Can you find food from every single country on Earth right here in New York City? One reporter is trying to find out. In the first edition of 'Mike George Eats the World,' reporter Mike George tries food from Afghanistan to Ecuador.
Dish: Kabuli palaw (stewed rice with lamb, topped with raisins, carrots), doogh (yogurt drink with mint and cucumber)
(787 9th Ave., Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan) Ariana Afghan Kebob Restaurant
Kabuli palaw, Afghanistan’s national dish, is a type of pilaf. Basmati rice is stewed in broth with lamb. The meat itself is buried under the rice, slivered carrots, and raisins, which adds some sweetness to the dish. Summers in Afghanistan can reach 120 degrees! That’s when you grab a cup of doogh to cool off. It’s not sweet- it’s a slightly sour yogurt drink mixed with mint. The drink is topped with slivers of cucumber and pepper. I actually really enjoyed it- there’s no other drink like it in the world!
Dish: Qofte te ferguara (fried lamb patties mixed with peppers and garlic), byrek (flaky dough pastry filled with spinach and feta cheese)
(70-02 Fresh Pond Rd., Ridgewood, Queens) Pravue Café and Albanian Grill
Albanian food is influenced by both Greek and Turkish cuisine. "Qofte te ferguara" literally means "fried meatballs", but they can come in a patty shape too. The meat has a lot of flavor, especially when you dip it in a spread of feta cheese and butter. Byrek are amazing- flaky layers of dough, hand-rolled, then stuffed with spinach and feta. It’s kind of like a savory, stuffed croissant. You dip pieces of it in sour yogurt- they go really well together!
Dish: Couscous (steamed balls of semolina topped with chicken, vegetables, and broth), merguez (spicy lamb sausage)
(78 2nd Ave., East Village) Nomad
Couscous could be considered the national dish of all of northwest Africa, not just Algeria. The couscous I got at this Algerian restaurant is topped with steamed vegetables, chicken, and lamb. They also give you a bowl of the broth the meat was cooked in, since couscous can be somewhat dry without it. Because pork isn't eaten in most Muslim nations, lamb is used to make the sausage known as merguez. Cumin and chili pepper give merguez it's signature spicy taste.
Dish: Asado (various grilled meat: skirt steak, chorizo sausage, short ribs, blood sauage), empanadas (baked pastry stuffed with chicken and potatoes)
(1725 2nd Ave., Upper East Side) Libertador
Asado is an art form in Argentina, dating back to the days of gauchos (cowboys) grilling beef as they roamed the countryside. Various cuts of beef, pork, and chicken are grilled and served at family gatherings, usually with chimichurri sauce. Empanadas are another huge Argentine tradition at parties and festivals. They can be filled with anything- beef, fish, eggs...there are even fruit filled empanadas for dessert!
Dish: Manti (baked dumplings stuffed with ground beef), kebbe naye (spiced raw beef mixed with wheat, onion, and parsley)
(24 E. 21st St., Flatiron) Almayass
I asked my friend Tracee, who is part Armenian, to introduce me to Armenian food, and it was fantastic! It shares a lot with Lebanese food, but has its own unique flavor. The small dumplings called manti have been served in Armenia since the 1400s. The shell has a crunchy texture and it goes really well with yogurt sauce. Yes, kebbe naye is raw beef- but it's safe to eat if prepared properly and served fresh. The raw meat is mixed with olive oil, onions, parsley, and a type of wheat called bulgur- I really loved it!
Dish: Meat pie (pastry with various meat fillings), lamington (sponge cake with chocolate, coconut, and strawberry jam)
(68 E. 1st St., Bowery, Manhattan) Tuck Shop
In Australia, meat pies are THE favorite to-go snack. No soccer or rugby game is complete without some meat pies- kind of like how we associate hot dogs with baseball in America. You can get various savory fillings- I had a ground beef pie and a lamb pie. Lamington (or "lammo", for short) is a delicious Australian dessert- a chocolate sponge cake, sprinkled with coconut, with a thin layer of strawberry jam in the middle.
