Event Review: 2018 New York Summer Fancy Food Show

The Specialty Food Association’s 2018 New York Summer Fancy Food Show took place at New York‘s Javits Center from 30 June – 2 July.  The membership-based Specialty Food Association was established in 1952 to promote and cultivate intrigue in specialty foods companies in the US.  The Fancy Food Show has been an annual event since 1954; furthermore, in the winter, San Francisco has hosted a smaller version of the convention for a number of years.

In addition to the usual bread/cheese/chocolate trio widely available at the biannual show, this year I noticed a number of coconut water, Himalayan pink salt, and even a few moringa booths.

Herein, I’ll be mentioning some of my favorites from the expo  as well as some other brands and food that stood out.  Special shout-out to Honey Mama’s, one of the best chocolatiers that I’ve encountered to date.


I tried Ayoba-yo’s biltong, a South African version of beef jerky. It has been around for about 400 years and incorporates spices such as salt, vinegar, and coriander, which were abundant in the Cape Colony.

Spicy Biltong

Very unique and substantial taste. Not overly spicy, but enough to give it a kick. Very moist despite being cut so thin.

Traditional Biltong

A far more complex and nuanced taste. Very peppery. I prefer this to the Spicy Biltong.

Droëwors, or air-dried beef sticks

The most striking ingredient is probably…the air. Unlike the other two varieties, the air-dried beef sticks are decidedly on the dry side. It tastes very natural and makes for a substantial snack, and unlike slim jims does not have a taxing effect on my kidneys.


Non-GMO and Organic, Clarity Juice also wins my seal of approval for their blends, and for adding nothing else to the fruit and vegetable juices.  Need a kick?  Craving the sweet stuff?  Neither?  Blissimo has you covered.


Just peel back the tab, and Insert the straw (stored in the cardboard container)!

What drew me into melissa’s booth was the presence of dried peppers and fruit, but a conversation with their Director of PR made me realize that their real niche is harder-to-find fruit in the US.  Their website’s easy to use, and one cool bit is that you can find out the seasonality and origin of the produce by clicking on the picture of the fruit.

Now if you’ll excuse me, this horrendously typical (i.e. humid) New York City summer is making me crave some coconut water.


Los Angeles-based Natierra brings us Fair Trade and organic freeze-dried fruit, as well as “superfoods” such as cacao nibs and goji berries, and salt.

I’ve been eating on freeze-dried foods ever since I first noticed the “astronaut ice cream” way back in elementary school. That Natierra’s fruits have no sugar in them is one of the main draws, and the other, they are great for in-flight snacks and hikes.


Of all the new dips that I tried at this year’s show, Anna Maria’s was one of the front-runners.  Hailing from the Piedmont region of Italy, Dominique – who named the company after her mother – started the company to introduce to the US specialties from their homeland, in addition to some tasty spreads such as their apricot almond jam.

As hinted at in the above photo, bagna refers to a “bath,” but more familiarly, a dip.  So, take a piece of bread or vegetable, bathe it in one of the tomato-based spreads, and you’re good to go.

Smart Juice Organic

I’ve had a number of excellent juices (no sugar-added, of course) throughout my travels, but I can safely say that tart cherry juice is in the top three (although, apricot peach also sounds brilliant.

Smart Juice has an array of unsweetened (and organic, if that’s your jive) juices to quench your thirst, with easy-to-read labeling to boot.


Tokyo-based Endo specializes in taking the calories out of treats such as jellies and mochi, and in producing adzuki (red bean) tea.  Admittedly, I almost didn’t want to take the bottles of adzuki tea (organic and non-organic) because the Japanese on the bottle (…and the color, based on the country of origin) tells me that they’re geared towards women.  But, I’m a big fan of oshiruko, and like the slightly bitter slightly sweet combo found in adzuki.

Coombe Castle

Since 1980, this Wiltshire, England-based company has been making and working to export to the world artisanal and sustainable British and Irish dairy products.  In spite of there (always) being a hefty number of cheese producers at the fancy food show, what Coombe Castle had to sample stood out among the rest, particularly in the cheddar (and Guinness cheddar) categories.  Check out their variety of regional, sweet, and standard cheeses, as well as other dairy items, right here.

