Articles in History

Cape Malay cooking teacher Faldela Tocker, with a dish of pickled fish. “Once it’s pickled, it needs to sit for the flavors to develop,” she says. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

In Cape Town, South Africa, Easter is all about chocolate eggs, hot cross buns and pickled fish, a local turmeric-hued, sweet and sour favorite, flavored with spices from the Cape of Good Hope’s Malay culinary heritage.

Although pickled fish is closely associated with Easter, the sweet and sour curried dish has little to do with the Christian holiday. Naturally preserved with vinegar, it’s a make-ahead dish that can span South Africa’s four-day Easter weekend, when no matter what your religion is, socializing and relaxing still reign supreme.

In South Africa, pickled fish is most closely linked with the Cape, where it’s on hand in many households as casual food for drop-in visitors and picnicking. Its spicy roots lie in the Cape’s Muslim population, whose ancestors were brought by the Dutch as slaves from the East Indies: from India, Indonesia and Malaya. As author and Cape Malay caterer Cass Abrahams says: “The slaves knew all about spices; and fish is also a big part of Cape culture.”

An Easter staple

A much-loved national dish that is available even in upmarket supermarkets, pickled fish is generally homemade. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

A much-loved national dish that is available even in upmarket supermarkets, pickled fish is generally homemade. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

In cuisines across the globe, pickling fish was a common and necessary practice before the advent of refrigeration, and each preparation reflected its cuisine’s unique set of ingredients. There are differing opinions about its South African genesis. The earliest written reference that cookbook author Jane-Ann Hobbs has seen comes from Lady Anne Barnard, the Cape’s “First Lady” in the late 1700s, who after visiting a local farm in 1798 wrote that she was served “fish of the nature of cod, pickled with Turmarick.”

While today it’s a much-loved national dish that is available even in upmarket supermarkets, pickled fish is generally homemade and an Easter staple, both for Muslims and Christians. Easter falls at a time of year when fish is both readily available and in great demand, with many Catholics eschewing meat during Lent.

The golden color of curried pickled fish is everywhere at the 150-year-strong Easter weekend gathering at Faure outside the city, where the annual Sheik Yusuf Kramat Festival takes place. Hundreds converge for the long weekend to camp, socialize and visit the shrine to the sheik, credited with establishing Islam in South Africa. While some cooking is done on site, most campers bring covered glass dishes of pickled fish. “We eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with bread thick with butter, rice or rotis,” says Cape Town resident and cook Zainap Masoet, who starts setting up camp at Faure for her extended family five days before the Easter weekend.

One method, many ingredients

A melody of spices, and onions, are used in the spicy preparation. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

A melody of spices, and onions, are used in the spicy preparation. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

As for its preparation, there’s little disagreement about the method, which involves browning fish seasoned with salt and pepper, then cooking onions with spices, before adding vinegar and a little sugar. The mixture is poured over the cooked fish and the dish is refrigerated for two days before eaten. Once pickled, it will last for days outside the refrigerator, say local cooks.

On the other hand, there is definite banter about the ingredients. In her recipe, Abrahams uses snoek, a meaty and somewhat bony local fish, as does Cape Malay cooking teacher Faldela Tocker, whose aunt taught her how to make the dish. “Once it’s pickled, it needs to sit, for the flavors to develop,” she says.

However, Cape Town tour guide Shireen Narkedien, who regularly takes visitors around the Bo-Kaap, the Cape’s historic Malay Quarter, says the traditional fish is yellowtail, which is what most older people still use. Narkedien only uses bay leaf, turmeric and curry powder and says that the onion should be cooked through and “not too oniony,” while Abrahams uses additional spices as well as garlic, and says the onions should still have some crunch.

The appeal of pickled fish lies as much in the generosity of spirit behind preparing a dish for unexpected visitors as much as it does in its sweet and sour spicy taste. “When I was a child, my mother used to always tell me: ‘You cook for the person who is coming,'” said Narkedien, who describes a time when doors were always open. “When I asked her who that was, she’d say, ‘I don’t know, but it will be someone.'”

Pickled Fish

Pickled fish is usually served with buttered bread. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

Pickled fish is usually served with buttered bread. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

Recipe adapted fromCass Abrahams Cooks Cape Malay.” Used with permission of author.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

2 ¼ pounds snoek, firm-fleshed white fish or mahi mahi, cut into portions

Salt

Vegetable oil

2 large onions, sliced

5 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup vinegar

½ cup water

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon masala

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 bay leaves

4 cloves of whole allspice

4 cloves

¼ teaspoon peppercorns

Sugar to taste

Directions

1. Salt fish and fry in vegetable oil until cooked. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside in a separate bowl; retain oil.

2. Place the rest of the ingredients except sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn down heat and simmer until onions are transparent but haven’t lost their crunch.

3. Add sugar to taste and stir to dissolve. Pour warm sauce and oil over fish, making sure that each portion of fish is covered. Allow to cool and refrigerate.

4. Serve with fresh bread and butter.

Main photo: Cape Malay cooking teacher Faldela Tocker, with a dish of pickled fish. “Once it’s pickled, it needs to sit  for the flavors to develop,” she says. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

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Main photo: A contestant prepares a cheese wheel for Panicale's Easter Monday competition. Credit: Copyright 2016 Francine Segan

Perhaps one of the most bizarre Easter traditions in Italy is a cheese-tossing contest called ruzzolone, which is popular in central Italy. A fun place to witness this sort of edible discus event is in the Umbrian hill town of Panicale, near Perugia.

