Jan 21, 2014
Tina George

Cambridge food scene is powering ahead

Best known in Cambridge for breathing new life into iconic bakery Fitzbillies, food writer and broadcaster Tim Hayward gives us the lowdown on the local food scene.

Last week I had a bit of a culinary emergency – you know the kind of thing. You’re halfway through a recipe, covered in fat and flour up to your elbows and you suddenly can’t find the piece of kit you need. So I scrubbed my hands and drove 10 minutes to buy a sushi rolling mat and a bag of ‘panko’, the special Japanese breadcrumbs made by grating a solid block of unleavened bread.

What was particularly noteworthy about this odd little event was this. It was ten past three on a Sunday afternoon in Cambridge.

I shouldn’t really be surprised but two years ago when Alison and I took over Fitzbillies, the advice we got from most well-meaning people living in the town was that ‘There’s no food culture in Cambridge’. Along with my sushi mat, pretty much everything I’ve seen since that time gives the lie to that assertion.

We now have three Michelin stars in Cambridge, shared between two excellent restaurants. To put that in perspective, that’s only one less than Birmingham, which has four, but two more than Bristol and, well, three more than Manchester and Glasgow combined. Cambridge is well served with national eating chains, but there’s recently been a burst of independents opening too. It’s only local industry gossip, but it seems that landlords might be looking at the longer-term benefits of favouring independents to strengthen the town’s appeal to more discriminating visitors.

When we started, people warned us that many of our potential customers would be dining in their colleges. They told us of dons glugging thousand-yearold port and chowing down on Kentucky Fried Swan but we’ve seen no evidence of this. Many of our customers are ‘gown’ and definitely seem able to eat normal food with enthusiasm.

There’s a growing network of brilliant local producers and suppliers and this will only get better. There are thousands of new homes being built around Cambridge and all of those new arrivals will need to be fed, increasing the fertile ground for young businesses to grow. . . and how they are growing. A burgeoning culture of street food, festivals, events and pop-ups, a vibrant community of food lovers of all ages and backgrounds coming together to eat, shop, cook or just gossip about it on Twitter.

In my day job, I write about food for the Financial Times and occasionally present the Food Programme on Radio 4. It’s my brief to observe and research our behaviour as we undergo this renaissance in our national relationship with food. Across the country different cities, towns and communities are coming ‘upto- speed’ at different rates but, in general, everything is looking up and Cambridge is moving much, much faster than most. If that’s because we had farther to come, as all those people implied two years ago. . . well, that’s as may be. But the Cambridge food scene is powering ahead now, I’m proud to be a small part of it and I’m going to enjoy reporting on it here.

Fitzbillies is at 51-52 Trumpington Street,Cambridge, CB2 1RG. Call (01223) 352500 or visit fitzbillies.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @timhayward.

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Jan 21, 2014
Tina George

Cambridge food scene is powering ahead

Best known in Cambridge for breathing new life into iconic bakery Fitzbillies, food writer and broadcaster Tim Hayward gives us the lowdown on the local food scene.

Last week I had a bit of a culinary emergency – you know the kind of thing. You’re halfway through a recipe, covered in fat and flour up to your elbows and you suddenly can’t find the piece of kit you need. So I scrubbed my hands and drove 10 minutes to buy a sushi rolling mat and a bag of ‘panko’, the special Japanese breadcrumbs made by grating a solid block of unleavened bread.

What was particularly noteworthy about this odd little event was this. It was ten past three on a Sunday afternoon in Cambridge.

I shouldn’t really be surprised but two years ago when Alison and I took over Fitzbillies, the advice we got from most well-meaning people living in the town was that ‘There’s no food culture in Cambridge’. Along with my sushi mat, pretty much everything I’ve seen since that time gives the lie to that assertion.

We now have three Michelin stars in Cambridge, shared between two excellent restaurants. To put that in perspective, that’s only one less than Birmingham, which has four, but two more than Bristol and, well, three more than Manchester and Glasgow combined. Cambridge is well served with national eating chains, but there’s recently been a burst of independents opening too. It’s only local industry gossip, but it seems that landlords might be looking at the longer-term benefits of favouring independents to strengthen the town’s appeal to more discriminating visitors.

