March 9, 2008

Brighton Beach and Beyond, Part 2: Carrot Cake, Durian, and Pupusas

hellooo food
M&I International Food

In my humble, food-obsessed, and possibly "deprived of conventional joys" opinion, few things are as fun as oogling at the aisles and shelves of ethnic grocery stores packed with unfamiliar items, sometimes laugh-inducing by way of ungrammatically correct English names and descriptions. I was more than happy (+1 happy) to drag my dumpling and vodka-laden body to Russian (and more) supermarket wonderland M&I International Food under the watchful eyes of my friends, who were afraid that I would keel over from the surge of alcohol in my bloodstream.

bread so much stuff bakery case
Bakery case

Although I wasn't about to flop over in a heap of "drunk boppy," my head was definitely in a sub-healthy, mildly woozy state. Instead of carefully browsing the aisles, I mostly stayed close to my friends and caught glimpses of sausages, breads, desserts, drinks, etc...oh, and the wall just past the border of the prepared food section into the "employees only" kitchen that was plastered with an interestingly diverse selection of nude women photos. No, I didn't take a photo of that.

Carrot cake

We gathered around a table on the second floor of the market to feast on our main reason for visiting the market in the first place: a fresh, hefty brick-like slab of brown and orange-speckled carrot cake. Why would anyone go as far as Brighton Beach for carrot cake? Because it's the best carrot cake ever. Don't be fooled by its unassuming appearance—this baby doesn''t need frosting. Before I attempt to describe it's awesomeness, I shall quote Kathy:

The cake was INCREDIBLE. A thin, super crisp crusty surface and innards that will blow your mind if nothing else. Thick forests of shredded carrots (not the thin shredded carrots you find in American carrot cakes, but thiiiick shredded), handfuls of walnut chunks and tons of raisins, of both the dark and golden breed. The cake itself? Incredibly moist with soft tender crumbs.

Actually, that pretty much sums it up. The crust de-crispifies after sitting out for a while, but we were lucky to get ours fresh. Each glorious mouthful was laden with shredded carrot, raisins, and chopped walnuts embedded in a mildly sweet, moist, tender cake. All these ingredients pushed it a bit towards the heavy side—this ain't no weaksauce cake—but it wasn't too heavy. It's just wasn't light either. It was already dangerously easy to eat; any lighter and we would've devoured it too quickly, probably putting our digestive systems at risk for something explosion-related in the process.

eating! carrt cake, zomg reaching over
Let the devouring begin.

I'm not sure how long it took for all six of us to demolish the cake, but we did. Unintentionally. You know how time flies when you're just sitting, talking, and poking at a cake with your fork—before you know it, no more cake.

something kinda dry, but not bad
There was also this.

Olia also bought another dessert whose name we've forgotten. It looked cake-like at first, but it was more like a almondy meringue filled with dried cranberries, raisins and almonds. The flavor wasn't bad, but it was dry (as meringues are) and hugely overshadowed by the Carrot Cake of Awesomeness. As most things would be.

oo, spiky
All this for $1.20 a pound!

When we got back to Manhattan we stopped in Chinatown to introduce Natty (and torture Jeremiah) to the wonders of durian, also known as the "King of Fruits," although in my circle of friends it's more popularly referred to as, "Noxious Dog Shit in a Spiny Shell." I don't think it deserves this title, but the smell seems to vary from person to person. I say "garlic and onions;" someone else may say, "canine excrement." (Jeremiah just makes this face.)

buy ur durian here!
mm, duuuriannn

We bought our freshly disemboweled durian innards from an outdoor vendor off the corner of Grand and Mott streets (or somewhere in that vicinity; just look for the string of HANGING DURIANS, can't miss it). A few times after pulling a pod out of its armored shell with his gloved hands, the vendor would offer us a taste of the fresh fruit. And by that I mean he would push the wobbly, yellow mass into our faces as though it were a handful of something highly desirable—like gold coins or a baby kitten—and tell us to eat it. Kathy went first, but I think Natty was also a subject of the vendor's feeding. Jeremiah, on the other hand, fled behind a plastic partition between the durian vendor and a neighboring produce seller. Can't blame him, really.