Dish: Wiener schnitzel (thin, fried and breaded veal cutlet), apfelstrudel (flaky apple-filled pastry)
(1048 5th Ave., Upper East Side) Café Sabarsky
I found the most authentic Austrian food in New York isn’t in a restaurant- it’s in a museum! Specifically, the Austrian cafe inside the Neue Galerie art museum. Embarrassing to admit, but I always thought “Wiener schnitzel” meant "hot dog" (because of the hot dog chain of the same name), but "Wiener" just means "Viennese". So, a Weiner schnitzel is a thin cut of veal that’s been breaded and fried, served with a sweet lingonberry sauce. And you can't have Austrian food without strudel! It’s a perfect dessert- light, flaky, and filled with fresh apples.
Dish: Dolma (grape leaves stuffed with lamb and rice), qutab (thin flatbread filled with ground beef, topped with sumac)
(2612 E. 14th St., Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn) Azerbaijan House
It was a long trip to this restaurant in Sheepshead Bay- it’s NYC’s only Azeri restaurant! I was the only customer when I walked in- I think the server thought I had gotten lost! Dolma can be stuffed with anything, but lamb and rice are the most common fillings. The grape leaves give it a slightly sour taste, and it's served in a savory broth. Qutab is delicious- buttered flatbread filled with ground beef. Really good stuff!
COUNTRY: THE BAHAMAS
Dish: Cracked conch (deep-fried conch fritters), peas and rice (pigeon peas with seasoned rice)
(74 Orchard St., Lower East Side) Norman’s Cay
For the record, conch is pronounced "conk". It's a type of sea snail, and in the Bahamas, it's in EVERYTHING: salads, pasta, even burgers. But the most popular way to eat it is breaded and deep-fried, with a sweet, citrus sauce. In Bahamian cuisine, peas and rice is the most popular side dish. While pigeon peas are grown on the islands, rice, like much of food in the Bahamas, has to be imported.
Dish: Rui macher kalia (carp in tomato/onion curry with white rice), alu bhorta (mashed potatoes with chili and mustard oil)
(2109 Starling Ave., Parkchester, Bronx) Neerob
Finding a Bangladeshi restaurant wasn’t easy- there's no sign posted outside this Bronx restaurant, and no menu- just a buffet with unlabeled dishes and you tell them which one you want. Bangladesh is a country of rivers, and river fish are eaten daily. There’s even a saying, “fish and rice make a Bengali”. The rui (freshwater carp) was fantastic- spicy but not too spicy, with a delicious tomato and onion sauce. Alu bhorta was a new discovery for me- a tastier, spicier version of mashed potatoes!
Dish: Flying fish (lime-seasoned fried flying fish), cassava pone (mashed cassava and coconut cake)
(456 Schenectady Ave., Crown Heights, Brooklyn) Bajan Café
Barbados is the "Land of Flying Fish"- it's such a national symbol, it's even on their currency! But getting to taste it wasn’t easy. Every time I visited this Crown Heights hole-in-the-wall, they told me they were out of flying fish! On the 3rd visit, I finally got it. The fish is seasoned and fried, and has a slightly spicy flavor. The cassava pone is soft and chewy, and I can best describe the taste as sort of like a coconut cake.
National dish: Machanka (pork and sour cream stew), draniki (fried potato pancakes)
(1655 Sheepshead Bay Rd., Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn) Belarussian Xata
A Belarussian restaurant recently opened in Brooklyn. Traditional Belarus cuisine is a blend of Russian, Jewish, and Polish influences. I had a delicious pork stew called machanka- it’s typically made from the pork trimmings left over from other dishes- bits of sausage, pork shoulder, etc. It’s served in a rich sauce made of sour cream, mushrooms, and onion. On the side, I had draniki- also known as latke in other parts of the world. They’re fried potato pancakes- crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside- similar to hash browns. They’re even better when you add the sauce from the machanka.
