Burt Wolf's Table: Sydney, Australia - #206

BURT  WOLF:   Sydney, Australia.  Miles of cool ocean give it some of the best seafood on the planet, and inspire some of the best seafood cooks.  We'll see the town as it was in the early days.  We'll find out how Captain Bligh caused a second mutiny, even bigger than the one on the Bounty.  And we'll cook along with some of the city's finest chefs.  So join me in Sydney, Australia at Burt Wolf's Table.

In general, it's good to be king, but some times are better than others.  If you were a European monarch during the second half of the 1700's, it would not have been your favorite time.  The ideas that led to the French Revolution were being spread around, and eventually thousands of French nobles had their heads cut off.  Now that is a truly revolting idea to a king.  And then there were the British colonies in North America, filled with even more revolting people.  Well, the guys who were running England decided that there was a criminal element in their community and they had to get rid of it.  For many years they had transported them off to the New World, and stuck them in the colonies in the United States.  But with the American Revolution of 1776, that area was off limits.  The jails in England began to fill up.  People were getting panicky.  Then somebody had a really interesting idea.  “Let's take all the convicts and transport them to Australia, wherever that is.”

In 1770, the English explorer, Captain Cook, bumped into Australia, hung up a flag, and claimed the east coast for England under the name of New South Wales.  No one in London actually had any idea of what New South Wales was really like, but that was just a detail.  It was definitely far enough away to keep the trouble-makers off the court.  And so a fleet of eleven ships carrying 1,350 men, women and children set sail.  Eight months and one week later they arrived at Botany Bay.  On January 26th, 1788, they flew the British flag over a spot they called Sydney Cove, and the history of the new colony got under way.

During the next 50 years, 70,000 convicts were transported to Australia, but 80,000 people came of their own free will to see if they could make a better life for themselves.  During the 1850's, Sydney publicized the discovery of gold, and thousands of people rushed in.  Well, quite frankly the government had known about the gold for a long time, they just never told anybody about it, because they were concerned that it would attract a bad element to the neighborhood.  But London had stopped shipping out convicts, and the colony needed more people, and so they let the word out about the gold.  And during the next ten years the population of Sydney doubled, and since then it's just kept going.

In 1932, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened and the north part of the area began to develop.  The bridge is called the Old Coathanger.  After the Second World War, tens of thousands of immigrants came over from Europe and totally changed the city.  It went from an isolated outpost of England to a vibrant cosmopolitan metropolis.

One way to think of Australia is as the world's largest island.  The vast majority of the population lives on the coasts, and so almost every Australian has an appreciation of the sea.  And that's particularly true in Sydney.  The city was built around a huge natural harbor which gives the town about 150 miles of waterfront.  Sydneysiders, as the residents call themselves, use the water as much as possible.  They get to work and home again on ferries.  They swim, they surf, and they sail.  They also eat some of the world's best seafood.

This is the Sydney fish market.  And every weekday morning local distributors and retailers come here to take part in the seafood auction.  The auction is run on what is called the Dutch system, which is being used more and more, because it's proving to be the fairest system for fishermen and farmers throughout the world.  The day's catch is displayed in the inspection area by batch.  The prospective buyers walk through and note the lots that interest them.  The auctioneers are set up on a podium with a huge scoreboard above.  The buyers sit like spectators in a sports arena.  The number of the individual batch of fish lights up on the board.  The opening price also comes up on the board.  A clocklike device shows the price going down.  The first bid to come in gets the fish.

Quite a sport.  Everybody sitting in those stands is here to buy fish. They have an export company that ships Australian fish around the world, or a local distributor, and they need that fish to fill today's orders.  If they make a bid right up front, they're sure to get the fish, but they may get it at a price that's so high that they have no profit.  If they wait, the price will come down, but somebody else may get that fish.  Tough sport.

The market also has a wonderful retail area.  The spot I like the best is called Peter's.  Hundreds of different types of seafood, and the quality is absolutely topnotch.  You can purchase what you want and take it home to cook, or for a few dollars the chefs at Peter's will do the cooking for you. 

The Australians are in the enviable position of being able to choose their seafood dinner from over 3000 different species, and some of them are now being exported to North America.  Their prawns, which we call shrimp, are fabulous.  You may recall the Paul Hogan of "Crocodile Dundee" fame made a commercial for Australian tourism offering to throw another shrimp on the barbie if we came down.  Well, that was a really nice gesture.  And when you taste Australian prawns you'll find out why.

They're also beginning to export orange roughy.  Nice fish.  Clear, clean, pleasant taste.  And recently they have begun to ship us whole Tasmanian lobsters.

Because Australia's off in its own part of the world, the local fish comes from some of the cleanest waters on the planet, and they've taken advantage of that pollution-free environment to develop a fish farming industry. Quite frankly, Australia's entire seafood industry is continually monitored to make sure the catch comes from the cleanest waters possible. 

Neil Perry is a Sydney chef who's become famous for his seafood cookery.  His menu changes daily depending on what's available in the Sydney fish market.

NEIL PERRY:    Well, these are the ... the mud crab, and when these babies are alive, you don't need a watchdog, let me tell you.


BURT WOLF:   Oh, they’re all taped up.

NEIL  PERRY:   Yeah.  And ...this one's cooked, but when they're alive, they're really voracious, and to me it's the best eating crab in Australia.

As you can see, pretty powerful.

BURT WOLF:   Yeah.

NEIL PERRY:   Best thing you can eat.

BURT WOLF:   Great seafood, bad name... mud crab. 

NEIL PERRY:    It is.


But we all love them, and they get much bigger than that.

BURT WOLF:   What is this?

NEIL PERRY:    Well, this is our moon fish from the south coast, and the great thing about it is it's like three fishes in one.  We've got this top section here, which is like mackerel. 

BURT WOLF:   Right.

NEIL PERRY:   The bottom section we cut out, and it's very similar in texture and color to tuna.  And we've got the cheeks, which is just the best part.  It's like a... fish liver.  It's fantastic.

BURT WOLF:   Three fishes in one.

NEIL PERRY:   Three fish in one.

BURT WOLF:   It actually looks like a cartoon of a fish.

NEIL PERRY:   It does, doesn't it?


BURT WOLF:   Prawns.

NEIL PERRY:   Yeah, Burt, we've got a whole variety here.  Umm....

BURT WOLF:    Now you call them prawns, we call them shrimp.

NEIL  PERRY:   Yeah, you're shrimp, we're prawn.

BURT WOLF:   Okay.

NEIL PERRY:   These ones are tigers, and... we catch them wild here, and also farmed.  A really interesting thing, when I come down to the markets I look for... is if the whiskers and all the legs are intact, it generally means that they haven't been frozen before.  Because they tend to lose these when they are defrosted.

BURT WOLF:   Yeah, whiskers are important.

NEIL PERRY:   Yeah, whiskers, you got to have whiskers.  Yeah. 

BURT WOLF:   (OVER) You're telling me.

NEIL PERRY:    Yeah.  Yeah.  (LAUGHS)  We got banana prawns, which are a slightly different flavor, a little bit sweeter . There's yamba prawns, and Endeavour...   There's all ...we have many different varieties of prawns.

BURT WOLF:   (OVER) All from the waters around Australia.

NEIL PERRY:   (OVER) All... yeah... or from...from cold water right here, very hot, warm water prawns, and you get different textures and flavors because of the environment.  But... generally what happens with fish....

BURT WOLF:   I was surprised, the other day somebody said in the wintertime they always go north for a nice warm vacation.  Being on the flip side of the world that I'm accustomed to....


BURT WOLF:   North is where it's all warm.

NEIL PERRY:   (OVER) That’s right.

BURT WOLF:   Right?


And south is where it gets cold here.

NEIL PERRY:    Ah, right, yeah.  Exact opposite.  And what we do with fish, is most fish that come from the north are warm water, sweeter, and looser-textured, and as they come down and they get deep and colder, they get more intensely flavored, and ...then tighter in the texture of the fish.

BURT WOLF:   Neil, when you're deciding which fishes to put on your menu, what do you think about?

NEIL PERRY:    Well, Burt, I think the first thing that I look at with a fish is its... is its fat content or oil content.  And people don't think about fish, especially the white ones, as being....being fatty, but they do have different oil content.  So... so the fattier and oilier fish, the better it is for grilling and roasting, and the leaner, if you like to call it that, fish, the better it is for things like slow poaching, or steaming in his own broth or sauce.  So that the actual texture doesn't tighten up too much, and get too dry.

BURT WOLF:   How interesting.  So you really want to have a list of the oil content of fish.

NEIL PERRY:    Well, I think that's really important, and that's what puts us apart from other people who do cook fish is we pay attention to those really small details that actually make a huge amount of difference in the end product.

BURT WOLF:   Neil's restaurant is called Rockpool.  For two years in a row it has been voted the best restaurant in the Australian state of New South Wales, which is like being picked as the best restaurant in California - it's a big deal. 

