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!
 
 

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!
 
 

July is National Ice Cream Month! Celebrate Globally!

The story began here:

Every August, as a routinely flushed, overheated child, I would join in chorus with my perspiring cohorts, boisterously importuning, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” Little did I realize that rather than conjuring dessert, I was conjugating it and probably laying the groundwork for a lifetime of fascination with foreign languages and world food.

We lived in close proximity to one of the best dairies in town; it was known for its wide assortment of locally produced natural flavors, certainly sufficient in number and variety to satisfy any palate. Perhaps my obsession with offbeat ice cream flavors is rooted in my frustration with my father’s return home from work, invariably bearing the same kind of ice cream as the last time, Neapolitan. Neapolitan, again. My pleas to try a different flavor – just once? please? – consistently fell on deaf ears. “Neapolitan is chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. That’s three flavors right there. If you don’t want it, don’t eat it.” Some kids’ idea of rebellion involved smoking behind the garage; mine was to tuck into a bowl of Rum Raisin….

There’s lots more to the story, of course. Click here to get the full scoop! 🍨
 
 

Santacruzan Festival 2022

The 44th Annual Santacruzan Festival and Flores de Mayo celebration in Jersey City last Sunday encompassed two stages for live performances, a flea market, family activities, and religious processions – but you know I was there for the food vendors! Here are a few delicious Filipino treats that we sampled:

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Lechon (pork belly) – With its all-important crispy skin, served over a split rice ball and accompanied by a cucumber-tomato-onion salad.


Sisig – Plated over rice; pork on one side, chicken on the other.


Longganisa – Filipino sweet sausage that, regardless of its name, is more like chorizo than Spanish longaniza.


Isaw – Grilled pork intestine on a stick with sukang pinakurat (a savory vinegar sauce). The vendor eyed me skeptically. “You eat this?” she asked. “You made this? I eat this!” I replied. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

Masarap!
 
 

Panettone! Pannetone! Pannettone! (2021)

Originally published in 2017, I try to update this story annually. Here’s a preview of this year’s supplement.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

And now it is 2021. As I write this, we’re still in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic accompanied by its subsequent supply-chain issues, extended shipping times, inventory shortages, and inflation. Amazon is offering my two favorite imported 2.2 pound panettoni for $48 and $71 each. Nope, not this year.

If you’ve read my story, An Eggnog Excursus, you know that part of my obsession stems from the fact that this bewitching beverage evocative of joyous childhood memories is only available for an all-too-brief period each year. Unlike eggnog, some brands of panettone are available year-round, generally dozing in supermarkets and even bodegas, but they tend to be lackluster as compared with the treasures that miraculously appear during the holiday season. It’s like envisaging a standing rib roast for Christmas dinner and then being served pot roast instead. It’s not the end of the world, but it is a world away from what you had been eagerly anticipating for the better part of a year.

In the hopes of ferreting out a middle ground, I decided to explore three upscale markets in my neighborhood, specifically, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Wegmans.

My extremely biased opinion in a nutshell:

Whole Foods proffered a sampler pack of individual size panettoni in three varieties, Traditional, Limoncello, and Double Chocolate, and was the most disappointing product, faring little better than the stuff you see gathering dust year round on supermarket shelves; they were bready with a tight crumb and not particularly sweet or flavorful.

Trader Joe’s Panettone Classico (cutely Italian-branded as “Trader Giotto’s” like their EVOO), also single serving size, was better: more open crumb, properly sweet, and amply raisined, but still, not anything to write home to Mom about.

Now, how much of those two evaluations can be attributed to the size of the product itself? Is it even possible to make a proper panettone that’s so diminutive? Or is this a case that raises the correlation vs causation question: just because they’re both baked in a pint-sized format doesn’t necessarily explain why they’re both less than stellar. Or does it?

Wegmans, however, saved the day. A larger (about six inches in diameter, serves six) virtually unbranded entry, this airy, buttery baby (see photo) boasted a proper candied orange peel+raisin count, an appropriate degree of sweetness, and an almond glaze topping that was topnotch – sweet and crunchy with plenty of almonds. Actual craftsmanship for under $20.

But wait! There’s more!!

You can be the first kid on your block to score the Panettone Bargain of the 2021 Christmas Season!!!

