The Al-Hikmah Mosque in Astoria, Queens, transforms its small parking lot into a bustling food bazaar roughly once a month during the warm weather months.
At the most recent event on July 15—the last of the summer—tented food stalls lined the perimeter of the lot. Families and friends gathered at a large communal table strategically placed in the middle to eat and share. With children running around, smiling grandmas, daughters frying and men grilling and packing fresh food to go, the bazaar felt less like a public event and more like an extremely ambitious family potluck.
The offerings were vast and plentiful—from meaty fare like rendang (meat bathed in coconut milk and spices), bakso (Indonesian meatballs) and sate (skewered and grilled meat) to excellent vegetarian options like gado-gado (boiled vegetable salad with freshly ground peanut sauce), nasi uduk (coconut rice swaddled in banana leaves) and tahu isi (deep fried tofu and vegetable fritters). There was also an abundance of whole fish (both grilled and fried) wrapped in foil and ready for the taking.
Amid this overwhelming feast, I spied two women freshly frying fish dumplings, pempek, and cassava croquettes, temro.
One of the women explained that the pempek’s spongy dough, made of ground fish meat and tapioca, housed a hardboiled egg. The dough is deep fried until golden brown and crispy, cut into pieces and doused with a room-temperature vinegar broth seasoned with sugar, chilies, garlic and salt. Then it’s served up with thin rice noodles, cool slices of cucumber and a sprinkle of dried shrimp powder.
In the same food stall, an older woman sat in a folding chair molding temro (cassava croquettes). As if part woman and part machine, she systematically shaped, filled and fried each temro, chatting with me and nibbling on sate all the while. I watched as she lovingly stuffed each mound of mashed cassava with tempeh that had been sautéed with onions, ginger and whole green chilies. With a smile and giggle, she warned me that it would be spicy.
Hot from the fryer, my temro joined my pempek, bobbing in a vinegar bath in my Styrofoam bowl. Both women beamed when I brought my nose to the bowl and went in for my first bite.
The heat of the temro made my mouth burn in delight as I savored the fiery heat and mild sweetness of the vinegar broth that had been absorbed by the temro’s starchy cassava shell. The pempek was soft, slightly oily and juicy; its addictive broth effortlessly blended spicy, sweet, tangy, salty and savory flavors.
As I swapped between bites, the two snacks became one stellar meal.
Follow all of Tina Corrado’s culinary explorations at her blog, Tina’s Nom Noms.