Today Neil's preparing a dish of Australian prawns.  They're quite wonderful, and he's serving them over a bed of chickpea puree.

Two cups of pre-cooked chickpeas go into a container with a little cumin, a splash of lemon juice, and a little olive oil.  That's blended until you have a puree.  Next some vegetable oil goes into a frying pan, followed by a sliced red onion, a sliced clove of garlic, and two cups of pre-cooked whole chickpeas.  While that's cooking a little vegetable oil goes into another frying pan, and as soon as it's hot, four Australian prawns are cooked.  At that point, everything is ready to be plated.  Some of the pureed chickpeas go on, then the onion and chickpea sauce, the shrimp and finally a little more virgin olive oil.  That's it.

Neil's second recipe is an example of the east-meets-west style of cooking that is becoming increasingly popular in Australia.  It's steamed fish in a Chinese sauce served on top of corn cakes.  He starts with a soup bowl in a Chinese steamer basket, and mixes a steaming sauce in the bowl.  It's one part peanut oil, one part sesame oil, two parts dry sherry, two parts light soy sauce, plus a little sugar.  And in goes a skinless, boneless filet of white-fleshed fish.  Orange roughy is ideal.

The steamer goes onto a pot of boiling water.  The cover goes on, and the fish steams for ten minutes.  While the fish is steaming, Neil makes the corn cakes. 

Two cups of corn kernels go into a blender container.  Some coriander, garlic, salt, and two eggs are added.  That's blended together and poured into a mixing bowl.  A cup of whole corn kernels are added, a cup of flour, and the batter's ready.

Corn is an indigenous American thing.

NEIL PERRY:   Yeah, that's right.  We love it over here.  Nothing's indigenous Australian

BURT WOLF:   That's true.

NEIL PERRY:   Except this beautiful fish. 

 BURT WOLF:   A little oil is heating in a frying pan.  A quarter cup portion of the corn mixture goes into the oil and flattens out.  They cook for three minutes on one side and then get flipped over to cook for three minutes on the other.  When Neil does the flipping, he tilts the pan to one side to get the oil away from the place where he's going to do the flipping.  And that way he reduces the chance of the hot oil splattering during the flip.  It's a good tip.

When the corn cakes are ready, they go directly onto the serving plate.  The fish comes out of the steamer, and goes on to the corn cakes.  Some thin slices of green onion and snowpeas or asparagus go into the steaming sauce and get coated.  Then they go on to the fish.  A little bit of the sauce and it's ready to serve.

That's what Sydney Cove looked like in 1788 when Captain Phillip arrived with the First Fleet.  And this is what it looks like today.  The right side of the cove is known as The Rocks, and it's one of the most picturesque parts of the city.  Waterside warehouses have been preserved and turned into restaurants and hotels.  The old buildings have been refurbished and house shops and restaurants.  The Rocks are really a sandstone hill that rises up from the sea until it tops out at the highest natural point in the city, which made it the perfect spot for the placement of the old Sydney Observatory.   That hill also divided this point of land into two districts -  The Rocks on this side, and Miller's Point on the other.  To connect the two, a passage was chopped out by convicts.  On the other side is the Garrison Church, which has been standing there since 1844, and is still the most popular place in Sydney for weddings.

And just down the street is the Lord Nelson, which may very well be the oldest Sydney pub still in operation.  The origin of the Lord Nelson dates back to 1841, and it actually looks much the way it did, thanks to an old photograph from the time, which the modern owners found and used for their restoration.

The pub has a wood-burning fireplace in the front room, and they brew their own beers and ales in the back.  And they're very proud of their brasserie, which is authentic, since the dictionary definition of brasserie is an establishment that serves food and brews beer on the same premises.

It was once said that the English and the Americans were two people separated by a common language, and that seems to have carried over to Australia.  Elise Pascoe has become my translator.  She's one of Australia's best-known food authorities, and she's come over to the Lord Nelson to give me a short lesson in language.

ELISE PASCOE:   Well, Burt, this is your shout.

BURT WOLF:   Ah, I beg your pardon?

ELISE PASCOE:   It's your turn to buy the round of beers.

BURT WOLF:   Ah, so, when people come to a pub in Australia, each person pays for a specific round, and when it comes to your round, it's your shout.

ELISE PASCOE:   That's right.

BURT WOLF:   I got this.  We'll have two beers!!!

See, I'm learning.

ELISE PASCOE:   You are.  You're doing very well.

BURT WOLF:   What else?

ELISE PASCOE:    What about... changing into a bag of fruit?

BURT WOLF:   Uh... (LAUGHS) that'd get quite a response, I'm sure.

Any particular fruit?

ELISE PASCOE:   It's rhyming slang, really cockney slang.  It's called strang.  And you rhyme the article with another two or three words.  So a bag of fruit is a suit.

BURT WOLF:   A lovely bag of fruit you're wearing.

ELISE PASCOE:   Oh, thank you very much.  Now with your Australian meat pie, you should have some dead horse.

BURT WOLF:   Umm...  doesn't sound like one of the more appealing things I've eaten.

ELISE PASCOE:   Believe me, it's very good.  A dead horse is tomato sauce.

BURT WOLF:   Tomato sauce, dead horse.  Okay, more rhyming slang.


BURT WOLF:   Okay.

ELISE PASCOE:    And snags on the barbie, of course, are sausages.

BURT WOLF:   Snags.


BURT WOLF:   We are both speaking English.  I just want to establish that at this point in time.

ELISE PASCOE:   We are both speaking....

BURT WOLF:   Okay.

ELISE PASCOE:  ...the same language.

BURT WOLF:   (OVER) Just checking, just checking.

ELISE PASCOE:   No, don't come the raw prawn with me.

BURT WOLF:   Don't come the raw prawn with me.

ELISE PASCOE:   It's....

BURT WOLF:   And that means, don't jive me.

ELISE PASCOE:   Exactly.

BURT WOLF:   Don't tease me.


BURT WOLF:   Misinform me.

ELISE PASCOE:  Yeah.  And you look like a stunned mullet.

BURT WOLF:   A stunned mullet.  That means I was surprised.

ELISE PASCOE:   Absolutely, your face falls.

BURT WOLF:   Okay.  Stunned mullet.  All right.  You have a very unusual set of names for coffees.

ELISE PASCOE:   Well, I don't think they're unusual.

BURT WOLF:   Well, unusual for North Americans. 

ELISE PASCOE:   In the morning, I like to have a flat white.

BURT WOLF:   Flat white.  When I first heard that I thought that that was the shark in Jaws.

ELISE PASCOE:   (LAUGHS)  No.  No.  (LAUGHS)  It really means mostly milk coffee, but without the capuccino, without the fluff in it.

BURT WOLF:   A flat white is two parts milk to one part coffee, like capuccino, but no foam.

ELISE PASCOE:   That's....

BURT WOLF:   And that's why it's called a flat white.


BURT WOLF:   And now I'm ready to order coffee?

ELISE PASCOE:   You are?  I thought it was my shout next.

BURT WOLF:   Coming out of the Lord Nelson puts you smack in the middle of the neighborhood known as Miller's Point.  It was first called Miller's Point during the early 1800's, because of the windmills that stood on this rocky knoll of sandstone.  Eventually the mills disappeared, and whaling and merchant ships arrived.  During the early years of this century, the city government took over Miller's Point and began to preserve the historic richness of the area.  Much of the architecture of the 1800's is still standing, and the neighborhood has the feeling of a small village.  In the middle of the district is the Observatory Hotel.  The hotel's design was based on one of Sydney's historic buildings called the Elizabeth Bay House.  It feels like a grand Australian home, luxuriously furnished with Australian antiques, original oil paintings, and fine tapestries.  With only 100 guest rooms there's a feeling of great privacy and personal attention.  The walls of its Globe Bar are covered with art works that depict the natural history of this continent, and there is a bookcase filled with rare old travel books. 

The health club has a 20-meter pool that's kept clean with an oxygenation system that eliminates the need to use chlorine or other chemicals.  It's a great method.

The ceiling above the pool has a fiber optic recreation of the constellations of the southern hemisphere.

The hotel has two restaurants, both of which get  great reviews from the local food reporters.  Galileo is the Italian restaurant that is reminiscent of the famous Venetian restaurant called Harry's Bar.  The other is the Orient Cafe, aptly named to describe the menu's Asian influence.  It serves a luncheon buffet that's become a favorite for local businessmen and women.  You pop in and pick out what you want from a splendid selection.  This is what fast food should be.

The executive chef of the Observatory Hotel is Kit Chan.  She was born and raised in Hong Kong and studied her craft with some of the superstars of the European kitchen.  She's the first woman to become the executive chef of a major deluxe hotel in Australia.  Today she's preparing a honey-glazed roast pork salad.

