The Dominican Republic claims the highest peak in the Caribbean, Pico Duarte. At just more than 10,000 feet, it's no Aconcagua, but the chicken, pork, and yuca of that island country stood shoulder to shoulder with the highland chow at Jersey City's annual Festival de los Andes. Have a look at the slideshow; devoted EIT readers will likely know which is which.
Best practice at food festivals is to arrive at the stated opening hour, to beat the crowds and to get first crack at the most enticing menu items, especially those that may be in short supply. With the aim of exploring the neighborhood afterward, my dining buddies and I did just that — and, on this occasion, we didn't catch any of the dance performances, which were running behind schedule. We also missed out on some chow that was late to the table. Baked mac 'n' cheese empanada, I have my eye out for you.
These overloaded pretzels (about $2.50 each) are nearly big enough for a game of quoits, but you'll be much happier on the receiving end. Clockwise from my sundried tomato with ricotta, front and center, tentative IDs include almond, raisin, spinach and ricotta, pepperoni, and jalapeño. For the savory varieties, napkins are vital.
Eggs, evidently, are much-loved in Gujarat, a state of western India well-known for its primarily vegetarian cuisine. Catering to expats who "miss R.K. egg place of Ahmadabad, Raju Omelet of Baroda and Ganesh Omelet of Surat," Eggomania of Jersey City serves dozens of variations on its theme.
Most seem to be as casually plated as this lasun fry ($5.99, plus a dollar surcharge for cooking in butter and not oil), essentially two eggs sunny-side up, smothered in gravy, with buttered white toast on the side. You might think of it as South Asian diner chow, except for the gravy's heavy reliance on chopped chili peppers and the namesake lasun, or garlic. Mop it up with gusto.
Hat tip to Anne Noyes Saini of City Spoonful, who pointed me this way. Anne also noted an Eggomania menu item that might be best conquered by a group: a "volcano biryani."
Eggomania 14 Liberty Ave. (Newark-Van Winkle Aves.), Jersey City 201-630-4620 www.EggomaniaNJ.com
Words to this effect sometimes appear where neighborhood demographics are changing, to assure longtime residents that the shop in question is not just an "ethnic grocery" and to encourage their patronage. In the case of New Apna Bazaar, which primarily stocks Indian and Pakistani goods, the signage is less than convincing. The lettering of "American grocery" has a South Asian cast, and it is accompanied by an Islamic star-and-crescent, what appears to be a simplified Hindu aum ("om"), and a Sikh khanda. That's no reflection of the "Americanness" of local residents who adhere to Islam, Hinduism, or Sikhism, only an assessment of New Apna's messaging regarding the likelihood that it stocks, say, Wonder Bread.
"American grocery" Seen at New Apna Bazaar 703 Newark Ave. (Summit Ave.-John F. Kennedy Blvd. West), Jersey City 201-420-0038
In Spain and many of its former colonies, a polvorón is a soft and heavy shortbread that — you may have guessed from the name — crumbles easily to powder. Typical Filipino recipes include toasted-wheat flour, milk, sugar, and butter. Often there's a flavoring, too: Well-known commercial confectioner Aling Conching offers a variety pack that includes melon, coconut-pandan, and strawberry.
By and large, Philippine Bread House sticks to more-standard flavors throughout the shop. This pair of polvorones (85 cents each), each a little bigger than a silver dollar, featured my favorite add-in, crispy rice. The cashew variety, alas, was not available; for that matter, neither was the Oreo.
Also shown: An ube ensaymada, or purple yam roll ($1.40 a number of years ago), fluffy, subtly flavored, and sweet.
Philippine Bread House 530 Newark Ave. (Baldwin Ave.-McPherson Pl.), Jersey City 201-659-3880
Scoping out the condiments, and figuring what goes best with what, is essential to enjoying restaurants off the beaten path. At this Filipino spot the task was straightforward. English is readily spoken (though except in my immediate presence, Tagalog was the language of choice), and though the tabletop caddies are provisioned with salt, pepper, fish sauce, and vinegar, my meal was accompanied by a condiment of its own.
