In the Virgin Islands, Fungi Tells a Story

Korsha Wilson wrote . . . . . . . . .

At Petite Pump Room, a waterfront restaurant in Charlotte Amalie on the island of St. Thomas, lunchtime usually finds locals and visitors filling the tables and bar, taking in the island’s hills and watching seaplanes take off and land in the harbor from nearby St. Croix.

Since 1970, the Petite Pump Room has been a meeting place, offering a menu of local favorites — stewed conch in butter sauce, fried local snapper with a Creole sauce of tomato and bell peppers — alongside typical fare like sandwiches and salads. But the restaurant’s fungi, a side dish made of hot cornmeal that’s easy to overlook, is cherished by those from the islands but remains unfamiliar to most visitors. “A lot of them will try it once you explain it to them,” said Judy Watson, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Michael Anthony Watson.

Fungi (pronounced foon-GEE), a cooked yellow cornmeal mixture dotted with tender okra and thinned with chunks of butter, is a staple on dinner tables and was once a fixture on restaurant menus across the Virgin Islands.

But it is hard to find at newer restaurants, leaving institutions like Petite Pump Room, De’ Coal Pot on the east side of the island and Gladys’ Cafe in Charlotte Amalie to keep the dish alive on their menus.

Most native Virgin Islanders fondly remember fungi as a part of their childhoods, and as a key element of fish and fungi, a common meal, said Mr. Watson, 59. “We ate it once a week or so growing up, and I’ve always enjoyed it,” he said. “I used to beg my older sister to make it for me.”

But the recipe also represents an important piece of Virgin Islands history. Fungi’s roots extend back to the 18th century when, under colonial rule, food was rationed for enslaved Africans on the islands as part of a 1755 law that required slave owners to provide enslaved persons with corn flour or cassava, as well as salt pork.

In his 1992 book, “Slave Society in the Danish West Indies,” the author and professor Neville A.T. Hall writes that this amount would have been two and a half quarts of cassava or cornmeal per week, a small amount considering the hard labor required during harvest season. To fill in the gaps, enslaved Africans grew their own provisions on land hidden from slave owners. Okra, a key ingredient in West African cooking brought to the Caribbean by the trans-Atlantic slave trade, was likely added to the cornmeal around this time, increasing the dish’s nutritional value, adding an earthy flavor and stretching it into a meal that could feed many.

Preserving this part of Virgin Islands history is important for Julius Jackson, the chef and manager at the cafe and bakery of My Brother’s Workshop, a nonprofit organization that teaches managerial skills and culinary arts in Charlotte Amalie. “When they make it, they usually say their grandparents and the adults in their life eat fungi,” Mr. Jackson said of his students.

The decline in the dish’s popularity isn’t unexpected, as it requires more preparation than other staples like fried plantains or rice and beans. The process of whipping, or “turning” it, is a time-consuming task that prevents lumps and aerates the mixture.

But the appeal of fungi is that it uses few ingredients to create a flavorful accompaniment to a stewed or fried protein.

In the cafe and in Mr. Jackson’s cookbook, “My Modern Caribbean Kitchen,” his recipe for fungi is simplified: Cook the okra until tender before whisking in a steady stream of cornmeal. The goal of his lessons at the cafe — and this simplification — is to encourage a new generation of cooks to make fungi at home.

He serves his fungi in a bowl of kallaloo, a hot soup made with spinach, pork and seafood, similar to the Nigerian dish efo riro. In teaching younger cooks about recipes like fungi, he hopes to illustrate how many Caribbean dishes are linked directly to West Africa. “There’s so much history in our food that tells our story, and I can actually show them that,” Mr. Jackson said.

As more restaurants specializing in global cuisines arrive on the island, traditional dishes have become harder to come by. But that doesn’t mean they should disappear completely, said Digby Stridiron, a chef who grew up on St. Croix. “If there’s a restaurant here that does traditional food, they should serve fungi,” he said. “Just like you see jerk in Jamaica or roti in Trinidad, because that’s what we eat here.”