When we started, people warned us that many of our potential customers would be dining in their colleges. They told us of dons glugging thousand-yearold port and chowing down on Kentucky Fried Swan but we’ve seen no evidence of this. Many of our customers are ‘gown’ and definitely seem able to eat normal food with enthusiasm.

There’s a growing network of brilliant local producers and suppliers and this will only get better. There are thousands of new homes being built around Cambridge and all of those new arrivals will need to be fed, increasing the fertile ground for young businesses to grow. . . and how they are growing. A burgeoning culture of street food, festivals, events and pop-ups, a vibrant community of food lovers of all ages and backgrounds coming together to eat, shop, cook or just gossip about it on Twitter.

In my day job, I write about food for the Financial Times and occasionally present the Food Programme on Radio 4. It’s my brief to observe and research our behaviour as we undergo this renaissance in our national relationship with food. Across the country different cities, towns and communities are coming ‘upto- speed’ at different rates but, in general, everything is looking up and Cambridge is moving much, much faster than most. If that’s because we had farther to come, as all those people implied two years ago. . . well, that’s as may be. But the Cambridge food scene is powering ahead now, I’m proud to be a small part of it and I’m going to enjoy reporting on it here.

Fitzbillies is at 51-52 Trumpington Street,Cambridge, CB2 1RG. Call (01223) 352500 or visit fitzbillies.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @timhayward.

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Jan 20, 2014
Kim Rivers

Empanada Guy opens first restaurant in Freehold, third food truck set to roll – The Star-Ledger

Empanada Guy opened his first restaurant location in Freehold.  

FREEHOLD Two short years ago, Carlos Serrano did not expect that he would soon own three food trucks, a restaurant and sell empanadas wholesale to restaurants.

But with the opening of his latest project and some help from Facebook, Serrano, affectionately known as the Empanada Guy, has done just that.

“Two years have changed my life completely,” the Freehold Township resident said. “Everything that I visualized has come true in the past two years.”

Empanada Guy unlocked his doors for a soft opening on Saturday at 568 Park Avenue in Freehold, with a grand opening expected for Jan. 25, pending the arrival of chairs, additional lights and an outdoor sign for the building.

The Newark native, who is Puerto Rican, first got the idea to start selling empanadas when his former boss suggested he start selling them in the suburbs – where many people were not exposed to Latin American food.

At first, Serrano started selling the product to restaurants, but after becoming frustrated, he started bringing empanadas to festivals himself to sell. Then his wife told him he needed to get on Facebook.

“Once I went on Facebook five years ago, everything changed,” Serrano said.

Because of relationships Serrano built on Facebook, he found investors, all three of his food trucks and now his first brick and mortar location.

Two food trucks are already in operation, in Old Bridge and Port Reading, and a third is set to start rolling in the coming months – on Pier 13 in Hoboken. Serrano also continues selling the empanadas at wholesale to restaurants, having more than 100 accounts with approximately 40 active at a time.

“This is basically a dream,” Serrano said, as he was dressed in his typical red shoes, red bandana and black clothing – matching the red and black décor throughout the inside of the eatery. “All I did was brand myself.”

He also produces shows on YouTube called Food Truck Heroes, with the goal of bringing light to the food truck industry.

“I like to promote the aspect of entrepreneurship,” Serrano said.

The eatery is located at 568 Park Avenue in Freehold. 

And if that isn’t enough for Serrano, in September last year he won Lifetime’s Supermarket Superstar, giving him the opportunity to have his product placed in supermarkets across the county. He has also won several awards, including at Monmouth Park’s annual Crab Cake cook-off.

While the empanadas have always been made in a professional kitchen, Serrano said the Freehold location will serve as the business’ headquarters and all the products will be made from there and fried on site or in one of the food trucks.

But the process to make an empanada isn’t as easy as just filling dough with meat, Serrano said. Instead, it takes two days to create them.

On day one, the filling is made and then cooled, and day two is used to fill and seal the pastry. Empanadas are offered with a variety of fillings, including cheese, chicken, beef, crab, lobster and apple cinnamon.