Did you attend the show?  Even if you didn’t, which of the above do you think your favorites would be?

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Who Knew Desserts Were Sweet? India’s Rasgulla

Dhaka - RasgullaGiven Name: Rasagola
Alias:  Rasgulla
Place(s) of Origin: Odisha (Orissa), India
Place Consumed: Dhaka, Bangladesh
Common Features: chhena*, maida*, sugar syrup, (lemon juice)
Background: I’m a sucker for South Asian desserts, but oh are they cloying(-ly sweet).  More so than simply popping a few sugar cubes in your mouth, I think.  That sounds disgusting, please don’t do it.  But measuring mithai* by the number of times you have to take a break while eating is a good reminder that your pancreas does serve a purpose.
Apparently, rasgulla is one of the oldest Indian desserts, and coupled with that, it was often used as an offering to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity.
Verdict: Rasgulla however, is one of the more approachable Indian sweets.  Although it’s soaked in sugar, I feel that the lemon juice and maida helped reduce the sugar’s potency.  Sometimes cardamom and/or rose water are added, as well as pistachios, though the latter serves more as a garnish.  Still, upon looking at that giant bowl of sugar syrup, how could you not want to go bobbing for rasgullaOne good reason- it’s not water.  Flies will become your best bud.  Another?  It’s on a street in Dhaka.
Recipe: Rasgulla

*chhena (Hindi)= a curd cheese made from water buffalo milk
maida= refined and bleached wheat flour, common in Indian breads and desserts
mithai= sweets/confectionery

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Pani Puri (Puchka)

Dhaka - Puchka

Given Name: Puchka
Alias:  Panipuri*, Phuchka, Gol Gappa, Gup Chup
Place(s) of Origin: India
Place Consumed: Dhaka, Bangladesh
Common Features: Potatoes, chickpeas, puri, tamarind, water, a newspaper (taking the place of banana leaves)
Verdict: Believe it or not, I can be skeptical about street food.  Considering that one of the main components of puchka is water, I did take a step back from the stall before making my way to the rusty stool.   And for those of you with food texture issues, puchka is a bit of a gray area.  The puri is crunchy, the potatoes and chickpeas mushy and the water, if you’re lucky, wet.  The tartness of the tamarind was an unexpected pleasure, helping to lessen the richness of the potatoes, chickpeas and various spices.  A success, not only for the taste, but also for being able to keep up with days old news.  Slightly more productive than learning about another person’s kidney problems.
Recipe: Making the puri; Recipe 1; Recipe 2;

*(Hindi) Pani= Water
(Various Indian languages) Puri= Puffy and fried unleavened wheat bread

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Chinese Street Food: Bingtanghulu (冰糖葫芦)

China might not be one of the first twenty countries you think of when you want something sweet, so I’ll give you a couple of delicious options for starters.  

And now, it’s time for a third.

Have you ever wanted to get rid of those pesky teeth as quickly as possible, all while enjoying it in the process?  Today, I bring thee, the Chinese equivalent to candy apples, better known as 冰糖葫芦 (bīng​táng​hú​lu), also called tanghulu:

Actually, the thought of this street food is making my stomach churn just a bit.  Originally, the tanghulu was made with haw, a sweet and tart fruit similar to crab apples.  Being that it also had sour notes, the caramelized sugar paired quite well with the haw(thorn).

However, as you can see in the above photo, some vendors have gotten a bit too carried away with their wares, and started coating already too-sweet fruits such as oranges, kiwis, and cement (sorry, I can’t get over it) with sugar.

By the way, did you notice the (cherry) tomatoes?  I was caught off-guard, too.  Basically, since they’re botanically fruit, China considers them desserts.  Don’t be surprised if you see a plate of sliced beefsteak tomatoes liberally sprinkled with granulated sugar at the back of a Sichuan menu sometime.  So…watch out, eggplant, okra, and string beans.

