46 Mott Street

Instagram Post 6/10/2018

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46 Mott Street. That was the only name. A holdover, perhaps, from Manhattan Chinatown’s early days when businesses were sometimes referred to only by their addresses? I thought the venue looked familiar, but I didn’t recall that name. Then I remembered the former occupant of that space, Fong Inn Too, the oldest and much beloved independently-run tofu shop in the US as well as the controversy surrounding its space, the particulars of which I won’t detail here, except to say that I fondly remember the warm douhua (tofu pudding) they scooped from huge bins.

A message hand-sketched in streaky yellow paint (see photo 3) graced the new proprietors’ window: “Welcome to 46 store” so I decided to check it out. They still feature soy milk and tofu products, steamed sweet and savory cakes, as well as some other prepared items like these two: (photo 1) Representing the sweet division, thick, chewy glutinous rice dumplings filled with chopped peanuts and coconut, and for the savory side (photo 2) crispy fried fish skins with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce. Betcha can’t eat just one!
 
 

Miscelanea

Instagram Post 6/4/2018

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Tucked away in the East Village and down a few steps, you’ll discover Miscelanea at 63 East 4th St; they’ve been around for about three years and here’s hoping they stay around a lot longer. A tiny market cum sandwich counter, it serves the neighborhood well with all of the cocina mexicana essentials you’d expect like mole, Oaxacan cheese, fresh nixtamal tortillas and chorizo, canned necessities like huitlacoche and flor de calabaza and bottles of Mexican soft drinks in addition to chapulinas (roasted grasshoppers), sal de gusano (mezcal worm salt) and the like. The menu boasts about eight traditional sandwiches plus snacks and appealing Mexican beverages. Here’s half of a Pollo con Mole torta (shredded chicken breast, mole sauce, crema, lettuce, queso fresco and more), pickled veggies on the side.
 
 

New Flushing Bakery

Instagram Post 6/2/2018

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Chinese Egg Custard Tarts (dan tat, 蛋挞) are ubiquitous in Chinatown, on display in just about every Chinese bakery case and riding on dim sum trolleys threading their way through restaurants at lunchtime. They found their way to China and Hong Kong decades ago by way of Portuguese pastéis de nata and English custard tarts and are available these days in a wide variety of styles: the basic (plain bright yellow surface), brûléed (Portuguese influence), egg white, coconut, green tea, even strawberry, almond, papaya, and the list goes on. Some time ago, there was a bakery on Mott Street that touted dozens of flavors; alas, they’ve since closed, but it appears that New Flushing Bakery has taken up their mantle.

Here’s a sample of their wares: clockwise from upper right, Strawberry Milk Custard, Lemon Egg Custard, Mango Egg Custard (with tapioca balls), and Purple Potato Custard.

Cutaway views reveal purple potato lurking within one and a strawberry layer at the bottom of another.

New Flushing Bakery is located at 135-45 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, Queens.
 
 

Little House – Taro Cake

Instagram Post 5/24/2018

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A place of many delicious wonders, I am compelled to return to Little House Café, 90-19 Corona Ave in Elmhurst, Queens as soon as possible. It’s an Asian fusion counter service venue with a few tables and remarkable food; in addition to having the best Curry Mee with Young Tao Fu I’ve ever tasted, the sweets and desserts were a cut above as well. One of the most dramatic was this layered taro cake: gelatin, custard, taro, cake. Each layer brought something unique to the party: sweet, creamy, textured, fluffy. Remarkably, I was able to polish off the whole thing in one sitting because it wasn’t too sweet.

Yeah, that must’ve been why. 🐷

…and the cutaway stepped view.
 
 

Bappy Sweets – Mishti Doi

Instagram Post 5/18/2018

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I sing the praises of this humble dessert and I freely admit that it is a much beloved comfort food for me. No, I do not hail from 🇮🇳 West Bengal or 🇧🇩 Bangladesh, but this delicious treat does. Essentially, mishti doi is similar to a sweetened, thick yogurt – almost the texture of a custard or pudding – but is distinguished by the way in which it is made. From Wikipedia: “Mishti doi is prepared by boiling milk until it is slightly thickened, sweetening it with sugar, either gura (brown sugar) or khejur gura (date molasses), and allowing the milk to ferment overnight.” Sometimes a touch of cardamom is added for flavor and aroma. You can usually identify it by its pale orange color, but I’ve seen it nearly white as well; there’s also a variation called “bhapa doi” that’s made with sweetened condensed milk that sets up more reliably if you’re making it yourself and I understand there are fruit variants like mango as well.

