SUMAQ Peruvian Food Festival – Part 3

Instagram Post 9/18/2019

Final post about the annual SUMAQ Peruvian Food Festival in Garden City, Long Island – and the event is definitely worth the time to travel there. Staged on the grounds of The Cradle of Aviation Museum (worth a visit), this incredible feast takes place across two days every August, and having now seen it for myself (and eaten my way through it), I can recommend it highly.

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Anticuchos. I’ve sung the praises of these skewers of tender, marinated beef heart on these digital pages before. The name has its roots in Quechua, the indigenous language of the Peruvian Andes: “anti” refers to the Eastern region of the Andes, “kuchu” means cut.


Don’t be faint of heart 🙄 about trying this: it’s just another cut of beef, and a particularly delicious one at that. If you like grilled meat, even if you’re not a fan of organ meats, these will win you over. Peruvian street food at its finest.


Rocoto relleno con pastel de papa from El Pregón. Cheesy stuffed rocoto pepper with a cheesy potato on the side. ¡Delicioso!


Kankachos Tinajani (kankacho means “roasted” in Quechua) featured their special Cordero al Horno, roast lamb seasoned with panca pepper, garlic, cumin, allspice, and dark beer served with potatoes for ballast. I can still taste it – which is why I’ll be back in 2020.

Hope to see you there!
 
 

SUMAQ Peruvian Food Festival – Part 2

Instagram Post 9/17/2019

More from this year’s SUMAQ Peruvian Food Festival that took place on the grounds of The Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, Long Island last month. Sumaq translates as “delicious” in Quechua, the language of the indigenous people of Peru, and I can’t think of a more appropriate adjective for this delightful event.

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Picarones, presented by numerous vendors. Peru’s answer to the doughnut, only better because the dominant ingredients are sweet potato and squash, deep fried and drizzled with chancaca (dark brown sugar or molasses) syrup or honey, and always prodded and retrieved with a long wooden stick.


Among the offerings from La Matarina Restaurante Turístico was fried cuy; their rendition of spicy stewed cuy was also available. Cuy is guinea pig. Yes, guinea pig, and it’s tasty. The flavor depends on which piece you’re eating, just like the flavor of chicken depends upon whether it’s dark meat or white meat or wing meat. And no, cuy does not taste like chicken. (These days, even chicken doesn’t taste like chicken, but that’s another story.)


Fried cuy plated with quinoa risotto. Do try to keep an open mind about cuy; don’t think of it as a pet. If you’re a carnivore, then you accept that some animals are food and some are pets but where that line is drawn can be fungible. Personally, like so many people from Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia, I don’t see cuy as a pet any more than a farmer sees their chickens as pets. On the other hand, Mary had a little lamb.


Ceviche! (To take your mind off the cuy.) From El Gol Marino.

Go with a group – the more people, the more you can try. One more post about the annual SUMAQ Peruvian Food Festival to come….
 
 

SUMAQ Peruvian Food Festival – Part 1

Instagram Post 9/15/2019

There’s a lot to report about the magnificent SUMAQ Peruvian Food Festival held annually in Garden City, Long Island. For starters, you’ll be immersed in Peruvian tradition, from song and dance to costumes, crafts, and cooking demos. Even better, it’s held on the grounds of The Cradle of Aviation Museum which, even if you’re not into the history of flight is pretty cool. Devour mass quantities of food, take a breather and check out the museum, and gird your loins for round two.

But my interest was in the cuisine, of course. I know that I’ve professed my passion for Peruvian food on this platform previously, but almost every dish I tasted was a cut above. Regional specialties were showcased and the masterful recipes plus the quality of the ingredients afforded an outstanding experience.

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Case in point, quite literally, is this Caja China (Chinese Box) from La Caja China de Juan Talledo representing Lima, anticipating its payload.


Pork in the roasting box…


…and pork on the plate.


In addition to their Chancho a la Caja China, they offered one other specialty: Chancho al Palo, pork that’s grilled in a contrivance that rotates to keep the pig crispy and moist…


…90° rotation…


…and completing the 180° spin. Sort of like a propeller on an antique airplane. Or not.

This was my maiden voyage to SUMAQ and I can recommend it highly; mark your calendars now for next year’s event and I will too. More posts to come….

(The 2019 SUMAQ Peruvian Food Festival was held on August 24th and 25th.)
 
