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May 13, 2021

MAMA MEENA’S WORTH CROSSING WOODHAVEN BLVD

“It’s my second kitchen”, reveals James Joquico. “My family doesn’t have to cook these authentic Filipino dishes that remind me of being back home and I don’t have to wash dishes afterwards.” He was referring to Mama Meena’s Family Restaurant, located at 94- 20 Jamaica Avenue (718-696-8882), an eatery that is well worth crossing over to the less busy east side of Woodhaven Blvd.

FYI. The Philippines (Filipino: Pilipinas, officially known as the Republic of the Philippines (Republika ng Pilipinas; RP), is an archipelagic country located in Southeast Asia with Manila as its capital city. It comprises 7,107 islands in the western Pacific Ocean, sharing maritime borders with Indonesia, Malaysia, Palau, the Republic of China (Taiwan), and Vietnam. With so many food influences it appears to my palate that the makeup of the various ingredients and spices creates its own gastronomy.

Chickens are only purchased “fresh killed”. “I find it to be the best way to get the most flavor from the chicken and worth the extra cost”, said co-manager Wilhelmina Prego…aka Mama Meena.

I found their menu to be greatly explained except for a few ingredients that I was unfamiliar with. Milkfish is equivalent to silverfish, galunggong is similar to scrod, sinigang is a tamarind broth, miki-bihon are yellow noodles and atsara is pickled vegetables. Having indulged with more than one visit, this is what I sampled.

Chicken Tinola – A big bowl of chicken soup with both white and dark meat chicken parts, sliced ginger, lemongrass, green papaya and pepper leaves. I think this one tops the health value of Jewish Chicken Soup

Beef Sinigang is another big bowl soup creation. This one has beef short ribs (off the bone), and vegetables in a tamarind broth. I’m not sure if the same vegetables are used all the time considering that they are fresh and thus seasonal. Mine had: Japanese eggplant, long string beans, okra, and something leafy. The tamarind fruit is both ind is a sweet and tart. Oh, I forgot to mention the long green chili pepper sitting atop. Crack it open for that added hot spicy flavor.

Appetizers of: Lumpia Shanghai – seasoned ground pork is stuffed into egg roll wrappers and fried. One of MM’s specials, it’s served with a sweet chili sauce; Quikam – ground pork and veggies wrapped in been curd skin, fried and served with the sweet chili sauce. Different textures. Different flavors.

One noodle dish is called Pancit Bihon, rice noodles sautéed with shrimp, chicken and veggies, speaking of which this really great vegetable dish of long string beans and squash was sautéed with coconut milk (Ganitaang Sitaw At Kalabasa).

If you want a late breakfast Ginisang Ampalaya is a great concept. Think of it as going to an omelet station and getting some more unusual items. It’s actually bitter melon with shrimp, pork slices, tomatoes and eggs. If you’ve never had bitter melon, I found that my bitter bud took it a whole lot less bitter than either escarole or collard greens (not that it looked like either of them). .

A popular beef item, Kare-Kare gave oxtail “stew” a new and unconventional taste. The oxtail is cooked in a rich peanut sauce with mixed vegetables. Not being salty (as their food tends not to be), it is served with a sautéed shrimp fry, which could be described more as a thick fish sauce. Small amounts of this add to the already great flavor.

“Sweet and sour” can be sampled with a whole striped fried sea bass. The sweet and sour sauce had a combo of veggies with pineapple that appeared “Hawaiian” style. I found it to be a bit milder than many of the sweet/sour ilk from other restaurants.

Jasmine rice is used and very little salt seems to be added to the cooking. I think that it’s due to your being able to use a salty fish sauce that’s placed at the table the way you might use parmesan cheese in an Italian restaurant, soy sauce in oriental eateries or sumac in a Persian restaurant.

Choices of juices include orange, mango, coconut and one called calamansi, derived from a fruit similar to a key lime. Then there’s this melon drink. Cantaloupe is shredded and put into a tall glass of water, sweetened just a bit, then adding milk and crushed ice.

Sago At Gulaman. That’s their signature cold beverage. A banana essence and caramelized sugar is the base for the taste. You know those pearl looking balls in a bubble tea? Add that plus little squares of a colored but unflavored vegetarian gelatin (vs. Jello, which is made from animal by-products).

Say, “Halo” to their signature dessert. If you think that drink sounds interesting wait until you try the Halo-Halo, which means “mix-mix” in Filipino. Mixed tropical fruit, red and white beans, purple yam, milk and leche flan goes into a deep glass dish and topped with crushed ice. For an extra buck you can get a scoop of ice cream added. The ice cream in my dish was coconut with purple yam. You are given a spoon and straw. In order to truly enjoy this concoction you “mix, mix” and take your time.

Take a plantain, roll it up with jackfruit, fry it and serve it with a scoop of a coconut with purple yam ice cream. This dessert is called Turon A La Mode. You could have recorded “yummy” noises constantly escaping my mouth.

I curiously calculated a satiating five-course shared meal for four people consisting of: two Sago At Gulamans and two melons to drink; a Quikiam and Lumpia Shanghai as an appetizer; one Beef Sinigang for soup; Pancit Bihon and Ginisang Ampalaya as the entrees; and one Halo-Halo with the added scoop of ice cream and two Turon A La Modes for dessert. The price came to about $65 to include tax and gratuity!!!! The menus say that prices are “subject to change without notice”.

October 23, 2008 - Queens Times

 


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