Mr. Stridiron is in the process of opening a restaurant on St. Thomas and believes that one way to preserve fungi may be to modernize it. For his menu, he wants to source high-quality cornmeal from producers like Anson Mills as well as dehydrated okra pods to enhance the flavor as they are cooked with the cornmeal.

“The islands are a transitional place where people are coming together and leaving their mark through food,” he said. “It’s always evolving. As chefs, it’s our responsibility to keep dishes alive and innovate them, while getting to the root of the dish and not losing sight of the flavor and the concept.”

Source: The New York Times

Physically Active at Work? It’s Not as Healthy as Leisure Exercise

Denise Mann wrote . . . . . . . . .

Going for a brisk walk after a long day at work may be better for your heart than getting all of your exercise on the job.

New research suggests that while current health guidelines indicate that leisure-time activity and physical activity at work are created equally when it comes to heart health benefits, this may not be the case after all.

Leisure-time exercise — whether it be taking a walk, jogging or hopping on your Peloton bike after a hard day’s work — can improve heart health, but only getting your exercise on the job seems to increase heart risks.

This is what’s known as the “physical activity paradox,” said study author Andreas Holtermann, a professor at the National Research Centre for the Working Environment in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“Leisure physical activity leads to fitness, improved health and well-being, but work physical activity leads to fatigue, no fitness gain, and elevated heart rate and blood pressure over the day without sufficient rest,” Holtermann said.

For the study, researchers asked close to 104,000 people (aged 20 to 100 years) from the Copenhagen General Population Study to rate their leisure-time and employment physical activity as low, moderate, high or very high.

There were more than 7,900 major cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, and about 9,850 deaths overall during an average of 10 years of follow-up. The more leisure-time physical activity a person reported, the lower their risk of dying or experiencing a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular event.

By contrast, folks who said they got most of their physical activity on the job were more likely to die or sustain a cardiovascular event than those people who reported less manual labor. The findings held even after the researchers controlled for other factors that affect heart and stroke risks, such as weight, alcohol intake, smoking status, cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

Something has to change, Holtermann said.

“Work ought to be organized, so the worker not become too fatigued or exhausted, with sufficient time/ability for recovery, so they have energy to do the health-promoting activities at leisure,” he said. “The worker ought to take responsibility for…improving physical activity during leisure, as well as getting sufficient recovery to recuperate from work.”

In an editorial accompanying the new study, Martin Halle and Melanie Heitkamp, of the Technical University of Munich in Germany, also called for change. “Companies should offer breaks and recovery time during work, sufficient recreational breaks and complementary exercise training for their employees, especially for workers in heavy manual jobs,” they wrote.

The research was published in the European Heart Journal.

Two American cardiologists agreed that leisure-time physical activity is important for promoting heart health and that occupational activity can be deleterious.

“In general, leisure-time physical activity, which is often of the endurance type, promotes cardiovascular health and reduces the risk of suffering a fatal heart attack,” said Dr. Evan Appelbaum, director of Men’s Health Boston. He was not involved in the new study.

“Occupational physical activity, typically more resistance-type, lacks adequate rest and recovery and may not reduce risk, and may increase risk of heart attack,” Appelbaum said.

Repeat bouts of high-intensity burst exercises such as those that may be part of manual labor can cause a very rapid rise in heart rate. Spikes in heart rate could help trigger cardiovascular crises “or promote higher levels of inflammation/injury that could promote heart disease over time,” Appelbaum added.

If the only exercise you get is at work, it’s not enough to boost heart health, said Dr. Guy Mintz. He directs cardiovascular health at Northwell Health’s Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.

“Patients engage in physical activity during time away from work, and any physical activity at work is a bonus, not a replacement, for good aerobic activity,” Mintz said. “The findings serve as a wake-up call to companies to promote regular cardiovascular activities in the workday. This can range from yoga, to floor exercise like Tai Chi, to step competitions, etc., to gyms on site.”