A huge 10-pound wheel of hard aged pecorino cheese is hurled along a course in the center of town. Two teams, with four players each, compete to get the cheese around the course using the fewest number of throws. The players wrap a long cloth sling with a wooden handle around the cheese to help hurl it down the curving streets, across moats, and around spectators and vehicles. The winning team gets to keep the cheese. If the cheese breaks during the race, everyone shares it.

An ancient Italian tradition

A man takes part in last year's cheese-tossing competition in Panicale. Credit: Copyright 2016 Francine Segan

A man takes part in last year’s cheese-tossing competition in Panicale. Credit: Copyright 2016 Francine Segan

The origins of this unusual contest are uncertain, but frescos have been found dating to Etruscan times that depict smiling shepherds rolling rounds of cheese down slopes, seemingly just for the fun of it.

The game was well established by the Middle Ages, and over the years various laws were set in place: In 1598 a mayor from an Emilia-Romagna town placed betting limits to the current restriction of wagering no more than the value of the cheese being tossed, and in 1761, in response to complaints of the rowdiness of the game, a governor of that region limited the game to the period between Carnival and Easter.

Nowadays it’s back to a year-round game, as gradually over time, many towns replaced the cheese with a solid wooden wheel, allowing play even in summer, when the heat would have made the cheese too soft to toss.

If you visit Panicale on Easter Monday to witness this lively sport, be sure to stay until a winner is declared. You can then enjoy a free picnic lunch of local cheese and bread sandwiches offered in the town square. For dessert, enjoy pieces of chocolate from the gigantic 4-foot Easter egg that decorates the piazza.

Easter Pasta Pie

A homey and comforting pasta pie comes together without much fuss. Credit: Courtesy of “Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes of Italy” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) by Francine Segan

A homey and comforting pasta pie comes together without much fuss. Credit: Courtesy of “Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes of Italy” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), by Francine Segan

To create your own Easter Monday cheesy celebration, make pasta pie (crostata di tagliolini), a lovely make-ahead picnic dish traditionally eaten in Italy on Pasquetta, “Little Easter,” the day after Easter. Thin egg noodles are layered with cheese, ham and mushrooms with tiny peas scattered between the layers to add a green burst of flavor. It’s baked in the oven until beautifully golden, sliced like pie, and eaten at room temperature.

From: “Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes of Italy” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), by Francine Segan     

Prep time: 30 minutes

Bake time: 25 minutes

Total time: 55 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

Olive oil

1 small onion, minced

2 ounces pancetta or prosciutto, minced

8 ounces baby peas

Salt and black pepper

3/4 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

7 tablespoons butter, plus more for the pan

About 1/4 cup toasted bread crumbs

1 cup chicken or beef stock

1 pound tagliolini, thin egg noodles, preferably Felicetti brand

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups milk, warmed

About 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

3/4 pound burrata or mozzarella cheese, diced

8 ounces thinly sliced ham, cut into strips

Directions

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a small frying pan over medium high heat. Cook the onion and pancetta until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the peas and a few tablespoons of water, and cook until the peas are tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, set aside in a bowl.

2. In the same pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat. Cook the mushrooms and garlic a minute or two, until tender. Season with salt and pepper, set aside.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter an 8- to 9-inch nonstick spring-form pan and dust with bread crumbs.

4. In a small pot, simmer the stock until reduced by half.

5. In another small pot, make the béchamel. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until smooth. Add the warm milk, and bring to a boil, stirring until thick, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

6. Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water 3 minutes less than package directions. Drain and toss with the reduced stock.

7. Layer the bottom of the prepared baking pan with 1/3 of the pasta, pressed into a level layer. Dot with 1/3 of the béchamel, sprinkle with 2 to 3 heaping tablespoons of grated Parmesan, scatter on all the pea mixture, then scatter over 1/3 of the diced cheese. Spread out a second level layer of pasta, dot with 1/3 of the béchamel, sprinkle with 2 to 3 heaping tablespoons of Parmesan, and scatter on all the mushrooms and ham and remaining 2/3 of the diced cheese. Top with the remaining pasta and any unabsorbed remaining stock, pressing down to compact the layers. Dot with the remaining béchamel, sprinkle with 2 to 3 tablespoons of Parmesan and 2 to 3 tablespoons of bread crumbs, and dot with 2 to 3 tablespoons of very thinly sliced butter.

8. Bake for about 25 minutes until set and golden. Let rest to room temperature before slicing.

Main photo: A contestant prepares a cheese wheel for Panicale’s Easter Monday competition. Credit: Copyright 2016 Francine Segan

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Mexican chef Luís Chiu tries a bevy of dishes during his culinary tour of Chengdu. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nicholas Gillman

I never dreamt the busy chef and owner of the finest Chinese restaurant in Mexico would want to go back to China with me. I had invited Luís Chiu on a guided culinary tour of Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province of China, sponsored by www.foodiehub.tv. But Luís, who is Mexican of Chinese ancestry, was eager to expand his knowledge of the country and cuisines of his ancestors — so he accepted my offer.

There has been a Chinese community in Mexico since the 19th century, when workers came to build railroads; others arrived in search of a better life. Entrepreneurial Chinese, many versed in American-style “fast cooking,” opened eateries specializing in the kind of light, quick meals they knew how to produce. Breakfasts of eggs, pancakes and pastries, accompanied by coffee served with frothy hot milk, were the specialty. And faux Chinese dishes, such as fried rice and chow mein, were also offered. These cafes de Chinos became an important part of Mexican urban lore — a few remain today. Luís Chiu’s family owned several of these cafes through the years, and he grew up in and around the food business.