Dish: Moules-frites (mussels cooked in white wine with French fries), Liege waffles (waffle coated in caramelized sugar)
(125 W. 43rd St., Times Square, Manhattan) BXL Café
This one makes the top 10 list! Moules-frites literally means “mussels and fries”. You get a bucket of mussels, steamed in a white wine and butter sauce, alongside French fries (by the way, Belgium, not France, is believed to have invented fries!). I learned I’ve been eating fries all wrong! The Belgian way is to dip them in mayonnaise, not ketchup! For dessert, Belgium’s famous Liege waffles. They’re thicker and chewier than a traditional waffle, coated in caramelized sugar and drizzled in chocolate.
Dish: Ema datsi (chili peppers smothered in yak cheese), gyuma (blood sausage mixed with roasted flour)
(67-21 Woodside Ave., Woodside, Queens) Bhutanese Ema Datsi
Tucked away in Woodside, I found a small restaurant named after Bhutan’s national dish, ema datsi. In Bhutan, they love chili peppers and yak cheese, and ema datsi combines them both! I expected it to be overpowering and too spicy- but it was perfectly done. Don’t get me wrong- I was sweating- but the flavor is incredible. I’d never had blood sausage before- gyuma has a different texture than most sausage, but it tasted great! Bhutan just made my Top 10 list!
Dish: Salteñas (baked pastries filled with chicken stew)
(67-03 Woodside Ave., Woodside, Queens) Renacer
It took a lot of subway stops and a lot of walking to get to this Bolivian restaurant in Queens. The server didn’t speak English, but she was very nice- besides, I already knew what I wanted to order: salteñas! It’s a type of empanada filled when a stew of chicken, peas, hard-boiled egg, and potatoes. Other types of meat are available, too. What makes the Bolivian salteña different from an empanada is that salteñas are bigger, thicker, and juicier. They’re so big, you’re better off eating with a spoon than by hand!
COUNTRY: BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA
Dish: Bosanski lonac (veal stew with cabbage and potatoes), cevapi (beef kebobs on pita bread)
(3404 31st Ave., Astoria, Queens) Djerdan Burek
Bosanski lonac literally means “Bosnian pot”. It’s like an American beef stew, except the meat and vegetables are left in giant pieces instead of being chopped. The slow-cooked veal stew has been a favorite of both rich and the poor in Bosnia & Herzegovina for centuries. Bosnian cevapi are nearly identical to Serbian cevapi- except the sausages are made only from beef, served in a pita, and alongside a red pepper sauce.
Dish: Feijoada (black bean stew with beef, pork, and sausage), caipirinha (sugarcane liquor with lime)
(787 8th Ave., Midtown) Brazil Grill
My Brazilian coworker Luis showed me what Brazilian food is all about! It's said feijoada was invented by slaves, who had to survive on the pieces of meat the masters discarded. It's a really hearty black bean stew with beef, pork trimmings, and sausage, served at any big family gathering. Caipirinhas have long been one of my favorite drinks- made from cachaca, a sugarcane liquor, they're very sweet- but surprisingly strong!
Dish: Amok trey (steamed fish in coconut milk curry, wrapped in banana leaves), sangkhya l'peouv (coconut pumpkin custard)
(408 E. 64th St., Upper East Side) Angkor Cambodian Bistro
Cambodian, or "Khmer" cuisine borrows from Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, French, and Indian cuisine, but the end result is completely unique. Amok trey is a perfect example- freshwater fish, wrapped and steamed in banana leaves, then covered with a flavorful curry of coconut milk, lemongrass, peanut, and spices. Sangkhya l'peouv is a popular Cambodian dessert- it's like a coconut flan with a hint of pumpkin flavor.
Dish: Poutine (French fries and cheese curds topped with chicken gravy), Montreal bagel (bagel baked in wood-fired oven)
(53 Bond St., Nolita) Mile’s End Deli
Poutine is Canada's most famous fast food, sold at diners, pubs, and sporting events. Naturally, French fries, cheese curds, and gravy make a delicious combination- it sounds like something we'd invent in America! Montreal bagels have a couple key differences from New York bagels- first, they're smaller and thinner, with a bigger hole. Second, they are boiled in honey-sweetened water. Third, they are hand-baked in a wood-fired oven. The result is a smaller but sweeter bagel!
