Bangladeshi fuchka street cart phenom Tong is topping off its expansion tear — six outdoor outposts in Queens and the Bronx including two franchises and a Bellerose spot to launch next week — with its first permanent location in Jamaica. The restaurant opened on Friday, July 29, at 153-35B Hillside Avenue, between Parsons Boulevard and 155th Street, with a bigger menu that includes new labor-intensive and time-consuming street foods.
For founder Naeem Khandaker, a self-professed “one-man army of Bangladeshi street foods,” it’s the next logical step in his mission to spread his culture’s favorite snacks.
From the menu down to the decor, the restaurant hasn’t lost focus on its street food roots. A green street cart illustration appears on the awning — which Khandaker and his two friends hauled up last October — as well as the counter at the back of the restaurant. Slivers of the cart’s green corrugated roofing protrude from walls on which hand-painted murals depict scenes of people enjoying street foods in Bangladesh. In his new dining room, up to 20 patrons can do the same.
Khandaker added six new items to Tong’s original menu. The two savory items are the fuchka on fire — where each stuffed puff essentially becomes a candle — and a luchi platter. Four drinks and desserts include lemonade; pagla pani, a sweet, sour, and spicy combination of 16 masalas; a watermelon beverage called valobashar sharbot, and falooda where small sago pearls are interspersed in ice cream.
For the luchi platter, he marinates ground beef in masala with mustard oil, onion, ginger, and garlic for up to 10 hours, shapes it into patties, and pan-fries it for the beef chaap that’s served with the luchi, palm-sized puffed-up bread. A saucy dal and cucumber yogurt salad round out the entree.
From the rent to the utilities and decor, “it’s a lot more responsibility,” to run a storefront, he says. It’s worth it. The kitchen affords him the space to experiment with new recipes that will make their way onto the developing menu.
In 2018, Khandaker made waves in the dining scene when he showed up with his rare-in-New York Bangladeshi street foods and led other entrepreneurs to follow in his fuchka-laden footsteps. His success springs from his business administration courses at Baruch College and a longing for Bangladeshi food that grew so deep while he was attending college in Italy in 2012 that he taught himself to cook.
Guided by the singular goal of spreading Bangladeshi street foods through New York, he says, “I’m on a journey.” And it’s far from over.
Tong is open from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. every day.