This batch came from Bappy Sweets, 85-07 Whitney Ave in Elmhurst, Queens. Whenever I take folks through the neighborhood on a food tour (“ethnojunkets” I call them), Bappy is an essential stop; everyone I have introduced this delight to has absolutely loved it and it always disappears in a trice. Bappy makes and sells other mithai (Indian sweets) but I recently learned that their claim to fame and best seller is their mishti doi. I’m not surprised.
🧡
And if you have trouble remembering its name, here’s a mnemonic I came up with for this magical comfort food: “Sometimes Mishti Doi is the only thing that can make you feel better on a Misty Day.”
🧡
 
 

The Equal Opportunity Celebrant – Part 4

Daylight Saving Time, my second favorite holiday after Christmas and the undisputed harbinger of Spring as long as you don’t look out your window, has at long last arrived. Two notable celebrations of the season, Easter and Passover, are concomitant this year, so this post is a nod to both. I haven’t forgotten Nowruz, of course, the Iranian (or Persian) New Year that occurs on the vernal equinox, but I feel that it deserves a post of its own accompanied by photos of delicious traditional foods which, with some luck, I’ll be able to provide.

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. And also as with panettone, charming but somewhat specious tales of its origin abound. (If you haven’t already, please read my passionate paean to panettone for more information and folklore about this extraordinary contribution to the culinary arts.)

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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 the second 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?

On to Passover. Previously on ethnojunkie.com, I did a springtime post that included a story about someone who dared me to come up with an ethnic fusion Passover menu. I wrote:

“Well, far be it from me to dodge a culinary challenge! So although obviously inauthentic, but certainly fun and yummy, here’s to a Sazón Pesach!

Picante Gefilte Pescado
Masa Ball Posole
Brisket Mole
Poblano Potato Kugel
Maple Chipotle Carrot Tzimmes
Guacamole spiked with Horseradish
Charoset with Pepitas and Tamarindo

And, of course, the ever popular Manischewitz Sangria!”

It was all in good fun, of course, but it got me thinking about actually creating a Jewish-Mexican fusion recipe. It isn’t strictly Kosher for Passover, of course, but I thought the concept was worth a try. So here is my latest crack at cross cultural cooking: Masa Brei!

Now you might know that Matzo Brei (literally “fried matzo”) is a truly tasty dish consisting of matzos broken into pieces that are soaked briefly in warm milk (some folks use water), drained, soaked in beaten eggs until soft, then fried in copious quantities of butter. Typically served with sour cream and applesauce, it’s heimische cooking at its finest, Jewish soul food, and it’s easy to do.

So I thought it might be worth a try to swap out the matzos for tostadas, the milk for horchata, the sour cream for crema, and the applesauce for homemade pineapple-jalapeño salsa. A sprinkle of tajín, a scatter of chopped cilantro – and it actually worked! Here’s the finished product:

And no matter which one you’re celebrating (or perhaps all of them like me) – Happy Holidays!
 
 

BonBon

Instagram Post 4/11/2018

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Imagine if the Beatles’ “Savoy Truffle” had been a Swedish song: as opposed to names of candies like Creme Tangerine, Montelimar, and Ginger Sling, they would have sung about Gott Och Blandat, Chokladhjärta, and Häxvrål. Those are just some of what you’ll find at BonBon, 130 Allen Street in Manhattan. Fortunately, it wasn’t a northern song and there are English signs here, there, and everywhere to hold your hand if you’ve got a feeling that it’s all too much, because there are over 150 kinds of Swedish candy on display. But I did see Finnish Sweet Licorice Pieces and I wonder if something Norwegian would help! 😜
🐷 🐷 🐷
But seriously, BonBon is a Swedish 🇸🇪 candy company that’s a newcomer to the Lower East Side. In addition to sweet treats in a rainbow array of colors, flavors, and textures, they sell world famous Swedish salty licorice as well as the sweetish kind. Curiously, the unique taste comes not from sodium chloride (NaCl, table salt) but rather from ammonium chloride (NH4Cl) so it’s really more astringent than salty. I recommend Tyrkisk Peber (Turkish pepper) – that’s the hard stuff, literally – although they do have a number of gateway salty licorices to choose from like chewy filled Sweet & Salty Licorice Logs, Licorice Chalks in a variety of flavors, Licorice Screws and Licorice Carpets. Other favorites included Tivoli Mix, Lemon Rhubarb Logs, and ridged, red and white, flowery-edged Vanilla Marshmallow candies. For traditionalists, they also offer delicious Swedish chocolates including Daim, the milk chocolate covered crunchy almond caramel candy bar. Try it; you’ll definitely dig it.