 

Great Taste Dumpling

Instagram Post 9/14/2019

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The sign read “Streaky Pork Old Bamboo Shoots Steamed Bun”. Kinda makes ya just wanna drop everything and rush out there and grab some, don’t it? Not me. Kinda made me just wanna drop everything and translate the Chinese characters.

See for yourself:

Here’s what I got:

手工切 = hand cut
五花肉 = pork belly
與筍 = with bamboo shoots
小籠包 = xiao long bao

Well, not quite the xiao long bao soup dumplings most of us associate with those characters, these are steamed buns filled with the aforementioned ingredients and Great Taste Dumpling at 4317 8th Ave in Sunset Park, Brooklyn’s got ’em. $2.75 for 6. And please, don’t ever change that glorious sign!

A quick snack for someone who was just passing through in search of Mid-Autumn Festival Mooncakes. (You did read my detailed “Chinese Mooncakes Demystified” post about that, didn’tcha?)
 
 

Queens Night Market 2019 Fall Season

Instagram Post 9/12/2019

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They’re ba-a-a-ack!
🎆 💥 🎆 💥 🎆
The Queens International Night Market kicks off its 2019 Fall Season on Saturday, September 14, and you don’t want to miss it! You’ll savor delicious international food and experience incredible musical performances in an exciting night market atmosphere; admission is free.

One of my favorite tastes from this past season was Fish Amok, a classic dish from Cambodia; it’s a custardy mousse of tilapia in coconut milk seasoned with galangal, herbs and spices, steamed in banana leaves and served with rice on this side. You’ll find it at the Cambodian Cuisine booth and it’s an absolute winner. (Not to mention the fact that Cambodian food needs to be better represented in NYC!)

So head out to the Queens Night Market outside the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. You’ll find them every Saturday from 5pm until midnight through October 26. Stay current and check out their vendors and performers list at www.queensnightmarket.com.

See you there soon!
 
 

Dining for Justice Benefit for Immigrant Families

Sometimes we’re granted an opportunity to take part in an event that joyously fills the heart. And sometimes we’re granted an opportunity to take part in an event that joyously fills the tummy. But rarely are they the same event. Until now.

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On September 22, Don Rodrigo Duarte, “The King of Hams”, will roast a prize-winning Portuguese Alentejano hog and showcase other pata negra charcuterie at a Dining for Justice benefit for immigrant families seeking asylum. The proceeds go directly to Immigrant Families Together, an organization committed to the reunification of families separated at the US/Mexico border.

The event will take place along the waterfront at Anable Basin Sailing Bar & Grill, 4-40 44th Drive in Long Island City, Queens from noon to 3pm. Farmstand sides will be provided by Chef’s Consortium and Brooklyn’s Betty Bakery will whip up desserts. A cash bar will be made available by the venue, Anable Basin.

Tickets are $40 (children under 12 are admitted free with parent or guardian) and may be purchased at www.eventbrite.com/e/pig-roast-on-the-queens-riviera-tickets-69239464101\

Links:
Dining for Justice: https://www.diningforjustice.com/
Immigrant Families Together: https://immigrantfamiliestogether.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/diningforjustice/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/diningforjustice/
 
 
A couple of bonus photos from my recent visit to Don Rodrigo Duarte’s Gourmet House, Caseiro E Bom, at 70 Pacific St, Newark, NJ:

Nine year old Pata Negra!

Charcuterie stalactites.
 
 
(Promotional consideration tickets provided by Dining for Justice.)
 
 

Nuan Xin Rice Roll

Instagram Post 9/10/2019

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While scouting Sunset Park’s Chinatown in search of more mooncake madness for my massive Chinese Mooncakes Demystified post (which if you haven’t read it, please do), I passed Nuan Xin Rice Roll at 5103 8th Ave, one of five locations in NYC. For some time, I’ve been curious about their purple rice fàn tuán (飯糰) so I grabbed one to go.

The décor is targeted to young folks, as is the heavy-handed use of mayonnaise, but I’m not complaining; I absolutely enjoyed it and wished I had purchased a few of the other 14 varieties. As it happened, I was in a rush so I let the phrase “Special Rice Roll” do the deciding for me. Deconstructing it at home, I tasted pork floss (rou song, 肉鬆), shredded lettuce, and tiny bits of pickled mustard greens within the nori wrapper. They also tout Sea Salt Beverages (next time) and an ocean of other tea-based beverages. Good stuff.
 
