Product Review: Tava Ghee (Los Angeles, California)

Note: In exchange for a product review of Los Angeles-based Tava Ghee, I received four samples of their ghee as well as a tote bag.


 

I first heard about Tava Ghee through an email that mentioned their presence at the 2015 New York Summer Fancy Food Show.  Although I didn’t get to try their product at the time – perhaps I was too full of seaweed, too full of pickled beets or too full of it – a California PR firm later asked me for my input.

To start things off, what is ghee, aka clarified butter?  Essentially, it is butter nearly entirely removed (through boiling) of milk solids.  Guau!

What you may not know is that this allows lactose-intolerant people to jump back in the ring and start enjoying food again with you.  So, if you’re greedy, don’t stock ghee.

Additionally, it has a high smoke point, and with all of that moisture – c/o of the milk solids – now gone, this stuff can last for months unrefrigerated.  It may also have a bunch of health benefits that one wouldn’t necessarily expect from butter.

Product Review Tava Ghee (3)
As for the extent of my knowledge of ghee…I knew it was a dairy product from South Asia, with an emphasis on India.  I also knew that I knew nothing also about it.  However, I can’t see how feeding grass to butter would be a productive use of one’s day.

To be fair though, that’s an admirable ingredients list.  Right, on to the swag:

Product Review Tava Ghee (1)Although I earlier mentioned that I was sent four samples (a complete set), due to the seal of one of them – Green Chili Ghee – being broken upon arrival, the total is now down to three, Original, Himalayan Pink Salt and Vanilla Bean:

Product Review Tava Ghee (2)

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Having never tasted ghee straight out of the container, my pretzels dove right in.  The original tasted light and refreshing, and reminded me of a friend’s “movie butter.”  That’s not to say I dug a spoon into that, but the aromas and tastes were similar.

The Himalayan Pink Salt also lent a slight salty note to the already salty pretzel, but my favorite was easily the Vanilla Bean.  I was worried that it would be an overpowering accent (bad childhood memories of vanilla-scented candles), but it was only subtly present.  It would be a fine way to prepare French toast, onion rings or to go off the deep-end fried rock shrimp.

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Cooking

Ruefully, I found that the fridge was rather lacking for the taste test, and settled with sautéed onions.  Again, although I liked each of the three varieties (and probably would have enjoyed the Green Chili one too), the Vanilla Bean stood out and offered a nice, slightly sweet addition to the humble bulb.


 

The tava in Tava Ghee has two meanings, one as the Hindi word for small cast iron pan, and the second as the first four letters of Tavares, the co-founder’s maiden name.

If you’re interested in making a purchase, although you can’t yet do it on their website, try contacting one of these stores.

Top 5 Dishes of Kerala

The gods must be huge foodies to call Kerala their own country! Kerala, being located on the southwestern coast of India, has all types of seafood, and the passage of time has only made the cooking more delicious. They also use meats like chicken, mutton and beef liberally in their cuisine. A unique blend of hot and tangy spices has grown here over the years whose mere smell makes one’s mouth (and eyes) water!

The highlight of their cuisine which might make you cringe in the beginning is Coconut– grated coconut, coconut milk basically anything coconut. It is quite difficult to find a dish that doesn’t contain it. But thanks to the amazing culinary skills of the people making coconut blend in so well, very soon, you won’t want to go back to your non-coconut cuisine!And vegetarians worry not!

They have plenty of vegetarian dishes too- especially involving Rice and Tamarind. Though beware, as your vegetarian resolve will be put to a very tough test around here. Right from breakfast foods and snacks to heavy lunch and dinner, Kerala cuisine never disappoints. Here are 5 of my favorites:

1.Puttu and Kadala

Puttu and Kadala                                                                                      Photo by Pranchiyettan, CC BY-SA 2.5 IN

This is a very famous breakfast food. Puttu is basically cylindrical shaped dumplings made of steamed rice. It is cooked with coconut shavings which give it a unique aroma and taste. The steamed rice is very soft and chewy and gives you a sensation of melting in your mouth. Puttu is most commonly eaten with kadala which is a gravy made of black peas. It’s quite spicy but not the spiciest thing you’ll find in Kerala cuisine. If you are an ‘eat-only-sea-food-when-near-the-sea’ person, Puttu is also served fish curry in some places. If you are a brave-heart and a brave-tongue, try Puttu with ripe Bananas and sugar and the sweetness will stay with you all day.