Kit makes a marinade by mixing together a few slices of ginger, a crushed clove of garlic, some juniper berries, honey, a little soy sauce, and some orange juice.  Two pork loins go in, and two crushed green onions.  All that goes into the refrigerator for six hours or overnight.  When it's time to finish the dish, a little vegetable oil gets heated in the frying pan.  The excess marinade is pressed off the surface of the pork.  The pork goes into the pan.  The solid ingredients in the marinade go in, and the pork is browned on all sides.  That takes about five minutes.  Then it's off to a 400 degree oven until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 170 degrees, at which point it comes out of the oven and rests on the cutting board for about 15 minutes.  While the pork is resting, Kit makes a salad of greens with a vinaigrette dressing.  Then the pork is sliced and added to the salad.  Everything is mixed together, set onto a serving plate, and garnished with slices of red beets and green apples.

Another one of Kit's specialties is an herbed tenderloin of Australian lamb.  Australia produces some of the best lamb in the world, and it's a constant part of Kit's menu. 

She starts by seasoning the loin of lamb with a little salt and pepper.  Some vegetable oil goes into a frying pan.  As soon as it's hot, in goes the lamb and a few springs of rosemary.  And into a 375 degree oven for seven to ten minutes.  When it comes out, Kit sprinkles on a mixture of chopped parsley, garlic, and lemon zest.  A zucchini pancake goes onto a serving plate, the lamb goes on top, and there's a garnish of sun-dried tomato slices, candied orange zest, and the pan drippings from the lamb that have been thickened with a little butter.  That's it.

When the first English fleet arrived in Australia in 1788 ,they brought over one bull, seven cows, and 44 sheep and goats.  The untouched pasture land made perfect grazing areas for the flocks and herds that developed from these original animals.  The land was especially well suited to the sheep.  They were able to roam freely in the meadows of clover and rye.  The result is a range lamb that's leaner, tastier, and appears to be produced without chemicals or additives.  They've also been able to get rid of the gamey taste that so many North Americans came to associate with this meat.

These cuts have as clean and clear a taste as you could want.  The recent history of lamb production in Australia is a good example of how the public can use its purchasing power to influence producers.

The old style of lamb didn't meet the taste or nutritional preferences of the market, and sales kept flopping.  In self-defense, the industry began to ask people what they really wanted.  The result is the fresh Australian range lamb program.  It produces meat the way North Americans want it to taste.  It has lower cholesterol, and it's trimmed so that it has about the same fat content as skinless chicken.  They've also figured out a way of getting it to North America within four days of processing, and they only use refrigeration, no freezing.

In 1793, an American trading ship named the Hope arrived in Sydney Harbour.  On board were supplies that were badly needed by the new settlers. Military officers of the colony saw this as a unique commercial opportunity, and they formed a group to purchase the ship's entire cargo for resale to the colonists.

The cargo included 7,500 gallons of rum, and it was so profitable for the men that they decided henceforth they would have a monopoly on rum.  They got so involved in the business of rum that the whole group eventually became known as the Rum Corps. And so profitable that they began to print their own currency, a currency that people valued more than the currency that came from Great Britain.  But the best currency of all was rum itself.

If you read the book "Mutiny on the Bounty", or saw any one of the three films based on it you will remember the character of Captain Bligh.  “Mutiny on the Bounty” was a true story, but that was only the first mutiny against Captain Bligh.  After he survived the revolt of Mel Gibson or Marlon Brando, depending on which movie you saw, he was sent back into service by the King of England, and became the governor of their colony in Australia.  When he tried to interfere with the activities of the Rum Corps, there was a second mutiny.  Only this time, instead of putting him into the longboat and setting him adrift, they just locked him up in the prison.  Poor Captain Bligh.  You know, the man was just not in touch with what was going on.


One of the most popular desserts at the Observatory Hotel is the fudgy rum chocolate cake.  Here's how it's made by sous-chef Anthony Mazzura.  Eight ounces of unsweetened chocolate are melted and cooled.  Into that go two teaspoons of instant coffee, and two teaspoons of white rum.  Plus two tablespoons of boiling water.  All that gets mixed together and put aside.  Four eggs are broken into a bowl, and a half teaspoon of vanilla extract is whisked in.  In go two cups of confectioners sugar that has been mixed together with two tablespoons of arrowroot.  Anthony uses an electric mixer for about five minutes to get the batter to double its original volume, at which point it's put aside for a minute, while a cup of heavy cream is whisked until it's thick.  Then the chocolate mixture is combined with the whipped eggs, and the whipped cream is gently folded in.  An eight-inch loose bottom cake pan with a light coating of butter gets a dusting of flour.  The batter gets poured in, and it's off to a 350 degree oven for an hour.  When it's done it comes back to the work surface to cool.  Then it comes out of the ring and gets a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar.  A slice goes on to a serving plate, a little vanilla ice cream on the side, some berry sauce, and a few fresh berries.  Now there's a dish that will give you a good rum for your money.

Well, that's it from Sydney, Australia.  Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for good things to eat and drink at Burt Wolf's Table.

Burt Wolf's Table: Ellis Island - #205

BURT WOLF:  Ellis Island, in New York City's harbor:  where millions of immigrants got their first taste of American food, and in return, introduced their own cuisines to America.  We'll trace the gastronomic contributions of some of the groups that arrived here, and cook up some of their recipes ... from Irish lamb stew to Russian stuffed chicken.  So join me on Ellis Island, at Burt Wolf's Table.

For over fifty years, starting in 1892, Ellis Island in New York Harbor was the primary immigration center for the United States government.  During its peak years, 1900 to 1924, some 12 million people came through the Ellis Island facility.  They were common people who made an uncommon decision:  they wanted to be free ... free of the poverty, free of the persecution, and free of the despair which dominated their lives in their home countries.  And so they packed up everything that they could carry, which really wasn't very much, and headed to the United States of America.

Steamship companies saw the immigrants as profitable cargo ... cargo that actually loaded itself.  And that's the way these passengers were treated.  They traveled in a class of service called steerage, because the part of the boat where this human cargo was stored was the place that held the steering equipment on the old ocean liners.  Packed together in appalling conditions that were breeding grounds for disease, thousands of people died during the voyages.  But for those that made it, there was the Statue of Liberty and New York City.

The ships docked in the piers that lined Manhattan's shore.  If you were a first- or second-class passenger, officials from the U.S. Immigration Service would clear you while you were on board in your cabin, and you were free to begin your new life.  But if you had come over in steerage, you were loaded onto ferries and taken across New York Harbor to Ellis Island.  The staff at Ellis was charged with the responsibility to make sure that no one was granted entrance to the U.S. who had a contagious disease, or who could not earn a living and thereby might become a burden to the government.

In spite of the fact that Ellis Island was processing twice as many people as it was designed to handle, the staff here did a remarkable job.  The average immigrant was in and out of Ellis Island within five hours.  Medical exams were completed, stability interviews conducted; there was a place to change your old-country money into U.S. dollars, and a spot to buy railroad tickets if you were going on to some other part of the country.  If you were staying in the neighborhood, you went through a door marked "Push to New York."  On the other side was a ferry that would take you the last mile and a quarter of your journey to Manhattan.

Today over 100 million Americans, almost half the population of our country, can trace their heritage to someone who came through Ellis Island.

The Registry Room on Ellis Island was the primary inspection area for the millions of people who passed through this facility on their way to a new life in America.  In 1909, my grandmother stood in this room, holding my mother in her arms.  My mother was only a year old at the time.  It was here that my grandmother, and many other immigrants, had their first taste of American food.

There were soups and stews, breads, and for some reason, an enormous amount of stewed fruit, particularly prunes.  Breakfast offered coffee and bread and butter, and crackers and milk, but the crackers and milk were only for women and children.  Dinner was beef stew, potatoes, and rye bread.  There was herring, and supper was baked beans, stewed prunes, and more rye bread.  Obviously, this place was not planning on building its reputation based on its food.  Yet in comparison to what most of the immigrants had been eating on the voyage over, Ellis was a gastronomic paradise.

There were also a number of immigrant aid societies with full-time staff on the island, and their job was to help the people adjust to the New World.  Part of that adjustment was getting used to the new food.  This was where my grandmother had her first banana.  Unfortunately, nobody told her not to eat the skin.  Nothing's perfect.

The end of the 1800s found most of Eastern Europe in a losing battle with overpopulation.  An unworkable system of land division, and their antiquated farm technology, could not feed the exploding populace.  Austria, Hungary, Poland and Romania were in chaos.  Steamship companies made a special effort in these areas.  Posters were displayed in the towns; agents went from house to house.  The message was continually sent:  America was the promised land.  Catch the next boat for wealth beyond your wildest dreams.

In many cases, the men came over first, got jobs, and saved enough money to send tickets back for their family.  That's what my grandfather did.  And like many people who came here from Middle and Eastern Europe, he brought with him a great love of the foods of his native country.