 

Chinese Mooncakes Demystified

Or, The Equal Opportunity Celebrant – Part 2

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A visit to any Chinatown bakery this time of year will reveal a befuddling assemblage of mooncakes (yue bing) in a seemingly infinite variety of shapes, sizes, colors, ornamentation, and fillings, all begging to be enjoyed in observance of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Also known as the Autumn Moon Festival, this important holiday occurs on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month (around mid-September or early October on the Gregorian calendar) when the moon looms large and bright – the perfect time to celebrate summer’s bounteous harvest. They’re sold either individually or in attractive gift boxes or tins since it’s customary to offer gifts of mooncakes to friends and family (or lovers!) for the holiday. Since my porcine appetite apparently knows no bounds (2019 is the year of the pig – how appropriate 😉), I felt compelled to purchase an assortment of these delicacies in order to learn about their similarities and differences and to shed some light (moonlight, of course) on their intricacies.

The first point to note is that various regions of China have their own distinct versions of mooncakes. A quick survey of the interwebs revealed styles hailing from Beijing, Suzhou, Guangdong (Canton), Chaoshan, Ningbo, Yunnan, and Hong Kong, not to mention Taiwan and Malaysia. They’re distinguished by the types of dough, appearance, and fillings, some sweet and some more savory. In my experience, Chinese bakeries in Manhattan, Brooklyn (Sunset Park), and Queens (Flushing) favor the Cantonese style, but Fujianese mooncakes are easy to find along stoop line stands outside of markets in neighborhoods where there’s a concentration of folks from Fujian.
jinhua-hammoon-cake-mold
You’ll commonly find mooncakes with doughy crusts (golden brown, soft, somewhere between cakey and piecrusty, often with an egg wash sheen) as well as those with white, paper thin flaky layers that betray lard as a critical ingredient; chewy glutinous rice skins (these aren’t baked); and gelatinous casings (jelly, agar, or konjak), the most difficult to find in the city. Golden-baked, elegantly decorated Cantonese versions are round (moon shaped, get it?) or square, are fluted around the perimeter, and have been created using molds made of intricately carved wood to provide the ornate design or an inscription describing what’s inside (see photo).

joyful-lotus-seed-pastejoyful-lotus-seed-paste-inside
Fillings among the Cantonese types are dense and sweet and include lotus seed paste, white lotus seed paste, red bean paste, and mung bean paste, sometimes with one or two salted duck egg yolks (representing the harvest moon) snuggled within. In addition, there are five-nut (or -kernel or -seed) versions, packed with chopped peanuts, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and watermelon seeds as well as a variety made with Jinhua ham, dried winter melon, and other fruits buried among the nuts; its flavor was a little herby, not unlike rosemary, but I couldn’t quite identify it. These last two were particularly tasty. All are about 3 inches wide and 1½ inches high and sell for about $4.50–$6; mini-versions are available as well.
five-seed-pastepineapple-lychee-pandan
A visit to Flushing exhibited all of these as well as some outstanding fruity varieties including pineapple, lychee, and pandan; these can be best described as translucent fruit pastes and are perfect for the novitiate – a gateway mooncake if ever there was one.
Here are two pandan mooncakes, one with preserved egg yolk and a mini version without, from Fay Da Bakery at 83 Mott Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

In another market, I found a white, flaky pastry version, Shanghai style, I believe; the filling was like a very dense cake with a modicum of nuts and fruits providing some contrast and crunch – certainly tasty.

durian-with-bean-paste-snowy-moon-cakeicy-moon-cake-boxes
chocolate-icy-moon-cakechocolate-icy-moon-cake-with-cream-cheesechocolate-pearls-in-pandan-flavored-bean-paste
Then there are trendy snow skin versions that hail from Hong Kong all of which are equally accessible and delicious. Think mooncake meets mochi: rather than dough-based and baked, the skins are almost like the sweet Japanese glutinous rice cake, but not quite as chewy. These snowy and icy mooncakes must be kept chilled. The snowy flavors are contemporary: strawberry, mango, orange, pineapple, honeydew, peach, peanut, taro, chestnut, green tea and red bean; one version featured durian flavored sweet bean paste with bits of the fruit and enveloped by a skin of sweet, almost almond paste texture and flavor. Icy mooncakes come two to a box (they’re smaller, about 2 inches by ¾ inch) with imaginative flavors like pandan bean paste with chocolate pearls (tiny crispy, candy bits, crunchy like malted milk balls, but probably puffed rice), dark chocolate bean paste (the skin is like mochi with chocolatey paste on the inside and a piece of dark chocolate or a bit of cream cheese nestled within), durian, mango, blueberry, custard, chestnut, black sesame, strawberry, and cherry. Prices range from $6–$9.50 each or for a box.


