RETURNING TO CITI FIELD
COURIER LIFE, OCT. 11-17, 2019 61
Take Your Taste Buds to Malaysia via Elmhurst’s
Little House Cafe
BY JOE DISTEFANO
As the Culinary King of Queens, I’m so very
fortunate to live in the most diverse and delicious
destination in all of New York City. Really I’m not
royalty though, I’m an ambassador, and a hungry
one at that. Today, we examine a cuisine—
Malaysian—found in a most unusual location an
erstwhile Chinese bakery in Elmhurst.
It’s not unusual to find a Malaysian eatery in
Elmhurst, after all there several others in the neighborhood,
which has had a Southeast presence for at least
a decade. What sets Little House Cafe apart is that for
most of its life it presented as a Chinese cafe specializing
in various buns and cakes.
When I first visited it thanks to intel from local
Queens vloggers Food & Footprints, the yellow awning
read, “Bubble Tea. Bakery. Teriyaki Express. Asian
Cuisine,” and the only photos in the window were of
hamburgers and bubble tea. Just inside the door was a
pretty standard selection of Chinese buns and treats,
with a few items, notably Malaysian brown sugar cake,
that a gave a clue to the fact that the “Asian Cuisine”
referenced in the awning was in fact Malaysian.
On that first visit I had the aforementioned cake—
spongy, sweet, and fragrant—along with a nice strong
Malaysian style iced coffee while I waited an unusually
long time for an order of chow keuh teow. The latter
is a tangle of flat stir fried noodles shot through with
shrimp, squid, fish cake, pork all cooked up with soy
sauce and chili paste. Little House’s is excellent, the
noodles a deep brown and slightly charred along with
the seafood, a result of extra time in a blazing hot
wok. Another tour de force of wok cookery from Chef
Jeremy Lee and his son and sous chef, Jeremy Lee, is
the prosaically named fried carrot. It’s actually chunks
of daikon radish cake studded with dried shrimp.
Known as cho luó bo gāo in Chinese, the crunchy
salty burnished cubes are the most exciting way to eat
your veggies in Elmhurst.
The most amazing creation at Little House though
is a sweet brownish bun. It’s not one of the fist-sized
numbers, that fill the baskets by the door though. This
one, known as the Golden Pillow, is a Singaporean
style jumbo curry chicken bun the size of my head.
It must be ordered a day in advance and will set you
back $16, but it's well worth it. Helen Bay, the family’s
matriarch delivers it personally to your table for oohs
and aahs before taking it to the kitchen to crack it
open. A few moments later she returns. Cut open it
resembles nothing so much as a flower whose sweet
bready petals surround a reddish pool of chicken and
potato, fragrant with coconut, chili, and curry. It may
momentarily call to mind roti canai, but it’s way better.
Noodle soups, notably the Malaysian classic
curry mee with young tofu, are excellent as well. The
bowl consists of a cavalcade of textures and flavors:
spicy green pepper, eggplant, and soft tofu blocks all
stuffed with fish paste along with yellow noodles in a
sinus clearing coconut curry lemongrass broth gone
red from chilies. Topping it off are several crunchy
sheets of tofu skin, filled with just a hint of the same
Thanks to a New York Times review in summer
2018 the folks are a little prouder of their cuisine. It
sits in the window alongside photos of Malaysian
dishes, nary a hamburger or bubble tea in sight. And
that Golden Pillow now graces the front of the menu.
They’ve even begun to offer rotating weekend specials.
My favorite is chicken rendang, tender braised chicken
was coated with a coconut curry a fair amount of heat
and a nice hint of kaffir lime.
There are many dessert options. My favorite is a
blue and white number made from sticky rice with
salted coconut milk. It comes with a little tub of light
green pandan scented kaya for dipping. The combination
of the rice cubes with the sweet green jam that
carries a haunting scent of baking bread and cooking
rice is a great way to cool the palate after a spicy meal.
It’s also quite fitting for a restaurant whose Chinese
name translates to jù xiāng yuán chá cān tīng or "Fragrant
Curry mee with young tao fu, features tofu
and other goodies in a spicy broth.
The chow keuh teow, stir fried noodles
with seafood, is the best in Queens.
90-19 Corona Ave.
The Golden Pillow, a giant Singaporean chicken bun, must be ordered a day in advance.