Pastries and great desserts from Austria with whipped cream on everything; sweet pancakes; coffee throughout the day, not just at breakfast.  And along with his Russian friends, a passion for yogurt.  Cookies in dozens of shapes and sizes, and each with their own folkloric story.  Each of those foodways was either introduced to America, or developed here in some important way, by people who came through Ellis Island from Middle or Eastern Europe.

Lidia Bastianich was born in a part of the world known as Istria.  It's in the northeast corner of Italy, and at various times it's been part of Italy or Austria or Germany or Yugoslavia, depending on who had the biggest army at the time.  At the end of the Second World War, her family moved to the New York City district known as Queens.  Today, Lidia and her husband Felice own and run one of New York's finest restaurants.  It's called Felidia, which is the joining together of the names of Felice and Lidia.

The restaurant was recently chosen by a group of national food editors as one of the best Italian restaurants in America.  The place has a warm, country feeling, with Tuscan tiles and lots of wood paneling.  Lidia not only runs the restaurant, but also manages to lecture on cooking and write cookbooks.  La Cucina di Lidia takes you on a tour of northern Italian food and family life, and feeds you all along the way.  Today she's preparing a chicken dish which was a family favorite when she was a kid.

A little vegetable oil goes into a hot saute pan.  A chicken cut into eight pieces is cooked for about five minutes on each side, then drained on some toweling.  A little more vegetable oil goes into a pan; a minced onion; some chopped bacon; a few bay leaves; rosemary; chopped chicken livers; a few mushrooms; cloves; tomato paste; some chicken stock.  Ten minutes of cooking.  The sauce is strained over the chicken and served with a cornmeal porridge called polenta.

LIDIA BASTIANICH:  It's really a wonderful, intense dish, and the flavors that permeate this dish, that makes this dish really interesting, is the herbs, the sort of indigenous ... the rosemary and the bay leaf, which really sort of notes this Mediterranean area.  Of course, in here we have also cloves, and that is from the Venetian influence and their travels to the East ... the cloves were imported in.  And of course the polenta was the travels to the New World, that came back and that became such a great part, really a big part of the table of this area.

WOLF:  So it's a real family recipe.

BASTIANICH:  It's a family recipe.  You could do it in advance, because the stewing process of the chicken, it could stay there, you could reheat it when guests come and it's perfectly fine.  And, you know, you can just put it in the center of the table or plate it out, whatever you'd like.  It's really ...

WOLF:  I’m hungry!  (LAUGHS)

BASTIANICH:  Yeah.  It's really, really warm, a warm dish, a family dish.

WOLF:  Another simple dish with a warm, family feeling is Lidia's pasta with shrimp and leeks.  A little vegetable oil goes into a hot saute pan; then a half-pound of shrimp that have been shelled and cleaned.  One minute of cooking, then off the heat.  A new pan comes in.  Vegetable oil is added.  A few chopped shallots; a cup of sliced leeks.  Chicken stock.  Shrimps back in.  Fresh Italian parsley.  Pasta is cooked, drained, and added to the shrimp sauce.  Some freshly grated pecorino romano cheese and you're set.

New York City's Central Park was put together during the middle of the 1800s.  It's two and a half miles long and a half-mile wide.  The designers wanted to give visitors a sense of nature, but in a very controlled way.  They installed lengthy carriage drives, but they placed the turns in a pattern that prevented racing.  Looks natural enough, but the whole place is very carefully thought out.  Each year, some 13 million people and an assortment of animals pay the park a visit.  On the west side of the grounds, near 67th Street, stands an old building originally called the Sheepfold.  When it was constructed in the 1870s, it was home to a sheep herder and his 200 sheep.  The sheep mowed and fertilized the nearby lawn known today as the Sheep Meadow.  The sheep were shipped off to Brooklyn in the 1930s, and the Sheepfold buildings became the core of a restaurant called Tavern on the Green.

Designed by Warner LeRoy, Tavern is quite a place:  chandeliers with parts made for Indian princes; an extensive collection of gold and copper weathervanes; and great architectural details.  But in spite of this new and valuable exterior, the management of Tavern never forgets this building's humble beginnings.  They always have a lamb recipe or cheesecake on the menu.

Cooks in Europe have been preparing cheesecakes for thousands of years, but it took a group of dairymen of German ancestry, working in New York, to come up with cream cheese, the essential ingredient in New York cheesecake.  Here's how it's made by chef Mark Poidevin at Tavern on the Green.

A two-inch-deep, eight-inch-in-diameter baking pan gets buttered.  The inside is coated with crushed Oreo cookies with the icing removed.  Two pounds of cream cheese go into a bowl and is mixed together with a cup and a half of sugar.  In a second bowl, four eggs are beaten; a cup of sour cream goes in, plus three cups of heavy cream.  This is going to be the kind of recipe that is served in very small portions.

The cream mixture is blended together with the cream cheese.  The seeds of two vanilla beans go in, or you can use a half-teaspoon of vanilla extract.  As soon as that's smooth, it's poured into the baking pan and into a water bath in a 300-degree-Fahrenheit oven for 45 minutes.  Out of the oven, unmold onto a plate, and decorate with a light coating of sour cream and all the fresh strawberries that fit.

Next, Mark is going to show us another Tavern on the Green specialty:  a veal chop with a breading of grated pecorino romano cheese.  A center-cut veal chop is cut almost in half, opened up, and pounded between two sheets of plastic wrap until it's thin and roughly the size of the plate it will be served on.  First the textured side of the mallet is used to break up the muscles and make the meat even more tender than it already is; and then the flat side is used to give the meat a smooth finish.

A light seasoning of salt and pepper, a thin coat of flour, into a few beaten eggs, and finally a coating of a mixture that is half grated pecorino romano cheese and half bread crumbs.  Into a pan with some hot vegetable oil; three minutes of cooking on one side, then a flip and three minutes of cooking on the other.  Onto a serving plate with a garnish of lemon and both green and white asparagus.  This is a recipe that will also work perfectly well with chicken.

As the 1880s came to an end, Russia found itself in constant turmoil:  crops failing, agonizing poverty throughout a majority of the population, religious persecution.  No surprise that during the 50-year period starting in 1875, over two million Russians left their homeland and took passage to New York City.

When you talk about the food of Russia, you're actually talking about the food of more than 170 different ethnic groups, each clinging to their own individual food habits.  But there are a number of gastronomic traits that are accepted by all of those groups, and those were the traits that were brought here to the United States by immigrating Russians at the turn of the 20th century.

They all loved rich whole-grain breads, which were much healthier than the overly- processed white breads.  They chose water as their favorite drink, and liked to have it infused with bubbles; they were responsible for the development of the New York seltzer business.  They called it “the worker's champagne.”  They were masters at smoking fish and meat, and responsible for the introduction of pastrami to East Coast delicatessens.  They loved cooked fruits, and they also did a lot to repopularize the drinking of tea, which had fallen out of fashion with many groups out of the American Revolution -- remember the Boston Tea Party?

There's some really great cooking going on in Russian restaurants, but unfortunately those Russian restaurants aren't in Russia.  These days the best Russian cooking takes place in restaurants outside of Russia, like the Russian Tea Room in New York City.

For example, their stuffed chicken breasts with a bread-cube crust.  First a little vegetable oil goes into a pan.  A sliced onion, a few sliced mushrooms, a tablespoon of flour to help thicken things up.  A little red wine to make a sauce.  A few minutes of cooking, and you have the stuffing.

Chicken breasts with the skin off and the bone removed are sliced almost in half, opened, and pounded thin.  Dipping the pounder in a little cold water every few hits will keep the chicken from sticking to it.  The chicken is stuffed, rolled up, given a light coating of flour, dipped into a wash of eggs and milk, pressed into cubes of bread until there's a pretty complete coating, and cooked in a little vegetable oil to brown.  Then into a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes to finish off.  It's served over thin strips of vegetables.

When we hear about the English coming to the New World, we usually hear about the Pilgrims on the Mayflower searching for religious freedom.  But the first English to set sail for the New World were actually sent here by Sir Walter Raleigh in the 1500s, and they had a very clear set of instructions:  Find Gold!  And even the Pilgrims were not opposed to a little wealth.

So many English came to the east coast of North America that by the year 1700, 90% of the people in the colonies were English.  None of them would have survived the early years, had the Native Americans not taken the trouble to teach them to fish and hunt properly in the local areas, and to use pumpkins, beans, and corn; though as soon as the English could plant their traditional English foods or import them from England, they went back to their original English foodways ... foodways that have become a basic part of the way we eat in North America.

When you see roast beef, a pie that has a top crust, a cup of tea, steamed puddings, marmalade, oatmeal, and most of the foods around our traditional celebration of Christmas, you are looking at foods that were brought here by the English.  Our laws are English, our language is English, and even today our most common food ways come from our English heritage.

There were no Native American apples growing when the first Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts in the 1620s.  But within a few years, English colonists were planting apple trees wherever they could.  We often hear the phrase "as American as apple pie."  It would be much more accurate to say "as English as apple pie," or in this case apple tart, which just happens to be the dish that pastry chef George McCurdy is working on at New York City's Tribeca Grill.