Serrano’s Puerto Rican heritage does not limit his cooking, as he draws from many cultures, including Puerto Rican, Cuban, Mexican and Jamaican.

Jamaican peppers are used to enhance the flavor of the sofrito, a traditional sauce used in Latin cooking, which is mixed with many of the empanada fillings. The fat from the cooked meat is drained and instead replaced with the sofrito.

“I can’t put my head on the pillow knowing I gave you 20 percent lard. I drain everything,” Serrano said.

Another way the Empanada Guy’s product is different than others when the dough is fried, the oil does not seep inside thanks to a custom built machine that seals the dough shut.

In addition to empanadas, which sell from $3 to $7, the menu offers a Cuban sandwich, a steak sandwich, rice and beans, sweet corn tamales and yuca.

Every empanada that goes out the door, which is currently about 20,000 each month, Serrano has either had a hand in making or has seen it to ensure the quality. He anticipates to sell approximately 100,000 empanadas each month by June, when all the trucks and the restaurant are completely up and running.

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Serrano said he does not have any formal culinary experience, but instead learned from his grandmother and from watching Food Network.

“Everything is from learning growing up,” Serrano said. “I just love the kitchen.”

Married with three kids ages 15, 11 and 3, Serrano said it’s a family business that wouldn’t be possible without his wife, who is the organizer of the family.

“She’s the real Empanada Guy,” Serrano said.

Hours are Tuesday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and closed Mondays.

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Jan 20, 2014
Jim Benson

What are the missing pieces in Portland’s food puzzle?

Last week’s review of Roman Candle kicked off with a discussion of how a city’s food scene can be like an unfinished puzzle, with various food cart owners, chefs and restaurateurs all looking to fit missing pieces into the whole.

Those missing pieces can be individual dishes — like Roman Candle’s kouign amann or pizza bianca (see slideshow above) — styles, or even whole cuisines. Personally, I’d love to see a restaurant seriously tackle the Shanghai-style soup dumplings known as xiao long bao — if only so I didn’t have to travel to Bellevue, Wash. or Richmond, B.C. to get my fix.

What about you? What’s the one bite, dish or cuisine you wish a local restaurant would serve? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

– Michael Russell

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Jan 20, 2014
Tim Lester

One-third of street food has dangerous bacteria: study

One-third of street food has dangerous bacteria: study

By Shwe Yee Saw Myint   |   Monday, 20 January 2014

New research has confirmed what many of us have already learned the hard way – that consuming Yangon’s street food can end in food poisoning, particularly for those who have not built up immunity to the many types of bacteria on offer.

http://www.mmtimes.com/images/mte/2014/713/food-vendors1.jpg

A worker at a streetside food stall in downtown Yangon places fried fish into a bag. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing

The findings highlight the scale of the city’s food hygiene problem: More than one-third of the 150 samples collected were positive for either Staphylococcus aureas or Bacillus cereus, two common types of bacteria that can lead to food poisoning. Almost one-quarter contained dangerous levels of the bacteria, researchers found.

The results of the research were released at the 42nd Myanmar Health Research Congress, held at the Department of Medical Research (Lower Myanmar) from January 6 to 10.

Dr Thaung Hla, deputy director of the biological toxicology research division at the National Poison Control Centre, conducted the research with three colleagues. The aim was to pinpoint just how frequently dangerous organisms are found in roadside foods.

Thirty samples from each of the five downtown townships were collected and tested. Of the 150 samples, 52, or around 35 percent, contained either Staphylococcus aureas or Bacillus cereus.

Of the 32 samples with Staphylococcus aureas, 23 had bacteria levels considered immediately dangerous, while 14 of the 20 Bacillus cereus samples were dangerous.

The foods that returned positive test results included fried rice, sausage, bread, custard and ice cream.

While this research did not focus on traditional Myanmar foods, such as roasted meats, steamed fish, dried fish and djenkol beans, previous research has also found high levels of toxin bacteria in these products, Dr Thaung Hla said.

He said the safety of street food depended mostly on the hygiene of the person who prepared and sold it.

“It depends on how they prepare and cook the food and their personal hygiene. If people want to eat safe food they should carefully consider the environment in which it is sold to see whether it is clean,” he said.