2.Thalassery Biriyani

Thalassery Biriyani                                                                                                  Photo by Shehal Joseph, CC BY 2.0

This Biryani is so tasty that the state needed no more variants! People in Kerala have a special kind of rice meant specifically for this dish- called Khaima or Jeerakasala rice which is much thinner than basmati rice. This gives the biryani a unique texture, which provides a burst of flavors in your mouth. The dish is traditionally made with chicken pieces but vegetarian variants are served in some places. Along with the common raita, there is a special accompaniment to this biryani. It’s chutney made by mixing grated coconut and mint leaves. It’s unique, but certainly delectable.

3. Chips

Chips                                                                                         Photo by thebittenword.com, CC BY 2.0

You will never be short of things to munch on in Kerala- no matter where you are. The place has an obsession with frying whatever they can find. But I have to give it to them, as the results are extremely tasty. The most common fried item in Kerala is banana chips fried in coconut oil that itself tastes amazing. But some people can sprinkle them with a blend of spices which takes it to a whole new level. Kerala is probably the only place which makes jackfruit chips.These are coated with tangy spices and the two flavors blend to create magic. Tapioca is the other staple of Kerala besides rice and is used to make chips as well. Try them with fish curry and you will want to kill yourself for not discovering it earlier.

4. Parota

Parota                                                                                         Photo by Charles Haynes, CC BY-SA 2.0

Malayalees love their rice but recently because of health concerns, dinner has shifted to wheat products. But there’s no need to worry, Kerala has its specialties in that field too. Kerala Parota, as it is famously called is a wheat delicacy. It is really soft and chewy yet crispy on the outside. It is flaky appears to crumble easily. Nevertheless, the Parota is best eaten with the most exotic and spicy curries, leading to a perfectly blended taste. These Parotas can be eaten with any type of curry dish including fish, chicken, mutton, beef or vegetable stews that are all available in abundance in Kerala!

5. Payasam

Payasam                                                                                             Photo by Manish Chauhan, CC BY 2.0

This is the traditional and beloved dessert. There are several different variants of Payasam depending on the base ingredient used, but all of them are boiled with milk and sweetened with sugar or jaggery. The common ones are rice, dal, wheat and vermicelli. Several kinds have coconut in them and many are flavored with spices. They also make payasam with fruit bases and you should definitely try ‘Chakkapradhamam’ which is made with jackfruit pulp. Payasam is generally served in earthen pots or cups, but in Sadhya, the typical Kerala vegetarian meal, it is served on a flat banana leaf and is an experience worth having!

Kerala is beautiful. But the gastronomic experience takes it to another level. If you are a foodie, this is one place you simply have to visit. And while you’re there, pick up a couple of recipes too- as you’re going to want more and more!

Author bio:

Rohit is a huge foodie- both in size and in passion! He is an aspiring food critic and indulges in cooking once in a while. He shares his tasty insights and delicious discoveries on his travel blog- http://www.transindiatravels.com.

Restaurant Review: The Federal Bar, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Note: In exchange for a comped meal at The Federal Bar, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC, I am writing this review.

Williamsburg’s The Federal Bar is just about one month old, and judging by my entirely unscientific conjecture – and by the opinions of a couple of waiters – locals and visitors are still learning about it.  However, it may help that they are affiliated with LA-based Knitting Factory Entertainment, named for The Knitting Factory music venue originally in Manhattan but now, among other places in the US, right next door.