Three apples are peeled, cored, and thinly sliced.  Some butter goes into a large non-stick saucepan, then the apples, and some sugar.  That cooks for five minute.  Meanwhile, pastry dough is given a coating of confectioner's sugar and rolled out.  Some ground hazelnuts are sprinkled on top and rolled in, and the dough is cut into triangles.  Onto a parchment-covered baking pan; an hour of refrigeration, then 20 minutes of baking at 375.  Half of the apple mixture is pureed, then spread out on the pastry.  Finally, the apples go on top.  A scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt, and some decorations.

Along with the first apples in North America, the English introduced the first European hogs; and successive migrations of English continued to promote ham cookery.  In 1608, three sows and a boar were brought from Great Britain to Jamestown, Virginia.  Within two years, the pork population had increased to over 60 pigs.  By 1625, Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas had become famous for their hams.  Soon pork was the most popular meat in the colonies.

The American Festival Cafe in New York City has a collection of great American ham recipes.    One of my favorites is an old Southern recipe that uses cola as the basting liquid.

Start with a ten-pound ham, pre-cooked, with the skin removed.  Place the ham fat-side-down in a roasting pan.  Pour about an inch of cola into the pan.  Then into a 350-degree oven for two and a half hours.  Baste the ham frequently with the cola.  The next step is to take a bowl and mix together a cup of brown sugar, a cup of bread crumbs, two teaspoons of dry mustard, and a little fresh pepper.  Press that mixture onto the ham to make a nice coating.  Baste with the cola and the pan drippings, and return it to the oven for a half-hour to give it a golden coating.  Fabulous!

The spice we call a clove is actually the unopened flower bud of the clove tree, and the buds must be picked by hand just before they open.  That means that each tree is picked over and over and over again for weeks at a time, until they get all the buds.  After that, a couple of dozen other hand operations that are labor-intensive, like drying them in the sun in small batches and turning them by hand, and you'll see why cloves are one of our more pricey spices.  And they've been that way for thousands of years.

Cloves are native to a group of small islands near Australia.  The Portuguese traders of the 1500s knew about these islands, and were making great fortunes by bringing spices from them to Europe.  They were so protective about the location of the islands that they actually made maps of the area that were incorrect and would lead the sailors of other nations into the rocks.  The Dutch eventually took control of the area, which came to be known as the Dutch West Indies, and the islands came to be known, quite descriptively, as the Spice Islands.

The best clove flavor always comes from the whole clove bud.  Stick them into something before they go in the pot, so you can remove them from the dish before you serve.  They're not fun to chew on; like bay leaves, you want the flavor and then you want them out of the dish.


The next largest group of immigrants to arrive at Ellis Island were the Irish.  And the Irish hold a very special honor in terms of Ellis.  On New Year's Day of 1892, a 15-year-old girl named Annie Moore became the first immigrant to pass through the government station on Ellis Island in New York Harbor.  She'd come from County Cork in Ireland.

Annie Moore was welcomed to her new country by millions of Irish men and women who had come here during the 1800s to avoid the famine that was caused by the repeated failure of the potato crop in Ireland.  Potatoes had become a basic part of virtually every meal in the Irish peasant home, and those Irish peasant cooks had come up with an extraordinary collection of potato recipes.  Probably the most famous are colcannon, boxty, haggerty, and Dublin coddle.  Colcannon is mashed potatoes and vegetables, usually cabbage.  Boxty bread is potato pastry filled with bacon.  Haggerty is crisp cakes of onions and potatoes.  Dublin coddle is a casserole of bacon, sausages, onions, and potatoes.

When the Irish arrived in North America, they immediately planted potatoes, and singlehandedly made them as popular as they are today.  And it looks like they may become even more popular, as people begin to use the simple baked potato as a snack food.  They're low in sodium, low in calories, high in fiber, and high in potassium.

The Irish peasant farmers of the 1800s led an extremely difficult life.  The recurrent crop failures kept them on the edge.  As a result, they developed many techniques for getting the most for the least, especially when it came to cooking.  John Doherty, the executive chef at New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, learned about Irish cooking in his mother's kitchen; and today he's preparing a home-style recipe for Irish lamb stew.

Five pounds of leg of lamb are trimmed of fat, cut into one-inch cubes, and put into a saucepan.  A quart of cold water goes on top.  It's brought to a boil, at which point the water is drained away from the meat.  The meat stays in the pot and goes back on the heat.  Four cups of sliced onion go in; a cup of sliced leeks; four cloves of sliced garlic; a bay leaf; some thyme; and enough water to cover the meat.

JOHN DOHERTY:  Burt, I've covered just the meat with the water, and then all the water comes out of the leeks and the onions once it starts to cook, to give it just the right amount of liquid ... perfect.

WOLF:  Finally, five large potatoes that have been thinly sliced go in.  20 minutes more cooking, then into a bowl; a garnish of chopped parsley; and the Irish lamb stew is ready to serve.

The Irish were not only responsible for North America's love affair with the potato, but they were also the popularizer of the leek.  The leek is a member of the lily family with an onion-like bulb at its base.  The ancient Assyrians believed that leeks had considerable medical value; they recommended that you eat them in order to prevent your hair from turning white.  Now, there's a piece of information I could have used about 25 years ago.

One thing you gotta remember about leeks is they are often packed with sand between the leaves, and you need to clean them very carefully before you cook them.  Trim off any damaged ends at the top of the leek, and the roots from the bottom.  And the best technique for getting out all of the soil and grit is to cut two slices down the center of the leaves.  Cut one, then give it a half turn and cut the other; you've actually quartered the leeks.  Then open the leaves with your hands and hold them open while you place the leek under running water.  Let that water come down and get out all of the grit and the soil.  Slice them into the sizes called for in your recipe, and you are ready to cook.

We are a nation of immigrants, and the children and grandchildren of immigrants, and we love the idea of equality of opportunity.  We may not end up with what we want, but we at least like to have the feeling that we had a shot at it.  Equality of opportunity was extremely important to the people who came through Ellis Island, and it's even more important to their descendants.  And that desire to have equal opportunity has had an enormous impact on the way we eat in this country.

In past centuries, you could always tell who the most important people were at a dinner table, because they were eating the most important parts of the meat, fish, or poultry.  The life-giving protein in the flesh was the most valued part of a meal, and that food was usually cooked whole and brought to the table in one piece.  As it was carved, the most valued parts went to the most valued people:  the person who got the breast was more important than the person who got the neck.  And that system was unacceptable to our equality-loving hearts.  We are attracted to systems that appear to be free of hierarchy.

One result of that is that more and more of our food is pre-cut, pre-measured, and pre-processed into shapes where one piece is totally indistinguishable from the next.  To a great extent, the success of the hamburger, the fish stick, and the chicken nugget, is the result of our love of democracy.

Well, that's all from Ellis Island.  Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for good things to eat and drink at Burt Wolf's Table.

Burt Wolf's Table: Toronto - #204

BURT WOLF:  Toronto, Canada:  a major metropolitan city encircled by a radiant countryside.  Great restaurants serving over sixty different ethnic cuisines.  We'll get the recipes of some of North America's most talented chefs; visit one of Canada's most elegant hotels; and prepare a meal in a 200-year-old fort.  So join me in Toronto at Burt Wolf's Table.

Toronto is the largest city in the world's second largest country.  The striking downtown skyline was created by the corporations that make this city the center of Canada's business community.  The Canadian National Tower is the world's tallest free-standing structure, and Yonge Street the world's longest street, over 1700 miles.  Toronto is the theatre capital of the nation, reflecting the best of Broadway and London.  The downtown business core is surrounded by low-level buildings, wide streets, and parks, which keep the city open, light, spacious, and in human scale.  With all the business, banks, and educational institutions in town, many people like to think of Toronto as the brain of Canada, and it may very well be that.  But it is definitely the stomach.

Toronto is packed with good food.  The St. Lawrence Market is loaded with good things to eat from all over the world, and so is the Kensington Market.  Each of the ethnic neighborhoods has dozens of food shops offering the specialities of the community.  And when it comes to restaurants, the town is in top shape.  The chefs are considered local superstars, and their devoted diners follow them around town.

Toronto is like a big tossed salad:  each ethnic ingredient in its own place, holding onto its very specific flavor, but appreciating and complementing its neighbors.  The tomato needs the lettuce and the oil needs the vinegar.  As a result, Toronto is a great place to eat.

A quick look at a map shows that Toronto, and the lower part of its province of Ontario, are resting down in the middle of the United States ... which makes it very easy for U.S. tourists to just pop in.  But 175 years ago, it made it just as easy for U.S. troops to just pop in; and that fact has had an amazing impact on the history of the area.


The American Revolutionary War officially ended in 1783, but the tension between England and the United States continued.  War between them broke out again 1812, and spilled over into this part of Canada, with U.S. troops on one side and British and Canadians on the other.

