Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival – 2022

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A visit to any Chinatown bakery this time of year will reveal a spectacular assemblage of mooncakes (月餅, yue bing) in a seemingly infinite variety of shapes, sizes, ornamentation, and fillings, all begging to be enjoyed in observance of the Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated this year on September 10. Here are two pandan mooncakes, one with preserved egg yolk and a mini version without, from Chinatown’s Fay Da Bakery.


And here’s one of my favorites, Five Mix Nut Moon Cake, from Golden Fung Wong Bakery at 41 Mott St – one of the stops on my Manhattan Chinatown ethnojunket, of course!

Since 2022 is the Year of the Tiger, known for his bravery and adventurousness but also for his impulsive unpredictability, I decided to purchase an assortment of these delicacies even if I was unable to identify every single one of them in the bakeries in order to compare them and ultimately share them, virtually, with you.

For a deep dive into the holiday and these delicious treats, you can get the skinny – er, poor choice of words there – in my Chinese Mooncakes Demystified page detailing their similarities and differences in an attempt to shed some light (moonlight, of course) on their intricacies.

中秋节快乐!
 
 

Chuseok – 2022

Chuseok (추석) or Hangawi (literally “autumn evening”) is a major mid-autumn festival in Korea celebrated this year from September 9th though the 12th; because it’s a harvest festival, it’s sometimes referred to as “Korean Thanksgiving”. Needless to say there are traditional foods and even traditional table settings.

I wish I could say that these photos are part of that tradition, but they are, nevertheless, quintessentially Korean dishes from my local Korean deli. Here’s a rundown:

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Korean grilled mackerel, sweet and spicy pickled daikon, and seasoned cucumbers (fish sauce, sesame oil, sugar and garlic).


Five banchan (Korean side dishes). In the center there’s spicy baby radish kimchi: the leaves and stems are topped by slices of the root which was about four inches long before I got to it. Then clockwise from the top: red, crunchy radish (not as spicy as it looks), green seaweed (a little slippery), savory marinated black beans, and jwipo: seasoned, pressed, and dried filefish jerky that’s sold as a street snack – chewy, a little spicy, a little sweet.


Marinated soy sauce eggs leading the parade of assorted Korean pancakes (모듬전, mo deum jeon), followed by pollock filet, kimchi (napa cabbage, radish, carrot), surimi, scallion, and seafood mix (squid, cuttlefish, clam, shrimp, mussel).

Happy Chuseok!
 
 

New Section: Ukraine

I’ve created a new section on this site that highlights the cuisine of Ukraine. The prologue begins like this:


Odessa is a port city on the Black Sea in southern Ukraine. It is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful beaches and charming 19th-century architecture.

In the latter half of the last century, many Odessites who emigrated to the US came to Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach neighborhood, now known as “Little Odessa”. I took this photograph on that beach – and tweaked the colors, just a bit.


As a kid, I studied history from a book titled World Civilization; “civilization” was defined as the advancement of the arts, science, culture and statecraft. At the time, it seemed to me that statecraft had as much to do with waging war as anything else. History was something that was about 2 inches thick and had 537 pages.

When I was in high school, I would eavesdrop on my father reliving World War II in exhaustive detail with his buddy, Jack, over highballs; they had served together in the army overseas. I still have his captain’s bars and his Purple Heart. War became a little more real, more than just something you read about; war had certainly affected my father.

In college, we would watch television nightly, transfixed as Walter Cronkite narrated terrifying scenes from the war in Vietnam; I wondered if I would be drafted. War became even more real; war was affecting me.

But now, I know someone who actually lives in Kyiv and although I am fortunate to not be an eyewitness myself, the horrors of war have never been more real for me.

Her hobby is cooking; that’s how we met – through Instagram of all things. She loves nature in its beauty ardently, the flora and the fauna. We communicate on occasion, a genuine, personal one-to-one correspondence. She is very real.

And every time I hear the reports of the latest atrocities, I worry if she is well. If she is alive.

This corner of my website is dedicated to you, Olya. You and all the brave, stalwart, resilient, heroic, beautiful people of Ukraine.

Stay safe, Olya. Stay safe.

🇺🇦 Слава Україні! Героям слава! 🇺🇦
 
 


Over the years, I have enjoyed and continue to learn more about Ukrainian cuisine; I prepare it at home, and now bring people to visit Little Odessa in Brooklyn so they can experience it firsthand.

It is a small gesture, I know, but at least I can introduce others to a part of the vibrant culture of these resolute people who are giving their lives and losing their loved ones in their quest to preserve democracy.

