A Taste of New York Library’s ‘Lunch Hour’ Exhibit
A ketchup moment from 60’s sitcom “That Girl”
Lunch Hour will be on view and free to the public at the New York Public Library’s main branch through February 2013.
I haven’t thought about Phoenicia since my high school Global Civilizations class, but a recent excursion to the Madison Square Park food fair (Madison Square Eats) has me rethinking that ancient Mesapotamian civilization. A friend and I consumed Bee Sting pizza from Roberta’s, a sesame laced hot dog from AsiaDog, and frozen white sangria before succumbing to Phoenician Fries from Ilili, a Mediterranean restaurant. These “Phoenician fries” were topped with parsley and garlic sauce, but were truly set apart from other fries by a dusting of sumac. Sumac is the name of a shrub or a small tree which produces cone-shaped clusters of fuzzy, crimson fruits. I once picked such fruits growing on the side of the road in upstate New York with the purpose of making sumac tea, but in the Middle East, the fruits are ground up into a powder and used to give a tart, lemony kick to salads, meats, hummus or rice. French fries may not have been a part of Phoenicia’s culinary legacy, but kudos to Ilili for giving America’s favorite food a worldly makeover.
Charred, I’m sure
My roommates and I had a small dinner party. An out-of-towner, a magician, and a chef were present, along with myself and my two lovely roommates. The theme for the menu was “Charred,” which translated into the following:
Charred Indian flatbreads with a Charred Eggplant Spread
Sesame and Sake Risotto with Charred Scallions
Charred Polenta with Charred Chard and Tomato
Lemon S’mores Cake- Graham Cracker Crust, Dark Chocolate, and Lemon Curd
topped with Charred Marshmallows.
Just a little backstage food photography
The Lord of the Flies and the Sushi King
Two great food documentaries: I Like Killing Flies and Jiro Dreams of Sushi. So happens that I saw them both in one day (one on Netflix, the latter in theaters), and I’m not sorry that I did, because, oddly, they compliment each other very well. While I Like Killing Flies is a documentary made in 2004 about the owner of Shopsin’s, a famous neighborhood restaurant on the Lower East Side, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the recent documentary made about the best sushi chef in the world who works out of a tiny restaurant in a Tokyo subway station. The two documentaries and protagonists would appear to be polar opposites, but their stories run parallel.
I Like Killing Flies is a gritty, low budget film appropriate to its subject: the equally gritty, and compelling Kenny Shopsin who is the creative powerhouse behind Shopsin’s. An outspoken, philosophical New York Jew, Shopsin built his restaurant on the Lower East Side from scratch and singlehandedly created a menu featuring nine hundred hundred items of mind-boggling diversity and complexity. He does most of the cooking and runs the restaurant with the help of his wife, five children, and his sidekick Jose. The documentary explores the trials and tribulations of the family run restaurant within the walls of the original Shopsin’s: a comfortably small and shabby joint evoking the feel of an old general store with a porch door that slams, jars of candy, a lazy ceiling fan and walls caked with paraphanalia. Shopsin haphazardly slams pots and pans, swats flies, yells and laughs with his family and customers to create an endearingly chaotic environment.
On the other side of the world is Jiro, creator of a three Michelin star sushi restaurant. His world is intimate, minimalist and immaculate; the restaurant only consists of a small, white sushi bar where customers are quietly tended to by Jiro or his son. The sushi is composed in front of the guests and laid out one piece at a time on a reflective black surface which enhances the simple beauty of the rice and fish. The film’s cinematography is as austere as its subject. The camera zooms in to record every detail of the sushi making process in high definition. Slow motion is deftly employed. Behind it all is Jiro, a delicate 85 year old with skin like rice paper; a man of few words whose expression ranges from pensive and severe to impish and ecstatic. Like Shopsin, Jiro is a kind of genius in his field who is consistently creating and improving. While Shopsin creates a brilliant mac n’ cheese pancake, Jiro presents his audience with a wondrous grilled egg sushi. The two dishes are equally impressive and seductive.
Shopsin and Jiro are passionate workaholics who appear to have had difficult family lives. Although he never goes into detail about his own experience, Shopsin expresses the belief that parents do awful things to their children, and Jiro’s parents kicked him out of the house at the age of seven. The two fathers endeavor to be better to their own offspring, but are undeniably tough on them. Shopsin and Jiro clearly love their children, but they have raised them to work hard and exceed their expectations. Shopsin expects and needs his children to carry out a good bulk of the restaurant work- from cooking to hosting and waiting tables, and Jiro has been training his two sons to carry on his sushi legacy. In both cases, whether chaotic or controlled, the dynamics of family, work, and culinary artistry are beautiful to behold.
A group discussion on a project for my Food Markets class took place at Indian restaurant, Saravana Bhanya, in a neighborhood known as Curry Hill. After dining on a lacy onion dosa, potato masala and a rice dish called Ghee Pongal which reminded me of spiced mashed potatoes, two of my group members, who had just returned from India, took up the call for paan.
I had a vague understanding of paan as something that Indian men chew, and the girls were eager to introduce me to my first paan experience. We entered the small store front and were greeted with the quizzical stares of several Indian men. Once assured that we weren’t lost and had come for the paan, they were very willing to educate us. We watched the owner assemble the paan for the men who were there before us. Betel leaves were spread with slaked lime paste, brown powder paste, areca nuts and tobacco, folded into triangular packages and wrapped in tinfoil.