When the War of 1812 came to an end, the British realized that they could not hold this area against the United States unless they packed it with people.  And to do that, they developed a very progressive immigration policy which is still in effect.  The British came, the Chinese came, the Europeans came, the West Indians, the East Indians, and most recently, the Southeast Asians.

Historically, Toronto has received one out of every four immigrants to Canada, which has made this town a microcosm of much of the best food on the planet.

During the early years of the 1800's, there was almost constant tension between the United States and England.  When the English became deeply involved with a series of battles against Napoleon, the U.S. decided to take advantage of the situation by attacking the British settlements in Canada.  The U.S. government believed that all they had to do was march into Canada and the residents would renounce Great Britain and join with the U.S.  Wrong!  The Canadians were very serious about their loyalty to the British crown, and they put up an enormous defense.  As a matter of fact, the only important victory that the U.S. forces had was here in Toronto, at Fort York, in the spring of 1813.

Today, Fort York has been rebuilt into a historic monument that will give you a clear idea of what life was like in a military garrison of the early 1800's.  The reconstructed fort is an ideal place to take a look at what a kitchen was like in 1813.  Fiona Lucas is a historical researcher who specializes in information about cooking.

FIONA LUCAS:  This whole thing here is called down-hearth cooking.  So what we're doing is, we have the cauldron -- at the moment it's got herical [?] mutton soup in it.

WOLF:  You can decide how hot you want the cauldron to get by the length of ...

LUCAS:  Right.

WOLF:  ... the hook you hang it on.

LUCAS:  Right.  It's actually forged so you can do that.  The hooks are different lengths; you can move the equipment back and forth along the crane -- the crane's the bar at the top there; you can rotate most of the equipment.  And then the other thing, of course, is the size of the fire ... okay, because that will vary ... a tremendous amount ...

WOLF:  That's the hardest thing to do.

LUCAS:  Yeah.

WOLF:  It's much easier just to pull it out.

LUCAS:  Right.  And that's actually one of the important points of controlling the heat as well, simply moving it back and forth, you know.  In front here, we have a gridiron, with a long-handled frying pan on top.  Underneath you can see there's a whole pile of coals here.  When you do this kind of cooking, you have to use the entire expanse, so that means coming out in front of the hearth as well, so we often pull shovelfuls of coals in front here.  So, for instance, right here we have the onions and the potatoes frying up in the juices that have come from the chicken, which is roasting as well.

WOLF:  How does the chicken roaster work?

LUCAS:  Well, it's ... the British called it a tin kitchen, and it was a very, very efficient piece of equipment.  So it would be here, facing into the fire, and of course ‘cause it's tin, the heat's going to reflect off the back as well, so it bounces back on it.  What you do with this is you simply rotate it around ... there's a whole circle here of little holes, and you simply adjust it around.  So eventually the whole bird moves around in several occasions...

WOLF:  It's really very flexible.  You have a frying system going on ...

LUCAS:  Very, yeah.

WOLF:  You have a boiling system going on.  You have a roasting area there.  You can increase or decrease the number of burners or the number of ovens that you have ...

LUCAS:  Yeah, very much so.  And there's ...

WOLF:  ... very easily.

LUCAS:  ... there's actually room to accommodate two or three cooks as well.


WOLF:  Fort York was the defensive garrison for the British during the early years of the 1800s.  Today it's a teaching museum for early 19th-century Canadian life.  Tourists and students come from all over to see what was going on.  Part of the Fort York program is devoted to the reproduction of recipes from the early 1800s.  This is a period recipe for lemon sponge cake that was originally written in 1810.

Take the whites from ten eggs and beat them ‘til stiff.  Take the juice from a lemon, and the rind, and put it into the whites.  Put in three tablespoons of rose water; a pound of sifted sugar.

If you were lucky enough to get sugar in those days, it came in the form of a cone like this, and you'd break off a hunk, put it into a mortar, grab your pestle, and break it up into small pieces.   (POUNDING)  When it had a nice even consistency, you would dump it into a strainer — called a tammy, actually — and work it through ... until you had a nice container of very smooth, fine sugar.

Next, beat ten egg yolks.  Blend them with the whites.  The blending tool at the time was the hand, and quite frankly, it still does the best job; you get right down to the bowl and blend everything together very gently, so the air stays in the egg white, which makes it a light and spongy cake.

Three cups of flour are added.  Then into a buttered mold, and into a moderate oven for an hour — that'd be about 350 degrees these days.  The tubed baking mold was a great invention.  You have a heavy batter that's very delicate; if you cooked it in a solid form, the outside would be burned before the inside got cooked.  This allows the heat to get into the center so it all cooks evenly.


Toronto was a valuable settlement in England's development of their Canadian territories, and today the British and their descendents represent the city's largest cultural group.  But right behind them come the Italians.  Italians were part of the first British units to explore Canada, and Italian pioneer families show up in the records as early as 1831.  But the first immigration of any significance was in 1885, when Italian laborers showed up in large groups from southern Italy.

These days, there are over 400,000 people of Italian heritage living in Toronto, and their historic influence is clearest in two areas:  construction, where the talent and strength of Italian stonemasons can be seen throughout the city; and in food.

Italian immigrants set up some of Toronto's best markets.  They prided themselves on presenting great fruits and vegetables.  Pasta factories have been turning out their products in Toronto for over 100 years.  And the Italian restaurants of Toronto will match anything in Italy.  Quite frankly, the Italians have done more to improve and maintain good quality cooking in North America than any other immigrant group.  Milli grazie!

The first Italian to set foot in Canada was a man named Gianni Cabatto.  He was a skilled navigator who had anglicized his name to John Cabot and gone to work as an explorer for the British.  He arrived in Canada in 1497.  Today, his historic influence is being celebrated in the kitchens of Toronto's Four Seasons Hotel by chef Susan Weaver, who's cooking up a bowl of orecchietti pasta.  Orecchietti means "little ears," so listen carefully.

Four quarts of water are brought to a boil.  In goes a little oil, to keep the pasta from sticking together and the water from foaming over.  Then the pasta.  When the pasta has been cooking for ten minutes, three cups of Italian broccoli rapi are added.  Can't find rapi?  Just use good old American broccoli.

The more research that scientists do on broccoli, the more we find out how valuable a vegetable it is.  It's packed with vitamins and minerals that are important to our health; they appear to be cancer blockers and improve our overall well-being.  So get that broccoli into your diet!

Let the broccoli and the pasta cook for five minutes more.  Then drain off the water, and hold the pasta and the broccoli aside.  Put a little oil into a hot saute pan.  Add a tomato cut into strips; some chopped basil; the pasta; fresh pepper.  A few flips to blend everything together, then into a serving bowl.  A garnish of sun-dried tomatoes and a few shavings of parmigiano cheese.

Right down the road from Toronto's Little Italy is a neighborhood heavily populated by people of Portuguese ancestry.  A number of historians believe that the Portuguese knew about North America long before Columbus arrived in the neighborhood, but they never told anybody about it because they considered it a trade secret.  For hundreds of years, Portuguese fishermen had followed the codfish across the Atlantic Ocean to the Grand Banks which are just off the coast of Canada; and there's considerable evidence that those Portuguese fishermen came ashore quite regularly.

Today, Canada has a large Portuguese community, with well over 100,000 Portuguese living right here in Toronto.  The central Portuguese area of the city even has street signs that read "Portugal Village."  And because many Portuguese hold dual citizenship, Portuguese politicians regularly show up in Toronto all the way from Europe, looking for votes.

When it comes to food, they must feel very much at home.  The neighborhood is packed with Portuguese restaurants and take-out stores serving their traditional dishes.  And the bakeries are in a class by themselves.  The Portuguese have a highly developed sweet tooth.  And everywhere you'll find the dried codfish that brought the Portuguese here in the first place.

The history of Portugal is the history of men and the sea.  For hundreds of years, the best ocean navigators came from Portugal.  Even Columbus went there when he was planning his voyage.  Portugal is a great place to learn about the sea, and that goes for cooks as well as explorers.  Portugal has some of the world's great seafood recipes.  Today, chef Susan Weaver is preparing a classic Portuguese spicy shrimp.

A little vegetable oil is heated in a stock pot.  Then in goes a quarter cup of minced garlic; two cups of sliced red onion; two cups of sliced white onion; some finely chopped red chili pepper; eight tomatoes that have been cut into quarters; a little salt and pepper; and two pounds of shrimp that have had their shells removed.  Cook and stir all that for about five minutes.  Then pour in four cups of tomato juice.  Bring everything to a simmer; add in a half-cup of green onions that have been sliced into rounds, some chopped parsley, and some fresh coriander.  That's it.  Into a serving bowl, and you're all set.

When Consumer Reports magazine surveyed luxury hotels, they found that the gold standard was the Four Seasons group:  great attention to detail, luxury accommodations, fabulous service; hotels and resorts in a class by themselves.

