Yesterday was the second of my NYU foodie days out in New York City, and we went to Atlantic Avenue to a block that used to house many shops and bakeries stocking goods from the Levant. Many Syrians, Lebanese and Jordanians moved to NYC during the 1880s and settled in the Washington Street Market area of lower Manhattan. They moved to Brooklyn after the tunnel was built; the site of the former market is now Battery Park City.
There are only a handful of Arab businesses remaining in Atlantic Avenue now. Descendants have moved away, and the types of immigrants have, as always, changed. Whereas before, the Arabs who moved to NYC were predominantly Christians, now it is Muslims who are seeking a different life. But the handful of businesses that remain would have made your mouths salivate, Andrew and Nicholas! Pastries for you, Andrew – some familiar, some not. We visited the Damascus Bakery (1920) first with its wide selection of pastries, savoury and sweet. Then we moved onto the store Sahadi’s which has been on this site since the 1940s. Both shops are still owned by the founding families and both seem to be flourishing. I was amused to see the conveyor belt from the pavement level to the basement at Sahadi’s – I haven’t seen one of these before.
Conveyor belt leading into Sahadi’s basement
I hadn’t realised that lunch was included in the tour so the diet went out the window and we had a small meze with falafel, kibbeh, baba ganoush, hummus, olives and a lovely Bulgarian feta which was quite creamy. The olives, black ones which came from Koura in northern Syria, were very plain, but some of the tastiest olives I’ve ever had. The restaurant was called Tripoli and whilst I enjoyed my lunch I’m not sure it’ll be worth a trek back.
I tried a pastry called Kanufa which was like a tart but had a layer of mozzarella-like cheese (when I asked its name, I was told it was Syrian cheese which didn’t really help); the base was wheat and top resembled coconut but wasn’t. I have looked up the recipe in my Lebanese cookery bible, and there is indeed a Konafah but it isn’t what I had. You will just have to take my word for it that it was delicious!
I thought I would add a very easy and obvious recipe – Hummus – a dish that seems to divide my family because of the tahini. I have done some research and it isn’t a required ingredient. Admittedly, most bought hummus contains tahini, but there are no rules. I’ve noticed that in recent years in UK supermarkets there are many variations of hummus appearing, and I was scornful at first, and very defensive of ‘ordinary’ hummus. There are many variations here in the States too, and I have looked in The Lebanese Kitchen by Salma Hage and there are indeed several variations. However, whilst I’m happy to concede that tahini isn’t vital, I do like my hummus unadulterated so here is my recipe. Cheaper and nicer than any store bought!
Hummus – Ingredients
- A tin of chickpeas (14 oz, I think), drained and reserve the liquor from the tin
- Juice of one lemon
- 2 tablespoons tahini paste (if using)
- 2 cloves of garlic crushed and minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
Using an electric mixer, combine the chickpeas, garlic and tahini (if using). Add half the lemon juice and the salt and mix. Slowly add some of the reserved liquor until you have a slightly thick hummus. Taste. If you feel it needs more lemon juice, add some more. Same with the salt. Mix again. Add reserved liquor until it is the thickness you like. Put into a bowl, drizzle some olive oil on top and then sprinkle paprika. Serve.
This is also lovely with roast pine nuts on top.