Ever wanted to eat some oxtail? Or spread fig with sesame jam on your pita? Or bite into freshly made mozzarella on Italian bread? Or spice up your diet with authentic South Asian, Italian, and Latino staples?
The Reporter staff found some interesting food items in Hudson County’s ethnic grocery stores and supermarkets.
Read on to sample the delicacies.
South Asian/Indian: From fresh cumin to snack chips
Given the store’s name alone, one might not expect much from Apna Bazar Cash + Carry located at 2975 Kennedy Blvd. in Jersey City. But Hudson County’s thriving, growing South Asian community swears by this supermarket at Jersey City’s renowned India Square.
“We always come here to shop. It’s the only place I can come and find things I need,” said Indira Sengupta, a Secaucus resident who often takes the No. 2 New Jersey Transit bus to Apna.
Other customers testified that Apna is the preferred market for South Asian cuisine: Fresh, not just ground, cumin, galangal, or gourd – key ingredients used in chili pastes. For the Westerner who may be unfamiliar with the details of Asian cooking, Apna provides a tour and crash course of foods rarely seen elsewhere in New Jersey. Items such as mango relish, coconut flakes, turmeric root, and honey sweetened yogurts are used for making lassi, a popular beverage.
One interesting feature at Apna is the ability to find herbs and spices in various forms under one roof. Coriander leaves, roots, and fruit can be found, in addition to ground coriander powder.
Sengupta translated for another shopper who explained that Indian cooks often use all parts of a plant when preparing a meal. U.S. markets, this shopper said, typically offer only dried ground spices and herbs, leaving shoppers at a loss when in need of, say, fresh sweet basil leaves or tamarind flowers.
The store includes what appears to be a broad selection of popular South Asian snack foods, including hot chips, potato chakli, vadai, and a packaged food that looks like India’s answer to Cheetos.
Apna also carries many vegetables and spices common in most Western dishes, thus saving shoppers from also having to make separate trips to other stores for their groceries.
Italian: Fresh ‘mutz’ and prosciutto
Not everyone cooks like grandma or “nonna,” who may have prepared gravy or homemade pasta from scratch. But there are several places to get authentic Italian ingredients in Hudson County.
On 143 Front St. in Secaucus, visitors will find Filomena’s Italian Deli, which carries a number of meats and cheeses available by the pound. Patrick DeCesare, a third generation Italian and lifelong Hoboken resident, took his inspiration from his grandmother Filomena for the meals he serves up on a daily basis.
DeCesare sells Parmagiano-Reggiano, a hard, granular cheese made from raw cow’s milk that is produced in areas of Italy such as Parma, Modena, Bologna, and Reggio Emilia. According to DeCesare it is often used as “a great crumbling cheese” that can be sprinkled on fresh pasta, accompanied by a glass of wine or some sopressata. The cheese has a sharp, nutty and fruity taste and often sells for $18 a pound.
He also sells prosciutto di Parma, a salty, air-cured meat that can be sliced up for a sandwich or placed in a salad. Finally, Filomena’s offers its own olive oil, especially made in Bolgheri, in the Tuscany region of Italy.
Secaucus is also known for originating a number of ethnic and specialty foods with places like the Toscana Cheese Company, which makes fresh mozzarella and Latin cheeses like Queso de Hoja and Oaxaca. Then there is Goya, which stocks the shelves of many major supermarkets and caters to Latin American cooking with products such as beans, rice, and olives among many others.
Then there are the Italian delis of Hoboken, several of which boast home made mozzarella.
Many recommend Fiore’s Deli at 414 Adams St. in Hoboken as a place to get a number of authentic Italian specialty items, particularly the “mutz.” On a recent Friday afternoon, a long line extended from the corner to the door.
The deli stocks a number of items such as pasta, peppers, tomato sauce, and much more. Popular items include Italian imports such as provolone, aged over a year, and the Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is aged over three years before it is sold. Other top sellers include cured meats like Mortadella, Prosciutto, Sopressata, and homemade sausage that is made from cured pork, salt, black pepper, and fennel. See sidebar for the making of the “muzz.”