The group's headquarters are in Toronto, and their Toronto Four Seasons is a perfect example of what makes them so popular.  It's located in the heart of the town's fashionable Yorkville district, surrounded by the best shops and galleries, and minutes away from the business area.  The public rooms are elegant, and the private rooms packed with every comfort and convenience you could imagine ... and quite a few you might not have thought of.

Luxury hotels are expected to offer bathrobes to guests, but this is the first time I have seen them in children's sizes.  Of course there's soap in your room, but there's also a selection of non-allergic soaps; and if your skin is dried out from the zero moisture of a long flight, they'll put a humidifier in your room.  One of the most impressive examples of the hotel's attention to the needs of its guests are the digital display systems that send and receive messages through the use of typewriter-style keyboards.  They are installed into the rooms of guests that are hearing-impaired.

The Four Seasons Toronto also delivers some of the very best food in the city, and it does so in some of the most beautiful dining rooms.  The Studio Cafe serves dishes that reflect the traditional cooking of Italy and other countries of the Mediterranean:  light, airy, and open.  Pastas and pizzas are their specialties.  All of the artworks in the Studio Cafe are originals created by Canadian artists, and the glass pieces are available for sale.  The whole place is what you might call a real "glass" act.

Truffles is the hotel's award-winning restaurant, with the ambience of a country chateau.  And whatever it is you would like to have prepared, the skilled and attentive staff always responds to your request as if it were no "truffle" at all.

The history of European cooking places women in the home and men in the professional kitchen, and it's been that way for thousands of years.  But no more.  These days women chefs are becoming the stars of Western gastronomy, and I don't mean to limit that statement to small neighborhood restaurants.  The ladies of the ladle are running major multi-million-dollar operations for giant corporations.  Carrie Nahabedian and Susan Weaver are perfect examples of what I mean.

WOLF:  Do you think there's a difference between the way a woman runs a kitchen and a man runs a kitchen?

SUSAN WEAVER:  I think if women add anything to a kitchen and to a business, it's the natural art of cooking and pleasing people around them ... nurturing and making people happy with the emotions of food.  Women have done that forever ... our grandmothers, our mothers.  And if we can add something that's distinctly special, I think we can add that to our profession.

CARRIE NAHABEDIAN:  We try harder because it's expected of us.

WOLF:  Carrie, what do you feel the difference is between a restaurant kitchen and a hotel kitchen?

NAHABEDIAN:  In a hotel, you have to worry about everything.  You are responsible for the entire operation of the kitchen, you have banquets, you have room service.  It's literally a hub of activity.  You are constantly on the go, and your day flies by before you even know it.

WEAVER:  Working in a hotel has the advantages of the fact that you have a corporation that has a business of housing people, feeding people, and catering to the luxury market, and that's a very good umbrella to work under.

WOLF:  If it's true that women chefs tend to have a more mothering attitude towards their customer, as chef Susan Weaver says, then her recipe for a marvelous chocolate roll is a wonderful result of that instinct.

Three-quarters of a pound of semi-sweet chocolate and two ounces of butter go into the top of a double boiler and are melted together.  Then the bowl comes off the heat, and in goes a half-cup of crumbled cookies; a cup and a half of dried fruits; a cup of pistachio nuts; a half-cup each of macadamias and almonds; and three-quarters of a cup of raisins.  All that gets mixed together; then a quarter-cup of sugar goes into the melted chocolate, followed by the fruit and nut mixture.  A strip of plastic wrap goes onto a flat surface, the chocolate mixture goes on, and it's shaped and rolled into a cylinder.

Into the refrigerator for four hours to harden, and it's ready to be sliced into rounds.  Strawberries are mixed together with powdered sugar and a little fruit juice, and everything's ready to be plated.  Pound cake or ice cream, chocolate rounds, strawberries, a leaf of mint.

The strawberries that were used in that recipe are one of the favorite fruits of the Canadians.  The growing season here is small, but the appreciation of the strawberry is big.  Each year 80 million pints of strawberries are brought in from California.  But the strawberry has its own long history in Canada.

One of the earliest European explorers of Canada was a man named Jacques Cartier.  Cartier had been sent by King Francis I of France to find a short route to Asia so he could get his spices at a discount price — same project that Columbus was working on for the King of Spain.  Cartier discovered the St. Laurence Seaway and sailed deep into Canada.

In his diary of 1534, he noted that there were vast patches of strawberries along the great river and in the woods.  Cartier was probably the first European to taste our giant North American strawberries.  Strawberries have been around since Neolithic times, but they had always been little bitty things, very delicate; you had to eat them in the forest where you found them.  During the Middle Ages, they developed a reputation for being a medicine, which is kind of interesting when you think about what we are learning these days about strawberries and nutrition.

They're low in calories; a cup of strawberries has only 45 calories.  They're high in vitamin C -- that same cup has more vitamin C than a medium orange -- plus potassium and dietary fiber.  My kind of medicine.  I'd gladly take a daily dose of these.  And you gotta love a fruit that has the audacity to wear its seeds on the outside.


If you've ever wondered why we eat the way we do, or almost anything else in terms of human behavior, then you will love meeting Toronto's expert on eccentricities, Margaret Visser.  Margaret Visser is a classical scholar whose field of study is everyday life.  She's written two amazing books about food and the way we eat:  Much Depends on Dinner and The Rituals of Dinner.  They tell us about the unexpected history that joins us at our dining-room tables.

MARGARET VISSER:  The dining-room table really only came to be a commonly-used piece of furniture in the last third of the 18th century ... and it really only became really widespread in the 19th century.  What people had before  ... if you were rich, you had trestles put on sort of ... trestles and then a board, very simple stuff, and you put very very expensive tablecloths ...

WOLF:  Sawhorses and a big board on top.

VISSER:  Just very rough stuff.  And the rich would have a huge place or a hall, you know, would put up this banquet table whenever they felt like it.  The poor would eat, as people have always eaten for hundreds of thousands of years, near the fire.  So they would have a solid table in the kitchen by the fire.  What happened was, in the 18th century, we were getting the rising bourgeoisie.  Now, they are people who have risen from the crowd who were eating by the fire, as the peasants have always done, and so those were solid tables they were used to.  But they had become rich, so they introduced the idea -- and the aristocracy began this shortly before -- of the dining room.  A special room for nothing but eating?  It was an inconceivable idea; I mean, nobody's ever had this before ... really bizarre, you know, we've got to have a special ... not going to do anything else, we're just going to eat.  So the bourgeoisie have this dining room already there, and then they go, "Oh, look, we're not going to have this trestle table, we're going to have a solid table.  Ah.  And it's going to be a solid table that's made of really good wood."  So you had this great big glossy dark table, polished, like us ... I mean, we're the bourgeois, we're getting polished, and we wear dark clothes, right, and it's solid, and it lasts ... continuity.

And then there's another whole thing.  Dining, for the Victorians, we're talking about Victorians, and France, and the same is true in Italy as well ... but it becomes the recreation.  Eating becomes recreation for the rich.  Because, you see, especially in England and the North where people had the most money, “we are respectable, you know, we don't go out in public ... we don't flaunt our money.  We have it, oh boy, do we have it, but we don't flaunt it, we don't go public with it, we are respectable.  And we are exclusive.”  Now, I put it to you that the table is an absolutely brilliant tool for this, because it means... see, a table is limited by nature, okay.  Only a certain number of people can sit around it.  It's not like, you know, if you're eating in India, for instance, you have a huge crowd, and we're all sitting on the floor, we're eating with our hands, we're eating vegetarian; so if somebody else rolls up, you say "Ah, join the crowd," you put a few more beans in the pot, you know, just move up, you know, and we can all just share this stuff.

No, no.  We're now Victorians.  We have the room, we have the table first, then the room, then the house, and so you've got to penetrate to the tables of the rich.  The table holds a certain number and no more, and they're eating a roast ... a roast, which is put on the table, right, and there you have this beast, the whole thing on the table -- I mean, the Chinese found this absolutely the most barbarous thought, of having this whole animal on the table.  And then the pater familias -- who's sitting, incidentally, at the head of the table, and his wife is at the foot of the table, okay ... (LAUGHS) the table's wonderful for hierarchy, see, it's oblong, and only the top person sits at either end, and then the lower people at the sides, right -- and then he rises and he carves the roast with his knife, which is the male prerogative, and he says, you know, "Some for you and some for you" ... but he asks in the order ... "Aunt Mabel, what would you like" ... "Oh, I like a little bit of breast, please" ... white meat is higher than dark meat, and who asks first matters, cause you get what you want.

In other words, there's a whole ... the whole of society, really, can be summed up in that table and that joint.  (LAUGHS)  That's what food does, you see.  It's so expressive of social aims and desires.


