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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Don't Eat The Plastic Sushi

You know the old saying, good reader? Pobody's nerfect. “Good girls” like “bad boys,” and I eat way too much pork. What's more, I'm not getting any younger, and this all-meat/no-exercise diet might eventually cramp my style/arteries. Maybe it's time for The Porkchop Express to branch out, to hit the road in search of a few healthy dining alternatives...

Or such was the rationale that got me off the sofa and down to the Javits Center last week, to check out this year's International Restaurant & Food Service Show of New York. The IR&FSSoNY (for short) is an odd mix: part fancy food show, part infomercial, part culinary competition, part international bazaar. It was also the perfect place to check out some new products, meet some new people, and (dare I suggest) find a few foodstuffs that were tasty and healthy. So we set out armed with nothing but a camera and high hopes.
In a sense, we were seeking that crossroads “where great taste and good nutrition meet.” By sheer coincidence, this was exactly the slogan adopted by the Giant Oil People (oil giant people?) at Crisco, who came to town with a couple of 3-foot tall cocktail glasses brimming with a yellowish liquid that... uh... They paid an advertising firm for this? If you're going to pitch oil and lard, here's a free hint: whip up a smorgasboard of delicious fried foods. That will get the point across way better than a glass of what I sincerely hope was Crisco.Here is another super boring fact: most of the Geese raised in America come from South Dakota. Yet, if you're like me, you could care less have never met a real live South Dakotazoan before. Just so you know, Dakotianos seem alright. Like this Dakotaniard, from the Schiltz Goose Farm. He let me taste some goose, and – I kid you not – it tasted like bacon. Freakin' awesome: fried, sliced smoked goose tastes exactly like bacon. Plus it's healthier, but who cares if you care. Which we do.

Unless you have a heart of stone, a stick up your rear, and a negative sense of humor, I'm sure you'll agree: food-shaped carts rule. Case in point is this hot dog-shaped hot dog cart, that uses dual welded alloy construction, Italian rims, and 100% authentic USA hot dog styling. Plus, the scientist standing there in the white lab coat told me that hot dogs taste 34% better when sold from a hot dog-shaped cart. Slow down, Einstein; you had me with the weiner-shaped dog logo!
The IR&FSSoNY promised SGCCF(ITFoVCD&T) – Some Good Clean Culinary Fun (In The Form of Various Competitions, Displays & Talks). But to be honest, we weren't that interested in listening to Danny “I'm so successful!” Meyer, or watching people bake pastry, or cheer on 12 year olds at a pizza dough toss. So we headed to the Japanese Pavilion.

Sponsored by the good folks at JETRO, this little oasis in the Javits wasteland had it all: sake tastings, new product showcases, traditional food prep techniques, sake lectures (and tastings), a culinary demo from “Mr. Benihana” himself, Rocky Aoki, and free sake. We tried a few teas, sampled some oils, tasted fruit-flavored desert vinegars, ate premium kelp and fast food curry, and mingled. Some highlights:
The juicy, juicy fruit. As these bright red blazers suggest, aptly named company Goodfellows USA were pitching some serious ambrosia: Amaou Strawberries from Fukuoka. These are “9½ Weeks” good, plump and flavorful, perfect taste and texture, and a world removed from cardboard sweatshop Driscolls. If I had to make up one of those awkward English slogans you find on many Japanese products, this one would read: “It is splendid, the good berry; the most sensuous fruit of character corrects the center, calms down the nerve.”
Ditto for the healing goodness proffered by Mita Beverage Co., Ltd. Their products – Cocktail Magic, Magic Plus, and Fruits Juice [sic] – seemed to turn even the most hardened criminals into happy-go-lucky schoolgirls. To wit, check out the pic above: their real names are Buzz and Killah Bill, and... well, I've said too much already. But trust me, they looked WAY different before some of that delightful fizzy barley soda.
Speaking of transformations, for about $90 (retail) you can turn soy milk and coagulant into delightfully smooth and silky fresh bean curd. All it takes is the Banrai Tofu Making Trial Kit. “Savor the Harmony... Heavenly taste of natural bliss,” the brochure reads. And yet, my manservant photographer Kadbury was skeptical: “Coagulant. Who's gonna wanna eat coagulant?” Well, between you and me, I used to eat my own phlegm... and now I'm the nicest, smartest, handsomest guy on the block. Just ask my mom!Less controversial was this year's unanimous choice for “Most Generous Vendor.” The good folks from ADiRECT USA took said title, sharing premium Wagyu Beef with the people. What, you ask, is Wagyu Beef? It looks like slices of fat held together by a discreet amount of meat, and tastes like luxurious cow-flavored butter. And it makes Don Trump, Bill Gates and Russell Simmons look poor, broke, and not rich.Why is it so good? I'm not entirely sure, but the brochure made literally no sense (“You can feel its 'Umami' taste even by eyesight”; “Kuroge Qagyu cleared the strict judgments on traceability”; etc). All I know is that Wagyu Beef comes from the southernmost Kagoshima prefecture. The cows drink fresh mountain water; eat corn, wheat and select grains (NOT grass); and they'll have an occasional beer (with company). Most important, they lead utterly stress-free lives. Each feedlot holds no more than two animals, chosen (I kid you not) based on their compatibility. And only 100 heads are imported each month.

