An Intense Week of Jewish Food Culture

by Andrea Lubrano

Alumna Andrea Lubrano describes her exploits during the week-long Tent: Food NYC, exploring Jewish food culture in New York City from October 19th through the 26th, 2014. 

group picNew York City, a land made up of culinary diversity, was host to twenty remarkable individuals this past October during the first Tent: Food NYC, a program of the Yiddish Book Center. Hosted by The Center for Jewish History and led by Lara Rabinovitch, the Food Editor of Good Magazine and the “Queen of Pastrami,” this week-long intensive seminar had the best itinerary this gastronome could hope for. Plus, I got to share my most profound interests with likeminded individuals, who in one way or another understand the significance of food as a tool to preserve and enrich our cultural heritage and that of others.

Although this week, as one would imagine, explored specifically Jewish food culture in New York, it did so strictly under the parameters that Jewish food culture, like that of the Irish or Italians, is of equal significance to the fabric of the city, so there was little to no religious undertone.

chineseTo give you a re-cap of my week, every morning, more or less, we began our day defining the diversity of Jewishness in the realm of food traditions. We reviewed historic Jewish cookbooks and recipes held in the special collections library at the Center for Jewish History and also got a private showing of the menu and cookbook collection held at the New York Public Library.

We had a challah and babka workshop at Breads Bakery, went on a Lower East Side food crawl that included all the greats like Katz’s Deli, Russ and Daughters, Yonah Schimmel’s Knishes, The Pickle Guys, and Kossar’s Bialys, to name a few. We met Lior Lev Sercarz of La Boîte NYC, a master in spices and the senses.

challahWe had a cooking demonstration with Eli Sussman, the head chef at Mile End Deli. We learned some pitching tips from a lecture with Gabriella Gershenson, the Food Features Editor at Every Day with Rachel Ray. We also went on a tour of Little Odessa and Brighton Beach with Knish expert Laura Silver, learned about MAZON, a national non-profit organization that works on ending hunger, and had a lecture with Mitchell Davis, Executive Vice-President of the James Beard Foundation, about the future of our food and the importance of intertwining flavor and health into the larger conversation.

I’m most definitely forgetting some other wonderful and informative events, probably because the week was so engaging and full of enriching experiences.

criscoAs if the daytime schedule wasn’t eventful enough, all the participants were required to dine together every night of the week. And further encouraged to talk to a different participant as a way to keep the group dynamics flowing. A memorable dinner, aside from the tasting at Bar Bolonat and the meal at La Vara, was probably our Shabbat dinner, where all twenty of us shopped, cooked and cleaned for a home-cooked-family-meal.

All in all, this experience has truly given me a whole new perspective on the revival of Jewish food in the U.S., which being a non-Jew I initially thought only encompassed matzo ball soup and pastrami sandwiches. Thanks to Tent, today I know that Moroccan tagines, Iraqi qatayef, borscht, mamaliga and kvass have more than one culture associated with them. At the heart of the Jewish diaspora live the roots of their culinary diversity, making Jewish food as geographically specific as that of any immigrant American. If you haven’t already looked up this wonderful program in the hopes of joining their next seminar, I’m sure the fact the program is completely free of charge will encourage you to do so. There are also fashion, creative writing, museums, journalism, pop music and comedy workshops under the Tent umbrella (www.tentsite.org/).

A Day to Celebrate Food

by Kimi Ceridon

Student Kimi Ceridon recaps October 24th’s Food Day Event in Boston.

IMG_20141023_145511Food Day comes but once a year. With no gimmicks, costumes, bunnies or men in red suits, Food Day in the United States not only celebrates the foods that sustain us but also encourages people to think about their diets and get involved in the policies that impact the food system locally and worldwide. The October 24th celebration grew out of the internationally recognized October 16th World Food Day celebration which honors the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization, a UN organization aimed at eradicating hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

This year, Food Day Massachusetts began with a Food Day Eve celebration at Babson College and continued with an official kick off at the Massachusetts State House the following day.

IMG_20141023_123757Babson’s Food Day Eve Event was served up in “five courses”. The first course started the day off with Andrew Zimmern, Gail Simmons and other panelists telling their own food stories. While Zimmern is probably best known for his television show “Bizarre Foods,” there was nothing bizarre about his commitment to addressing issues of social justice and the food system. In Zimmern’s personal food story, he told how his thinking about the food system has evolved over the years. In recognizing Babson’s leading role in entrepreneurship, he proclaimed that entrepreneurs would save our planet. Following the morning’s panel discussion, the second course was a locally sourced meal set among a group of food entrepreneurs introducing their products. There was everything from Fedwell homemade dog food to Pure Maple Water to egg-free mayo from Hampton Creek and many more.

