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.

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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.

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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

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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 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!
 
 

Peruvian Festival 2021

If you love Peruvian cuisine as much as I do, you don’t want to miss New Jersey’s annual Peruvian festival held around the last Sunday of July. Accompanied by an exuberant parade celebrating the country’s culture and national heroes, it’s traditionally staged in “Little Lima”, a neighborhood in Paterson that’s home to America’s largest Peruvian community. This year’s event was particularly significant in that 2021 is the bicentennial of Peru’s Independence Day.

A few photos of the delights we enjoyed:

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Anticuchos: tender, marinated beef heart – Peruvian street food at its finest. 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, you’ll love this.


Falling-off-the-bone lamb shank with rice and remarkably delicious beans.


The mother lode.


Ceviche with potatoes.


Short ribs with rice and potatoes.


Lúcuma ice cream. Its flavor has been compared to butterscotch or a mix of maple syrup and sweet potato; it’s difficult to find fresh lúcuma locally but the frozen pulp is easy to come by in Latin American markets.
 
 
Mark your calendars for next year’s event!
 
 

Green Jackfruit Confit with Fish Mint

Part eight in a series of reports.

Some folks look forward to the annual celebration of their birthdays or anniversaries; for me it’s the occasion to cover America’s largest food and beverage trade show right here in New York City, Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show. (Check out full coverage and a description of a past event here.) Aside from the fact that it affords the chance to hob and nob with other professional foodies, see what products and brands are trending and poised to make a breakthrough, and get a sense of what the industry thinks the marketplace is craving, it gives me the opportunity to turn you on to new products to watch for locally or order online.

The 2020 FFS was, like almost everything else, canceled because of the pandemic, but the organization has announced a 2021 iteration of the event coming soon. At a previous show, I was introduced to Nature’s Charm canned Young Green Jackfruit Confit; in its yellow ripened form it’s one of my favorite fresh fruits, but the unripe green version also figures into a number of cuisines (particularly Southeast Asian) as a savory ingredient and is especially popular as a meat substitute among vegetarians and vegans.

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I used this confit variation in a stir-fry with fresh Chinese noodles, peas, and cashews. The dish started out with caramelized onions, shallots, pressed garlic and ginger plus a paste containing dried chilies, tomato paste, and a bit of coconut milk to loosen things up. The outlier ingredient was fish mint used two ways here: julienned and sautéed with the aromatics, and fried as a garnish.


Fish mint (botanically, Houttuynia cordata) does have something of a vaguely fishy character, but that doesn’t really describe it precisely. Its common name is almost calculated to drive you away (like “mugwort”), even though it does have a toe dipped in accuracy. It’s also known as rainbow plant and chameleon plant. Better.


The jackfruit confit straight out of the can is falling-apart tender (it’s a confit, after all), not sweet in the least, and it picked up the flavor of the aromatics beautifully. I also used the seasoned oil in which it was packed as an ingredient for the sauce.


Ready to try some experiments of your own? Find Nature’s Charm Young Green Jackfruit on Amazon.com.
 
 

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! 🍨
 
 

Smorgasburg, Prospect Park

First pre-post-pandemic (because it’s not over till it’s over) foray into an open-air food market. If such events proliferated like chain stores, ten year old Smorgasburg would be the archetype; last weekend, we visited their outpost in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, currently open from 11am to 6pm on Sundays.

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“Lobster Garlic Noods” from Lobsterdamus called out to me the loudest from among the 35 vendors. Legitimate lobster, not surrogate surimi; had I noticed the “Add extra lobster meat $4” sign, I would have gone for it. Destined in the stars to be the first pick of the day, I predict you’ll like it too.


“Rooster Nuggets” from Rooster Boy; umami-rich koji marinated karaage fried chicken bites. You can choose from among six sauces, but for me the flavorful chicken didn’t need any help.

 
 

Panettone! Pannetone! Pannettone!

Originally published in 2017, this post has been updated for 2019 and 2020.

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 and cakes, 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. 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!

 
Update:

Nicola’s has gone the way of all estimable suppliers of specialty wares, so to feed my habit, I needed to find a new dealer (as it were). Having exhausted the search at local (and not-so-local) brick and mortar purveyors of panettoni for my favorite brand and style, I had no choice but to turn to the interwebs. Sure, there were plenty of panettoni to be found, but sadly, not the one I was jonesing for. A few sites did list it accompanied by the legend, “Currently unavailable. We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.” Not very helpful. Crestfallen, I did sample other contenders, but none measured up to my vision of perfection.

Not long after, a pair of social media friends, hardcore foodies who appreciate the good stuff, contacted me. They had been visiting Montreal and returned bearing an enormous 22-pound panettone made by Loison Pasticceri, a company headquartered in Italy, family-owned for three generations and passionate specialists in panettoni, pandori, and the like. Aware of my addiction, they invited me to their home to partake of this mammoth masterpiece.


Not to put too fine a point on “mammoth”, but that’s a shiny quarter down there.

One taste and I was hooked. That day, two delightful things happened: I finally met this charming couple IRL and I found new love in Loison. Fortunately, Loison’s products were easy to purchase on the web. Too easy, perhaps. Although I prudently ordered them sequentially, all told, I probably bought more than I should have.

The first shipment was the Classico, tasting very much like the Albertengo version in the photo at the top of this post. Sweet and fluffy with an unadorned crown, laden with raisins and candied orange and citron, it was terrific.


The second was Mandorlato (almond), similar to the Classico but with the addition of an almond glaze topping, generously bedecked with whole almonds and sweet, crunchy pearl sugar bits not unlike the Easter Colomba di Pasqua I posted about here.


The third to arrive at my table was the Regal Cioccolato, shot through with bits of chocolate and channels of chocolate cream. Superbly chocolatey and happily in perfect balance with the cake.


The fourth was NeroSale: Cioccolato e Caramello Salato (chocolate and salted caramel). Now, I tend to be a purist about certain foods, so I reckoned that this wasn’t the one that would take the cake, but it may have been the best of the four (all of which were excellent) – and certainly the most outrageous.

The fifth is what I’m going to plead if you ask me if I really bought four panettoni this year.

It’s 2020. What can I say?