Net result? Ethereal flavor and high cost. About $1,200/lb. high. Needless to say, I greatly appreciated the samples: buttery grilled beef, charred sashimi-style, and (our favorite) raw sliced Wagyu on sushi rice. For lack of a better description, this is about the purest, richest beef I've every had. If Rib Eye and Filet Mignon got hammered on Montrachet and Dom Perignon, then made sweet sweet love on a foie gras mattress, this would be the love-child.
All jokes aside, I really liked Mr. Fish Guy of Hiramatsu Seafoods. Sure, with his command of the English language and my deft non-mastery of Japanese, we successfully exchanged no more than 5 words. But it didn't matter. We were able to communicate with the international language... of love... of smoked fish products. This was his company's first appearance in NYC, and he was making the most of it, dishing out some seriously tasty tsukudani: terriyaki fish, broiled sardines, ginger-laced clams, sweet-cooked herring. Note to anyone who can translate: hook me up.
If you came and told me, hey Slab, some crazy nuclear brain physicists made potato chips that don't taste like anything, I'd probably say: what is this, the year 3030? It seems medically impossible; by definition, potato chips = delicious. But then, you probably haven't tried the latest sensation sweeping Japan from Nagasaki to Wakkanai: Konnyaku Chips. These fun fat free, cholesterol free, msg free, preservative free snacks use the term “chip” in the loosest sense possible. Sure, they're made from 100% natural mashed konnyaku potatoes. But they are also “low calorie and good for health,” as the package says. It should also say: “rubbery, flavorless, and confusingly addictive.” Fire Pepper flavor is like beef jerky without the beef, and yet, for reasons I still cannot fully explain, it really grew on me. Note to the Sun Foods Co., Ltd.: kids love “Nicorette” flavor.
And Sake. Who doesn't like sake? It's versatile, refined, and great-tasting. But rather than share any actual knowledge, let me tell you about these two chipper chaps (above). They produce two different sakes, which makes them sake competitors. And while they look perfectly friendly here, after sunfall they transform into ferocious, bloodthirsty sake rivals, slugging it out for world sake supremacy. Still, if anyone is gonna win the grand prize and save the orphanage, it'll be me and my ragtag bunch of misfits with hearts of gold. After all, they killed our master, and we're going to avenge his memory against all odds. Note to self: remember to return 80s werewolf samurai DVD to Netflix.But enough about me; here's something for you, friend. A nugget of advice, a jewel of good sense. Remember: even if no one is looking, and no matter how good it looks, or how much sake you've had... never, ever eat the plastic sushi.

Til Tuesday,

–J. Slab

P.S. Hearty Porkslaps go out to the IR&FSSoNY organizers and JETRO. We had “this much” fun!


Blogger Liberty Silvagni said...

Wow, seeing the sushi makes me want to retire from my bacon small goods for a while and bask in the goodness of fish meat. By the way, who would eat the plastic sushi?

9:50 PM  

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