IMG_20141023_101051The third course had four food entrepreneurs crowd source ideas to address their toughest challenges. It also never hurts to get advice from successful entrepreneurs like Simmons, Zimmern, Tom Ryan of Smashburger and Chef Adam Melonas of Chew Lab. The fourth and fifth courses were squarely aimed at looking at careers in the food industry, and a panel of food industry professionals gave insights on how to get a job in the industry. The day closed with a final panel featuring some of Boston’s most prominent restaurateurs telling their own stories about navigating a food-related career.

Food Day in Massachusetts officially commenced the following morning at the Massachusetts State House. The rainy morning could not dampen the spirits of the crowd gathered in the great hall. In keeping with Food Day’s goal of raising awareness about food policy, the kick off event was centered on the Massachusetts Food System Plan. Food Day represented one of the first milestones for the Massachusetts Food System Planning Team where they reported on outcomes from the statewide listening sessions that occurred earlier in the year. Since the last time Massachusetts had a statewide food system plan was in 1975, there was a lot to be told.

FB_IMG_1414158470877Aside from the Massachusetts Food System Plan, the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Resources Commissioner, Gregory C. Watson, offered a rousing speech outlining the many food-related reasons Massachusetts residents have to celebrate. In keeping with the World Food Day theme, “Family Farming: Feeding the World, Caring for the Earth,” Watson outlined how family farms in Massachusetts are leading in innovation saying, “Our real strength stems from our ability – more than that – our willingness to integrate old and new – traditional and innovative.”

In what would be his last Food Day as Massachusetts State Governor, Governor Deval Patrick took the podium. He further recounted the efforts of his administration in making Masssachusetts a leader in farming, agriculture and food policy before proclaiming October 24th Food Day in Massachusetts.

While Food Day was October 24th, there are many ongoing celebrations. Find a celebration near you at FoodDay.org.

Exploring Latino Cuisine in Eastie

by Carlos C. Olaechea

Student Carlos C. Olaechea recounts the Gastronomy Students Association’s tour of Latino eateries in East Boston

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Frio Rico

Part of the draw to Boston University’s Gastronomy Program is being surrounded by Boston’s vibrant food scene. From the ever growing list of fine dining establishments to the omnipresent farmers markets showcasing the rich variety of local products, good food seems to be all around in this town. Boston also has its own food culture to offer newcomers, like myself, in the form of lobster rolls, clam chowder, oysters, and apple cider, just to name a few.

Additionally, the city’s immigrant populations have added a great deal to Boston’s culinary landscape: pizza and cannoli in the North End, a wealth of Irish pubs, dim sum in Chinatown, Korean food in Allston, and many more. Last Friday, the Gastronomy Students Association explored different Latin American cuisines in East Boston as part of the GSA’s Eastie Food Crawl.

Participants met at the Wood Island Blue Line T station and walked down Bennington street to the first stop, a Peruvian grocery and ice cream/shaved ice spot called Frio Rico. While perusing the shelves laden with chile pastes, herbs, dried beans, and grains, we sampled house made lúcuma ice cream. Native to Peru, the lúcuma fruit has been described as having a flavor reminiscent of sweet potato and maple syrup, butterscotch, or persimmon. While gastronomy students couldn’t quite put their finger on the flavor, they all enjoyed the cold treat. Student Alex Cheser took advantage of the store’s selection of condiments and purchased a jar of ají amarillo chile paste, a staple in many Peruvian dishes.

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Tu Metapan

The next stop was Tu Metapan, a casual Salvadoran restaurant. Some students enjoyed Mexican Coca Cola, packaged in glass bottles and made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup, and everyone tried sips of marañon juice, made from cashew fruit and having a light, apple-like flavor. We enjoyed a small sampling of Salvadoran snacks, including what many consider to be the hallmark of the cuisine, pupusas. The popular snack is made of nixtamalized corn dough – or masa – stuffed with a variety of fillings, flattened to quarter inch thick disks, and then griddled. We opted for fillings of beans and cheese, as well as cheese and loroco, the buds of an edible vine that is native to El Salvador. Another native plant, chipilín, was mixed in the soft cornmeal dough of tamales that encased a smooth filling of refried beans.

