By Suzanne Parker
Die-hard foodies braved the blustery weather Saturday to converge on the Food Court at the Flushing Mall for a chance to sample the spectrum of Asian fare and play food-centric games in the company of other like-minded — or -stomached — individuals. The Flushing Mall Grazing Experience, as it was called, was the brainstorm of inveterate Queens food blogger Jeffrey Orlick.
Gastronomes came from all over to be part of this experience. Carol (no last name given) was a lifelong Flushing resident who “always wanted to try some of this stuff, but didn’t know how to do it on my own.”
Fanny Farkas came from the Upper East Side to partake.
“I’ve been in the restaurant and catering business and have been to other of Jeff’s events and always enjoyed them and learned from them,” she confided.
Participants were asked to purchase $10 worth of food of their choosing from any of the 11 food stalls representing the cuisines of Taiwan, Japan and Korea and several different regions of China. The dishes were then brought to a table where they were presented to Queens-based food writer Joe DiStefano for a quick round of “stump-the-chump.”
If DiStefano could not identify the dish set before him, the purchaser would win a place on one of his World’s Fare Tours. DiStefano, who has guided such luminaries as celebrity chefs Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert through the Queens culinary underground, leads eaters to obscure and sublime gastronomic delights. The dish was then labeled, photographed and set out on a table for everyone to try.
At another table, Jared Cohee presided over the chili sauce tasting, boasting over 100 different jars from all over Asia. This table proved to be less popular than the general tasting. Diners who plunged right into unidentifiable platters of food seemed more circumspect when it came to unaccompanied hot sauces.
One of the more intrepid, Loren Frost, a veteran of some of Orlick’s other eating adventures, found the first one he tried “too salty” and a Thai variant that combined chillies with mayonnaise “just too weird.”
While others noshed, Orlick was up on stage conducting game show-style contests and giving away prizes. The first game involved taking four different ingredients and liquefying them in a blender. Four contestants were asked to taste samples. The contestant who identified the most ingredients won a prize. The first concoction involved red mung bean, coffee yogurt, apple sauce and Pocky, a Japanese snack. Contestants said it smelled like armpits and tasted like vomit. Nonetheless, ingredients were identified and prizes awarded, including cookbooks, a subscription to Edible Queens magazine and a gift certificate to M. Wells Diner in Long Island City.
Other games included a matchup of English speakers and Chinese speakers. The English speakers had to read the pinyin — Romanized transliterations of Mandarin — in fortune cookies. If the Chinese speakers could understand what they were saying, they won prizes.
Orlick, who has been blogging about the culinary wonders of Queens since moving to Woodside four years ago, said, “I moved here for the food.” He tries with his blog to “show people more of the unnoticed and under-appreciated places and foods and to get people to explore.”
To that end, he has created an “Ambassador Program” in which experts on a particular cuisine preside over dinners at which the uninitiated can experience a new cuisine. Last year, he led a five-borough pizza tour of New York City which he later developed into an iPhone application. Roosevelt Avenue has been the scene of his Midnight Street Food Crawl.
Orlick’s next endeavor will be a pizza-by-bike tour. Anyone interested in this, or any future foodie flings, should visit his blog and sign up for email notifications of events.
The Flushing Mall is at 133-31 39th Ave. Jeffrey Orlick’s blog, where you can sign up for email notices of his upcoming events, is iwantmorefood.com; his iPhone app, Real Pizza of NY, can be found in the iTunes App Store. For more info on DiStefano’s World’s Fare Food Tours, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.