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Manado, Indonesia’s Tinutuan

Working in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, had been an incredible eye-opener to the (understatement of the year) diverse world of Indonesian food.  Specifically, I’m referring to makanan Manado, or food from the mostly Catholic city of Manado on the island of Sulawesi.

My office at the time was a three-minute walk to a Manadonese eatery, which first introduced me to the fiery, no holds-barred cuisine.  It is best known for its smoked cakalang, or skipjack tuna, spicy sambal, or chili pastes, and for cooking basically anything.

After a visit to what is likely one of the world’s more colorful wet markets in Tomohon, Indonesia, I was inconveniently feeling peckish.  I say that because, I went to the market specifically on an empty stomach, but left with an even emptier one.  None of the wet market stalls had anything ready-to-eat, so it was up to visiting neighboring street vendors for a bite.

After a few days of chowing down on a veritable Noah’s Ark, it was time for something…tame.  Enter, tinutuan/bubur Manado, or Manadonese porridge:

OK, so the word tame was used above in somewhat jocular manner.  You see, although tinutuan is a hot watery local rice porridge made with pumpkin, corn, water spinach, and other ingredients less likely to harry PETA worshipers, it is still typically served with a piquant sambal.  Tinutuan, like bubur in other parts of the country, is much more common as a breakfast dish; it’s fast, ingredients are cheap and plentiful, and no street vendor ever has to worry about washing dishes for the next customer.  Whoops, the cat’s out of the bag.

By the way, the Indonesian version of “there’s no use crying over spilled milk” is nasi sudah menjadi bubur.  Which is to say, “the rice has already become porridge.”

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Geographically Uninclined, the Holy Edition

Ever end up in the wrong city?  I ask this, because I read a story a few years ago about someone flying to the wrong “Taiwan.”  Which is to say, the passenger meant to go to the rogue state, but ended up in Taiyuan, China instead.  Never mind that the two places are spelled differently – in both English and Chinese – and that the former isn’t “a city,” but I decided to see how common this type of mistake was.  It happens from time to time, but you’ve got to be a real winner to do so.  Just ask them.

On a lighter note, I’ll pose this question to y’all– if someone offered you a trip to Mecca, which would you choose?:

Mecca, population ~ 8500, in California, USA?  Close to the fascinatingly dubious Salton Sea, which I’ll get to in a later post?


Mecca, population ~ 1.5 million, in Saudi Arabia?

I’ll pack the enthusiasm if you remember the suntan lotion.

Posted in Languages, North America (non-NYC), Turkey, Southwest Asia/Middle East & North Africa | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sugar Bombs of the World: Malaysia’s Teh Tarik

Batam, Indonesia - Teh TarikIn fact, I had this drink at an Indian restaurant in Batam, Indonesia, but that island, as close as thirty-five minutes to Singapore by boat,  is so filled with unscrupulous Singaporeans – like the city-state itself – that it remains a valid place to try today’s subject,
teh tarik.

Yes, teh tarik, a sweet drink composed of black tea and sweetened condensed milk, calls Malaysia its home, though it’s nearly as ubiquitous in Singapore.  Though, I have a few bugaboos when it comes to food and drink, and not one is terribly logical.  The one involving teh tarik regards my mostly blanket disapproval of artificially sweetened beverages – does passion fruit juice really need Splenda? – but this Malaysian specialty is a notable AND rare exception.  I mentioned that it’s not a logical gripe, primarily because I have no problem with pairing teh tarik with kaya toast, aka buttery Singaporean joy.

As for the meaning of the name, teh signifies “tea” and tarik is “pull” in Indonesian and Malay.  Pulling tea sounds like an act of torture in that part of the world, and in some respects, it is.  The origin stems from the act of the vendor having to quickly pull the concoction between two vessels, in order to skillfully mix the condensed milk with the tea.  For a clearer example of what that means, check out this video (it’s the same thing on mute).  The allure to some customers is that, while the peddler is preparing the sugary stuffr, not even a drop of it is splashed onto them, even though your expectations lead you to believe you’d become a teh tarik manusia, or human pulled tea.

Have you tried this before?  Feeling bushed after just two sips?

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