The results of the research might be disturbing but they are not surprising, said Dr Mie Mie Ko, managing director of health care provider Mieko. “We have a lot of street vendors because they can set up pretty much anywhere. No one checks how the quality of their food and their personal hygiene,” she said.

Dr Mie Mie Ko said the two types of bacteria are normally found on the skin and in the noses of healthy people, indicating they were transmitted to the food by the vendors’ poor hygiene.

Infections caused by these bacteria can be treated through the use of antibiotics but the consequences of non-treatment can be severe.

“If people have high resistance [to the bacteria] they can defend against the infection but if they have low resistance the bacteria will cause them to feel ill. In some cases severe food poisoning symptoms can be dangerous, and people can die if they get too dehydrated.”

Food poisoning due to bacteria is preventable, Dr Mie Mie Ko said, but more health education needs to be given to those who prepare, sell, handle and consume foods.

While the research clearly has public health implications, U Ko Ko Zaw, deputy director of the Myanmar Health Research Department, said it was unlikely the results would end up with YCDC’s health department, which is responsible for ensuring food safety in Yangon.

“We do not work together with those authorities. We can’t stop anyone from selling food – that is the duty of YCDC’s health department,” he said. “But sometimes researchers directly contact YCDC and give their findings.”

The lack of enforcement means it is generally a case of buyer beware. Ma Su Su from Bahan township said she tries to avoid eating street food because of the frequency with which it makes her fall ill. It is easy to see how bacteria could be transmitted through street food, she said, because vendors do not wear gloves and wash plates and utensils in dirty water.

“If I want to eat I at least try to find a clean roadside food stall,” she said. “Sometimes I even ask the sellers to wear gloves but generally they don’t like it when I say this.”

Even street vendors say they are careful about what they eat. Ma Ei, who has sold Myanmar salads on Anawrahta Road for more than five years, said she only eats at stalls where vendors wear gloves and clean their plates properly.

“Vendors really need to lift their standards,” she said. “Some of the people around me don’t even bother to clean their dishes at the end of the day. They just do it the next day before they open.”

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Jan 20, 2014
Tim Lester

What is bunny chow?

Bunny chow Curry in a loaf? Bunny chow is a very popular street food dish in its home city Durban in South Africa

In Britain street food is no longer just about pies and fish and chips but a huge variety of cuisines, from Middle Eastern falafel to Argentinean empanadas. South African bunny chow is one of the latest dishes to join the rich variety on offer – but what is it?

Many people will not have heard of bunny chow. But after years on the other side of the world, it is now in Britain, found at a small number of restaurants and street food vendors.

Bunny chow has nothing to do with rabbits. And the origins of its unusual name are something of a mystery.

“Messy”, “crude” and “delicious” are all words associated with the spicy South African dish. It is made with a half or a quarter loaf of bread, hollowed out and filled with steaming curry cooked with meat or beans.

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Try an African recipe

Jollof rice

Cook flavour-packed jollof rice

Hop to it – make your own bunny chow

Make Senagalese couscous with beef sauce

A traditional bunny chow (or simply “bunny” if you are in Durban in South Africa where the dish originated) is made with mutton, chicken, mince, lamb or kidney beans. The loaf is crusty enough to hold the saucy filling in a parcel, and the bread from the centre is placed on top to keep the curry warm and provide diners with something to scoop with.

Cheap, tasty and filling, bunny chow is one of the most popular takeaway meals in its home city.

It is sold in small diners and takeaway kiosks and is rarely even served with a fork. Customers can take delight in dipping the bread on top to scoop up the curry, tearing their way round the loaf until reaching the remaining, deliciously curry-soaked bread piece at the bottom.

Managing to eat the dish without mess takes practice and expertise.

“It is not something you’d find in a restaurant. It is definitely Durban street food,” says Annemarie Groenewald, owner of South African restaurant Jabula near Chester, who spent most of her adult life in Durban.

“It is very popular. It is a food on the go”. She compares it to British fish and chips – the dish comes in a brown paper bag and customers often enjoy it sitting on the beach.

Durban is home to a very large population of people of Indian ethnic origin, and the dish fuses Indian and African influences.