Garlic rice shared pride of place in a lechon kawali dinner ($6.95), side by side with the namesake deep-fried pork belly. Behind them were two eggs over easy; atsara, or pickled green papaya; and, tucked in one back corner, a deceptively unassuming dish of thick brown sauce. It goes by the pedestrian name of "lechon sauce," and commercial varieties are common, but like most everything at New Little Quiapo (key-Ah-poh) this condiment is made from scratch. With an assist from a pinch of black pepper, it's amazing what the right chef can come up with by combining liver and brown sugar.
In addition to short orders, the restaurant offers a small "turo-turo" steam table from which you "point-point" to your selections. Previously, my two with white rice (lately, $4.95) were bopis, minced pork heart in a mild reddish sauce, and the rich, slightly spicy, dark brown pig's blood stew called dinuguan. New Little Quiapo also dishes out many servings of halo-halo, the Filipino shaved ice of many colors and textures; note the depiction of the dessert glass at the center of the awning.
The New Little Quiapo Restaurant 530-C Newark Ave. (Baldwin Ave.-McPherson Pl., toward the back of a little parking lot), Jersey City 201-656-0384
Two-great-tastes-that-taste-great-together department: 7D brand dried "mangorind" (175 g., $2.69). Dried mango alone has a sweet sourness; these soft chews twiddle the flavor with tamarind pucker.
Previously: I had no idea what to do with Jufran banana sauce (12 fl. oz., price not noted at the time). This sauce has more "hot" than "banana," I found out fast; it's chunky, too. The common moniker "banana ketchup" suggested one use, but, as it turns out, this is one ketchup that goes great on hot dogs.
Eng Bee Tin hopia combi (160 g., $1.59) reminded me of chilled newtons that swapped purple yam and jackfruit for the fig. Lucia brand pinasugbo (not shown, 150 g., $1.19) was a banana brittle bound with cane sugar, glucose of unknown provenance, and honey. Individual servings were wrapped in little paper cones that, like the candy buttons of yore, wouldn't quite let go of the confections.
From American Pinoy's table at the Philippine Independence Day Festival, the final photo shows my bungled balut ($2), the Filipino street food that's more than an egg, but not quite yet a duck. While worrying open that thick shell, I spilled a fair amount of the liquid inside; the small remaining portion that I could identify as the white was very firm, almost tough. The yolk and the "off color" portions were more yielding — imagine a liver custard — with a gamey and still faintly eggy flavor. From a later encounter with balut, see this much more graphic photo of a fertilized unhatched egg.
American Pinoy Food Mart 530 Newark Ave. (at McPherson Pl.), Jersey City 201-798-0032
What began at a birthday party in 2005 just celebrated its second year as a charity cook-off for Manhattan-based Meatloaf Kitchen. Judges weighed the merits of 18 entries, many with flavors that sought inspiration abroad — Mediterranean, Mexican, Silician, French onion, curry.
Winner (and Meatloaf-a-Thon co-founder) Jesse Caldwell looked closer to home, to Hackensack's White Manna, which makes his favorite burger in New Jersey. Perhaps not the best in the state, Caldwell acknowledges, but definitely his favorite. Beginning with the ingredients of a White Manna burger — beef, onion, potato bread, salt, pepper, and ketchup — Caldwell bound them with egg and topped it all with cheese sauce to create what he called "Loaf Manna." Hold the pickles.
The nectar produced by plants is a liquid rich in complex sugars that is collected by honey bees and processed, back at the hive, into honey. The nectar found in grocery-store refrigerators is rich in sugar, too, but much may be supplied by high fructose corn syrup added to fruit puree. Such is the case with Goya guava nectar (9.6 fl. oz., $1).
Goya's use of the term does conform with generally accepted industry guidelines — and, in all fairness, its nectars are rather reinvigorating, too. As it happened, in this neighborhood I was seeking some South Asian beverage — this would have better complemented the Bollywood drama playing on the TV set beside J&M's counter, too — but none was on offer.
J&M Grocery 3244 John F. Kennedy Blvd. (Carlton Ave.-Lake St.), Jersey City 201-656-7004