The Federal Bar, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC (1)When I walked in, there were no hosts, so I made my way to the bar in the back, where I asked a couple of helpful but confused servers about where to sit.

The Federal Bar was most recently a Japanese place, and initially a carriage house.  The lighting was low, right above the bar was a globe dangling from the ceiling, and the wallpaper showed various sewing and knitting terms and pictures of vests.

Little did I know that four other bloggers would be joining, but I’ll touch upon that point in a bit.

The Federal Bar, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC (2)
Both the food and cocktail menus were all over the place.

Generally, when I walk by a restaurant that proudly advertises a mix of “American, Spanish, Chinese, and Italian” cuisines, I take a picture of the sign, send it to friends who would get a kick out of the not-uncommon-enough idea, and then head for the hills.

Then again, I was hungry, I was there to eat, and I’m quite open to trying nearly anything once.

The Federal Bar, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC (3)

For a drink, I admittedly don’t know my way too well around a liquor menu.  So, I went with the most farfetched choice, The Infidelity, which contained both egg and smoke.  To which part of the much maligned food pyramid does smoke belong?  It may not have been the the best choice, but certainly tasted each of the five ingredients (…which again may be why it wasn’t the best choice).

Later on in the meal, I ordered a Pinot Noir, but it tasted warm and diluted.  With that said, I appreciate that our waitress placed carafes of water on the table.

The Federal Bar, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC (4)
Above, I tried the collard green salad with watermelon, farro, fennel, and ricotta salata.  It was refreshing and characteristically bitter, owing to the collard greens.  And in case you licorice-shy readers were worried (I’m one of them), this isn’t your uncooked after-dinner Indian restaurant fennel seed.

Though, ordering food is where things got a bit tricky.  Originally, it was just a party of three, and our waitress took our individual orders.  Soon after, the other two people sat down, then our appetizers were served, and then the head chef came by to chat.  He thought that we were ordering meals as a table; when two people asked for the same dish, only one was prepared because he thought it was ridiculous that a menu tasting would work thus.

The Federal Bar, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC (5)

Fortunately though, my dishes remained unfazed.

For my main, I had the Everything Bagel Burger with dill cream cheese and salmon bacon (in case anyone at The Federal Bar is reading this, your website says “salmon burger” as one of the toppings).  According to the head chef, many items on the menu were either made in-house or sourced locally; sure enough, the ketchup hinted more at a thicker marinara sauce than even being faintly sweet, and I really hope that the bagels could claim NY as their birthplace.  Indeed, I didn’t get the feeling that quality was put on the backburner.

In spite of the pickle not being sour, overall the burger and fries were a decent choice.  To give The Federal Bar some credit, fries come with their burgers as a rule.

The Federal Bar, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC (6)
What’s that?  That’s what we call an after-thought.

The table was still nearly full of plates, but the chef mentioned that they had one dessert at the time – an unpside-down pineapple donut bread pudding – and that it wasn’t on the menu.  My four fellow diners all looked quite satisfied before the dessert came, so my usual unofficial role as food compactor came to shine once again.  Pineapple was the dominant flavor, but where was the donut?

Though the presentation didn’t make the bread pudding too inviting, something loaded with sugar was a welcome change.

Fortunately, the caramelized, lemon zest pecans left over from another diner’s salad successfully assumed that role:

The Federal Bar, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC (7)

Yes, I was able to get a take-out portion of these pecans, which I liberally dropped on my bran cereal for subsequent breakfasts.


 

All in all, I think if I had dined alone the meal would have had more kinks worked out.  Still, The Federal Bar is a relatively new restaurant, and I’d say they’re in pretty good shape considering their infancy.  Prices reflect Williamsburg’s desire to compete with much of Manhattan, though portions evoke more Texas than Tribeca.

I’d go back, possibly to see what they’ve got going on for brunch.

Japanese Language Lessons: Asia’s Sordid Snacks

As you may have already guessed by now, Japan is a weird place.

