December 27, 2011

New Year's Feasting, Japanese Style

It was a full year ago when I reported this November-December 2011 Edible Manhattan article on osechi-ryori, the traditional Japanese New Year's foods that evoke memories of family, home and tradition for those who grew up in Japan or in an osechi-observant household.

Here's the gorgeous three-tiered box that chef Hideki Yasuoka of the Nippon Club in Manhattan prepared for the lucky members who pre-ordered boxes last year. The smaller ayu, or sweetfish, in the box at the fore are simmered for four hours in a soy and saké mixture until they will practically dissolve in your mouth, and each component contains symbolic meaning, usually pertaining to longevity, good fortune, fertility--all the things peoples' wish upon each other for the New Year.

Since I grew up eating these foods, I love them and wish I could eat them every New Year. Yet many Japanese have no real interest in these traditional foods. One year, I searched for the best osechi boxes in New York City to serve to two young relatives who were visiting from Japan. They turned up their noses at the boxes, and were much more interested in steaks and burgers.

My reporting took me to Katagiri, the Manhattan Japanese grocery store, where I talked to shoppers stocking up for their New Year's celebrations.


These New Year's decorations of plastic rice cakes and good luck Daruma dolls would be the equivalent of putting a fake Christmas tree up in your home. 

Thanks to the site Discover Nikkei, which re-posted my article here  and discussed it on Facebook, I've received some interesting feedback on the story. Nina Kahori Fallenbaum, food editor at Hyphen , introduced me to this amazing-looking place in San Francisco, Peko-Peko, which is offering this luxury osechi bento
I'm in Vancouver, B.C., now, where a quick search for osechi didn't turn up anything. If any of you know where I can find a good osechi box hereabouts, let me know!

December 19, 2011

Latke-palooza Returns to Brooklyn

Tonight, the humble latke became the crispy blank canvas upon which a over a dozen New York City chefs let their imaginations play. It was Great Performances and Edible Brooklyn's third annual latke festival, so massive and crushingly well-attended it took up two floors of the cavernous opera house at BAM.

The winner was chef Jason Weiner's (Almond) super-crispy latke with house-smoked bluefish and yogurt sauce. The traditional Hanukkah food was at home with the smoked fish, and the yogurt accompaniment provided the perfect light touch to offset the oil and saltiness of the pancake and fish.

Weiner's entry didn't play it safe like Veselka's very traditional (satisfyingly so) sour cream and applesauce entry, nor did it go to the opposite extreme like this contender from Mae Mae Cafe: rye latke with cabbage flan, corned beef, Swiss cheese fondue and a dill pickle. Judge Michael Arad, the architect and designer of the 9/11 Memorial, dismissed it as "a Reuben not a latke."  Another taster, though commented appreciatively, "It's so Jewish; it even comes with a dill pickle."

I took a shine to this picturesque gem from Julian Medina of Toloache, shredded potatoes fried very crispy and salty with a spicy jalapeno sauce. And also to this demure entry, People's Choice Award winner Bill Telepan's (Telepan) celery root and potato latke.

And finally, for dessert, Ron Ben-Israel (Ron Ben-Israel Cakes) served up a delicious potato and parsnip latke brulee with cranberry sauce. Eat your hearts out, latke lovers!