All together now: The End!

#thereAre15 #didYouFindThemAll
 
 

Allan’s Quality Bakery

Instagram Post 3/16/2018

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Unquestionably and quite simply the very best Trinidadian currant rolls and coconut rolls I have ever tasted in my life; these are definitive and the real deal. What’s more, I’m told they often have CHOCOLATE currant rolls (!) and white chocolate coconut rolls as well. Head to Allan’s Quality Bakery at 1109 Nostrand Avenue, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn for some amazing Caribbean baked goods and a guaranteed smile on your face.
 
 

Los Helados de Salcedo

Instagram Post 3/8/2018

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Thought you might need a palate cleanser after all that rich food I continually post! While wandering around Jackson Heights, a sign in the window of a little shop featuring goods from Ecuador caught my eye. Upon entering Ecuador Records Variedades at 92-11 37th Ave and making my way past piles of hand crafted clay pots and other charming imports, I headed straight to the freezer case and selected the ice cream pop depicted on the sign that sported distinct colorful layers of “mora, naranjilla y taxo con centro liquido de jalea de mora, guyaba”.

The Ecuadorian frozen confection sold under the name “Los Helados de Salcedo” (after the city, I suspect) was surprisingly good. Not only was it sweet and refreshing, but the flavors were distinct and richer than I anticipated.

Translation: Helados = ice creams. Mora = blackberry. Naranjilla, literally “little orange”, although unrelated (I’ve seen it as naranjillo and frequently as lulo), is a fruit with a tart, tropical, quasi-citrusy flavor that can be found locally either canned, jarred, or frozen. Taxo is also known as banana passionfruit; it’s the oblong shaped fruit pictured on the wrapper. Guyaba = guava. I’m not certain that I really detected the liquid center of blackberry jelly; greedily consuming the delectable pop, I may not have given it a fair chance.
 
 

Panettone! Pannetone! Pannettone!

One of these things is not like the others, or so the song goes. In this case, the outlier is the first Panettone, the only orthographically correct version of the subject of this post. To tell the truth, the two imposters share the spotlight only by way of capitulation to less-than-forgiving search engines (and not as a sly reference to the 90s R&B/soul group) because it is my mission to ensure that everyone falls in love with this gift to the culinary arts as deeply, passionately, and yes, obsessively as I have.

You’re all familiar with panettone, right? That Italian (Milanese, specifically) sweet, fruity, fluffy cake that’s usually consumed for the holidays (Christmas, specifically) but can be enjoyed year-round by ardent aficionados (me, specifically).

Fanciful spellings aside, you’ll find panettone in most markets around Christmastime and in Italian specialty shops year round (fortunately for us). A little digging uproots an extended family tree including pandoro, pandolce, panforte, panpepato, and pangiallo. The last four differ radically from the subject of our discourse so for the sake of completeness, let’s dispatch them straightaway:

• Pandolce, “sweet bread”, hails from Genoa, and unlike gossamer panettone is dense and somewhat crumbly like a cookie.
• Panforte, “strong bread”, is neither breadlike nor cakey; it’s more of a dense, chewy fruit paste, spicy and sweet. I sometimes serve it as an accompaniment to a cheese plate.
• Panpepato, “peppered bread”, is a subset of panforte, gingery, nutty, and covered with chocolate.
• Pangiallo, “yellow bread”, is Rome’s challenger. Sometimes saffron infused, often laden with chocolate and always dense with dried fruit, I know this one only by repute.

Now that we’ve dispelled any confusion regarding the distant cugini, we can focus on the object of our affection. Our goal is to determine which style and brand you like the best. We’ll start with style; the two you’re most likely to encounter are panettone, the pride of Milan and pandoro, Verona’s answer to it.

The story of how panettone gets its name is the stuff of which legend is made but I frankly don’t find any of the fables particularly convincing. One tale recounts that in 15th century Milan, a delicious bread was crafted that incorporated yeast, an ingredient so dear in that era that it earned the moniker “pane di tono”, literally “luxury cake” – feasible, except that every Italian dictionary I own or found on the interwebs fails to suggest “luxury” as a definition for tono. But I suppose Italian was different back then.

Another more linguistically stringent contender avers that since pane means bread or cake, adding the diminutive suffix -etto turns it into a small loaf cake and then appending the augmentative suffix -one renders it large, thus describing a “large small loaf cake”. Really? But I suppose whimsy was different back then.