Eating in China

Luís Chiu at his restaurant, Asian Bay, in Mexico City. Credit: Photo courtesy of Asian Bay

Luís Chiu at his restaurant, Asian Bay, in Mexico City. Credit: Photo courtesy of Asian Bay

The first dish we ate, at a humble stall, was spicy beef meatballs, bathed in a brick-red oily sauce made aromatic by fresh, numbing Sichuan peppers, dry red chilies and bean paste. We quickly got used to this ubiquitous flavor combination. We later gorged on handmade noodles, ma po tofu with pig’s brains, spit roast rabbit, mutton kebabs, and oily, fiery hot pot. All were astounding.

We visited the local wholesale spice market. Piles of Sichuan peppers in varying shades from brownish green to deep brick red perfumed the air with their particular aroma — they made my eyes water but Luis´ tears were real. He was overjoyed to be in the midst of this epicenter of a cuisine he loved.

I interviewed chef Chiu back in his kitchen in Mexico City, after he’d had time to reflect on his experiences in China.

Nicholas Gilman: Do you feel more Mexican or more Chinese?

Luís Chiu: I’ve taken the best of both Mexican and Chinese culture. I feel more Chinese with the family, our customs, the way of being with each other. When I go to China I feel I don’t quite belong: The way of acting and thinking is totally different. I know I’m not Chinese, but I feel close to the culture, traditions. But when I’m with my Mexican friends, I’m 100 percent Mexican — I love going to soccer games, for example.

The best of both worlds

Luís Chiu tries the kebabs at a street stall. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nicholas Gilman

Luís Chiu tries the kebabs at a street stall. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nicholas Gilman

N.G.: How did you become interested in traditional Chinese cooking?

L.C.: There were no regional Chinese restaurants in Mexico, so I saw an emerging market for more sophisticated people who were ready for “the real thing.” I went to Shanghai to study, and in 2011 I opened Asian Bay.

N.G.: What was your impression of Chengdu?

L.C.: I had been to other places in China, which were more westernized. I was impressed by how much old stuff was preserved. I loved the teahouses, markets and how there’s even street food. What struck me about Sichuan is that the people are very warm, as if they were Latino. They smile, greet you, chat with you, ask where you’re from. And especially, they are so proud of their culinary traditions. It’s like Mexico in that way. I was especially impressed by what love people have for their food. How there were lines of people to buy those bao, (steamed pork-filled buns) or to eat dumplings, noodles. How they look at you when they serve the dishes — they’re not so used to seeing foreigners, so I really think they wanted to impress us.

N.G.: Would you tell us something about what you ate?

L.C.: The ma-la was so strong, like nothing I’ve ever tasted! (He was referring to the combination of “ma,” the numbing of the peppers, and “la,” the spiciness of the chilies.)

Lessons from the trip

Chef Luís Chiu looks over the offerings at the spice market in Chengdu. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nicholas Gilman

Chef Luís Chiu looks over the offerings at the spice market in Chengdu. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nicholas Gilman

N.G.: And what about the spice market?

L.C.: I was so impressed with that market because we wanted to see the “raw China,” and there it was — nothing Western, another world. Spices we’d never seen. And those chilies that came originally from Mexico. I really had no idea what all these things taste and smell like because imported products are of such low quality. Here it was the epicenter of this food.

N.G.: What, ultimately, did you learn from this journey?

L.C.: I left with more questions than I came with. It makes me want to delve even deeper into this complex cuisine. It’s kind of like Mexican cooking in the sense that ingredients are combined to create totally new flavors, like alchemy. They’re powerful, exciting. The journey made me realize that to cook food even if it comes from your own tradition, you have to know that culture from the inside. So to attempt to reproduce something when you are home is a real challenge. It can’t come from the heart if it’s superficial, if you don’t know the original.

Main photo: Mexican chef Luís Chiu tries a bevy of dishes during his culinary tour of Chengdu. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nicholas Gilman

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Main photo: Contestants battle with eggs last Easter Monday in the town of Fanano, Italy. Credit: Copyright 2016 Francine Segan

Each year on Easter Monday, residents of Fanano, a picturesque hill town in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, arm themselves with hard-boiled eggs to do battle in the village square. Young and old alike participate in this centuries-old tradition that started in the sixth century as a way for townsfolk of all social levels, nobility and commoners, rich and poor, to compete on a level battlefield for a day.

Eggs have long been a symbol of Easter and even back in pagan times were associated with new life and springtime. Eggs were especially highly valued as food in medieval times, so winning an egg was considered quite a prize, with the poorer folks hoping their winnings might feed the family for several days.

Cracking Contests

Brightly colored Easter eggs are distributed to townspeople in Italy. Credit: Copyright 2016 Francine Segan

Brightly colored Easter eggs are distributed to townspeople in Italy. Credit: Copyright 2016 Francine Segan

Young and old alike today compete in this ancient “Cracking Contest” — Coccin Cocetto. How do you play? Each participant puts an egg onto a long wooden board and gathers round. A designated person randomly selects eggs from the row and distributes them to the first two contestants, who square off and bang their eggs together. The person whose egg cracks first loses. The winner takes possession of the broken egg, and then battles the next opponent. One contestant must hold his egg still, while the other hits it. Who gets to hit is determined either by a coin flip or by shooting odds or evens.