More people are working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that could be a good thing, Mintz noted.

“There is a great opportunity to build in effective leisure-time activities into the workday to promote cardiovascular health and a happier and healthier workforce,” he said. “I recommend that all my patients engage in 40 minutes of continuous aerobic activity, like walking, at least four times a week, and there is no excuse not to achieve this goal while working from home.”

Source: HealthDay

The History of the Dumpling: from Ravioli to Wonton to Gyoza

Silvia Marchetti wrote . . . . . . . . .

In Italy, people with a craving for wonton refer to them as ravioli cinesi, or “Chinese ravioli”, which is also how they are listed on the menus of Chinese restaurants in the country. And yet in Hong Kong, tortellini and ravioli are often described as Italian wonton.

Is this just because the stuffed dumplings look alike, or is there an ancient link and a common ground that straddles the line between history and myth?

There are infinite varieties of stuffed dough across the world, from Russian pelmeni to Nepalese and Tibetan momos, Japanese gyoza, Arabic samosa, Uzbek samsa and Korean mandu.

They vary in shape, size, and fillings – meat, seafood, vegetables, spices, mushrooms or fruit – and how they are prepared and eaten, whether in soup, fried, boiled, steamed or baked. They can be salty or sweet, served as a main course or dessert, eaten on their own or with a sauce.

But whether it’s Syrian shish barak drenched in yogurt, Italian fried seadas (filled with honey), cjarsons (with apple, raisins and chocolate) or the prawn- and pork-filled wonton eaten in Hong Kong, they all belong to the same huge food family.

It is likely that the art of wrapping and pinching dough around a succulent morsel originated in the Middle East and Central Asia, then diverged, with one “flow” going towards the Mediterranean while the other spread east, creating two parallel food cultures.

Although this is just one of many scholarly theories and lacks empirical proof, were evidence to surface it could suggest Chinese dumplings aren’t 100 per cent Chinese but involve foreign influences.

Eugene Anderson, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of California, Riverside, is a food and nutrition scholar who has written widely on China. Anderson traces the origins of stuffed to Central Asia and the migration from there of the Turkic peoples, a collection of ethnic groups whose members live everywhere from Turkey to Siberia to parts of China.

The Turks, who came from the region of the Altai where Mongolia, China and Russia meet, were a tribe associated with the Xianbei people, themselves related to the Mongols, who started conquering China in the early 4th century.

“It certainly seems more and more clear that these stuffed dumplings were invented in the Middle East somewhere, and then picked up and spread everywhere by the Turkic but also by Iranic people and others”, says Anderson. He is the co-author of recently published book Crossroads of Cuisine: The Eurasian Heartland, the Silk Roads and Food, which focuses on Central Asian food history.

Support for this theory of the evolution of stuffed dumplings can be found in the migration of the Turkic word for them, mantu, which led to the Korean mandu, Greek manti and Chinese mantou. The Russian words for stuffed dough – pierogi, pelmeni and also possibly vareniki – are also of Turkic origin.

Anderson says Chinese dumplings seem to be borrowed from central Asia. “I doubt if the Chinese originated them, because they didn’t have good flour milling technology till the Han dynasty [202BC-220AD]. I’d wildly guess the dumplings were invented in the ancient Near East, but we have absolutely no clue. No records at all.” The Near East roughly encompasses Western Asia, Turkey and Egypt, and was a term used by Europeans to distinguish those places from what they called the Far East.

The Chinese-Turkic dumplings later spread to Korea, Japan and Vietnam, and subsequently farther in Southeast Asia with the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) diaspora when the Chinese expanded to the region they call Nanyang, adds Anderson. The Koreans might have got their dumpling from the Mongols, who had come to use the Turkic term mandu in the Mongol Empire period (1206-1368), or earlier, when the Mongol-related Xianbei ruled northern China in the Wei dynasty (386-534).