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Atole at Tu Metapan

For a little added protein, we ordered a plate of Salvadoran chicharrones. Usually referring to fried pork rinds in other Latin American countries, the Salvadoran version consisted of chunks of crispy fried pork with some fatty pieces that melted in our mouths. A vinegary cabbage slaw called curtido, which was served from a communal plastic jar, cut the richness, as well as spicy pickled vegetables and a tomato based dressing. Having experienced Salvadoran cuisine before, Alex Cheser ordered a tall glass of hot atole – a thick, sweet corn drink – for all of us to sample.

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La Chiva

After thanking our waitress at Tu Metapan, we strolled over to La Chiva, a late night Colombian fast food eatery that is open until 3:00 AM. Knowing that we had one more stop on our food crawl, we ordered just a few small snacks to share from the vitrine of tantalizing fritters, sausages, and other savories. Along with sampling a mora juice made with aromatic Andean blackberries, we tried some small beef and potato turnovers called empanadas made with cornmeal dough – a unique feature found only in the empanadas of Colombia and Venezuela. Along with the fried turnovers, we ordered a pan de queso and an almojábana, two variations on cheesy bread made with cassava flour.

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El Chalan

Our last stop for the evening was for Peruvian rotisserie chicken at Pollos a la Brasa El Chalan, whose logo had a chicken dressed as a Peruvian cowboy, or chalan. We enjoyed some of Peru’s national soda, Inca Kola, which is the only soft drink that beats Coca Cola in any country. The notes of lemon verbena and vanilla of the golden hued drink were a refreshing compliment to juicy, seasoned rotisserie chicken, crunchy French fries and fried yucca sticks, and spicy dipping sauces. Being that rotisserie chicken is to Peruvians what Pizza is to Americans, it should come as no surprise that El Chalan is open until 2:00 AM every night.

Along with tasting a few of the diverse cuisines of Latin America, we were able to see how neighborhoods change over time as new waves of immigrants arrive in a neighborhood. Amidst the Latino restaurants, taquerías, and bodegas we passed, we also noticed several Italian-American restaurants, bakeries, and markets, including the oldest Italian restaurant in Boston, Jeveli’s. It was interesting to note how many different Latin American nationalities, as well as an older Italian-American community, coexist in the same neighborhood, making for a culturally rich – and very delicious – experience.

 

The Language of Food

by Carlos C. Olaechea

Student Carlos C. Olaechea recaps Dan Jurafsky’s lecture and book signing at Harvard Bookstore on October 10th.

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photo credit: Kingmond Yong, bostonglobe.com

As gastronomy students, we learn that food is intrinsically tied to many aspects of our human existence, and through the multidisciplinary nature of our program we learn to view food through many different lenses. History, anthropology, politics, and visual arts are just a few of the ways in which we examine what food means to humankind, but as author and scholar Dan Jurafsky illustrated to a packed house on October 10th at the Harvard Bookstore, language can actually offer some of the most revealing information about what we eat.

A professor of linguistics at Stanford University, Jurafsky recently published a book titled The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, and he was present at the bookstore in Harvard Square last Friday to sign copies and give a talk about the meanings of the words we use to describe food and eating.

He got the idea for writing a book about linguistics and food while doing research in China and hearing someone tell him that the origin of the word “ketchup” was Chinese. He thought there was no way that ketchup could be Chinese, so he did some research to refute the notion and ended up finding that the word for the “all-American” condiment is, in fact, of Chinese origin.

Jurafsky began his very animated, prop-accented talk with an exploration of the origins of ketchup. He quickly went through the long history of how an East Asian fermented fish sauce called ga zhap became a favorite of British importers who made it a hit in their homeland. The luxurious condiment – as happens with most luxury goods – soon spawned knockoffs that all tried to cheaply imitate the umami flavors of the original Asian product. The original Chinese name for the sauce began to transform and Anglicize so that it was legible and pronounceable to the general English-speaking population. Around the 1850s, Americans started making it out of tomatoes, added sugar, and removed the fish altogether making the ketchup that we know today. It was through this example that Jurafsky demonstrated how the names of foods tell the stories of foods.

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Photo credit: languageoffood.blogspot.com

Jurafsky went on to illustrate other aspects of linguistics present in the foods that we eat, providing some interesting observations. Showing the audience a bag of Lays potato chips and the pricier Pop Chips, Jurafsky read the back labels of each and noted how the latter distinguished itself as a better product by stating that which it is not. Having examined scores of other packaged foodstuffs, he stated that for every time the word “no” appears on a package, there is an average price increase of four cents. Similarly, he explained how expensive restaurants tend to use a small number of larger words in their menus as opposed to midrange to inexpensive restaurants that use a larger number of smaller words, suggesting that one can add 18 cents for every extra letter on a restaurant menu.

