We had a lot of eating to do when we were briefly in New York last month. I had a list of favorite dishes on hand, just in case we were ever blocked for ideas. And yet, New York has that way about it; it tempts you to try new places constantly, as you turn the corner and some amazing looking new restaurant is suddenly in your path. But I had some priorities: split a Shake Shack burger, eat a Peels muffin (and try to figure out the buckwheat flour ratio), devour a Neapolitan pizza, bring home some house-made hunter’s sausage called Cacciatorino from Il Buco, and share a meal at Diner. We accomplished all that and more.
But we both realized that what we’d been missing most was the ethnic food: South Indian street food like Bel Puri, yes, but more so those creative takes on Asian cuisine, like what one finds at Momofuku and Fatty Crab. In fact, of all the things I ate over a few days in the city, my favorite of all was that (ever) amazing pickled watermelon and crispy pork belly salad that Zak Pelaccio has rightfully made a staple at Fatty Crab.
He says (in this New York Times story that does a better job of describing the dish than I could) that pork belly is so simple, so pleasing, that all a chef really has to do is to show up. But I just found the recipe on Find. Eat. Drink. and there’s oh so much more to it.
Frankly, I’d love it even without the pork belly. The cool watermelon, pickled with vinegar and lime and ginger and chilies, is smeared with spicy ginger paste and topped with the most aromatic greens. It’s slight on those greens, but there’s Thai Basil, Vietnamese Mint, coriander, and sesame; I think it’s an incredibly delicious combination. In fact, it was so irresistible that after first having it back in 2005 (having seen the chef introduce Malaysian street food to Martha Stewart on her show), I made a special trip for lunch there during 16-hour stop in the city for a job interview a few years later.
Really, I’m smitten with plenty of things on the menu, but Aron and I repeatedly came back for the pork buns, that salad, and whatever new cocktails the bartender was mixing up. It really is one to try, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure.
P.S. I was thinking that it’s probably firefly season there. Are you seeing them in your neck of the woods?