Saturday, February 20, 2016

Las Cocineras Tradicionales 2016: Where have all the attendees gone?

Gone to greet Pope Francis, that's where.

El Encuentro de Las Cocineras Tradicionales de Michoacán is a don't miss event for aficionados of traditional regional cooking. I had thoroughly enjoyed the 2015 Encuentro.

We were still in ice bound New Jersey, when Jennifer Rose emailed me that the event date had been moved up from the end of February to the very weekend, February 13-16, when we would be flying home. Morelia was also in full, enthusiastic preparation for the coming visit of Pope Francis. It seemed to be an ill–conceived twist of planning

 In the article I read that the organizers wanted to take advantage of the huge increase of visitors to Morelia during the Pope's visit. This seemed to me a poorly thought out concept, for two reasons:

1. People would come to see the Pope during his circuit through Morelia, not to browse the booths at the Encuentro and eat comida tradicional.

2. Advance publicity of the change of date was nearly non–existent. Anyone showing up at the Encuentro venue on the previously scheduled date would be dismayed.

3. Speaking of venues, there was a change this year from last year's relatively compact, more intimate setting at the grounds of the Centro de Convenciones to the extra jumbo, over–the–top* MultiCentro Las Américas, on Avenida Camelinas, between the Holiday Inn and the HI Express.

*(Even more than over–the–top, the central dining tents brought to mind a big top circus. I admit that the tables and settings were quite nice.)

We went on Monday, the next to last day. The following day would see Papa Francisco's arrival to Morelia.  The Encuentro grounds were thinly populated with visitors. At the end of our visit an informed spokesperson, who asked to remain anonymous, told one of our group that attendance was down from last year's.

Efficiency tended to replace charm. But we did get a warm welcome from the ticket sellers.

Soon after we entered the grounds, I sensed that much of the magic had fled. There was a general listlessness that seemed to cloak even the dedicated and talented cocinerasNevertheless, there were some positive aspects to the event.

Where are the visitors?
Because of the lack of crowds, I was able to spend more time chatting with some cocineras. Choosing what to eat was easier. There were fewer enticements to distract me. There was a lot of capirotada (a dessert made from stale bread) and of charales fritos ( small, crispy fried fish.)

One, two, many capirotadas
Charales Fritos
For our own food fulfillment, we focused on meat dishes (despite a preponderance of Lenten fare on offer.) 

Mojarra frita

A fine kettle of fish
One of the more appealing booths was #37, of Estelina Solorio Lucas, of San Francisco Uricho. She has a weekends–only restaurant, on the west side of Lake Pátzcuaro, serving comida Purhépecha.

Estelina's restaurant
When I neared the booth, a young man was just taking a large chunk of Birria de Borrego from its olla de barro.

Birria on the bone
For only $70 pesos, they served me a huge portion, so large, that I took home the uneaten half and turned it into soup. There was also an attractive wooden tray with fresh condiments. 

Seriously big birria
Condiments for birria
The salsa verde de tomates, chiles verdes y pepinos was outstanding for its taste and freshness.

On the opposite side of the vast field, another booth was dishing up large tacos de Barbacoa de Borrego. Jennifer got some of those. They looked very appealing.

Barbacoa de Borrego a la Penca
Tacos de Barbacoa

Sra. Cuevas got a gordita rellena de queso y un taco de huaraz (Chayote roots, battered, fried and sauced.)

Gordita de queso, L; Taco de Huaraz, R.
Jennifer also went to the Apatzingan booth for some toqueras.  We remembered these very fresh corn cakes from last year. This year's tended to be burnt.

Besides the capirotada,  there were a limited number of desserts.

Muchos dulces.

Pan dulce.

Odd, crumbly bolitas de ajonjolí  and possibly amaranth.

The buñuelos appealed but when eaten, resemble flavorless bits of paper with a light, nearly tasteless syrup.

Buñuelo intact

For beverages, there were some nice aguas frescas, and beer and harder drinks were offered. I patiently awaited the opening of the pulque stand. When at last it opened, I bought a liter each of pulque sabor de mandarina and pulque natural. They were pleasant drinks, and although I could taste the natural yeast, they was entirely too sweet. They lacked the characteristic tartness and effervescence of true pulque.

My final thoughts on this year's Encuentro are that we hope the organizers keep in mind the tradition and the intimacy of the event and not try to make it fit oversize grounds. And please, choose the date more carefully.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Shan Shan Noodles, Parsippany, New Jersey

Shan Shan Noodles is my kind of place. It's small, it's homey, friendly, fun and unpretentious, serving good, inexpensive ethnic food. The menus come in several versions, of which the photo menu is most helpful to Chinese food gringos to decide amongst the tempting offerings.

Picture menu
The room is relatively small and cozy. We were first brought a complimentary small dish of cold, lightly dressed sesame oil cucumbers, as well as the first of seemingly endless pots of hot tea. (Lipton's, you know?)

We started with an outstanding cold appetizer, Sliced Pig's Ears in Spicy Sauce. This had the near perfect balance of crunch and zesty sauce, spiked with both chili and Sichuan Pepper.

Our next course brought a bamboo steamer containing six Xiao Long Bao soup dumplings. Each steamed dumpling carries a morsel of meat and a soup spoonful of hot consommé. These were just average, but decent. They are eaten by picking one up in a deep-bowled Chinese soup spoon, then biting a notch in the dumpling's skin, slurping out the hot consommé, then eating the morsel of pork within, as well as the delicate dumpling wrapper.

The XLB were accompanied by a small dish of tasty dipping sauce in which fresh ginger dominated.

Bamboo steamer 
Xiao Long Bao
Choosing our main, noodle-bearing dish was challenging. We finally decided on a big bowl of Spicy Shredded Pork with "Paper" (?) Noodles.

While we waited, we watched through a large window the chef swing and stretch noodles for each order that came to the kitchen. This is an amazing skill which I'd only seen before on Internet videos, but THIS WAS THE REAL DEAL.

See the slide show for maximum effect.

The Shredded Spicy Pork Noodles arrived. They were quite good, although not our favorite dish o the day. The noodle component was very good, of superior texture. We  did enjoy every bite, especially after kicking up the spice level a notch with some Hot Red Oil provided on the table.

An order of four Fried Pork Dumplings then arrived, and we happily polished them off. A few drops of black vinegar, soy sauce and hot red oil, from jars on the table made them even more enjoyable. I prefer those more browned and crisp on the bottom, but, who's complaining?

Satiated, we called for the check. (Major credit cards are accepted. (There's a $15 minimum for credit card use.)

The total was amazingly low. All of the above, plus a can of Coke™, for $25.68, plus a generous tip. The check, please.

We'll return to Shan Shan Noodles as soon as we can.

RATINGS are graded on a 1 to 10 scale; 1 being dismally deficient and 10, a rarely attained award.

Food: 8

Service: 7. Friendly, energetic, enthusiastic waitstaff, although could be more attentive in wiping up spills on the table, of which there were several. English is a second language for several staffers, so be patient.

Ambience: Simple and cozy.

Cost: Inexpensive.

Restroom: Clean and serviceable

Parking: Free, in front.

Hours: Closed Mondays. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Booze: No alcoholic beverage license.

Keywords: "Use your noodle. Eat at Shan Shan soon."

Location: Shan Shan Noodles
333 Route 46, Parsippany, NJ, United States

Contact Info: Freephone: +1 9732877399
Telephone: +1 9732877399
Fax: +1 9732877399

NEW: Just added, a video of the chef pulling noodles!