Nine Cuisines Missing From NYC

A typical Kenyan meal featuring the staple starch called ugali and fried fish.

Morgan S. asks
: I've been told you can get every cuisine in the world in New York City. Is that true?

Dear Morgan: Well, almost. We've got at least 80 distinct cuisines by my estimate, but that's counting certain regional cuisines of China and elsewhere. It really depends on how you count, but I'm painfully aware of the ones we're missing. Here's a partial list:

A Oaxacan yellow mole.
Oaxacan -- We have a couple of places that claim to be Oaxacan, but their commitment to the cuisine is strictly minimal. Anyone who's admired the food scene in L.A. knows that it has a number of excellent Oaxcan restaurants, which serve clayuda (pizza-like flatbreads) and the legendary seven moles ("moe-lays") of Oaxaca: mole negro, mole rojo or colorado, mole amarillo, mole verde, mole chichilo, mole coloradito, and manchmantel ("tablecloth-stainer"). Sure, you can get versions of mole verde (thickened with ground pumpkin seeds) and mole negro (a darker cousin of mole poblano) in New York's south-Pueblan taquerias, but we're missing the brilliance and earthy intensity of the Oaxacan originals.
A typical Laotian meal.
Laotian -- We've got lots of Thai and Vietnamese cooking here, but no Laotian. If you go to Nice or Paris, you'll find Laotian restaurants in profusion. The cuisine is heavily flavored with lemongrass, fish sauce, and diverse forms of ginger, and features room-temperature meat salads, raw fish preparations "cooked" in citrus, fish and meats steamed in banana leaves, and rib-sticking dips for crudite, with curries playing a decidedly backseat role. If some of these dishes sound familiar, it's because you can get similar things in New York's Isaan restaurants, but Laotian cuisine is a distinct thing unto itself.

Cambodian -- We had a nominally Cambodian restaurant in Fort Greene, which moved to the Upper East Side amid much hoopla and then closed, and a Lower East Side sandwich shop that provided an authentic dish or two, now sadly closed. Rice, coconut milk, preserved lemons, turmeric, kaffir lime leaves, and a fermented shrimp paste called prahok are staples. Employing a profusion of fruits and vegetables, Khmer cuisine is less spicy than Thai, and as French-influenced as Vietnamese, and steaming fish in banana leaves and stir-frying meats are popular preparation methods.

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