“It isn’t about luck,” explained Massimo, a dapper resident who has been playing, and often winning, for over 60 years. “You can win if you are the one holding still or hitting. Each has a technique.” He then went on to beat this author six times in a row, alternating between being the hitter and the hit-ee!

Most locals bring their own hard-boiled eggs to the event, but the town graciously provides colorful eggs free of charge for anyone who didn’t bring their own.

While in Fanano, you can continue the medieval theme with a visit to the town’s lovely 11th-century Montefiorino Fortress and exquisite ninth-century Romanesque church. There are also lovely trails for hiking and biking nearby. After you’ve worked up an appetite, be sure to stay for lunch or dinner.

Like all food in Emilia-Romagna, the local fare is indescribably delicious. Traditional dishes include crescentine, the area’s famed flat bread; gnocco fritto, fried squares of dough; and rosette, rolls of fresh pasta filled with cheese and topped with meat sauce.

The day after Easter, called Pasquetta or Il Lunedi dell’Angelo, “Angel’s Monday,” is a day off throughout Italy, and Italians traditionally go on picnics. Typical picnic foods include raw fava beans eaten with pecorino cheese and casatello, savory bread filled with proscuitto and cheese topped with hard-boiled eggs still in their shells. Celebrate spring with basotti, a traditional Emilia-Romagna dish made with egg noodles

Basotti (Crunchy-Tender Pasta Squares)

An easy to assemble Basotti recipe is made with egg pasta. Credit: Courtesy of Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes of Italy (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) by Francine Segan

An easy-to-assemble Basotti recipe is made with egg pasta. Credit: Courtesy of “Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes of Italy” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), by Francine Segan

Courtesy of “Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes of Italy” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), by Francine Segan

This recipe is simple to assemble, but must be made with egg pasta, either fresh or dried. You’ll only need 1/2 pound of pasta, as egg pasta expands as it bakes and absorbs the cheese and broth. Speaking of broth, since it provides most of the flavor, it’s best to use homemade.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Bake time: 40 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

10 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons finely ground bread crumbs

1/2 pound egg tagliolini or another very thin egg noodle

About 2 cups grated Grana Padano or other aged cheese

Nutmeg

4 cups rich pork, beef or chicken broth, preferably homemade

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Generously butter an 8 x 15-inch metal baking pan and sprinkle with bread crumbs.

2. Put half of the uncooked pasta in the pan and top with 5 tablespoons of very thinly sliced butter, 3/4 cup of the grated cheese and 1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg. Add the remaining pasta, in a thin scattered layer, on top. Top with another 5 tablespoons of very thinly sliced butter and more nutmeg.

3. Bring the stock to a boil. Ladle over the pasta until just covered. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup grated cheese. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until firm to the touch.

4. Raise the oven to 475 F.

5. Top pasta with 1/2 cup grated cheese, and bake for a few minutes until crispy on top.

Main photo: Contestants battle with eggs last Easter Monday in the town of Fanano, Italy. Credit: Copyright 2016 Francine Segan

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A traditional potjie is made with tough cuts of meat, then layered with hard vegetables. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

South Africa’s potjie — the country’s iconic three-legged cast iron pot and culinary workhorse — is a centuries-old piece of cooking equipment experiencing a contemporary revival now in its fourth decade.

In recent years, the potjie has almost taken on the power of a magic cauldron in South African society: It’s the place in which a hearty one-pot meal (called potjiekos) is cooked over an outdoor fire and over which people of all backgrounds enjoy being together outdoors. Yet while potjiekos is today a beloved ritual that even inspires contemporary chefs, for generations it was significantly overlooked.

Iron pots a tradition

South Africa’s potjies, being sold at a market, are centuries-old pieces of cooking equipment. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

South Africa’s potjies, being sold at a market, are centuries-old pieces of cooking equipment. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

Outdoor cooking was a tradition in South Africa before colonial times, with the country’s indigenous people cooking in clay pots over open fires. According to author and potjie expert Dine van Zyl, “The Dutch settlers brought iron pots to South Africa from Europe, where they had been hung from hooks over fireplaces. These Afrikaners hung the pots from their wagons when they trekked … the potjie was their whole kitchen. When they camped, they’d make a fire and cook whatever they had; some salted meat and maybe some dried apricots. They’d also use what was available … seafood if near the coast, or game if they were in the interior.”

Everything changed with the advent of the stove, about 100 years ago. “People could easily cook in their kitchens and no longer needed potjies. The pot was used only nostalgically, on hunting, fishing or camping trips, or it sat on a front stoep (veranda), planted with a geranium.”

Then, in the ’80s, Van Zyl had an aha moment. While living on a farm without electricity, she was forced to turn to a potjie pot over an indoor fireplace. One night, friends joined her and they made a potjie outside. “I looked at my friends singing, dancing and cooking under the stars and I realized that potjiekos gives South Africans exactly what they want and need. It’s much more than cooking,” she said. “If you want to only cook, you do it on the stove.”

Van Zyl wrote the first book on potjiekos in 1983, which led to a popular revival that hasn’t stopped. “One wonderful thing about potjies is that they got men cooking. For the first time ever, men and women sat around the fire together, cutting up the meat and the vegetables.”

