One can’t relive one’s lost youth, but that doesn’t mean he or she should give up trying.
It was just such an impulse that drove me to last week’s Fancy Food Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center where thousands of exhibitors, from international purveyors to mom-and-pop operations in Brooklyn, were hawking food, beverages and everything in between.
I fondly remember accompanying my father to such a show at the New York Coliseum on Columbus Circle as a child and coming away with a bag filled with free samples of candy, jams and lots of other stuff.
My goal at the Fancy Food Show wasn’t to acquire as many goodies as possible; on the other hand, if an exhibitor insisted on educating my palate, I wasn’t going to stand in the way.
The front of the sprawling convention center was dominated by aisles and aisles celebrating products from the likes of Greece, Italy, France and Morocco. I decided to shy away from them in favor of smaller exhibitors on the edges of the show, but the amount and variety of food was so overwhelming I quickly came to the conclusion it was best to leave things to serendipity.
That’s how I ended up at Taffy Town, a Salt Lake City-based salt-water taffy company.
“We have over 70 flavors,” boasted CEO Jason Glade, who said the company was started by his great-grandfather 100 years ago. “We scour the world for flavors.”
I can’t say that salt-water taffy is my go-to treat. Nonetheless, I assumed it was made in large vats behind, say, the Coney Island or Atlantic City boardwalks, not in Utah.
Then again, given the company’s proximity to the Great Salt Lake, perhaps they used the lake water as a natural resource.
Mr. Glade nipped that idea in the bud.
“We use actual sea salt,” he explained while offering me a piece of “chicken and waffles”-flavored taffy.
I was frankly relieved to hear his candy didn’t incorporate lake water, and not just because I got caught in a powerful rip current there while visiting during a teen tour in the summer of 1969. A less appealing body of water you’re unlikely to find.
The chicken and waffles was surprisingly tasty. Maple and bacon was also good, but slightly less so.
A candy swap occurred during my visit—between Taffy Town andLaima, a Latvian chocolate company across the aisle.
I was almost as surprised to learn that Latvia made chocolate as that Salt Lake City did taffy. I would have guessed their principle exports included herring, or something like that, and apparently wasn’t that far off.
“Out of the sea we eat fish, and dry out the fish,” explained Baiba Pužule, a Laima representative, who was helping herself to taffy. Ms. Pužule testified that she’d never run across the confection on the shores of the Baltic.
Speaking of local delicacies that may leave foreigners scratching their heads, I also dropped by BWI, a British food importer, where I spotted a bottle of Salad Cream. I’d purchased a bottle of the dressing recently, being attracted to pretty much anything that appears mayonnaise-based and raises your cholesterol.
Unfortunately, it hadn’t quite lived up to expectations and left me somewhat puzzled regarding the British palate. “I’d never eat peanut butter and jam together,” explained Kerry Bamberger, the CEO of BWI.
That might sound like a non sequitur, except that she was responding to my accusation that there might be something slightly off about the average Brit’s taste buds.
Ms. Bamberger’s argument was that every nationality has its favorite foods whose appeal remains obscure to anybody who hasn’t been inculcated from birth, or shortly thereafter. Indeed, she brought up several such British products herself, among them the yeasty spread Marmite and something called Spotted Dick sponge pudding, which she gave me a tin to try.
While I much enjoyed Eccles Cakes from Lancashire, a buttery pastry stuffed with a raisin and current filling, I’ve yet to arouse the courage to crack open my can of Spotted Dick.
An appreciation for truffles, not the chocolate variety but the subterranean tuber, I suspect transcends most national boundaries.
Indeed, when I spotted Appennino Food, a truffle products company from the Bologna region of Italy, I came to a full stop in the hope they might be handing out free samples.
Sadly, they weren’t. However, I got into a lively conversation with Luigi Dattilo, the company’s director, and Jasna Tavcar, a company representative and his translator, who told me Mr. Dattilo started his business with a single truffle dog, a breed known as Lagotto.
I was under the impression one hunts truffles with pigs. But it was explained to me that, while that may be true in France, pigs are out for themselves and will eat whatever truffles they find unless you get to them first.
Dogs, on the other hand, defer to their masters. Unless, they first pick up the scent of a female Lagotto and then they’re not good for much for anything, including truffle hunting.
“He gets, like, in love,” Ms. Tavcar explained. “Instead of looking down, he looks up.”