Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Summer Fancy Food Show 2019
Summer has arrived and one sure sign of its arrival is the Summer Fancy Food Show that takes place at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, in New York City.
The Summer Fancy Food Show is one of the largest trade shows of the food industry in the US; where producers from around the world come for a few days to New York City in the hope that they can make their products known to retailers, restaurants and consumers as well as the trade press.
Every year the show becomes larger and larger; this edition was the largest yet. While the 3rd floor was taken completely over by international exhibitors with national stands from Turkey, Greece, Italy, Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, Japan, China, Korea, Brazil, Ecuador, India, Thailand etc. etc, the 1st floor had food importers and their suppliers, food wholesalers, as well as individual exhibitors, like Maria Loi, a well known New York City restaurateur that has set up a retail business in addition to her restaurant, selling olive oil, honey, pastas and traditional Greek spreads she uses, like tzatziki spread (yoghurt and garlic), smokey eggplant spread, skordalia (garlic, olive oil and mashed potato) spread and other classic Eastern Mediterranean delicacies.
I was at the Javits Monday and Tuesday, 2 out of the 3 show days, and I was only able to visit about 1/2 of the booths I wanted to see. I concentrated to mostly Mediterranean exhibitors because these are the quality ingredients I know and understand. Olive oil and cured olives, frozen and canned vegetables, frozen and canned seafood, jarred vegetable specialties, cheeses, dried fruit and nuts, spoon sweets and syrups, other sweets like chocolates, candies, lokum (Turkish Delights), baklava etc.
The vast majority of the olive oils I saw, for example, were extra virgin; cold pressed and filtered. It is the highest level of production and many countries that export to the US subsidize that level of quality. Turkey, for example, provides interest-free funds for oil mills to add filtering and other production enhancements to be repaid over a very long period of time. Similarly, canneries in Morocco and Tunisia get funds from regional export consortia to finance not only pickled olives and olive oil but also canned or jarred vegetables, argan oil, canned tomatoes and tomato pulp as well as other exportable food products.
One of the Italian products always featured at the show has been Pecorino Romano, an 100% full-fat sheep cheese that was originally mostly made in Lazio, the region around Rome. It seems that nowadays much of the Pecorino production has shifted away from the mainland to Sardinia, where Sarda sheep can still graze on unpolluted hillsides and valleys covered by shrubs and aromatic wild herbs. Three levels of Pecorino are produced in Sardinia: Pecorino Sardo, Pecorino Dolce and Pecorino Maturo, that is, fresh and soft aged for 3 or 4 months, lightly aged (dolce) and aged for 18 months (maturo).
Lazio is still a major producer of buffalo mozzarella, a soft white cheese; there are still numerous farms south-east from Rome, where thousands of black buffaloes are milked daily to make this delightful product.
One of the interesting stands I visited was Marky’s. They import and carry many products from Europe; such as short and medium grain rice (Carnaroli, Arborio, Vialone Nano), as well as Bomba from Spain (the rice that makes the best paellas) and long grain -- such as Basmati and Jasmine, great for Indian rice dishes. They also import truffles and truffle oil, spices from all over the world, all kinds of salt, vinegars and other gourmet items. But the reason I visited Marky’s stand is their caviar. They have both harvested cultured caviar from their Florida farm, as well as aqua cultured caviar from Israel and some wild caught from the Caspian Sea. The Galilee Caviar experts produce Russia sturgeon Osetra, Golden Osetra and Amber Osetra caviar in an aqua culture farm using the crystal clear water of Mount Hermon. Marky’s also sells Imperial and Beluga roe, Classic Gray Sevruga, Kaluga and Kaluga Gold. The farm in Florida cultures Hackleback sturgeon and Paddlefish. And if one prefers Salmon roe or Tobiko (Flying fish roe), Marky’s has a great variety of product available.
There are a couple Greek and Turkish sweet products that I’m extremely fond of. They are spoon sweets and loukoumi (lokum).
Greece makes exceptional spoon sweets (preserves) and marmalades (jams). Most Greek housewives still make their own, with recipes handed down from mother-to-daughter; cooked when the fruit is at the top of ripeness and flavor.
I remember my mother commandeering us when sour cherries were in season to pit the fruit with a hairpin; my mother, a couple older cousins and myself and my brother would sit around the dining room table with the ripe fruit and pit the sour cherries until there were enough to make sour cherry spoon sweets (vissino glyko), sour cherry condensed sweet juice (vissinada) and sour cherry liqueur. It usually took an afternoon and about 4 or 5 kilos of fruit. The spoon sweet was offered to visitors with a glass of ice-cold water as a sign of hospitality “to make their visit sweet”; the syrup was used either on ice cream or, diluted with ice cold water, as a drink to combat the summer heat; and the liqueur was also for visitors as an after dinner digestif. To make the liqueur my mother would fill half a bottle with pitted cherries, add an equal weight of sugar and fill the bottle to the beginning of the neck with a light brandy. Then the bottles were put in the sun for a week and by the end they contained one of the best tasting cherry liqueurs I remember.
Vintage is a very large importer, wholesaler, distributor and retailer of Turkish products in the US. They bring in most of the canned goods made in Turkey, as well as dry goods (noodles and pasta), beverages (coffee, tea, fruit juices and sodas), snacks and candies, dried fruits and nuts, cookies and biscuits, yogurt, butter and cheeses etc. etc. I stopped by the booth looking at their preserve jars when I saw one of the Turkish specialties I love, lokum. They were exhibiting, where I was standing, one of the not so great brands Hazer Baba that is ubiquitous in Middle Eastern stores in New Jersey where I live. However I know there are other, much better producers, such as Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir that has been producing sweets since the time of the Sultans. I was told that they do not import the Hacı Bekir products because they have no preservatives whatsoever and they only have a couple weeks shelf life.
However they import another brand, Şehràzat that produces Turkish Delights similar in consistency and texture with the Haci Bekir; but they have a much longer shelf life. I tasted their “double pistachios” and I was hooked! I was mentally transported back to Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar where lokum, chestnuts and pinoli nuts, spices and other comestibles as well as backgammon sets, oud instruments, prayer rugs, embroidered vests and other handmade merchandise from the depths of Anatolia are still exhibited on stacked boxes, sacks and barrels and you have to know how to bargain to get an acceptable price.
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