A potjie is traditionally made with tough cuts of meat, often lamb or beef neck or shin, or oxtail. The meat is seared first in the hot pot, then onions and spices, followed by a small amount of liquid are added. Then the layering up begins: first the hard vegetables like carrots and potatoes, then those requiring less cooking time, like green beans and cabbage — all vegetables that have been collectively cut up around the fire. The lid goes on and the pot simmers and steams unstirred for several hours, while everybody socializes.

As for the no-stirring rule, Van Zyl says it’s a tradition based on sensible cooking. “While the different components should all be perfectly cooked, which is why it’s layered, it’s nonsense that it must look like a cassata,” she said. “While you don’t mix it, toward the end you can ‘pull it through’ — place your spoon at the bottom of the pot and gently lift some of the meat and gravy to the top. Otherwise it becomes a mess when people start digging.”

Tradition gets a modern twist

Chef Bertus Basson judges a potjiekos during a competition of "The Ultimate Braai Master." Credit: Courtesy of "The Ultimate Braai Master."

Chef Bertus Basson judges a potjiekos during a competition of “The Ultimate Braai Master.” Credit: Courtesy of “The Ultimate Braai Master.”

Now, the tradition is fueling one of South Africa’s hottest chefs. In his mid-30s, Bertus Basson is chef patron of acclaimed Overture Restaurant in the Cape Winelands. His tasting menus are sophisticated and distinctly modern South African, rooted in local flavors and sensibility. While Overture and a second restaurant, Bertus Basson at Spice Route, are indoor kitchens, Basson’s creativity is stoked by outdoor fire and smoke. He often hits the road with outdoor pop-ups, and he is a regular judge on The Ultimate Braai Master, a grueling 60-day outdoor cooking reality TV show going into its fifth season.

Which is why it’s not surprising that potjie will soon be on Basson’s menu. When an easy dining annex to Overture is completed, it will feature open pit cooking with an installation of potjie pots. Basson is also hitting the festival circuit with a mobile spit fitted with potjie hooks.

“I grew up with potjies. My favorite was my father’s lamb shin pot braised in a little Worcestershire sauce and beer,”  Basson said. He is quick to point out that when talking potjies, the layering method is the traditional Afrikaner way; it’s only one way to use a potjie pot. “South Africans of all backgrounds are cooking with potjie pots, whether Afrikaans, black African, or other, and what they cook and how they cook it differs. In addition, there are three-legged pots and also flat-bottomed pots, which are used for baking — my mom makes a kick-ass apple tart in hers. Potjies have survived generations. In fact, it’s traditional to pass on the pots, which just get better with age.”

In a country with a history of division, shared traditions are important. “Chefs have a responsibility to help South Africans celebrate our food and what we are, which can ultimately break down barriers,” said Basson.

Main photo: A traditional potjie is made with tough cuts of meat, then layered with hard vegetables. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

 

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The iconic Katz’s Delicatessen is known for its sandwiches -- and a starring role in a movie. Credit: Copyright 2013 Thomas Hawk

Boasting 567 entries, “Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover’s Companion to New York City” serves up a feast of foodie knowledge for the Gotham native and novice alike.

savoring

"Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover's Companion to New York City"

Edited by Andrew F. Smith

Oxford University Press, 2015,

760 pp

»  Click here to buy the book

Edited by Andrew F. Smith and featuring the writing of more than 150 contributors, the tome includes entries on notable foods and beverages, restaurants and bars, historical sites and events, cuisines, personalities and brands from throughout the city’s five boroughs.

“Mention New York City food, and most people think of the white-hot restaurants of the moment, with their media-savvy celebrity chefs, glittering patrons and sky-high prices. Upscale restaurants have long been an exciting part of the city’s foodscape, but they are at one far end of the broad, colorful spectrum of New York eateries,” Smith says in an introduction. “Inhabiting the starry heights are temples of haute cuisine, such as Per Se and Le Bernardin; at the low end are hot dog carts and old-school Mexican taco trucks. In between, over the past 300 years, have been all kinds of eating places: cafeterias, diners, luncheonettes, drugstore counters, fast-food chains, delis, cafes, coffee shops, juice bars, doughnut shops, ice cream parlors, cocktail lounges, dive bars, and corner sweet shops, not to mention theater snack bars, supermarket delis, farmers markets, social club dining rooms, kiosks and vending machines. Today, New Yorkers have more 50,000 eating places to choose from.”

Combining food history with current culinary trends, the text richly explores New York City’s diverse food cultures, as well as its contributions to global gastronomy. A hefty volume that even dons a New York bagel on its spine, it makes for a smartly dressed member of any foodie library sure to be referenced again and again. (Full disclosure: I am one of the book’s contributors.)

Here’s just a taste of “Savoring Gotham”:

Baked Alaska

Although named for the 49th state, baked Alaska had its roots in New York City. Credit: Copyright 2012 VXLA Photo

Although named for the 49th state, baked Alaska had its roots in New York City. Credit: Copyright 2012 VXLA Photo

A delightful amalgamation of dessert foods, baked Alaska is a sponge cake topped with ice cream and covered with delicate peaks of meringue, browned in the oven. Although named for what would become the United States’ 49th state, baked Alaska found its name in New York City. The igloo-shaped dessert was first christened in the late 19th century by Charles Ranhofer, French chef de cuisine of Delmonico’s, one of New York’s most prestigious restaurants from 1837 to 1923. Baked Alaska’s naming was purportedly to honor and commemorate the United States’ purchase of Alaska in 1867.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs benedict may have originated at Delmonico's or The Waldorf in the 1890s. Credit: Copyright 2010 Ariel Dovas

Eggs Benedict may have originated at Delmonico’s or The Waldorf in the 1890s. Credit: Copyright 2010 Ariel Dovas

Whether topped with ham, bacon, salmon or spinach, all signs point to New York City as the origin of brunch favorite eggs benny. While it is unknown for which wealthy Benedict the dish was named, the velvety and savory dish probably originated at Delmonico’s or The Waldorf in the 1890s, though New York’s Hoffman Hotel and Union Club both lay claim to it as well.