Jurafsky and his research team went further and examined how consumers talk and write about food by examining user reviews on the website Yelp. He noticed that bad reviews are almost always written in the past tense and use “we” to describe the experience. The language, he stated, is remarkably similar to that used to describe traumatic experiences, where “we” is used to express a sense of collective suffering. He also found, in his research, that reviewers used sexual innuendos when describing expensive dining experiences and drug references when describing inexpensive ones, with the majority of drug references being made by women.

Perhaps the most fascinating revelation was a phonological one that showed that the sounds of certain food names can reveal certain patterns about their place in our culture. Jurafsky showed the audiences several boxes of snack crackers – Cheez-It, Triscuit, Ritz, Wheat Thins – and illustrated how the short “i” sound present in each brand name is known as a front vowel and that in the English language small things are represented by words with front vowels. In effect, brand names for chips and snack crackers reflect their diminutive size. On the contrary, words with back vowels are used to describe things that are rich, bold, or voluptuous, such as ice cream flavors.

After a question and answer session where Jurafsky answered audience members’ queries regarding why certain foods have certain names (a lot of the answers are in his book), as well as addressing issues of eroticization and familiarization in food marketing and the price implications involved, the author and linguist tied in all the examples to illustrate his point that there are many stories to be found in food and our words for food. He wrapped up the night urging us all to go out and look for those stories. As gastronomy students, many of us are already doing just that.

Breaking Ground on the Boston Public Market

By Kimi Ceridon

Gastronomy student Kimi Ceridon recaps the groundbreaking ceremony for the Boston Public Market.

BPMBoston is poised to open the first market with all locally sourced products in the nation. On October 9th, the much talked about Boston Public Market held a public ground breaking ceremony on the steps of city hall hitting an important milestone in making this dream a reality. If the crystal blue skies and perfect October weather were good luck signs, then Boston will gather again next summer to celebrate the market’s grand opening.

The Boston Public Market is scheduled to open in 2015. The 28,000 square foot space will host a year-round market offering New England produce, meat, prepared foods and artisan products directly to consumers. Located in the heart of Boston on the first floor of the Haymarket T-station, the market aims to provide the greater Boston area with a single location for buying directly from local producers. Additionally, the market is incorporating resources to improve local food access for all income levels.

Morningstar said, “What makes it even more special is that the Haymarket vendors have operated alongside our location for over 120 years. We are simply adding to a long-standing tradition.” However, since the Boston Public Market is focused on local purveyors, it is unclear whether the current vendors from outdoor weekend market at Haymarket qualify as Boston Public Market vendors. These vendor do not necessarily sell products exclusively from New England. To participate in the market, vendor applications were submitted and reviewed earlier in 2014

Liz Morningstar
Liz Morningstar

The ceremony was a who’s who of Boston politics with appearances by Governor Deval Patrick, Mayor Marty Walsh, Senator Anthony Pertuccelli, and Representative Aaron Miclewitz. Gubernatorial Candidate Martha Coakley was also spotted in the crowd. Liz Morningstar, the CEO of the Boston Public Market, kicked off the ceremony graciously thanking the many sponsors who supported this endeavor. Acknowledging the importance of food to culture, she explained, “Food transcends so many issues in our society.”

Before introducing Governor Patrick, the Boston Public Market EBT/SNAP Program Manager, Shaquille Jones, talked about his work to include a fully integrated EBT and SNAP program at the market from day one. The market also has a goal of making healthy food accessible through cooking, shopping, nutrition and fitness classes including demonstrations in a 3000 square foot teaching kitchen.

Gov. Deval Patrick
Gov. Deval Patrick

Governor Patrick then took the stage and proudly proudly declared, “I am a foodie.” Although the Boston Public Market will not open before Governor Patrick leaves office, the market represents a significant accomplishment of his administration. As he explained, the project required coordinating across many agencies, advocacy groups, industry representatives, and citizen groups including the City of Boston, the greater Commonwealth, The Trustees of Reservations, the Department of Transportation and the many producers of local products in Massachusetts. One of those producers, Jared Auerback of Red’s Best seafood shop, explained that the market will help him and other producers bring great products directly to customers.

Mayor Walsh, Senator Pertuccelli, and Representative Miclewitz followed up by praising the effort that led up to the groundbreaking. They look forward to showcasing the city through the market and welcome the jobs and tourism the market brings to the city. The groundbreaking represents 13 years of Morningstar’s hard work and advocacy. Thursday’s milestone was clearly a welcome celebration.