Bunny chow may owe its origins to the Indian immigrants who arrived in South Africa in the second half of the 19th Century to be put to work on sugar plantations.

Bunny chowMutton bunny chow is a classic version of the cheap, spicy street food

One theory is that they began to use a sturdy bread loaf so they could transport curry to the plantations to eat during the day.

Today bunny chow has spread to other South African cities, but the original and for many people the best is still found in Durban.

The cheap, filling meal is often served to people living in the homeless shelters in the city who are not able to cook at home, according to Joe Scragg, who set up his bunny chow food stall business Stuffed in Bath after travelling in South Africa.

The waste-free potential of the meal inspired him to start selling it at festivals such as Glastonbury and as a street food.

“I serve it with a fork made of potato starch so there’s absolutely no waste come the end of the meal.” The only part of his product to be thrown away are the napkins he gives customers, because the bunny chow’s loaf acts “like an edible container”.

He says his food has attracted South African fans. “I get lots of South Africans coming up to me at different events just being so pleased to have seen it here.”

“It’s so strange it’s such a popular dish out there – it hasn’t made its way here at all.”

So will bunny chow take off in Britain, where places specialising in South African food are relatively hard to find.

Bunny chow is on the street food menu at Ms Groenewald’s restaurant, and she says it is popular with customers. But she believes her restaurant in Chester is the only one serving just South African food in the north west of England. There are plenty of restaurants in Britain serving North African cuisine, she adds.

Atholl Milton launched his company called Bunnychow in summer 2013, hoping to pioneer bunny chow in Britain. At first he took the dish round London in a truck. He opened a permanent stall in November.

“The common misconception is [that it is] rabbit… we receive that a lot,” he says, explaining that his first challenge is to educate people as to exactly what bunny chow is.

Smaller portions and providing forks to avoid mess are two ways Mr Milton hopes to attract customers, particularly workers on lunch breaks looking for something tasty to take back to the office.

“People I think are tired of having a cold sandwich.”

He says his bunny chow “has been well received” and works well in winter “because of its heartiness – it’s quite filling, it’s warm”.

Continue reading the main story

Discover more South African food

Biltong

Biltong: A cured beef fillet. Originally this would have been dried by hanging out in a South African dry breeze.

Chakalaka: A traditional vegetable relish often served with bread and curries.

Braai: A word for barbecue or grill which is a big part of food culture in some African countries. The meat is often marinated before cooking, for example it can be prepared with pineapple juice and vinegar.

Monkey gland sauce: Sometimes found drizzled over bunny chow, this is a spicy, peppery condiment which is nothing to with monkeys.

He plans to make an English version of the dish involving a cooked breakfast served in an English muffin. But first “we need to know if the market really is going to accept it”, he explains.

Mr Milton says there are also other awesome flavours in South African cuisine for Britain to explore.

There are “so many” distinctive South African dishes according to Margot Janse, an award-winning chef at fine-dining restaurant The Tasting Room in Franschhoek.

“South African cuisine is determined by its many cultures from straight forward meat, potato and rice, to sweet fragrant Malay curries and stronger Indian spiced food.”

“I love the fact that we still surprise people with our incredible produce and high standards of cuisine.”

“Game meat such as wildebeest and springbok are big here and I work on a bi-weekly schedule with a game farmer. He tells me what he can shoot and I hang it for two to three weeks.”

Another traditional South African dish is braai, a type of barbecue or grill which is a big part of food culture in some parts of Africa. And biltong is a cured meat snack enjoyed by many South Africans and which can be found in a number of delis and shops in Britain.

Annemarie Groenewald concedes that bunny chow is a dish that is not to everyone’s tastes. “It is not something that everybody most probably would enjoy because it is messy, unless you give them a knife and fork.”

“You have to eat it the way it should be eaten otherwise it’s not the real bunny chow.”

She does offer a fork to her customers but tells them the traditional way of breaking bunny chow with their hands will make it “taste a lot better”.