Mediterranean and Latino
Around the world in just one supermarket is Food Basics at 1425 Kennedy Blvd. in North Bergen, which sells a variety of Mediterranean and Hispanic cuisine.
Oxtail is on the menu for stew and soup. Oxtail is traditionally found in Caribbean, Latin American, and Vietnamese cuisine.
Mediterranean delicacies are also prevalent at Food Basics. Fig with sesame jam is a way to make any bread more savory.
For a change of fruit, try dates, which can be mixed with milk as a paste, yogurt, or bread. According to organicfacts.net, dates help fight constipation, intestinal disorders, weight gain, heart problems, and abdominal cancer.
Grape leaves also provide a burst of flavor for your taste buds. They are generally stuffed with rice or meat.
Curtido, pickled vegetables, are paired with pupusas, which are corn tortillas filled with cheese, chicharrόn (fried, crisp pork), or refried beans. Curtido is cabbage slaw in vinegar that can transform your kitchen into a pupuseria.
You can pick up Colombian arepas which are corn griddle cakes that are often filled with cheese. According to Livestrong.com, a plain arepa contains vitamin C as well as iron, which enhances skin elasticity and joint function.
Latino: A surprise that looks like a cactus
Walk into West New York’s El Extra, located at 5505 Palisade Ave., and it's as if you've been instantly transported to a Latino country; or, more accurately, several different Latino countries. Aisle after aisle of Cuban, El Salvadorian, Dominican, and Mexican specialty sodas, cookies, juices, and rices stretch out before you.
For those unfamiliar with Latino cuisines, the produce aisle is the place to go for delicious culinary discoveries, many of which may appear a tad less than edible.
Take the nopales for example. Not everyone would stare at a crate full of prickly cactus pads and think "dinner," but beneath a spiny and unwelcoming exterior lies a tender, juicy treat.
Considered a vegetable and used most commonly in Mexican dishes, the skins are removed and the meat is either cooked or canned and pickled, after which the nopales make a slightly tangy addition to omelets, salads, and tacos.
Just next to the cactus are fresh stalks of sabila fresco; or, aloe vera. Most are familiar with the plant as a sunburn remedy, but in many Latino countries its gel is added to yogurts, desserts, and juices. Aloe vera juice is said to act as a digestive aid, but don’t stick it in a juicer and wash it down. If improperly prepared or imbibed in large doses, it can be harmful to your health.
About a mile south in Union City is Mi Bandera, located at 518 32nd St. Here lie literal piles of the waxy yucca root (also known as cassava), which is native to South America. It is widely cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions for its starchy, high carbohydrate yield, and is steamed, mashed, fried, and dried. The dried version is known as tapioca.
Improper preparation of yucca can leave small traces of cyanide that can be harmful in the long term, but when properly prepared, it stands as a yummy substitute for potatoes and a filling addition to soups, stews, and gravies.
And of course, there’s the perhaps slightly more familiar tomatillo; a green plant in the nightshade family that is related to the gooseberry. The name is deceiving, because they have no relation to the tomato.
The first indication of this is that the small green Mexican fruit comes in an inedible, papery husk which is removed before preparation. They are the key ingredient in Latin American salsas verdes, or, green sauces.
They are commonly served raw like their sister, red tomato salsas, or cooked and poured over tacos and enchiladas. Green salsas are tangier and more savory than tomato-based sauces.
Making the ‘mutz’
At Fiore’s Italian Deli on the west side of Hoboken, the Reporter went into the kitchen with owner John Amato, 77. Dominick Vitolo – who has been with Fiore’s for nearly 47 years – sliced through fresh curds in the mutz-making process before adding cold water, cooking, and then braiding them.
Fiore’s goes back to 1913 when Alfonse Fiore first started out selling mozzarella, ricotta, and milk. In 1929 his son Joseph took over until Amato purchased the establishment in 1965 after having worked there for 15 years.
“At one time, 90 percent of the business came from Italians,” said Amato. “You had to speak Italian.” But that has long changed and Fiore’s attracts people of all backgrounds.
“We are serving almost four generations of people,” said Amato. “I know their grandmothers, mothers, their daughters...”
Amato’s customers are loyal and keep the Fiore tradition in the family.