Here, then, are a few dishes from my Ukrainian posts, with more to come….
 
 
Click here to see the new section and the cuisine. You can always visit as it grows by selecting Stories -> Ukraine in the top navigation bar. Дякую!
 
 

Pride Day 2022

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Here’s something sweet to celebrate Pride Day: a rainbow bagel with mixed berry cream cheese and local (and by “local” I mean from a garden three blocks from my apartment) blackberries, pink champagne currants, and strawberries.

Happy Pride!
 

 
 

It’s Pride Month 2022!

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Looking through my photos for a sweet way to celebrate Pride Month and I found this – from a post about some great food from Dek Sen, the Isaan Thai restaurant in Elmhurst. (Where I just happen to do an ethnojunket! 😉)

More Pride posts to come during the month. Stay tuned….
 

 
 

Eid al-Fitr (2022)

Eid al-Fitr or Eid ul-Fitr, the Festival of Breaking the Fast, is the Muslim holiday that signifies the conclusion of month-long Ramadan; in 2022, it begins on the evening of May 1 and ends on the evening of May 2. (Photos in this post were taken last year.)

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Ma’amoul are shortbread cookies filled with a paste made from dried fruit, often dates but sometimes figs, or nuts, such as walnuts or pistachios; they’re frequently associated with Ramadan but fortunately are available year round. Paradise Sweets, the Middle Eastern bakery at 6739 5th Ave in Brooklyn, was offering three kinds the day I stopped by: clockwise from left, pistachio, walnut and date.


Can a cookie actually melt in your mouth? These were wonderfully fragile, disintegrating into a crumbly powder like a Mexican polvoron: you’ll start with a bite, but you’ll want to finish with a spoon. For those who don’t care for uber-sugary cookies, the good news is that this version is not especially sweet; I discovered that the flavor seems to blossom in the company of a hot beverage – tea or Arabic coffee would be perfect.


Some of the smaller markets along the way were offering prepackaged ma’amoul like this one from Pâtisserie Safa, a Montreal based company. Its structural integrity was sturdier than the freshly baked specimens and the cookie was surprisingly tasty.


Both the dough and the filling were significantly sweeter than the locally crafted examples and I detected a welcome note of orange blossom water that enhanced its flavor profile.


Another survivor of the pandemic is the stalwart bakery Nablus Sweets at 6812 5th Ave. These are Qatayef (aka Atayef), made only during Ramadan and especially for Eid al-Fitr; they’re often sold by street vendors in the Middle East. They start out with a batter akin to that of pancakes but they’re griddled on only one side, then they’re filled with white cheese or nuts, folded into a crescent, fried or baked, and soaked in sweet rose water syrup. This pair enclosed a syrupy chopped nut filling.


They’re thicker and chewier than I anticipated – I was expecting a straight ahead, lighter pancake texture based on what I saw as they were being prepared:


Fresh off the griddle. Some folks buy them just like this, ready to be brought home to be filled with the family recipe (of course) of creamy cheese or walnuts, sugar and cinnamon.
 
 
My Flavors of Brooklyn’s Little Levant ethnojunket will be resuming soon with some new and delicious post-COVID changes. Stay tuned!
 
 

Orthodox Easter – Pascha and Kulich (2022)

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Most holidays come equipped with delectable, traditional foods and Orthodox Easter is no exception; it occurs on the Sunday following the first full moon that appears on or after the spring equinox – April 24, in 2022. As an Equal Opportunity Celebrant, I make it a practice to sample as many of these treats as possible around such festive occasions, not because of any personal porcine tendencies of course, but in order to altruistically share information with anyone who might be unfamiliar with these delicacies. 😉

According to Wikipedia, the Eastern Orthodox Church, officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, is the second largest Christian church with approximately 220 million baptized members. The majority of Eastern Orthodox Christians live mainly in Southeast and Eastern Europe, Cyprus, Georgia and other communities in the Caucasus region, and in Siberia reaching the Russian Far East.

According to ethnojunkie, each region has its own distinctive, specialty baked goods that are prepared in celebration of the holiday. Many are sweet breads called pascha (or some variant), from Greek/Latin meaning Easter, and ultimately from Aramaic/Hebrew meaning Passover. Let’s check out two of them.


If you go out in search of pascha, you’ll discover vastly divergent varieties depending upon the heritage of the bakery you land on. Polish versions I’ve sampled are puffy, yeasty, a little sweet and are designed to be pulled apart and shared at the table. Some other Eastern European and Russian styles are more like a cheese-filled bread, with veins of sweet, white dairy goodness running throughout. This photo was taken surreptitiously in a Russian market. Shhh!


