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:

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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.

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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.

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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! 🍨