Colonization, military occupation, marriage, whim — cultural mashups are born of all sorts of hardships and joys. They can result in beautiful offspring, fun dialects, and delicious food. With Westchester’s proximity to one of the great cultural gateways of the world, Queens, we benefit, belly-wise, from so many cultures, as well as the personal desires of restaurateurs. What are some fun ways to experience cultural fusion in Westchester?
The silver lining of the French occupation of Vietnam (then, Indochina) is the bánh mì. The term refers to Vietnamese bread but has been coopted to refer to one of the world’s most balanced sandwiches: Take a baguette made lighter with the substitution of rice flour or wheat flour, stuff it with some form of pork (often pâté, thank you, France) or sometimes sausage, or ham, or a combination of the two. Usually, mayonnaise is the moisturizing condiment. The richness is perfectly tempered by the addition of bright, sweet, clean-tasting pickled carrots and daikon with sprigs of cilantro and jalapenos. Sweet, crunch, heat, heartiness… it’s everything anyone could ever ask for in a sandwich, and it’s usually pretty inexpensive. You can eat up this match made in heaven at Pho Corner in Bedford Hills (see review on page 98) or The Bánh Mì Shop on Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains (scheduled to have opened by press time).
While we’re on the topic of delicious Asian mashups, check out the chili chicken starter at Irvington’s Chutney Masala, an Indian bistro with a focus on homemade, free-range, antibiotic-free, farm-fresh food. While most offerings cleave to the Indian fare familiar to Westerners, this Indo-Chinese-style spicy chicken in a ginger soy sauce is actually an extremely popular street food in India, and appeals because of a sweet and savory spicy mix, popular in both Indian and Chinese cooking but carried out in such different ways. (It’s still not the most interesting thing on the menu: that award goes to bheja fry, aka scrambled goat brain on nan toast.)
While we’re on the Indian tip and still talking about street food, consider Pleasantville’s Little Mumbai Market, where “the streets of Paris meet the streets of Mumbai.” This is a marriage made of whim: Owner Bonnie Saran has been growing a “Little” empire in Westchester, with Little Crepe Street, Little Kabab Station, Little Drunken Chef, and Little Spice Bazaar. Most food is either French or Indian, and you get to choose… but then there is the chicken tikka masala crêpe, which sounds rather like two buttery indulgences snuggled up tight on a plate. Also keep an eye out for the chana masala crêpe, with chickpeas, mango powder, and roasted garlic salt.
Speaking of French, when the owners of Croton-on-Hudson’s Tagine were coming up with the theme for their new restaurant, they knew they wanted French but initially considered whether to serve both French and Lebanese food, as co-owner Craig Purdy was familiar with the wonders of both. But instead, Moroccan and its attendant stews — lamb tagines, cod tagine, short-rib tagines — won out, and now share the menu with roast duck, steak frites, and escargot. Tagine’s cassoulet dances along the border of both cuisines. Classically, cassoulet is French casserole with pork sausage, and either duck or goose, thickened by white beans in two varieties. This one has a base of beans and duck confit, but is informed and enriched by merguez sausage and its burn of harissa and blast of cumin.
Those same owners take fusion to a new level at another of their restaurants: Umami Café. In fact, they jokingly refer to it as “confusion.” Peking duck quesadilla, anyone? How about mini-wonton tacos with seared ahi tuna and Asian guacamole, including wakami, ginger, and wasabi sour cream, in some sort of Mexican Chinese Japanese situation? In my extensive experience, tacos generally bring joy no matter what’s inside of them.
And so, too, burritos and, as an extension, the sushi burrito. What does sushi have in common with burritos? Well, being loved by eaters and especially Americans everywhere, being cylindrical, and containing rice. Sushi burritos are trending in lots of areas, and Exit 4 Food Hall in Mount Kisco is on-trend. Their classic sushi burrito includes tuna, salmon, avocado, veggies, caviar, and seaweed with a mango sauce.
Last but absolutely not least, ramen. The Japanese term ramen refers to Chinese wheat noodles cooked in a Japanese style — typically in a soup with very rich broth flavored with soy or miso and mushrooms, seaweed, green onion, and if you are very lucky, a bounty of roast pork and a whole halved boiled egg with a bright yellow but somewhat soft and swirlable yolk. Go ramen crazy at Dumpling + Noodle in Bronxville; RameNesque in Peekskill and Thornwood, and Roc-N-Ramen in New Rochelle.
Meredith Phillips is a freelance writer and editor recently relocated from Brooklyn to Croton-on-Hudson, where she has a fig tree with which she hopes to have a fruitful relationship.