Join BBC Food on Facebook and Twitter @BBCFood

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Jan 20, 2014
Tim Lester

Mecca of street food

As living costs escalate, so do costs of eating out with family and friends. The tiny food street in Visveswarapuram, situated near the Sajjan Rao circle close to Gandhibazaar seems to give inflation a miss, doling out tasty food street at economical rates. The street comes to life only by six in the evening as the numerous small stalls and restaurants in the area begin their business. Even as outlets run by big multinational firms see empty seats, the food street is always abuzz with people savouring a range of delicacies from Congress buns to honey cakes, creamy sweet buns and puffs, oily bhajjis, coconut holige, lassi and gulkhand.

Ramesh Kumar, a middle aged businessman is devouring the delicacies with his family. “I enjoy the food here. It offers diverse options and is not heavy on the wallet. From crispy dosas to chilly bhajjis or parathas, you have food that suits all palates and pockets. My family enjoys the congress buns from VB bakery on the start of the street, lassi and paratha from the Rajastani paratha stall and crispy masala dosas from the Idly Mane.”

Samant Savant is another regular patron of the stalls on the street. “I work at Town Hall and walk down to this street at least thrice a week. I would recommend starting with the congress buns, filled with veggies and groundnuts, the honey cake and sweet puffs from the VB bakery, lassi and paratha and the superb masala dosa, served with liberal helpings of groundnut chutney and piping hot sambhar. You can try the syrupy sweet gulkhand and ice-cream with some shots of the yellow mango lassi that is sugary and reminds me of my home in northern Maharashtra. I discovered this street accidently and it has become my favourite haunt in the city.”

We start with VB bakery, which is packed with patrons binging on bread jam, the aloo bread combinations and many other delicacies. We try out the toasted congress bun, toasted bread with a smattering of groundnuts, served with a hint of pudhina chutney and assorted vegetables. The light snack provides an array of flavours and tastes excellent. We also grabbed a blob of the crunchy sweet puff and a portion of an oily samosa, both served piping hot. Our next stop is the extremely crowded chat store bang opposite the bakery. The store, rather unimaginatively titled the Chaat Store offers a range of spicy chaats and tangy gol gappas. Sushil managing the gol gappa and chat stall says, “It is very popular. I sell almost 200 golgappas everyday with weekends ensuring better business. My stall closes only close to midnight. The people enjoy the fair like atmosphere that this street provides.”

Ravi is one of the workers at the dosa stall, creating dozen dosas and holiges, with generous dollops of ghee. As we sample the crispy dosas, he says, “I add a lot of ghee once I spread the dosa on the tava, since it makes the dosa crispy and tasty. We also make holige and other sweets such as jalebis during the festival season.” The stall also churns out small fluffy idlis, which are delightful with the chutney.

We finish the meal like many other patrons with a sinful sampling of the sugary gulkhand with a helping of ice-cream served by a smiling Shiva in his stall on the far end of the tiny street.

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Jan 20, 2014
Tina George

Celebrating Nature’s Five Elements

Tamil literature boasts of a very keen understanding of the five elements of nature. How does the Tamil society today respond to these elements? How do the changes in the modern world impact these elements?

These questions will be addressed at Aimbootham Vizha — a one-day event that will celebrate the five elements. The event will be organised by Poovulagin Nanbargal, and is aimed at reliving the glory of the Tamil history even while taking a relook at the various contemporary issues confronting Tamils. Well-known critics and writers will be discussing these topics at the event.

Aimbootham Vizha will document what must be known in the relationship between nature and the Tamil society. The event has been inspired from the works of Tamil literaure like Sangam and Bharathi, that have always celebrated the five elements of nature. The idea of taking the five elements as the theme goes back to the ancient Tamils who were well aware that human life owed its very existence to the five elements. These elements  were the fundamentals of traditional medicine across the world, according to the medical literature of any civilisation, says the team behind Aimbootham Vizha.

The event is expected to become as much a success as the previous events organised by  Poovulagin Nanbargal. These include Ainthinai Vizha, centering on the five Tamil land formations, and Muneer Vizhavu, the festival of water.

The event will incorporate musical and food festivals. Besides, it will host book stalls and a photo exhibition. Cultural performances by tribal communities from various parts of Tamil Nadu will be a highlight. As many as 20 books on contemporary environmental issues will also be released, and the day is set to end with a dinner based on millets.

The event will take place at Loyola College on February 2. The registration fee is `250.

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