The great thing about ethnic markets is you get to see travel into their world without having to get onto an airplane. Today I was in the Portuguese section of Newark in New Jersey. This area which includes Ferry Street. There are many Brazilians here as well, so many of the restaurants and eateries in the area are mostly of Portuguese influence.
The largest section of the supermarket is in the corner and its seafood. The smell can be overwhelming. What I saw first was the a very long table of bacalhau (salted sea cod, or baccala as the Italians call it). It does not get much more Portuguese than that. For those that don’t know, Portugal had a very powerful navy, which is how they were able to claim Brazil as its own. On these long sea voyages they needed a food supply that would keep for months without refrigeration. So sea cod is stored in salt, removing all the moisture. To make it edible again they soak it in water, changing every day for a few days before it rehydrates and rinses away most of the salt.
I am not sure I ever seen prawns fully in tact, but here they were direct from Portugal. Not cheap either
at $22 per pound, but I am sure its the freshest you will ever be able to get it. The trick here would be to buy it, pack it in ice and put in a cooler while you drive back home, even if that drive is a few minutes.
All the fish too are packed in ice. They say the best way to pick the freshest fish is to be sure the eyes are clear, not cloudy. This lineup of fish was very impressive. You never see this in most major supermarket chains, and its usually frozen, farm raised and/or from parts of the world that have no standards for clean water or the environment. This is why you see so much seafood from China. Its cheaper for many reasons, but you should not be eating anything from a country that has some of the highest pollution on the planet.
The meat department is not as large, but when was the last time you could see bacon being sold by the slab? This is the thickness and quality you would find in fine steakhouses. You cannot eat (nor should you eat) more than half a strip. As you can see, one strip is about half a pound.
There are other parts of the meat department that scares some people off, and that would be the “other parts of the pig” section where you can clearly see the snouts, noses, feet and tails of the pig.
So who would buy these and how would they cook or even eat them? This would be the most basic and national dish of Brazil, feijoada. Its basically a dish created by slaves because they were given all the parts of the swine that their owners would not eat. The boil this with herbs and spices along with beans for hours until it is thick, muddy and unrecognizable, and served over rice. And yes, it is out in the open, but it is also cured in salt, chunks of salt nearly the size of peas, just like the baccala.
Other sections of the supermarket are hard to predict what is where. They do label the products by region, but my Venezuelan wife found Harina Pan (corn meal for arepas) over a few aisles down by something completely unrelated. I was not sure if they were grouping it by region, or type of product or even overall culture. For example, you will find Ecuador products next to those from Peru, and even the Brazilian next to the Portuguese, but coffee is all in one section, and the corn meal, lentils and beans are scattered in different areas over several aisles. If nothing else, it makes for a fun and interesting way to shop, and I do say that without sarcasm. My wife was delighted to travel down each aisle and find things she has not seen in a very long time having left her native Venezuela.
For me, I got a kick out of things labeled as Inca food. Like these potatoes, we found them in at least 3-4 different section of the supermarket. Every country has a version of potatoes, and while you will find the potatoes all in one section of your typical supermarket, here they were in different sections categorized by country or region.
As you travel down the aisles you find products that are made by American companies but marketed toward the countries they were sold in. It gets even more interesting in the frozen food section. For a foodie or someone drawn to other cultures this is like the Epcot for Epicurious.
A & J Seabra’s Supermarket – 64 Pacific Street Newark NJ