Ellis Island Food

The first meal for many immigrants may have been a box lunch at Ellis Island. Credit: Copyright 2005 Wally Gobetz

The first meal for many immigrants may have been a box lunch at Ellis Island. Credit: Copyright 2005 Wally Gobetz

What did the millions of immigrants who entered the United States at Ellis Island between 1892 and 1924 eat for their first meal on American soil? Most likely they purchased a boxed lunch for 50 cents or a dollar, depending upon the size. Some boxed meals included roast beef, ham, cheese or bologna sandwiches, while others featured foods like a loaf of bread, sardines, sausages, apples, bananas, pies and cakes.

Fraunces Tavern

Fraunces Tavern is still a restaurant, as well as a museum, in the financial district. Credit: Copyright 2011 Dan Nguyen

Fraunces Tavern is still a restaurant, as well as a museum, in the financial district. Credit: Copyright 2011 Dan Nguyen

By the mid-18th century, taverns increasingly served as centers of community life. In fact, General George Washington dismissed his troops at the end of the Revolutionary War at Fraunces Tavern. Built in 1719, the tavern is now a museum and restaurant in the financial district open for Gothamites and tourists alike to visit.

Hellmann’s Mayonnaise

Richard Hellman began his food career between 83rd and 84th Streets in Manhattan. Credit: Copyright 2005 Thomas Edwards

Richard Hellman began his food career between 83rd and 84th Streets in Manhattan. Credit: Copyright 2005 Thomas Edwards

The creamy roots of America’s best-selling mayonnaise are also in Gotham. While Richard Hellman began his food career with his wife running a delicatessen between 83rd and 84th Streets in Manhattan, he also developed the first shelf-stable mayonnaise. He began selling it in 1912 in glass bottles affixed with a label featuring three blue ribbons to indicate its “first prize” quality, which can still be found on supermarket shelves today.

­Jane Nickerson

The New York Times' first food editor was Jane Nickerson, from 1942 to 1957. Credit: Copyright 2009 Scott Beale/Laughing Squid

The New York Times’ first food editor was Jane Nickerson, from 1942 to 1957. Credit: Copyright 2009 Scott Beale/Laughing Squid

Often overshadowed by her successor, Craig Claiborne, Jane Nickerson was The New York Times’ first food editor from 1942 to 1957. Her daily column was titled, “News of Food.” Writing with a strong sense of ethics and news, her reviews paved the way for the Times’ expanding food coverage.

Manhattan Clam Chowder

Manhattan clam chowder is known for being made with tomato broth, rather than milk. Credit: Copyright 2011 Julia Frost

Manhattan clam chowder is known for being made with tomato broth, rather than milk. Credit: Copyright 2011 Julia Frost

Although its name might suggest otherwise, Manhattan clam chowder actually has no real connection to New York City. An important dish in early American cuisine, chowders made effective (and delicious) use of New England’s plentiful seafood resources. Manhattan clam chowder’s defining (and highly contentious) characteristic is its substitution of tomato broth for milk.

Katz’s Delicatessen

The lines are always long at the popular Katz's Delicatessen. Credit: Copyright 2010 Scott Beale/Laughing Squid

The lines are often long at the popular Katz’s Delicatessen. Credit: Copyright 2010 Scott Beale/Laughing Squid

Well-known as the location of Meg Ryan’s famous faux orgasm in “When Harry Met Sally” (1989), Katz’s was founded a century earlier in 1888. Serving sandwiches topped high with cured meats, Katz has been turning swift and savory business ever since. Figures from the 1950s claimed the deli served more than 10,000 sandwiches a day. Today, Katz’s is even open all night long on weekends for those looking to order “what she’s having.”

Main photo: The iconic Katz’s Delicatessen is known for its sandwiches — and a starring role in a movie. Credit: Copyright 2013 Thomas Hawk


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Breakfast noodles are served in Yunnan province, China. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

The restaurant was nothing special, just a small room with a couple of low tables and stools. There was no menu, nothing to indicate what was being served. But next to the door was a wide basket piled high with fresh rice noodles, and behind them I could see steam rising from a large soup pot. And in Yunnan province, in southwestern China, that means one thing: breakfast noodles.

I hurried in, took a seat at an empty table and shook off my coat, wet from the heavy morning fog. The proprietress, a young woman whose face was rosy from standing over the steaming pots all morning, asked what I wanted in my soup, and I pointed to some things that looked particularly delicious — some fatty stewed pork, a heap of thin rice noodles, some bright green chives. In just a couple of minutes, the soup was ready. I added a handful of pickled mustard greens and a small spoonful of dried chili flakes in oil and took a sip. The flavor was rich and bright, sour and spicy, and somehow both comforting and exotic all at once.

