Best Ethnic Food in New England
Food is such a great entryway to any country or ethnic group that I sometimes joke about saving the airfare and simply strolling the streets of a local Guatemalan neighborhood for baked goods in the morning.
Or wandering through Asian markets for an afternoon vacation and lunch. Ethnic enclaves all over New England are teeming with great foods–from falafel and pad Thai to burritos and samosas.
Many are neighborhood hangouts created for residents longing for the foods of their homelands, and in general these delicious pockets of world culture are inexpensive and filling.
My hope is that the following listings will inspire you to explore New England in a different way–tracking down food and friendly people at festivals, neighborhood markets, hole-in-the-wall eateries, and farmers’ markets–and that your appreciation for the diverse ethnic stew that is our New England will only grow from there.
There’s no definitive recipe for paella, the one-pan dish from Spain. Constants include rice, vegetables, saffron, chicken, and seafood, but some cooks believe it’s not paella without sausage; others say it has to have green peas. The two versions at Toro, “Valenciana” and “Vegetariana,” are “traditional” and vegetarian. 1704 Washington St., Boston, MA. 617-536-4300; toro-restaurant.com
Pho (pronounced fuh) is Vietnamese noodle soup, traditionally made from a long-simmered beef broth, thought to be influenced by the French pot-au-feu. Aromatic additions such as Thai basil, bean sprouts, cilantro, and lime are considered an American adaptation. The chicken pho at Viet-Thai is a rich, tasty broth, with plenty of scallions, noodles, chicken, and cilantro but no add-ins. 368 Merrimack St., Lowell, MA; 978-446-0977
ATOLE, Mi Guatemala
The universally warming and comforting scents of hot chocolate and cinnamon beg for indulgence at Mi Guatemala. Atole, an ancient Mayan drink made with milk, sugar, and fine cornmeal, is served three ways here. 1049 Atwells Ave., Providence, RI; 401-621-9147
PAD THAI, Parima
There are as many variations of this iconic Thai noodle dish as there are cooks who make it. Generally it includes soaked rice noodles, stir-fried with eggs, a bit of chili, and a bit of sweetness via tamarind juice, plus shrimp, chicken, or tofu. At Parima the offering is lighter, less greasy than many we tried. 185 Pearl St., Burlington, VT. 802-864-7917; parimathai.com
BURRITOS, El Mexicano
In Mexico, burritos are smaller than on this side of the border. Perhaps that’s the reason the eight incarnations at El Mexicano are all called “burritos grandes.” Each is can’t-stop-eatin’-’em delicious. They’re so expertly rolled that the flour tortilla weaves between the filling ingredients, with far less spillage than other burritos. Your dry cleaner will thank you, too. 197 Wilson St., Manchester, NH; 603-665-9299
SAMOSAS, The Jewel of India
Shaped like pyramids, samosas are deep-fried Indian turnovers, filled with a mixture of diced potatoes, peas, onions, chickpeas, and spices that light up your tongue: ginger, cayenne, cumin, and coriander. These golden, crisp-fried treats fill all your senses with warmth and comfort; they’re the jewel in the crown at The Jewel of India. 26 Alfred St., Biddeford, ME. 207-283-0077; thejewelofindia.com
A sushi dish may be a mound of rice with a slice of seafood draped over it or wrapped in a cone-shaped piece of nori (seaweed), or a “handroll,” or served lightly torched (“bana sushi”). All are in extraordinarily fine form at Oishii, owing to the super-fresh fish and the artisans who craft each piece. 612 Hammond St., Chestnut Hill, MA; 617-277-7888