“I expect archaeology will change the dumpling picture pretty dramatically in the future, as dry sites in Central Asia produce mummified ones. Alas, things like this can never be pinpointed, because history is all about wars and generals and kings, never about who invented humble folk foods,” says Anderson.

There’s the endless conundrum of independent invention versus diffusion which needs to be taken into account when weighing food origins, and even though language is a good guide, it can often be tricky, with words changing meaning over time. Anderson says that early Chinese mantou were originally stuffed dumplings, but now the word describes soft steamed or fried buns.

Miranda Brown, professor of Chinese studies in the department of Asian languages and cultures at the University of Michigan, says dumplings were being eaten in China by 300AD, but says although “China may be a dumpling lover’s heaven it is not its original homeland”.

Again, language plays a key role. “The ancient Chinese just chose characters that approximated the sound of the foreign word. In ancient China, mantou was pronounced man-teh, just like in Turkish,” Brown says.

She says the Chinese quickly took to the dumpling art and honed the skill of rolling out dough thinly and making it into a variety of shapes. They adapted and adopted the dumpling into their cuisine, and made it such a fixture that its origin became irrelevant.

“New names, for example jiaozi, also helped people forget the dumpling’s foreign roots. Dumplings are now a traditional food eaten during Lunar New Year, the most important holiday in China,” she says. Incidentally, the Japanese call their pan-fried dumplings gyoza, which, Brown says, is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese characters for jiaozi.

Whatever the roots of the dumpling may be, its contemporary manifestations are a hybrid of several culinary traditions. It is a transnational delicacy.

“It’s now everyone’s food. It’s 100 per cent Chinese, Korean, Armenian, as well as Turkish. China is a nexus of influence. But that’s food history; these recipes tend to get around,” says Brown.

And what about European dumplings – oops, stuffed pasta – how did these come about? The Spanish and Portuguese have empanadas and empadas stuffed with various ingredients, the French ravioles du dauphiné filled with creamy cheese, while the Italians created more than a dozen different forms, and their dough is usually made with fresh eggs, instead of water.

There are tortellini shaped like tiny knots and usually eaten in capon broth, square ravioli with zigzag edges savoured in tomato or butter sauce, agnolotti eaten in meat sauce, hat-shaped cappelletti, medallion-shaped medaglioni, tortelli and tortelloni, anolini and culurgiones with potatoes, mint and cheese. Each region of Italy has at least five or six different stuffed pasta varieties.

According to Anderson, the Italians probably got the idea of stuffed dough parcels from the eastern Mediterranean through Arab conquerors and traders bringing along with them stuffed dough from whoever in the Middle East invented it. The same goes for the Spanish and Portuguese.

But there are other theories that point to the possibility that Italians independently invented them. The ancient Romans had stuffed pies, but not miniature stuffed pies, which is precisely what ravioli are. Anna Maria Pellegrino, a member of Italy’s prestigious Cuisine Academy and a top chef, has spent years researching the origins of Italy’s stuffed dough packets.

“The first mentions of tortellini and similar pasta creations is in the Middle Ages at the court of noble families. It was a royal treat, stuffed with exquisite meats, fish and spices,” says Pellegrino. “Monks had always baked large pies dubbed timballo which were easy to transport along their pilgrimages, but tortellini and ravioli were an elaborate food for wealthy families. The art of preparing stuffed knots of pasta was a culinary art befitting royal banquets and celebrations.”

Tortellini flourished during the Renaissance as a sumptuous meal offered at lavish aristocratic parties, and Florentine monarchs probably exported them to France. Centuries later, stuffed pasta spread among poorer families as a way to recycle leftovers by putting them inside little pockets of dough.

Today, tortellini are such an iconic food that the recipe is considered sacred and protected by a brotherhood of chefs and culinary experts who zealously defend it from outrageous twists.

Source: SCMP


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Cheese Rolls: How a Humble Snack Became a Signature New Zealand Food

Ben Mack wrote . . . . . . . . .