Shown here is Romanian pască. This particular example comes from Nita’s European Bakery at 4010 Greenpoint Ave, Sunnyside, Queens – look for the awning that reads Cofetaria Nita. It is unique (at least in my experience) and undeniably stellar. This dense delight, about nine inches in diameter, is actually a two-layered affair, with a rich topping/filling that is virtually a raisin-studded, hyper-creamy manifestation of cheesecake that sits atop a sweet cake-like bread; the religious theme is easily recognizable.


Here’s a view that reveals the layers. If you like sweet desserts, you’ll love this.


On a recent peregrination through Brooklyn’s Little Odessa on Brighton Beach Avenue where Russian and Eastern European shops abound, it seemed that every market was selling kulich, a Slavic Orthodox Easter bread. Look closely behind the eggs in the first photo and you’ll see an array of them. (Look even more closely behind the kulichi and the sign for яйца and you’ll see packages of the Italian Christmas treat, panettone. Pretty much every market was offering them as well. In terms of taste, they’re pretty close although panettone is a little richer, however I have yet to determine why both are sold in this neighborhood during Orthodox Easter. But I digress.)

Not as sweet as pascha, the cylindrical kulich is often baked at home in a coffee can to achieve the characteristic shape; this diminutive example stands only about five inches high. The Ukrainian legend reads куліч (cake) пасхальний (paschal) and around the beltline з великоднем (Happy Easter) христос воскрес (Christ is risen).


It’s somewhere along the bread <-> coffeecake continuum, laden with raisins, and always dressed with a snow-white sugar-glazed cap and colorful sprinkles.

And at Orthodox Easter this year especially, our thoughts and hearts are with the heroic, resilient, brave, beautiful people of Ukraine. We are all Ukrainians now.

🇺🇦 Слава Україні! Героям слава! 💙💛
 
 

Italian Grain Pie

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If you follow me, you know that I’m a sucker for international holiday foods, sweet treats in particular. And since I live from holiday to holiday (hey, whatever works, right?), I always look forward to Easter for traditional Neapolitan Grain Pie.

For starters, don’t be deterred by its name in English; I suspect “Pastiera Napoletana” has a more agreeable ring to it. The aforementioned grains are wheat berries, and their presence is no more unusual than grains of rice in rice pudding. They’re embedded in a sweet ricotta/custard cream infused with orange blossom water and augmented by bits of candied orange peel and citron along with a touch of cinnamon; the heady aroma of orange and lemon is key to its success. The rich filling is swaddled in a delicate, crumbly shortcrust shell.

This example came from Court Pastry Shop, 298 Court St in Brooklyn; I’ve written about them here, here, and here – they’re that good.

Per favore, if you have a solid Italian bakery nearby or even a bit of a walk away (think of the calories you’ll burn!), head out there and try this delicacy for yourself while the season is still upon us. Grazie!

 
 

La Colomba di Pasqua

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Two notable celebrations of the season, Easter and Passover, are thisclose to being concurrent this year. It’s no coincidence that the Italian word for Easter (pasqua) and the Hebrew word for Passover (pesach) are closely related, although culinarily the holidays couldn’t be more disparate. During this time of year, Jewish families are expunging their homes of even the most minuscule crumb of anything leavened, and Italians are baking Easter breads like they’re going out of style.

Italy’s traditional seasonal bread is La Colomba di Pasqua (“The Easter Dove”), and it is essentially Lombardy’s Eastertime answer to Milan’s Christmastime panettone. These deliciously sweet, cakey breads, in some ways Italy’s gift to coffeecake but so much better, are fundamentally the same except for two significant distinctions: the colomba is baked in the shape of the iconic dove that symbolizes both the resurrection and peace, and the recipes diverge with the colomba’s dense topping of almonds and crunchy pearl sugar glaze. Traditionally, a colomba lacks raisins, favoring only candied orange or citron peel, but as with panettone, fanciful flavors (including some with raisins) proliferate.

The first photo shows a colomba in all its avian splendor. Frankly, I think it’s a leap of faith to discern a dove in there, but if you can detect one, you may have just performed your own miracle.


Hard pressed to see the dove? Fret not, for this photo has the cake turned upside down so the columbine form is somewhat more evident.


The third photo depicts a version that features bits of chocolate and dried peaches within and crunchy crushed amaretto cookies atop.

Just wondering: There’s no debate that American kids bite the ears off their chocolate Easter bunnies first. Do you suppose that Italian children start with the head, tail, or wings of the colomba?