I didn't get to partake in the durian madness that occurred that night at Natty's Oscar party since I planned on meeting Tristan and John for dinner, but Kathy captured the durian in its final resting to a bottle of beer. Mm, goes down smooth.

Tristan, John and I went to Bahia, our favorite neighborhood Salvadoran restaurant (besides being the only one we know of), for a small dinner. At least, it was small for me since I had already eaten too much that afternoon.

mixed pupusa
avocado salad
Avocado salad

One mixed pupusa filled with pork, beans, and cheese accompanied by a refreshingly raw vegetable-based avocado salad was all I needed to feel satiated. Because nothing pairs better with crisp lettuce, thick cucumber slices, and rich chunks of avocado like a mash of pork, beans and melted cheese sandwiched between layers of griddled corn dough. I had trouble even finished those two things, actually. I probably should've just stuck with the salad and saved my stomach some trouble, but I can't imagine going to a place that sells pupusas without actually ordering one. That's just...dumb.

Russian suitcase
Uh, yeah.

I'll leave you with this photo of Natty and Jeremiah posing with a Russian suitcase.

Taken by Kathy with Kathy's camera...OH THANKS

...And this. I'm not even going to explain this.

I love my friends; it's just too bad that they're doomed to end up in hell.



M&I International Food
249 Brighton Beach Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11235

Durian Guy
Grand Street and Mott Street
New York, NY 10013

690 Grand St
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Posted by roboppy at 8:46 PM

Tags: Bahia, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, Diana, grocery stores, Ian, Jeremiah, John, Kathy, M and I International Food, Natty, Olia, Russian, Salvadoran, South Williamsburg, Tristan


Funny you should put up this post on durian. We were in Chinatown this afternoon; very late afternoon (I hate daylight saving time), guess what????? Me and sis got us a giant durian. It is awesome. We still have a lot in a container in the freezer. Yum! BTW, we had Chinese dumplings prior to durian shopping. All the talk and dream of dumplings just make me wanna eat all of em......Durian+Dumplings=Durimplings???? Maybe someone should start making durian dumplings. That will be nice.

Posted by: reese at March 9, 2008 9:24 PM [#]

HAHAHA. ZOMG, it was my camera but Jeremiah took the photo!!!

That was seriously the best Sunday ever. you + vodka, sooo many dumplings, good friends + durian, unlocking the secrets of the russian suitcase (!!!), CARROT CAKE, omg CARROT CAKE.

we need more sundays like that ^_^

Posted by: Kathy at March 9, 2008 9:44 PM [#]

That carrot cake looks and sounds totally awesome. The fact that it doesn't need to hide behind frosting is even more awesome!

(I don't think I will ever try durian.)

The last picture is funny!

Posted by: Christina at March 9, 2008 10:06 PM [#]

hehe-love the last picture. although i can't believe you actually drank vodka!!!

Posted by: Betsy at March 9, 2008 10:14 PM [#]

Reese: Dumplings and durian! A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN!

...Hm...okay maybe not. I think I would prefer sour cherry dumplings over durian, but since you have all that frozen durian you should try to make it? :)

Kathy: Okay, your camera was used against its own will, I see...;)


Christina: Oh, it's worth trying durian at least once. Just so you know the pain.! Potential joy!

Betsy: The more I drink, the easier it becomes. I'm on my way to being an alcoholic!

Posted by: roboppy at March 10, 2008 12:32 AM [#]

can i interest you in some durian ice cream?


Posted by: Ed B. at March 10, 2008 3:24 AM [#]

ZOMG! I am laughing my butt off from that last photo!

I can't believe you drank two shots of vodka. And I need to get some of that carrot cake somehow without schlepping my butt to Brighton Beach.