A cheese roll may seem simple: it’s basically a slice of bread with cheese-based filling, rolled up and toasted until slightly crispy.

Yet these humble snacks hold a special place in the hearts of many people at the bottom of the South Island, the more southern of New Zealand’s two main islands — or “Deep South,” as the region closer to Antarctica than the Equator is sometimes called.

Margaret Peck remembers her first cheese roll. She was a teenager at the beach near Invercargill, almost at the end of the South Island and New Zealand’s southernmost city — it’s also home to the world’s southernmost Starbucks and McDonald’s outlets.

Her husband Mark Peck remembers his first, too. It came after arriving as a kid from Kentucky.

“I’d never had them before. And, ooohhh — they were good! I got hooked, well and truly!”

Decades later, there’s a reason their memories are so clear.

“The cheese roll means celebrations, events, gatherings, homecomings, fundraisers,” explains Donna Hamilton, who makes cheese rolls at The Batch in Invercargill, which she co-owns with husband Gareth.

“It means people, family and laughter. They’re the ultimate comfort food.”

Immigration and identity

Pastures full of grazing cows are a common sight among the rolling green hills of Southland, the southern part of the Deep South. Milk and cheese are plentiful. But cows are not native to New Zealand, and cheese rolls were developed mostly by European immigrants and their descendants.

According to emeritus professor Helen Leach, a specialist in food anthropology at the University of Otago in Dunedin (the Deep South’s largest city), the first recipes for a version of cheese rolls appeared in South Island cookbooks in the 1930s.
They gained popularity in the 1950s and 60s, as sliced bread became more common in New Zealand, becoming a staple at school fundraisers.

But cheese rolls are a distinctly regional cuisine. Leach’s research shows the first recipe for an “authentic” cheese roll with a pre-cooked cheese filling did not appear in a cookbook in the more populous North Island until 1979. Even now, it’s uncommon to find cheese rolls at North Island cafes.

Yet the Pecks wanted to offer them in the capital when they opened Little Peckish in Wellington — at the bottom of the North Island — in 2009, after Mark Peck finished a career in Parliament; his constituency was Invercargill.

“I’m a Southlander,” explains Margaret Peck, who grew up north of Invercargill near the town of Winton. “I wanted to have something that’s part of my identity.”

There was an adjustment, though: at first, patrons were eating cheese rolls with a knife and fork. She’s adamant cheese rolls are eaten with your hands.

West of Invercargill is Riverton, a small town along an estuary formed by the meandering Aparima and Pourakino rivers.
It’s here Cazna Gilder makes cheese rolls at The Crib. She says “southern sushi” — as cheese rolls are sometimes called, because they’re “as popular as sushi” — are synonymous with regional identity.

“A cheese roll’s honest,” she explains. “It’s not pretentious. I think it’s because we’re so down-to-earth.”

More than meets the eye

There are many variations of a cheese roll.

“Traditions are handed down from generation to generation,” Hamilton says. “Children living overseas have sent home for the correct recipe to make for flatmates in London to overcome homesickness.”

Mark Heffer, who makes cheese rolls at his café, Industry, in Invercargill, says a “proper” cheese roll needs a few things: “[The bread has] got to be rolled and not folded, lots of cheese and fresh red onion, some sort of mayo to give it that creamy flavor, and we like to add a little bit of sour cream and chopped parsley. Toasted but not too toasted, it must be golden brown and topped with lashings of butter.”

“You should need to wash your hands and face after eating a proper cheese roll,” he adds.

Some have a slightly different take, however.

One example is north of Southland, below the snowcapped peaks of The Remarkables, at Rātā. Their cheese rolls are garnished with locally-sourced preserved apricots, hazelnuts, truffle oil and honey from the southern rātā tree, found on the west coast of the South Island. Served as an entrée, founder Fleur Caulton says they’re a popular dish at the Queenstown restaurant.

“Everyone has their version of a roast. We have our version of a cheese roll.”