Yet another narrative tells of the Duke of Milan’s cook who having prepared an otherwise sumptuous repast disastrously burned the dessert. Fortunately, the young kitchen apprentice, Toni, proposed that they serve the sweet cake he had made for his own breakfast. Delighted, the Duke requested the name of the delicious cake, the cook replied “il pane di Toni”, and the rest is history. I don’t know about you, but if I had concocted so splendid a treat for my breakfast, none would have been kicking around the kitchen come dinnertime – not to mention the fact that the preparation of panettone is a time consuming, arduous process and not something one hastily throws together for breakfast like a bagel with a schmear. But I suppose panettone was different back then.

Less about folklore and more about traditional religious ritual, the people of Milan save a piece of their Christmas panettone, have it blessed and eat it on February 3, the morning after Candlemas which for them heralds the end of the Christmas season. Known as the Feast of San Biagio, it celebrates the saga of St. Blaise as he saved the life of a boy who was choking on a fish bone by feeding him bread in order to dislodge the bone. Eating panettone for breakfast that day therefore pays homage to the “protector of the throat”, patron saint of throats and noses, and ensures that his followers will be safeguarded against colds and sore throats in the upcoming year. Who needs a flu shot when you have such a delicious excuse to enjoy more panettone?

Enough history; what’s it like? The shape is that of a domed, squat cylinder, about 5–6 inches high, 8–9 inches in diameter, typically baked in a pan lined with a ring of corrugated, often brown, paper. Based on a sweet risen dough, it’s airy, eggy, buttery, moist and so light that it practically floats; it pulls apart almost like cotton candy although you’ll want to slice it with a serrated knife. The classic version is stippled with candied citron and raisins and often sports an almond or hazelnut glaze.

Many other less traditional but still delicious flavors abound including pistachio, sour cherry, mixed berry, pineapple, peach, apricot, pear, bits of chocolate, moscato wine, limoncello, zuppa inglese, tiramisu, crema pasticcera (custard), and combinations thereof including varieties without candied fruit.

I’ve seen numerous recipes with recommendations for what to do with leftover panettone. “Leftover panettone” is an oxymoron and bears no further discussion here. I will admit, albeit grudgingly, that you can freeze it, but only if it’s wrapped extremely well.

Like so many cultural dichotomies such as Coke vs Pepsi, the Beatles vs the Stones, the Addams Family vs the Munsters, and Mary Ann vs Ginger, there are those who champion Verona’s pandoro (“golden bread”) over Milan’s panettone. The texture of pandoro is a little denser than that of panettone but not as dense as pound cake. Also sweet and buttery, touched with vanilla, they are customarily devoid of candied fruit or decadent chocolate and creamy fillings; on occasion, you might detect a delicate whisper of other flavorings like anisette or lemon zest. Picture a two-dimensional eight-pointed star, extruded upwards conically into three dimensions and taller than a panettone; it is often presented with nothing more than a sprinkling of powdered sugar to resemble the snow-covered Alps in winter. If you insist on inventing more complex dishes using “leftover” Italian Christmas breads, the more modest pandoro lends itself better than panettone to the addition of crème fraîche, mascarpone, whipped cream, custard and fresh fruits, or the likes of Nutella (since panettone is, after all, perfection straight out of its wrapper – in my not so humble opinion, of course 😉).

Now on to brand. Like everything in the food world, it should always be about what you like personally and individually, not about what somebody tells you you should like. Each brand has its own flavor and texture, let alone unique varieties. Over the years I’ve eaten my way through mountains (think Alps) of these treats and I’ve found what I consider to be the very best: Albertengo brand Panettone Tradizionale Glassato (traditional glazed) – but they’re almost impossible to find in New York. So I wrote to the nice folks at Albertengo in Italy in buoyant English and foundering Italian and they turned me on to the one place in the city that stocks the stuff: Nicola’s Specialty Foods at 997 First Avenue in Manhattan. The photo at the top of the page shows this morning’s breakfast: Albertengo Tradizionale Glassato – la colazione dei campioni!

I consider myself fortunate to be a regular attendee at the Specialty Food Association’s Fancy Food Show every year here in New York City. Featuring thousands of new products from the US and internationally, they’re considered North America’s hottest place to catch the latest in specialty foods. Needless to report, at the 2017 show, I spent a good deal of discerning time in Italy’s pavilion checking out the panettoni both for flavor and to determine where retail outlets will be. After all, when I find a winner, you need to know how to score some!