It seems that each year brings a fashionable new interpretation, eye-catching and tongue-pleasing, and 2019 is no exception. These sweet multihued gems came from Fay Da Bakery, a chain boasting a baker’s dozen locations (some outside of Chinatown). Our fascination with desserts that gush when pierced is serviced by Lava Mooncakes clad in colorful skins. Purple on the outside, golden within, the durian flavor was perfect; the green matcha member of team proved sweet; yellow custard was eggy – almost duck eggy – and in terms of flavor, a fair hybrid of classic mooncake and this modern rendition; orange was less about lava and more about marmalade, riddled with bits of orange peel – a pleasant surprise.


The Snowskin Mung Bean Mooncakes were also a treat: mango featured a good balance between mung bean and mango; strawberry tasted like strawberry preserves from a jar, not that it was bad, just how it was; purple yam was sweeter than I anticipated and quite flavorsome; durian, like its lava mate, was not overpowering but decidedly durian.

Even the Häagen-Dazs in Flushing’s New World Mall was touting sets of ice cream mooncakes!

fujianese-moon-cake-3-stampsfujianese-moon-cake-insidePerhaps the most unusual are the mooncakes found in Fujianese neighborhoods, particularly along East Broadway in Manhattan’s Chinatown. These round behemoths (about 8½ inches in diameter and an inch or so thick) are simple in appearance. Wrapped in a single flaky layer covering a more substantial crust (a mixture of rice and wheat flours) with red food coloring stamps on top to delineate varieties, they are an embarrassment of lard and sugar with the addition of chopped peanuts, dried red dates (jujubes), bits of candied winter melon and other nuts and fruits supported by sesame seed encrusted bottoms. I’m wary about cautioning you that these might be an acquired taste as they are certainly unlike anything you might find in Western cuisine and I don’t want to put you off; some friends liked them immediately, others had to think about it. In any event, the flavors will grow on you regardless of your starting point. These hefty disks exemplify the phrase “a little goes a long way” and a cup of tea nearby helps cut the oiliness. Cost is about $10 each.

I have to admit that I hit a wall in my attempt to decipher the inscriptions on the Fujianese mooncakes. Most bore a number of red sunburst shaped identifiers and were stamped, once, twice, three times or four. I was hard pressed to taste the difference between the single and double stamped versions; they were the simplest of the lot – sweet, lardy, and a little fruity perhaps. By the same token, the three-stamp and four-stamp versions were similar to each other and boasted the addition of sweet jujubes and other fruits – more interesting and better in my opinion, certainly sweeter because of the jujubes, but I couldn’t tease out the distinction between the two. Alas, there were other stamps as well – words, I suspect – but the color had run so they were undifferentiable to me. I have friends who can handle Mandarin and Cantonese, but not the Fujianese dialect, and none of the vendors had a word of English, so my questions were fruitless (unlike the 4-stamp mooncake). I’m not going to let this go, though, so keep an eye out for an update to this post.

Update as promised: Never one to be satisfied with “…and the rest” (as the theme from television’s Gilligan’s Island once crooned – but only for the first season), I had no choice but to return to East Broadway in Manhattan’s Chinatown where I had first tapped into the motherlode of Fujianese mooncakes.

On that visit, I had spotted one that displayed somewhat illegible writing rather than a mini-constellation of stamps but I had already purchased a surfeit of mooncakes that day and decided that I didn’t really need to buy one of each. Silly me; I should know better by now. So since that particular mooncake was eating at me (instead of the other way around), I hazarded $12 to try and solve the mystery.

