Pom and Circumstance

The annual August celebration of Suriname Day at Roy Wilkins Park in St. Albans, Queens seemed remote – certainly On Beyond Z-Train, not to mention the E and the J – but I had never experienced Surinamese food and the perfect circumstances through which I could explore it prevailed.

Occupying a tiny corner of northeast South America, Suriname was settled by the British but taken over by the Dutch (it’s the official language) in the 17th century. Demographically diverse, its cuisine promised influences from indigenous peoples, East Indians, West Africans, Javanese, Chinese, Brazilians, Portuguese, and Jews, not to mention the Dutch; and since for all intents and purposes it is culturally Caribbean, I anticipated a serious geographical culinary contribution as well. I was not disappointed.

In addition to numerous rice dishes, some of the fare I sampled (see below) included salt fish and spicy chicken gizzard and liver, bakabana (fried plantain with spicy peanut sauce), trie and telo (anchovies and cassava/yuca)…
Saltfish and Spicy Chicken Gizzard and LiverBakabanaAnchovies and Yuca

…and pom.

Pom? I was familiar with the others in one incarnation or another (although certainly cloaked under unfamiliar aliases here) but pom? Hardly obscure at this venue, it seemed that every table was offering their version of the dish.
PomPom 2

Subsequent research revealed that pom is a sine qua non of festive occasions in Suriname, as the expression “without pom there is no birthday” makes abundantly clear. Made from grated pomtayer (the tuber/corm of Xanthosoma sagittifolium) plus chicken and citrus juice (often orange) along with onions, tomatoes, and various seasonings, the dish is baked until it’s GBD (golden brown and delicious).

I took my place in line anticipating my first taste of pom. The flavor was sweet, the texture about what you’d expect from a mashed yam as it coddled the flavorful chunks of chicken buried within. It was wonderful. My fellow food adventurer, having disappeared as I was waiting, returned with another version. It was better than the first. This humble dish was etching itself indelibly on my culinary sense memory. I queued up at another booth now, eager to try a third version. A brief eternity later, it was my turn. Pointing at the tray filled with golden brown deliciousness, I gushed, “One please; I love pom!” fairly swooning.

At that point my buddy stepped up behind me and intoned to the woman behind the table, “He means having tasted it for the first time today, he loves it.”

My cover blown, I confessed, “He’s right. But it was love at first sight. Or first taste actually. Can you dig that?” I asked the vendor.

“Mm-hmm,” she smiled knowingly.

I clutched my styrofoam trays of precious pomish treasure and hurried home to attempt to recreate this wonder. But where would I locate pomtayer? That turned out to be the easy part. Yautía (preferably the red/pink variety), also known as malanga, is the moniker under which I’d find it in this area; one could use taro root in a pinch, but I think that might be straying a bit far from the original. The hard part, it turns out, was unearthing a recipe. Usually bursting with helpful culinary instructions for every dish imaginable (and some not so much), the internet had surprisingly few offerings, each different from the last. The “various seasonings” I referred to above are the key. One used pickles, another rum, yet another called for salt pork; some were Jewish inflected, some Chinese, some Javanese, some Hindu. Like the pom at the festival, I could see that these would all be radically different from each other. Once again, I found myself in my kitchen/lab reverse engineering a recipe relying as much on my taste buds as the web and striving for deliciousness and authenticity. I’m pleased to report that my efforts were rewarded with a dish that met my expectations. As a matter of fact, I was so pleased with it that I’m happy to share it with you.

Leave me a comment, and the recipe is yours.

I’m Just Wild About Harry (and Ida’s)

…Pastrami, that is.

Yes, they are purveyors of artisanal, in-house cured meats along with rows of mustards and pickles and the like…
Harry and Ida SignPantry
…and they cobble together a hefty sandwich of Benton’s ham, Edwards ham, andouille, and cured beef all nestled against a thick slab of mozzarella; and they feature their bespoke renditions of smoked bluefish and smoked eel (try it if the only eel you’ve ever tasted is Asian).

But the reason to join the choir and sing the praises of Harry and Ida’s is their remarkable pastrami. This delicacy, the perfect harmonization of rich protein and buttery fat, is unlike any I’ve ever tasted – and I’m no stranger to pastrami. Simply put, this is not your mama’s pastrami. (Certainly not mine.)

Savoring this delight is like immersing yourself in a three-act opera: The story begins sweetly, betraying a gentle innocence unattainable by its crude, monotoned rivals. A moment later, a chorus of intense beefiness resounds, bullishly commanding your tastebuds. The finale peaks in a crescendo of spices bursting into peppery climax.

Yes, I like the stuff.

