Until I find a way to make some money out of blogging, one of the perks of writing about food in this free format is being invited to events like the Fancy Food show, held twice a year in usually New York and San Francisco. This time it was New York’s turn and the massive Jacob Javits Convention Center on the west side highway was brimming with hundreds of vendors—from individual start-ups to well established multinationals—representing just as many countries, all on hand to introduce new gourmet food products to the market. And you know exactly what that means—a lot of eating, a lot of freebies, and, if you’re not careful, a lot of indigestion. After coming away from the first day bloated, sluggish and practically in a food coma, I discovered that there really is a science to attending a food convention where temptation confronts you from every corner.
Navigating the myriad stalls is the primary issue, and the guide, in this case a small catalog, was indispensible. Instead of trying to randomly eat your way through every aisle chock full ‘o goodies, which I foolishly attempted on day one, it makes much more sense to see what interests you on the handy map and then graze. When I say ‘graze,’ I mean to eat selectively. In other words, don’t follow up that spoonful of Tuscan olive oil with agave sweetened ice cream, beef brisket smothered in Texas BBQ sauce, and that new candy from Korea. Grazing also allows you to regulate your input for the day, so you start out with some of the more substantial savory offerings—like naan pizza, for example—then move on to wine, cheese, desserts, and of course, coffee. But that’s just the eating program.
I happened to be interested in hot sauces, so I made sure to visit the Caribbean and Mexican aisles as well as a few random spots in between. Make sure you don’t sample hot sauces on an empty stomach, by the way. I made sure I had a solid ‘lunch’ in my gut, though the Caribbean stalls also featured some great bites of shrimp, beef and chicken.
I sampled many great hot sauces, my favorites being Grace’s new flavor, Caribbean Curry; Marie Sharp’s grapefruit habanero hot sauce from Belize; and Super Blend’s Grandma’s Traditional Hot Pepper Sauce from Barbados. All three packed enough heat and tanginess to make them a welcome addition to anything that requires a little kick start. El Yucatero, a Mexican brand, also makes a very good chile habanero sauce, but my favorite has still got to be Matouk’s Soca Sauce from Trinidad. While all of these sauces use the same or very similar ingredients, Matouk’s ups the ante using aged, pickled habanero peppers. In fact, I like it so much, I’m trying to create my own version based on this formula.
It’s good to see that chili is making its way into chocolate as a prominent ingredient as well, and I sampled some memorable pairings. One that stands out was ki’Xocolatl’s dark chocolate with pink pepper from Mexico. Another product from Mexico that was very memorable was Mayan’s Applewood smoked sea salt. Can’t wait to try that next time I do some grilling.
There were several purveyors of spices, but no curry powder [If any of you buyers are looking for a fabulous raw and roasted Sri Lankan curry powder give me a call!], though one Indian lady based in California, Mohini, makes her own spice blends that look pretty amazing. I also discovered a new spice blend that I am not all too familiar with—sumac, which a red berry found in the Middle East that they mix with other spices like chili to make a seasoning that can be sprinkled on most anything. I believe I found it at one of the Syrian stands along with zatar (made of ground thyme, sumac and sesame seeds).
There were so many good things to be had at the Fancy Food show that I was disappointed in only two things: 1) They put most of the new independent vendors in one corridor at the far end of one of the rooms that you could easily miss. 2) Sri Lanka was very underrepresented, with only two stands that sold tea, Jones Tea and Basilur Tea. If they had any Sri Lankan food stands at the convention, I’m sure they would have been swarming with people. Maybe next time.