This time the writing on the mystery mooncake was clear, but I’m still unsure about what it said. I see the character for “plus” over the one for “work”; if they were next to each other, it would mean “processing” (in addition to lots of other translations). In any event, it’s by far the best of any of that ilk that I’ve tried because of the ample addition of black sesame seeds and a plentitude of peanuts, so if you encounter it, that’s the one to get.

I’ve cobbled together a mini-glossary to help you decipher a few characters on some of the more popular fillings found in Cantonese mooncakes:

月                 moon
月餅             mooncake
白                 white
蓮蓉             lotus seed paste
紅豆             red bean
旦黃             single yolk
雙黃             double yolk
冰                 ice
冰皮             snowy
伍                 five
仁                 nut, seed, kernel, (benevolence)
金華火腿     Jinhua ham
棗                 jujube (red date)

Armed with these keys, you can combine phrases and discover the secrets hiding within. For example:

雙黃白蓮蓉 = double yolk white lotus seed
冰皮月餅 = snowy mooncake

So head to your nearest Chinese bakery and sample some of these autumn delights! If you can pronounce pinyin, say “zhōngqiū kuàilè” (which sounds like jong chew kwai luh). But in any language, here’s wishing you a Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

中秋节快乐!

(Note: In 2019, the Mid-Autumn Festival occurs on Friday, September 13.)
 
 

Piast Meats & Provisions

Instagram Post 9/5/2019

Serendipity took hold as I threaded my way from the bus stop on an isolated, sleepy, residential street to this year’s Peruvian Festival in Passaic, NJ. (Where would we be without our smart phones and Google Maps? Lost, I guess. But I digress.) As signs of commerce gradually began to emerge, I stumbled upon Piast Meats & Provisions at 1 Passaic Street in Garfield. One of a family-owned mini-chain of three stores, the atmosphere was old world Polish charm (in other words, the aroma of smoked pork and garlic permeated the air); storemade kielbasa, cold cuts, pierogi, and baked goods along with Polish specialty foods tempted me to purchase more than I should have since I’d be schlepping those treasures around all day. It was worth every achy muscle.

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Among many other items I bought, these two were particularly intriguing and utterly delicious. This Przysmak (delicacy) Piwny (relating to beer), translated as “beef jerky”, was incredible: soft, spicy, dried beef but not dry beef and not sausage. Sometimes “beef jerky” should be translated as shoe leather, but not this succulent stuff. On closer inspection it looks like marinated flank steak sliced into ½–¾ inch wide strips. Outstanding.

Another sign identified “pork meatloaf”, more of a cold cut really, that looked promising, but right next to it was the same item rolled together in porky matrimony with bacon, Boczek Faszerowany, translated as “stuffed bacon”. Indeed. So it’s sort of pork stuffed pork. Nothing succeeds like excess.
 
 

Mandato Fruit & Grocery Corp.

Instagram Post 8/13/2019

You’re going to hear more from me about Mandato, 7220 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, not only because it’s the only Mexican destination along my Bay Ridge food tour, but because I absolutely love the place.

For starters, it’s really three spots packed into one: a genuine panadería where they bake their own Mexican panes dulces; a market where, in addition to packaged goods, you’ll find authentic Mexican ingredients including quesillo, nopales, store-made barbacoa, carnitas, and an array of at least eight mind-blowing salsas; and a takeout restaurant serving tortas, cemitas, tamales, picaditas, tlacoyos, sopes, quesadillas, huaraches and more – the subject of today’s post. All of this is under the aegis of Pedro, a partner in the family business, who is probably the friendliest, most helpful person you’d ever want to meet and who customized these delicious wonders for me.

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This quesadilla is brimming with queso fresco, queso Oaxaca (aka quesillo), lettuce, crema, and huitlacoche, sometimes called Mexican truffle. Do you like mushrooms? Do you like corn? Then you should try huitlacoche.


Sliced in half to reveal its inner beauty.


Huaraches start with a double layer of masa enclosing a thin coating of mashed refried pinto beans, hand pressed into a thick oblong shape and fried (literally “sandals” because of the shape). This one is topped with chorizo and potatoes, onions, queso fresco and crema.


Cross section; look very closely at the bottom and you might see the layer of refritos.
 
 
Auténtico. That’s the word for it. More to come soon from Mandato: the panadería, the store-made goodies, and beyond!

(Note that this venue is officially Mandato Fruit & Grocery Corp, not the restaurant of the same name next door – there’s no connection.)