has been a trickle of new Nepalese immigrants making Queens their home for at least a decade, but the 2015 earthquake accelerated the flow. Consequently, a new cuisine has become readily available in our borough—never a bad thing.
Himalayan food is something of a mashup of Chinese and Indian influences, with its own distinctive twist. In Tibet, the yak is the animal of choice for both meat and dairy products. Tsampa, made from toasted ground barley, is a favored staple. Timgmo—that is, steamed bread dough—is favored for sopping up sauces and gravies. Momo, the most well-known Tibetan delicacy, are Tibetan dumplings, made with various fillings. And just to confuse things, Tibetan cuisine, like cuisines everywhere, is evolving, embracing dishes from other adjacent and distant areas. Who would have expected chicken lollypops, the iconic dish of the Tangra of Kolkatta, to show up on a Tibetan menu? It is, however, one of Little Tibet’s specialties.
Little Tibet is a cute, friendly place to explore the cuisine of the region of the birthplace of the Buddha. The small, cozy space is lined with banquettes, upholstered with oriental rugs. It has a bar that serves beer and wine with a surprisingly deep selection of local (yes, Queens) craft brews. The menu is full bore Himalayan.
The obvious choice for starters here are the momos—either the roly-poly vegetarians ones or the juicy meat variety. Eschewing the obvious, and thinking we could kill two birds with one stone, we bypassed the momo in favor of Mokthug, beef momos in bone broth. If you’re a devotee of bone broth because it is rich in minerals that support the immune system; contains healing compounds like collagen, glutamine, glycine and proline; and heals your gut lining and reduces intestinal inflammation—this is a novel way to get your fix. Or you can just order it because it tastes good. The Tibetan answer to kreplach soup.
We also sampled the pan fried Tibetan blood sausage called Gyuma, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Irish black pudding, but with chewy bits. Like black pudding, it’s pretty bland by itself, and requires copious amounts of hot sauce for flavor.
Perhaps the star of the Little Tibet’s offerings is Shabhaley, aptly described on the menu as “Tibetan empanadas.” These deep fried pockets of beef and juice erupt in your mouth in an explosion of deliciousness. They make a perfect snack food or lunch, or a shared starter.
The two entrées we tried spoke volumes about Tibet’s geography. The first, Chaley Ngoepa, is a stir fry of beef tongue with vegetables. The cooking style says “China,” the spiciness “India,” and the choice of meat screams “Tibet” (in Tibet it probably would have been yak). This is a delightful dish providing you are a lover of tongue. Be forewarned that all of the parts of the organ are included, not just the tenderest. We also sampled Phakpey Tsip-Sha, a similar dish made with pork ribs. The sauce, a little sweeter than the one used on the tongue dish, was pleasant enough, but the overcooked ribs were too chewy.
We capped it all off with a Tibetan dessert—Tsampa cake. Tsampa (toasted ground barley), as mentioned earlier, is a staple of Himalayan cuisine. In this case it’s mixed with sugar and formed into a small cake topped with ice cream. What’s not to like?
Little Tibet is a charming place to get to know Himalayan cuisine. Perhaps the best way is with a few local brews and a selection of snacks shared among friends.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at qnsfo
72-19 Roosevelt Ave.
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
Price Range: All offerings range between $4.85 and $10.95
Setting: Small, inviting.
Service: Friendly, accommodating, English fluent
Hours: 12:00—10:30 pm seven days
Alcohol: Beer & wine
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: yes
©2016 Community News Group
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