Let’s take snacks for example.  First, if you were to utter snack in Japan, many people might think you are on a fast-track to a スナック  (sunakku), a claustrophic, smoke-filled bar often located in red-light districts.  Strange, right?  Well…可笑しい (okashii) often means funny, and it also means strange, but if you chopped off the last letter and arrived at お菓子 (okashi), you’d have the English word your stomach is looking for, snacks.

On the same topic, have you heard of Lotte?  It’s a Japanese company founded by a Korean national named for a character in a German novel, and they are most well-known for their snacks.  Wouldn’t that be something if they operated スナック that only served Lotte-branded お菓子?  Let’s find out…

Manhattan, New York- The Secret Behind East Asian Snacks

Continuing with our Japanese language lesson, we’re now going to dive right into somewhat crude territory.  In Manhattan the other day, I was passing through a Korean supermarket when Kancho, the product on the left, stopped me in my tracks.  To be honest, I chuckled a bit.

Yes, kancho in Japanese has a few meanings– 官庁 (government office), 灌頂 (akin to a Buddhist baptism/rite-of-passage) and 館長 (superintendent/curator) are but three of its definitions.  But how can we be so sure they weren’t going for 浣腸, which means enema…?   You probably shouldn’t think twice about what that mascot represents.

The situation became murkier as I came across D’asses, the old standard of Japanese convenience stores.

So, who’s up for some sushi?

Toothpaste, Part Two: Taiwan, USA

On our last trip throughout the wide world of toothpaste, we may have come to the conclusion that good dental hygiene has nothing to do with what influences certain shoppers.

A memorable, if controversial brand though, oh that stuff sells.

Jiayi (Chiayi), Taiwan - White Men-Black Man Toothpaste

In Taiwan, where the stories behind these product names and the products themselves clearly have no detrimental effect on the population, allow me to be the first to introduce you to White Men toothpaste; yes, the Chinese reads “white person” (白人 bái​rén).  Then again, was this actually in response to Barbie Colgate?

In any event, can Taiwan expect to see a more regionally-predictable brand anytime soon?

Maybe not.

2015 New York Summer Fancy Food Show

The 2015 New York Summer Fancy Food Show was similar to the 2014 event in that 1) once again, the U.S. booths did their best to ignore me, 2) Tunisia had the best main dish and 3) attendees stayed far away from the China portion.  Over in Italy, gestures spoke louder than words, half of Mexico was composed of tequila producers and someone over in Korea – no, not that Korea – regaled me (for 45 minutes, mind you) with the health benefits of bamboo salt.  In case you’re curious, it tastes like boiled eggs.So, how about the loot?:

2015 New York Summer Fancy Food Show Loot

Not pictured: Things not in this picture

It was a liquid-heavy haul for samples this year.  Overall however, notable flavor profiles include La Croix passion fruit seltzer, Qancha corn nuts (aka chulpe), salmon jerky, teapigs matcha with elderflower, and Navitas coconut hemp sunflower seeds (aka pepitas).  Now that I’m inspecting these products more closely, I reckon that having a meal consisting solely of kombucha and kimchi might have devastating effects.


Have you ever attended a food expo?

The Great Bunny Chow (South Africa)

Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa - Bunny Chow

What part of this is a sandwich?

So…there’s a chance that I used the phrase “the great” in the title either in the pejorative sense, or to reference another sandwich from South Africa called gatsby.

Regardless of whether I enjoyed this food, what seems to be in less dispute is the origin of the name of bunny chow.

Gotcha again!  That’s even more contentious.  Less disputable is that the name “bunny” stems from the South Asian merchant class called Bania.  But did the idea stem from Indian golf caddies or a necessity to find a sturdier bread to support the curry, vegetables, beans, potatoes (and these days, meat) than the beloved roti?

The one I tried (above), in Soweto, Johannesburg, looks awfully downtrodden.  I didn’t actually know what bunny chow was before a local told me to GET SOMETHING ALREADY.  Wait sec…this looks somewhat familiar after all.


Would you prefer a gatsby over bunny chow?