Dish: Pastel de choclo (sweet corn puree topping over beef, chicken, and egg), empanada de pino (baked pastry filled with beef, egg, onions, and raisins)
(3620 Astoria Blvd., Astoria, Queens) San Antonio Bakery & Restaurant
Most meat pies are savory- but Chilean pastel de choclo is both very sweet and very savory. The topping is a puree of sweet corn, so soft it has a texture like pumpkin pie. But underneath is a mixture of beef, egg, and chicken. I loved Chilean empanadas de pino (the server corrected me when I mispronounced it "piño"). Pino is a mixture of beef, hard-boiled egg, onions, and raisins- the same as the filling of the pastel de choclo. The dough is really soft, and again, it hits that sweet/savory combination perfectly.
Dish: Peking duck (roast duck, with scallion, cucumber, and hoisin sauce, wrapped in pancake), cha siu bao (BBQ pork in baked bun)
(28 Mott St., Chinatown, Manhattan), Peking Duck House (64 Bayard St., Chinatown, Manhattan) Mei Li Wah
The Chinese food we typically eat in America- kung pao, General Tso’s, and orange chicken- isn’t authentic Chinese. They were all dishes created in America by Chinese immigrants. My friend Weijia took me to Chinatown to show me some REAL Chinese food! Peking duck has been served in China for 700 years. Succulent roast duck with crispy skin, scallions, cucumbers, and hoisin sauce, wrapped in a pancake. Typically, you get all the ingredients at your table and assemble it however you like it. We then went to Mei Li Wah Bakery for cha siu bao- it's the best $1 food in the world! Cha sui bao are commonly called “pork buns”- tender pork in a sweet barbecue sauce, wrapped in a soft, sweet bun.
Dish: Bandeja paisa (platter of steak, fried egg, chicharron (fried pork belly), plantains, beans and rice), café (Colombian coffee)
(1219 Lexington Ave., Upper East Side) Dulce Vida Café
This time, I brought a first date along- luckily, I picked a country with some amazing food! Bandeja paisa is delicious- it’s a giant plate filled with awesome things: steak, eggs, chicharron (fried pork belly), sweet fried plantains, beans, and rice. Honestly, everything on the plate was tasty. We also had some of Colombia’s world-renowned coffee. I learned that all of Colombia’s best coffee beans are exported all over the world- so in Colombia, most people drink a lower-quality, cheaper coffee called tinto.
COUNTRY: COTE D’IVOIRE (aka Ivory Coast)
Dish: Kedjenou (chicken and vegetable stew slow-cooked in clay pot), alloco (fried plantains)
(1813 Amsterdam Ave., Harlem) Farafina Café & Lounge
At an Ivorian restaurant in Harlem, I tried kedjenou- a spicy, chicken stew with a tomato flavor. It's slow-cooked in a sealed clay pot called a canari- that makes the chicken and vegetables extra soft. Alloco is a popular food you get from street vendors in the Ivory Coast. They take plantains, fry them in palm oil and lightly salt them. They still taste sweet- just less sweet than the fried plantains you find in Latin America or Southeast Asia.
Dish: Fuzi istarski (bow-tie pasta with veal in tomato sauce), manestra (bean soup with potatoes and ham)
(34-01 45th St., Astoria, Queens) Rudar Social Club AKA United Miners Social Club
We went to a small Croatian social club in Queens- the basement was filled with Croatian families enjoying traditional food. The staff was incredibly nice, giving us lots of recommendations. Surprisingly, pasta is the most popular dish in Croatia- Croatian food has a lot of Italian influences, since the countries are so close. A Croatian man sitting next to us said, "Croatian pasta is better than Italian!" Fuzi is a soft, thin pasta in a meaty veal sauce, with big veal chunks mixed in. Manestra is a hearty bean soup made even better with big pieces of ham and orzo (rice-shaped pasta) in it.