When our turn came we ordered sweet paan, which acts as a breath freshener and a digestif. Our leaves were spread with lime paste, rose syrup, a dab of honey and sprinkled with saffron, cardamum, cracked fennel seeds, coconut and crunchy candies.The owner explained that we must put the entire leaf packet into our mouths and continue to chew it slowly for the best results. We followed orders. The sensation is unlike any other. The betel leaf is smooth and cool, and as you chew, the sweet juices and flavors of the spices flood your mouth. One feels totally renewed.
This past week, while watching the Tisch production of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, I decided that I should spend time living in Copenhagen in order to study their food culture. I was in Copenhagen for two days last spring and fell for the city then, but it was only while watching this play that I truly felt the push to be there. I think it was when the family sat down to a staged lunch of sliced bread, cheese, potatoes, and herring salad.
I’ve known and loved Scandinavian food since childhood, my grandmother being Swedish. When my family and I went to Copenhagen, we were immersed in the simplicity and charm of the food there- dark brown bread, soft boiled eggs and fruit for breakfast, open faced sandwiches, smoked fish, cheese and delicate pastries for the rest of the day. Not to mention that Copenhagan is home to NOMA, declared best restaurant in the world due to its minimalist menu of foraged foods. While watching The Wild Duck, this all came flooding back to me, and this brings me to my underlying point: the power and strangeness of stage food.
Food used in the theater helps to transport the audience into the world that is being created on stage. Most often, the food is real and actually eaten. I worked backstage on the Tisch production of a Russian play called Krechinksky, Muromsky, Tarielkin and a variety of foods performed on the stage every night. One character had to eat most of it, and to give you an idea, here is what the actor ate on stage every night: one and a half croissants, a few pickles, a piece of pickled herring, a handful of tofu, a pierogi, half of a potato, a carrot, a handful of shrimp chips and an entire pitcher of iced tea. When I worked on the play Woyzeck at Bard College, the production began with the lead actor eating most of a plate piled high with canned peas. Actors must endure these odd theatrical diets to really engage their audience’s senses and connect them to whatever the characters are going through. All that I have to say is that it worked for me.
Prawns, Ukha, and Tilda Swinton
While browsing netflix one night, I decided to watch the recent and critically acclaimed movie, I am Love, starring Tilda Swinton. The movie appealed to me aesthetically and on the topic of love affairs and family scandal. Little did I know that food would play a central role. Tilda Swinton’s character, the immaculately dressed wife of a powerful Italian business mogul is soon seduced by a chef (who isn’t?), but his cooking seduces her before he does. The first moment of seduction occurs when she walks into her kitchen and is suprised by a multitude of delicate and elegantly plated hors d’oeuvres which he’s made for a party. He then teaches her how to use a blow torch. The seduction is complete when she and her friends eat at the chef’s restaurant and she falls head over heels for a dish of prawns.
Watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoFXGWohMWc
This is one of the most amazing foodie scenes I’ve ever seen. I love how Swinton’s character is embarrassed by her appetite.
After this moment, she begins a torrid affair with the chef and the camera continues to focus on food while everything else around it (visual and sound) fades away. At the end of the film, the affair is brilliantly exposed by a bowl of soup served at a dinner party. Being originally from Russia, Swinton’s character teaches the chef to make her favorite Russian soup: Ukha (a fish soup with a clear broth, pictured above). The chef serves the Ukha at a family dinner party and her son immediately realizes what has been going on, leading to the rapid destruction of the family.
In the seven months between now and my last post, I’ve tasted all sorts of delicious things: fried chicken at Red Rooster, mozzarella and miso grilled cheese at Earl’s Beer and Cheese, delicate Austrian cuisine at Edi & the Wolf, fried oyster baos at Baohaus, and a cheese named Winnemere, which tastes like a forest fire, from Epicerie Boulud. These were all exciting experiences, but I was most inspired to begin blogging again by buttered toast.
I’ve been working wardrobe on a play put on by the Tisch school all week long and being steps away from St. Marks Place had me craving dumplings. In between shows, I took my laptop to Tkettle, a Taiwanese cafe which specializes in bubble tea. I found dumplings on the menu as expected, but something I did not expect was to be taken by their selection of toast options. Yes, nothing appealed to me more than the advertised ”baked thick toast” which you could have spread with butter, coconut paste, chocolate, peanut butter or condensed milk. So along with the house dumplings, I ordered a side of buttered toast. The dumplings hit the spot, but I secretly got the most pleasure from pulling apart the buttery, soft white bread which was cut into triangles. It felt delightfully banal and exotic at the same time, and made me remember how I used to love eating Wonderbread toast at a friend’s house because we only got whole wheat bread at home. The most commonplace food items have the capacity to turn into gourmet, luxury foods at any moment. It turns out the best thing since sliced bread is in fact sliced bread- toasted and buttered, of course.
It’s been awhile,blog.
Please excuse my absence. A hectic schedule of work + school + a writing internship at Food Republic led to my neglect of The Dirty Dish. When I neglect dirty dishes in my sink (as I am wont to do from time to time), they pile up and become something I can no longer ignore. Now I have figurative dirty dishes (ideas for posts) piling up in my head and it’s time to get them out.