Starting the day with noodles

A woman and her grandchild eat noodles in China for breakfast. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

A Zhuang woman eats noodles for breakfast with her grandson in Puzhehei, Yunnan province, China. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

I would say that the noodles were a perfect antidote to the cold, wet weather, but the truth is that those noodles would have been fantastic in any circumstance. In fact, I’ve enjoyed similar noodles for breakfast on hot, muggy days down by the Chinese-Vietnamese border and on a cool, crisp morning near Tibet. And in every case (and every temperature) they were the perfect way to start the day.

Eating noodles for breakfast is common all across East and Southeast Asia. In Japan you can have asa-raa or “morning ramen,” in Vietnam pho is a reliable way to start the day, and in Malaysia there’s stir-fried mee goreng. But there’s something about the combination of meat, pickles and chilies in Yunnan’s noodles — not to mention the wide array of different rice and wheat-based noodles you can choose to put in your soup — that makes it one of the most addictive and satisfying breakfasts I’ve ever had. Everywhere I’ve traveled in Yunnan, I’ve started my mornings with noodles from that town’s busiest stand, hole-in-the-wall or restaurant, and every single time I’ve been blown away by the flavor.

It’s been a few months since I last traveled to Yunnan, but thankfully those morning noodle are not hard to make. Whenever I feel like I need a little help waking up, or I just want something hearty to start the day, I make them for myself. All it takes is a few ingredients and about 15 minutes, and I can have a breakfast that is both a little bit exotic and immensely comforting.

Yunnan-Style Noodle Soup

Yunnan-style noodle soup begins with ground pork, vegetables, noodles and prepared broth. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

Yunnan-style noodle soup begins with ground pork, vegetables, noodles and prepared broth. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 2 large portions

Ingredients

4 cups prepared broth (preferably pork or chicken)

6 ounces ground pork (about 3/4 cup)

3 ounces vegetables, like Napa cabbage, sliced crosswise into 1/8 to 1/4-inch strips (approximately 1 1/3 cups’ worth)

1/2 cup Chinese pickled vegetables, ideally mustard greens or daikon pickles

2 1/2 cups fresh or parboiled rice or wheat noodles

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup fresh herbs, ideally flat garlic chives or scallions, cut into inch-long pieces (mint and cilantro also work well, and multiple herbs can be used in combination)

Black Chinese vinegar and dried ground chili in oil, for serving

Directions

Heat the broth in a pot large enough to accommodate all of the ingredients (including the noodles). Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil and blanch ground pork for 5 seconds, breaking up the meat with chopsticks or a spoon, then drain it and set it aside. The meat will still be pink, possibly even red in some places.

Beginning the soup

Once the broth boils, add pork, cabbage and pickles to the pot. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

Once the broth boils, add pork, cabbage and pickles to the pot. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

When the broth is boiling, add the pork, cabbage and half of the pickles to the pot. Return to a boil and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until stem parts of the cabbage begin to soften slightly.

Adding the noodles

Add noodles, and then the remaining pickles and chives or scallions. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

Add noodles, and then the remaining pickles and chives or scallions. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

Add noodles and cook until semisoft (timing will vary depending on type of noodle being used). When noodles have softened, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and mix into broth, then top noodles with the remaining pickles and chives or scallions, if using. Cook another 30 seconds, and remove the soup from heat.

The finished product

Finish the soup with herbs like mint or cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

Finish the soup with herbs like mint or cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

Divide the soup into deep bowls and top with any delicate herbs, like mint or cilantro. Add vinegar and chili to taste.

Main photo: Breakfast noodles are served in Yunnan province, China. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand

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The Japanese holiday called Kinro-kansha-no-hi is a celebration of Thanksgiving for an abundant harvest and all the hard-working people who help bring food to the table. Delicacies featuring fish and vegetables are served at Kinro-kansha-no-hi. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful occasion for getting together with family and friends to share food and make up for all of the lost time that we have been apart. The spirit of the first Thanksgiving in 1621 was the sharing of precious harvest and honoring the relationship between the Plymouth Colonists and native population — family and friends. That spirit of sharing is intact today, and though some of the ingredients at Thanksgiving feasts have changed, some have remained.

Giving thanks for abundance

Varieties of squash -- a Native American ingredient still used in traditional Thanksgiving dishes -- can be found at farmers' markets like this one at Union Square in New York City. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Varieties of squash — a Native American ingredient still used in traditional Thanksgiving dishes — can be found at farmers’ markets like this one at Union Square in New York City. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

In Japan, we have a similar annual event at around the same time, called Kinro-kansha-no-hi, which means “a day to offer great thanks to all the hard-working people (who have contributed to bring food to our table).” This holiday falls on Nov. 23 and originates in the ancient worldwide autumn ritual of thanking the gods who enabled an abundant harvest while also protecting the people throughout the year. Japanese people are obsessed with excellent food, but there is no universally served meal analogous to the American “turkey with all the ‘fixins.’ ” This is why:

Seafood delicacies

Whole fluke from Blue Moon at Union Square Market in New York City deserves to be served sashimi. The freshness of fish is first class. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Whole fluke from Blue Moon at Union Square Market in New York City deserves to be served sashimi. The freshness of fish is first class. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

November is the month in Japan during which nature brings many varied delicacies from the sea, the rivers, the fields and the mountains. And depending on where people live in Japan (recall that Japan is a long and narrow country extending from far north to far south surrounded by a long coast line), the delicacies of the season differ in each region.

My mother prepared Kinro-kansha-no-hi dishes using the quality seasonal ingredients available to her, and these were also my father’s favorites. Seafood included snow crab, amberjack, kinki (a small red fish a little like the scorpionfish in bouillabaisse) and fluke.