The secret is waiting within the updated Deep Dive story, Panettone! Pannetone! Pannettone!
 
 

Treats from the Filipino Araw ng Aruga Festival

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Ube, the purple yam that turns up in so many Filipino desserts, and buko, the yielding flesh of young green coconuts, make an ideal combination in this Ube Buko Pie from Chibop’s Bakehouse in Forest Hills, Queens; note the slices of tender coconut throughout the top layer. The colorful interior begs for your attention, but don’t overlook the crust – delicate and crumbly, the perfect blanket to swaddle the sweet filling. Top notch.


Merienda NYC featured a trio of fried goodness on a stick – Kwek Kwek, Kikiam and sliced, flattened fishballs; a selection of sauces was available. The latter two are made from ground fish paste…

…and kwek kwek are quail eggs that have been battered and deep fried. (You can decide if the name is onomatopoeia reflecting the sound that quail make when laying their eggs.)


Emz Native Delicacies featured Suman Malagkit, sticky rice and coconut milk steamed in a banana leaf, sweet and salty at once. Nicely done.

The pop-up Araw ng Aruga (Day of Care) Festival took place last Saturday. If you’d like to learn about food events like this in advance, I highly recommend checking out Eating In Translation for their comprehensive weekly listing – that’s where I get all my info about upcoming festivals!
 
 

Sunset Park 5th Avenue Street Festival – Tacos de Birria

More quick bites from Brooklyn’s annual Sunset Park 5th Avenue Street Festival.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

The hastily scrawled sign read Tacos de Birria y Carnitas. Birria (two syllables, stress on the first, trill the R, say “Beerrr-ya” with conviction) seems to be the darling of New York City Mexican food aficionados these days, and I’m not complaining. Essentially it’s a meat laden stew…

…served on corn tortillas. If you like juicy, wet tacos, this one is for you; as a matter of fact, it’s usually served with a side of broth from the stew (consomé). In this case, the sauce was ladled up from a tableside container and added later, alas, too much later for a proper photo. (I only have two hands.)

It started with the tortillas getting a dip in a seasoned, oily bath…

…prior to a crisping on the griddle.

But here’s the point: It’s always a Latin American food festival on this stretch of Brooklyn’s 5th Avenue between about 38th St and 59th St, street fair or not; you can find all of the treats in this and the previous two posts (and so much more) year round. Just come to this section of Sunset Park whenever the mood strikes you, wander around, choose a restaurant that looks appealing, and odds are you’ll go home happy.

I know I did!
 
 

Sunset Park 5th Avenue Street Festival – Gorditas

More quick bites from Brooklyn’s annual Sunset Park 5th Avenue Street Festival.

¡Gorditas!

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Chicken…


…and chicharrón.

A gordita (literally “chubby”) starts as a handful of masa molded around a filling; it’s fried in hot oil…

…cooled, sliced open, and stuffed with salsa and lime juice plus lettuce, cheese, and occasionally other goodies.

These came from Casa Vieja, 6007 5th Ave in Brooklyn (of course).

More Mexican street food to come. Stay tuned….
 
 

Sunset Park 5th Avenue Street Festival – Tacos

Quick bites from Brooklyn’s annual Sunset Park 5th Avenue Street Festival last Sunday.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

First stop – tacos in your choice of carnitas (pork), pollo (chicken), chorizo (pork sausage), barbacoa – chivo (goat), or mix – cabeza y lengua de res (beef head meat and tongue). Our choice: barbacoa (top) and mix.


Cooking…


…cooling…


…cutting.

More Mexican street food to come. Stay tuned….
 
 

Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival – 2021

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

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 21. Here are two pandan mooncakes, one with preserved egg yolk and a mini version without, from Chinatown’s Fay Da Bakery.

Since 2021 is the Year of the Ox, known for his patience and resolution, I was determined to purchase (and eat my way through – no matter how long it might take me 😉) an assortment of these delicacies in order to compare them and ultimately share them, virtually, with you. For a deep dive into the holiday and these delicious treats, please check out 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!
 
 
Note: Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some businesses may be closed – temporarily, we hope – and prices may vary. The Mid-Autumn Festival, however, will be with us forever – as long as there are autumns to celebrate!