Traditional, but with a Twist

by maysjjournal and Ho Wai Clarence Leong

Food is a vessel for culture and personal memories, but it also has a lot of experimental potential. New Yorkers’ creativity can be seen in the way they give a twist to traditional dishes. The diverse population in New York carries with them an immensely rich heritage, ensuring anybody with an empty stomach and a curious mind to be filled not only with food, but stories too.

Satiander Sharma puts on a mask before he picks up the frying pan. He is about to make Phaal, which uses the hottest chili pepper to date, the Carolina Reaper. The mask is meant to prevent the peppery smoke from entering into his nostrils, but he is still coughing.

Sharma describes his own restaurant as “an English curry house that is trying to do justice to Indian food across the pond.” Curry-lovers needing a fix will be greeted with a menu that offers the whole spectrum, from the mildest tikka masala to the hair-raising, bloodcurdling Phaal.

While making sure his curries stay true to the authentic taste, Sharma also made it a lot more versatile. “We have changed the whole way of serving curry in Brick Lane where curry as a sauce can be paired with whatever you want,” Sharma said.

“If say you’re a vegetarian, why should you be deprived of the flavors of a tikka masala?”
Brick Lane Curry House in East Village, Manhattan. (Photo by Clarence Leong)

He thinks New York is the ideal place to launch his business, because New Yorkers know what they want, they are well-travelled — and their palate is not to be deceived. “If you’re trying to sell them a samosa, they’ve probably eaten samosas from the best street joint, or the best stall in India, and then come here.”

Beth’s Farm Kitchen — Mission Behind the Jam

Beth’s Farm Kitchen (BFK), founded by Beth Linskey 36 years ago, produces jams and sauces using local ingredients from the Hudson Valley. It all started with a strawberry jam, after which Linskey and her team developed 90 other varieties over the years.

Guillermo A. Maciel, 40, took over BFK last year after Linskey’s retirement. Since then, the company has already expanded from operating 2 stalls in Greenmarkets across New York city to 9. He is breathing new life into this old farm kitchen, taking inspiration from his international customers to develop cultural recipes with unique flavors. “New York is an international city, you get exposed to many cultures, flavors and memories,” said Maciel.

“When we think about new recipes, we think very much culturally.”

Formerly a policy adviser, Maciel grew tired of bureaucracy and started his career in the farm business with the mission of making real changes and promoting social justice. He specifically wants to help low-income residents and immigrants by offering them job opportunities.

Dominican and Everywhere Else in the World

A Model in an Edible Flowers Farm

Have you heard of edible flowers? You can find them from Windfall Farms in Greenmarket. These flowers can be used in a variety of ways — salad, tea, soup, as well as decorations on a cake or ice cream. For example, borage, which has a cucumber and a slight seafood taste, is often used in salads or as a garnish. Passion Flowers, with a peculiar appearance, can be used to make candies or decorate cakes.

Liz Yang, 26, from Taiwan, used to be a model. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business management, and is now working in Windfall Farms to produce and sell edible flowers. “I was supposed to find an office job, but I think I’m a very outdoor person,” said Liz. “It’s very different, I like the city life, but it’s very expensive here.” She likes the balance between working on the farm and in the market.

Southern Italy in a Jar

Jorge Moret, the co-founder of City Saucery, is a Venezuelan who is married into a Calabrese family. Together with his partner, Michael Marino, they turned the family recipes belonging to “Nonna” (which means “grandmother” in Italian) into products that could be hand-made in small batches.

Preserving tomatoes in jars is as traditionally Calabrese as it gets. A tourist from Padua passed by the stall, and told Marino that his father from Naples used to preserve tomatoes the same way. A young man who stopped by purchased 4 jars at once, saying that was how his mother used to preserve tomatoes.

Yet, City Saucery does not only keep to those time-honored recipes, but puts out new products that may look familiar at first glance, but are given a twist.

A case in point is nduja, is a relatively little-known condiment from the region. It is traditionally a spreadable spicy pork salami. “Instead of using pork we use tomato, so we call it ‘tomata nduja’,” Moret explains, adding proudly that it has already won a prestigious award. Another example is the vegan Amatriciana, which happens to be Moret’s favorite.

“I love the flavor of bacon, that smoky, salty brininess, except we don’t use bacon, we turn eggplant into bacon,” he said. “We actually put it on the jar, we say that this product is made with ‘eggplant bacon’.”

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