It's late afternoon and dinner is a few hours away. What do you eat to carry you through the day? Afternoon Snack looks at quick bites to tide you over without spoiling dinner. Got a snack we should check out? Let us know. —The Mgmt.
[Photos: Max Falkowitz]
The name of this cart? Impossible to say if you don't speak Chinese. The process of manufacture for these rice rolls ($1.25)? A mystery that taunts me day and night. You just know this is one of those dishes that's harder to make than it looks.
Here's what I can tell you. A rice flour batter is poured into a steamer with removable trays. About a minute later, the thin layer of batter has cooked into a giant lasagna-like noodle, which is then scraped unceremoniously into a small styrofoam cup. A hot, fresh rice roll is soft and supple, light like the thinnest rolled pasta but with an almost tofu-like delicacy. It's a far more sublime experience than a cup 'o steamed starch would suggest.
Some soft ground pork and sliced scallions make for a spare topping (beef, chicken, shrimp, and fish balls are also viable options). Your choice of sauces will mostly come down to nodding "yes" to broken English you can barely understand; as best as I can tell, there's a house brown sauce, a tahini-based sauce, and a chili sauce. At the risk of insulting sensible restraint, you should get all three. Rice rolls aren't so big on flavor; the sauces trickle down the noodle, flavoring every fold.
Slurp this down quickly; like with risotto, your window of perfection is brief. Then toss away your cup and go about your business. This is a snack to empower your day: the starch for fuel, the memory of a few choice slurps for encouragement.
Hong Kong Style Rice Roll
82-90 Broadway, Elmhurst, NY 11373 (map; look for the cart outside the parking lot)