Chametz-Free NYC, Day 2: Can I Eat any Asian Food?
Editor's note: For eight days I'll be keeping a diary on eating well in New York while staying kosher for Passover. The goal: never feel hungry or desperate enough to touch matzo unless I want to. For the rules I'll be keeping, see here. All remarks and recommendations are personal and not intended as religious/cultural commentary.
Okay, bread-free for a week. No sandwiches, bagels, pizza, burgers, pasta...alright, maybe some it's time for some Asian food instead.
Except for everything served over rice. Or any noodle dish. No dumplings? Damn it!
Oh, yeah, and no soy sauce either. Sorry, Chinatown.
As it turns out, Asian food during Passover is harder than it sounds. When you're down rice, noodles, and soy sauce, you have to start getting creative. I've tried asking a waiter at a Chinese restaurant whether any of the dishes I'm ordering have soy sauce. I've had to explain what the problem is. It's...not fun. People with gluten allergies, you have my sympathies.
So what do you eat when Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Malaysian cuisines are full of pitfalls? As it turns out, Thai food's pretty safe.
Thai cooking does use soy sauce sometimes, but it uses chametz-free fish sauce much more.* And it's easy to skip noodles and rice while still still eating well. You could say the same about Vietnamese cooking, but when it comes to eating out in New York, our Vietnamese offerings pale in comparison.
* Good fish sauce should only have water, fish, salt, and possibly sugar in the ingredient list. Most popular brands conform to that rule, though Three Crabs brand does include hydrolized wheat protein. If you want to be sure, ask your restaurant what brand they use.
Some favorites of mine: in Manhattan, Zabb Elee, particularly their papaya salad, larb (which occupies a whole section of the menu), and crisp cubes of fried pork. (Hey, I'm keeping kosher for Passover, not regular kosher.) In Queens, Chao Thai and Ayada do great renditions of fried catfish salad, chunks of catfish cooked until they're crouton-crisp, then topped with shredded green mango, herbs, and chilies. And of course there's Pok Pok, where large swaths of the menu as Passover-friendly.
What you'll have to watch out for: Ask what a fried dish is made with; battered and fried salads likely aren't kosher for Passover. Be sure to say skip the peanuts. And should you order that larb, you'll need to ask the kitchen to hold the toasted rice flour topping.
I've found most good Thai restaurant waitstaff to be especially friendly and accommodating—for example, bring a vegetarian to Zabb or Chao Thai and your server will be very upfront about what dishes contain meat. Just be honest, explain your situation, and you'll do just fine.
Asian food craving: solved.