Posted by: Tina at March 10, 2008 10:33 AM [#]

I've always wanted to try durian, but I've never been able to find it. I guess I'm just not looking in the right places. I doubt you can get it here in Florence (where I am for the semester), haha, but I'll have to put it on my list of things to do when I get back to the city. =)

Also, good for you trying vodka! (If it actually was vodka and not water and lime juice (?) ...) Vodka's not bad with fruit juices; you generally can't taste it if it's mixed well.

Posted by: Kathryn at March 10, 2008 11:51 AM [#]

Did you pass out on the subway or were you just 'resting your eyes'? Be honest. At least your 'friends' didn't let you get mugged...

Posted by: auntjone at March 10, 2008 1:52 PM [#]

yay so many posts! thank goodness nobody has photographic proof of my sleepies on njt. get more sleepies!

Posted by: janet at March 10, 2008 3:26 PM [#]

Actually, durian with fresh cream wrapped in crepe is good. Or durian cream filled pancakes. I had those when I was in Malaysia with my family last summer for hols. Maybe I should try to make some here.

Posted by: reese at March 10, 2008 4:41 PM [#]

I can't believe you've faced the wrath of durian and have lived to tell the tale.

Posted by: Valerie at March 10, 2008 6:00 PM [#]

Ed: I would be willing to try that!

Tina: I am here to bring da laffs, totally.

YOU MUST SCHLEPP! It is the only way!

Kathryn: If you found durian in Florence I'd be really surprised! :O When you get back over here...uh..yeeaah, seek it out...but don't blame me if it makes your nasal passages burn, heh.

Oh, I can taste the vodka in ANYTHING.

auntjone: Resting my eyes! No mugging!

Janet: Someday I shall ride the train with you and catch you IN UR SLEEP. It is my goal.

Reese: I do like cream. That could improve the taste... :)

Valerie: I should get a gold star for my feat of strength!

Posted by: roboppy at March 10, 2008 6:39 PM [#]

I always see that dude with the hanging durians and I never tried it... do you think one person can finish the whole thing? Or is that just too much of an assault on the senses?

Posted by: Danny at March 10, 2008 9:34 PM [#]

okay, im coming to new york on thursday. and can i just say how much i wish you wrote a travel guide? its like the only one i would actually buy.

Posted by: leeann at March 10, 2008 10:49 PM [#]

Danny: Well, anything's possible if you put your mind to it...not that I recommend ONE person eat the whole thing. Besides the assault on the senses, I expect something to explode.

Leeann: If I were less lazy I wouldn't mind making a travel guide!

But hey, it's all free on the nternet...yay?

Posted by: roboppy at March 11, 2008 1:55 PM [#]

If you make it back to M&I International, try the cheese bread (khachapuri) - it's in the back on top of the prepared food cases. Greasy bread filled with cheese, mmm...

Posted by: mysteryship at March 14, 2008 8:59 AM [#]

mysteryship: That sounds tasty. Cos I like cheeeese. Thanks for the rec!

Posted by: roboppy at March 16, 2008 11:31 AM [#]

That Brighton Beach carrot cake has stayed in my mind over 2008 & I had even tried to research Russian carrot cake recipes to see if I could reproduce the same results (I couldn't). If you ever go back there for some more (and I know you will!) PLEASE ask (no, beg) them for their recipe. Seriously, I'm desperate. MUST HAVE THAT CARROT CAKE!!!

Posted by: Laurene at January 3, 2009 4:11 AM [#]

That carrot cake looks AWESOME!!!!!! Although I have to admit, I love cream cheese icing on carrot cake. Oh, well, you can't have everything. It still looks AWESOME!!!!!

Posted by: LaserLiza at January 25, 2009 11:15 AM [#]

That is pretty impressive place, I am glad I came across this website. Thanks for posting. Here is my carrot cake, please let me know what you think. I am sure it is not as good as yours.

Carrot Cake

Posted by: Easy Recipes at October 9, 2009 2:05 PM [#]

I love to go to the markers because I get crazy each time that I arrive to the bakery I don't know why but everything in there is delicious and so sweet.

Posted by: Generic Viagra at October 15, 2010 4:35 PM [#]

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