Dish: Ropa vieja (shredded beef stewed in tomato sauce with rice and beans), Cuba Libre (rum and Coke with lime juice)
(324 Bowery, Bowery, Manhattan) Agozar
Cuban cuisine is a blend of Spanish, Caribbean, and African cooking. "Ropa vieja" has an unappetizing name (it means "old clothes", because the shredded beef looks similar to a pile of laundry), but it tastes fantastic! Shredded flank steak is stewed in a tomato sauce. It’s served with rice and beans, which is an essential part of any Cuban meal. Cuba’s national drink, the Cuba Libre, is essentially a rum and coke- the difference is the addition of lime juice. It was popularized around 1900, when Coke was first brought to Cuba.
Dish: Fasolada (yankee bean and vegetable soup), halloumi (grilled sheep and goat milk cheese), loukaniko (pork sausages marinated in red wine)
(34-10 31st Ave., Astoria, Queens) Zenon Taverna
Cyprus cuisine is essentially Greek food, but there are a few Cyprus specialties I found at a restaurant in Astoria. Fasolada has been around since the time of the ancient Greeks- the simple bean soup gets a lot of its flavor from olive oil. Halloumi is a salty and savory cheese that's just hard enough that you need a fork and knife to eat it. Loukaniko are good, but have a really strong flavor- it's pork shoulder sausages, heavily spiced and marinated in red wine.
COUNTRY: CZECH REPUBLIC
Dish: Vepro knedlo zelo (roast pork with sauerkraut and bread dumplings), svestkove knedliky (dumplings filled with plum jelly)
(2 W. 19th St., Union Square) Café Prague
"Vepro knedlo zelo" is short for veprova (pork), knedliky (dumplings), zeli (sauerkraut). The pork is soft and goes great with the slightly sweet sauerkraut. The huge, chewy bread dumplings called knedliky are so common in Czech cuisine, it's said that all Czechs know when a restaurant asks, "4 or 6?", they're asking how many knedliky you want. We also tried svestkove knedliky, which are dumplings filled with a sweet plum jelly and topped with powdered sugar.
Dish: Smørrebrød (open-faced sandwich with cold cuts on buttered rye bread), weinerbrød (flaky pastry filled with vanilla custard)
(138 Smith St., Boerum Hill, Brooklyn) Bornholm
Smørrebrød literally means "buttered bread". They were invented by Danish factory workers in the 1800s, who would put last night's leftovers on rye bread. Now the small sandwiches are a favorite nationwide. They come in endless varities- I got frikadeller (pork meatballs and pickles) and rullepølse (pork belly). The weinerbrød pastry gets its name because it originated in Vienna- but now it's a Denmark specialty. It's so iconic that we call it by a different name in America: the danish.
COUNTRY: DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Dish: La Bandera Dominicana (red beans, white rice, stewed beef)
(764 Amsterdam Ave., Upper West Side) Malecon
The standard Dominican lunch is La Bandera Dominicana, which means “The Dominican Flag”. The basic meal of beans, rice, and meat is supposed to represent the 3 colors of the Dominican flag (red beans, white rice, and, for some reason, the meat represents the blue (poetic license?)). Lots of South and Central American countries serve a similar beans, rice, and beef plate (Venezuela’s pabellon criollo, for example)- but only the DR has such national identity and pride associated with the dish.
Dish: Ceviche de camaron (shrimp marinated in lime and tomato sauce), humita (steamed corn dough wrapped in husk)
(4205 35th Ave., Astoria, Queens) Delicias Manabitas
My Ecuadorian friend Amy was my tour guide to Ecuador’s amazing cuisine at this small Queens spot! We got dishes that represents both Ecuador's mountainous and coastal regions. While ceviche typically means raw fish, in Ecuadorian ceviche de camaron, the shrimp is cooked and served in a tangy tomato sauce. Humitas are similar to tamales, but while tamales have a saltier taste, humitas are actually very sweet.