Oh, and lest I forget, they’re one of the few places in NYC that sells Foxon Park Soda, that splendid libation crafted in East Haven, CT and formerly known only to the fortunate denizens of the region. Perhaps I’ll wax rhapsodic about their Iron Brew or White Birch Beer in a future post; a serenade might be appropriate.
(Gosh, I think I got carried away with this one. Better go compose myself.)


Harry and Ida’s Meat and Supply Co.
189 Avenue A, New York, NY
(646) 864-0967

It’s Poké, Man!

Poké means cut or slice in Hawaiian. In this case, it refers to morsels of raw fish that have been marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil, often accompanied by sweet onions, chopped scallion, seaweed, chili pepper (or a similarly spicy component like sriracha chili sauce), ginger, and occasionally roasted crushed candlenuts or macadamia nuts.

Think of it as sashimi dressed up as a fashion plate or perhaps Hawaii’s answer to ceviche.

Tuna PokeSalmon Poke

In Japanese, donburi (丼), often truncated to simply don, means “bowl” and refers to a bowl of rice served with numerous options of simmered toppings: pokedon is a bowl of poké over rice. Although not impossible to find in our fair city (as a matter of fact, I suspect it’s poised to be the Next Big Thing around these parts), I was surprised to see a grab ‘n’ go rendition at Dainobu, the Japanese deli and grocery chain. Considering the fact that I’ve been spoiled by stores like Mitsuwa in Edgewater, New Jersey and Sunrise Mart on Stuyvesant Street in the East Village, I was happy to discover a dizzying array of all things Japanese including an udon bar in the back. Even better, you’ll find both salmon and tuna pokedon there.

SignageDizzying Array

I gussied mine up with some pickled ginger and furikake (a mixture of seaweed, sesame seeds, dried bonito and the like, available in a panoply of variations). But the squeeze of lemon that was included in the bowl was just what it needed to get its game on.

Found at Dainobu
498 Sixth Avenue near West 13th Street
New York, NY
(212) 645-0237

Lard A’mighty!

Bacon? Delicious.
Pâté? Of course.
Bacon Pâté? Um, yeah, okay. Er, I guess.

Not much to look at, I thought, peering through the thick plastic package. Still, it beckoned to me as I navigated the narrow aisle that bisects Polam International Market, one of the bright spots for Polish food in Greenpoint. Seems like an oxymoron: I think of bacon as having ribbons of fat interspersed with lean (the Jack Sprat recipe for marital harmony) and pâté as a paste, coarse or fine, but easily spreadable. I couldn’t be certain of course, but this looked like little chunks of fried bacon suspended in lard.

Bacon PateOn Bread

At home, I poured it into a bowl to get a better look.

It still looked like little chunks of fried bacon suspended in lard.

Because that’s precisely what it was. So I went online to learn more about what to do with it: Smalec po Góralsku translates as Mountaineers’ Lard. “Spreadable bacon goodness!” proclaimed the description. “Traditional simple peasant spread typically used as a substitute for butter – put it on the dark bread, add some salt and you will enjoy the Polish mountain village specialty.” Okay, I’m game. For starters, I had to get past the fact that I was about to wrap my lips around glorified lard supported only by a piece of excellent pumpernickel. (I had long since given up on trying to figure out an explanation for the “pâté” part.) I took a bite. I understood where it wanted to go, but its charms were eluding me. I felt that it had potential however. What could I do with it to make it delicious enough to write about? And then I remembered Zoltán.

Zoltán was an affable fellow of Hungarian descent who lived in the country. (When you’re a New Yorker, anywhere on the far side of a bridge leading out of the city is “the country”.) I hadn’t thought about him in years. His claim to fame was that every summer, he’d get a fire going in a little pit in his backyard and make Szalonna. He’d impale a hunk of Hungarian back bacon on a stick and hold it over the flames and just as the fat began to sizzle and render, he’d pull it out of the fire and hold it over a piece of fresh bread until the drippings dwindled. Then back over the flames it went for another round – repeatedly until the bread was saturated. Sometimes it was topped with onion, cucumber, or bell pepper. Neighborhood kids would come running to his yard as the heavenly, porky aroma filled the air. The Good Humor man had nothing on Zoltán.

So taking a tip from those ancient sense memories, I concocted a plan. Caramelize thinly sliced onions very slowly in the bacon pâté. While they grow sweet, slice an heirloom tomato and oven toast a slice of pumpernickel. When the onions are done, drench the toasted pumpernickel in the rendered lard, add the onions and bacon pieces, top with a slice of tomato, and sprinkle with wild mushroom sea salt.
Bacon Pate with Caramelized Onions and Heirloom Tomato

Looks good, doesn’t it? Tasted even better.

Of course, I had to go through several of these to make sure they were as wonderful as I thought they were on the first bite. Ah, such sacrifice.

Found at Polam International Market
952 Manhattan Ave.
Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY
(718) 383-2763