Eggplant appetizers

There is a saying in Japan, "Don't treat your daughter-in-law to (delicious ) autumn eggplant." Some say this shows the ill nature of mothers-in-law, who think that autumn eggplant is too good for their daughters-in-law. Another, less harsh interpretation is that giving a daughter-in-law a seedless eggplant is bad luck--it might keep her from getting pregnant. This appetizer of fried eggplant served with miso sauce is heaven. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

There is a saying in Japan, “Don’t treat your daughter-in-law to (delicious ) autumn eggplant.” Some say this shows the ill nature of mothers-in-law, who think that autumn eggplant is too good for their daughters-in-law. Another, less harsh interpretation is that giving a daughter-in-law a seedless eggplant is bad luck–it might keep her from getting pregnant. This appetizer of fried eggplant served with miso sauce is heaven. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Along with the seafood, turnip, daikon, enoki mushrooms, chrysanthemum leaves and sweet potato never failed to appear at our table. Appetizer dishes such as eggplant and miso sauce also were served.

Dashi

Simmered and flavored carrot and Japanese turnip, baked and fried kabocha squash, fried eggplant and string bean mingle with each other in flavored Japanese dashi broth. Locally available, seasonal vegetables frequently end up in this preparation in my kitchen. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Simmered and flavored carrot and Japanese turnip, baked and fried kabocha squash, fried eggplant and string bean mingle with each other in flavored Japanese dashi broth. Locally available, seasonal vegetables frequently end up in this preparation in my kitchen. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

I always remember the sweet potatoes that were simmered in a lightly flavored Japanese dashi stock. My mother never changed the way she made her sweet potatoes, but every year we found them tasting better than before. It seemed like playing the piano; it gets better as you practice.

After moving to New York from Japan, I began to join my brother-in-law’s Thanksgiving dinner. Peter is a great cook. He roasts a large turkey to juicy and tender perfection, makes all the traditional side dishes and some wonderful pies to end the meal. Early on I suggested to Peter that I could contribute a real Japanese dish or two to add to his very organized Thanksgiving meal. But he has never shown an interest in my offer, so I stopped asking. It was for me to learn how to enjoy this very American event. And I do enjoy it!

As you know, Japanese love to embrace American culture. Recently the traditional American Thanksgiving dinner began gradually invading my homeland. One popular Japanese website posts more than 80 American Thanksgiving recipes, including how to roast a turkey, how to make cranberry relish and how to bake pecan and pumpkin pies. The size of the turkey mentioned in such recipes is about 13 to 15 pounds. An oven in a Japanese home is one-third to one-half the size of an American oven, so this is the largest bird that can be accommodated. This also was the size of turkeys available in America in 1930s. Today, breeding techniques have increased the size of these birds up to 30 pounds.

Maybe because I never learned to prepare traditional American Thanksgiving dishes, around this time of the year I entertain family and friends as my mother did by preparing dishes from the local seasonal harvest.

Sweet endings

Juice made from fresh pomegranate is naturally very sweet. It became a good pair with my Japanese-style, rather dry steamed azuki bean cake. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Juice made from fresh pomegranate is naturally very sweet. It became a good pair with my Japanese-style, rather dry steamed azuki bean cake. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

The bounty of the autumn harvest and offering thanks to nature and the people who contributed to bringing the meal to our table is truly a celebration to be shared with our loved ones.

Kinpira

Traditional kinpira is made with gobo (burdock). Here is my kinpira with locally available sulsify (a cousin of burdock), parsnip, carrot and kale. This version is even better than the original one. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Traditional kinpira is made with gobo (burdock). Here is my kinpira with locally available sulsify (a cousin of burdock), parsnip, carrot and kale. This version is even better than the original one. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

(From The Japanese Kitchen by Hiroko Shimbo)

When you prepare this dish for a guest who can not tolerate gluten, eliminate the shoyu and use all gluten free tamari. Make sure that it is 100% soybean tamari without wheat. Tamari makes the prepared marinating broth a bit darker in color.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 3 minutes

Refrigeration time: 2 to 3 hours

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

3 tablespoons canola oil

3 ounces salsify or gobo (burdock), julienned in 2 1/2-inch lengths

2 ounces carrot, julienned in 2 1/2-inch lengths

2 ounces parsnip, julienned in 2 1/2-inch lengths

Some kale (optional)

2 tablespoons mirin

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon shoyu (soy sauce)

1 teaspoon tamari

2 tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted

1/3 teaspoon shichimi togarashi

Directions

  1. Heat a large skillet and add the canola oil. When the oil is heated, add the salsify or burdock, and cook, stirring, until it is well coated with oil. Add the carrot and parsnip and cook for 2 minutes, stirring.
  2. Add 3 tablespoons water, the kale (if using), mirin and sugar, and cook until almost all the liquid is absorbed, stirring. Add the soy sauce and tamari and cook for 30 seconds. Add the white sesame seeds and shichimi togarashi.
  3. Transfer the vegetables in a bowl and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for later serving. The prepared kinpira tastes best 2 to 3 hours after preparation, or after overnight refrigeration.

Main photo: The Japanese holiday called Kinro-kansha-no-hi is a celebration of Thanksgiving for an abundant harvest and all the hard-working people who help bring food to the table. Delicacies featuring fish and vegetables are served at Kinro-kansha-no-hi. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo.

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