Rolling on

Bucolic as it may seem in an area where neighbors can leave doors unlocked and penguins visit beaches, life’s changing like everywhere else. For instance, the planned 2024 closure of the aluminum smelter south of Invercargill at Tiwai Point — Southland’s single-largest employer — could mean the loss of hundreds of jobs.

Other changes are also afoot. The shutting of New Zealand’s borders amid the coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase in domestic tourists, but there are concerns about what the absence of international visitors could mean for the future. Large parts of central Invercargill have also been demolished. Rising from the rubble will be a business and shopping complex that could cost NZ$165 million (about US$120 million).

But cheese rolls continue to play an important part in the story of the Deep South. Rātā’s Caulton says “1,800 dozen” cheese rolls were made for a fundraiser at Queenstown’s Wakatipu High School last year, for example.

The morning of our interview, The Crib’s Gilder said she’d made about 200 in anticipation of demand from visitors attending the Burt Munro Challenge motorcycle competition, one of Southland’s largest annual events.

“As long as there are people in Southland, the cheese roll will live on forever,” says Industry’s Heffer.

Adds Hamilton: “The gathering of people, the comradeship, the support — right now, I would say the world needs more cheese rolls.”

Source: CNN

The Origins of Siu Mai: How an Iconic Dim Sum Staple Came to Be

Hong Kong’s street food scene comes alive after dark. As the sun sets, workers stream out of offices and flock to the city’s holes-in-the-wall for a quick bite.

In Tuen Mun, a suburban neighbourhood in the northwestern reaches of Hong Kong, a line forms outside Yue Lai Lao Zhu Snacks, a nondescript storefront on a busy street.

Most of the people are commuters stopping by on their way home from work. They’ve come to grab a box of the store’s speciality: siu mai, a steamed dumpling made with pork, shrimp, mushrooms and, sometimes, fish paste.

Among siu mai fanatics, Yue Lai Lao Zhu is the gold standard in Hong Kong. The proprietor, Patrick Chu, opened the shop in 2001, making siu mai based on his father’s recipe.

The dish is a street food staple, easily identified by its yellow outer skin and tiny orange garnish, usually made with crab roe or carrots. It’s typically enjoyed dipped in chilli oil and soy sauce.

In Hong Kong, siu mai can be found everywhere, from street stalls to high-end dim sum restaurants. For people on the go, it’s a convenient snack, which is why it can even be found at 7-Eleven convenience stores.

“Siu mai is part of Hong Kong people’s lives,” Chu says.

Although the Cantonese version is now the most familiar version of siu mai, many historical records say the dish actually originated further away in Hohhot, the capital of China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

There, it was known as suumai, which translates to “without being cooled down” in Mongolian. It’s said to describe how people should eat it while it’s still hot. Instead of pork, suumai consisted of a mutton filling with scallion and ginger.

Chu has another story for where the name siu mai comes from. “I think what the chef meant by suumai was that he wanted them to sell like hot cakes,” Chu says. In Chinese, siu means “burn” and mai means “sell.”

Today, there are different varieties of siu mai around the world, in Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as many parts of China. They differ in the type of meat, spices and aromatics used.

In the Philippines, for example, one can find siu mai stuffed with ground pork, beef or shrimp, and combined with green peas, carrots and garlic.

Hong Kong takes its street food seriously, which is why Chu is particularly proud that his little shop has carved out a spot among the siu mai-obsessed.

Regulars say his siu mai are softer and twice the size of average siu mai. Chu says it lets customers enjoy it “bite by bite” rather than eating it whole, as most siu mai is consumed.

Chu’s dumplings have a blended filling. Fresh fish is grounded into paste, which is then mixed with minced pork. The recipe comes from his father, who developed it after decades of working in different kitchens.

“The siu mai I make today is the one he would have enjoyed,” Chu says. “But I can never surpass his skills and human touch.”

Still, he tries and continues to serve the siu mai fanatics who flock to his store for Hong Kong’s quintessential street snack.

Source: SCMP