WOLF:  Toronto is certainly a good town to eat in, and it owes many of its special flavors to its ethnic diversity.  When that happens in terms of food, everybody is in for a treat; you end up being able to eat your way around the world, and every recipe is just a cab ride away.  Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for things that taste good and make it easier to eat well.  I'm Burt Wolf. 

Burt Wolf's Table: Amsterdam - #203

BURT WOLF:  Amsterdam, one of the world's most beautiful and romantic cities. We'll tour the town's canals... discover the traditional foods... visit one of the finest hotels ever built... and learn some easy but great tasting Dutch recipes. Plus we'll discover the six-thousand-year- old secret that made beer drinking popular around the world.   So join me in Amsterdam at Burt Wolf's Table.

WOLF:  Some time during the 1100s, a group of herring fishermen settled near here along the Amstel River. That community eventually became the city of Amsterdam. So I think it's only fair to say that from the very beginning, the story of Amsterdam has been the story of something good to eat.  But the real golden age of Amsterdam was the 1600s.  Amsterdam was Europe's center for business as well as its cultural capital. It all started in 1595 when a Dutch trading ship landed in what was then called the East Indies: Indonesia, Bali, Java, Borneo, Sumatra; lands which produced some of the world's most valuable spices. Those were the places that Columbus had been looking for, and when the Dutch got there they took control of a spice trade to Europe that made many Dutchman wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. Actually, those dreams weren't very wild at all, because even then the Dutch were very structured and not showy. Much of the wealth from that spice trade was used to build homes along the canals of Amsterdam. Amsterdam was actually put  together by connecting islands with about five hundred bridges and most citizens get around on bicycles. The town has only seven hundred and fifty thousand people but a million bikes. You could, if you want, get from place to place just as well by boat.

Thomas Schmidt is the executive assistant manager of Amsterdam's Amstel Hotel. He borrowed one of the hotel's boats so we could take a tour of the city... a tour with two objectives:  first, to see the traditional sights, and second, to stop along the way and eat the traditional foods.

THOMAS SCHMIDT:  And here you have a very typical bridge...which is still operating.  If a boat passes through here, there are two bridge guards who will open up the bridge to you; every time you pass a bridge and he takes a bicycle and drives along the channel, opens the bridge and then he goes to the next.

WOLF:  Bicycle goes along with the boat.

SCHMIDT:  That's right.

WOLF:  And opens it up for you. That's really great.

SCHMIDT:  But most of the time the bicycle is faster than the boat, so that's no problem.


SCHMIDT:  Here we're going into the typically Dutch channel.  What you see on the right hand side, left hand side, houseboats.

WOLF:  People live on these...boats?

SCHMIDT:  People live on them, yes, that's right.

WOLF:  It looks like it's a nice place to live.

SCHMIDT:  It is. It is actually. You see even  the people create their own garden and terrace and they're trying to... to feel at home here you know. And there's another thing you probably have noticed, the... hook hanging on each house. This is meant to... bring up the corniches, and if you move from one to the other house, you bring it up from the outside, through the window.

WOLF:  Oh that's right. The stairs are so narrow in these houses that you can't bring a bed or a piano upstairs, and even today they use that hook on the top of the house to bring their furniture in when they move.

SCHMIDT:  That's right.

WOLF:  Amazing.

SCHMIDT:  That's right. You see also different type of the decorations. This one is... more of  the very heavy decorated and they have some more simple as well.  People showed the...their richness on the outside of the... house by building a gable which is more decorated or less decorated, and there's not much space in the small houses to show your decoration of your richness so the gable was a nice place to do that.

WOLF:  The ornateness of the crown.

SCHMIDT:  That's right. That's right.

WOLF:  One of the great pleasures of a canal tour of Amsterdam is that you can tie up, go ashore and see what's cooking in the streets. 

Each city around the world has its own customary street foods, and eating them as you move around the town has become almost a ritual for the citizens.  In Amsterdam there are a group of  very traditional street foods.  Maybe it's because Amsterdam was originally founded some seven hundred years ago by herring fisherman or maybe it's just because the Dutch love herring. We don't know, but we do know that Amsterdam has dozens of small street stands where people eat herring.  The fish is very fresh, lightly salted, cleaned and served on a paper plate with some chopped onion. The herring is held in the air above your head and eaten bite by bite. There are also street vendors for french fried potatoes, freshly cut and deep fried right in front of you. They're served with mayonnaise, a peanut sauce or ketchup.  The third classic street food of Amsterdam is the waffle.  They're freshly made by vendors who set up their stoves in the town's open markets. They're thin and crisp.  Two waffles are put together like a sandwich and the filling;  it's made up of a maple-based sugar syrup.   And licorice, an anise-flavored candy that they make both sweet and salty.  So those are the street foods of Amsterdam: licorice, herring, french fries and little waffles. What an unbeatable meal.

As you move through the streets of Amsterdam you will see at rather regular intervals the “Brown Cafes.” There are five hundred of them in the downtown area. The Brown Cafe is to Amsterdam very much what the pub is to London: a neighborhood gathering spot, an extension of the living room, a place to come in and have a beer or a coffee, to read a book or a newspaper. They're called Brown Cafes because the wood used in their construction is always dark because the lighting level is kept low, and because the  walls which have been stained with smoke and nicotine are never washed or painted. This is probably the most famous of the brown cafes.  It's Cafe Hoppe and it first opened for business in 1670. The Brown Cafes are an essential part of each of Amsterdam's neighborhoods and very often attract a particular clientele. One might be the place for writers to meet, another frequented by painters.  They even have a cafe where they will let television reporters come in.  They're a real reflection of the neighborhood and a great place to get to know the people of the city, which is not hard for North Americans, since English is the second language of just about everybody in Holland.   And the people of Amsterdam are anxious to test out their English vocabulary.

BARTENDER:  That’s what’s cooking today; He’s Burt Wolf.

WOLF:  See what I mean?

WOLF:  Amstel is the name of the river on which Amsterdam was originally founded. It's also the name of the city's landmark hotel which happens to sit on the bank of its namesake river. The Amstel Hotel was built in 1867 and immediately became the hotel in town. It was elegant. It was efficient and it did everything it possibly could to please its guests.  And from the very beginning it had an unusual association with good health. In 1870 a Doctor John Metzger decided to conduct his practice from the hotel.  Doctor Metzger believed that there was a direct relationship between exercise and good health, and so he had a gym built into the hotel. Remember this is 1870, very early for that kind of stuff. Eventually word of Dr. Metzger’s approach to well-being spread to many European cities, and the Amstel Hotel became famous as the place to go for rejuvenation. In 1990 the Intercontinental Hotels group closed the Amstel and spent two years and forty million dollars rejuvenating the hotel. Today it's like a country residence of a European nobleman, with a few features that are quite impressive even for European noblemen. There's a butler on each floor to take care of your needs twenty-four hours a day. To make sure you don't soil your hands on your morning newspaper, he irons them. That's a new one for me. Old Dr. Metzger 's love of physical fitness is carried on in the health center that offers a personal fitness trainer to all guests. The kitchen is under the direction of Master Chef Robert Kranenborg, who's made the hotel's restaurant one of the most respected establishments in the city. Robert produces the classics of Dutch and French cooking as well as a series of light dishes that fit right in with the health club. The hotel's wine list is rather unusual. They decided that the top price for a bottle of wine on their list should be a hundred gilders. That's about sixty-five dollars. And they searched the world to get the best wines under that price. They have a tea service but they are more serious about making good tea than any hotel I've ever seen. The water which the hotel uses to make tea is purified in a reverse-osmosis filter to remove minerals and other trace elements that might affect the taste of the tea. Each tea is taste-tested each day. They use a special pot that controls the contact between the tea and the water and the time of each brewing is carefully monitored. They have even developed a special tea which they hope will help their guests adjust to jet lag. One of the most talked about aspects of the hotel are the showers. The shower heads were made especially for the Amstel and they're about a foot wide. They give you the feeling that you are standing under a waterfall. Just another example of this hotel showering its guests with luxury.

Since Amsterdam was originally settled by fisherman, and fishing has been a major part of Dutch life for over a thousand years, it's only natural to find some excellent fish cookery in Dutch kitchens. Robert Kranenborg is well-known for his work at the Amstel Hotel, but he's also a respected author with a new book on fish cookery.

ROBERT KRANENBORG: Well, about fish cookery you have to know that the...you have a good confident supplier with very, very fresh fish and to cook it right away once you come home, the same day and...you have to know that...the temperature of the fish is very important. You have to stop cooking when your fish is at three- quarters of... cooking time. So the heat which is... which is in the fish...will spread and when you serve it it will be... exactly like it should... like it should be. 

WOLF:  During the 1980's, North America saw an enormous increase in fish consumption. Scientific evidence indicated that there were elements in fish that actually might reduce the risk of heart attack and the fish industry spent an enormous amount of time and money promoting the fact that fish in general is low in calories and low in fat. But the marketers of fish ran into one enormous problem; millions of home cooks felt that they just didn't know how to cook fish properly.

Chef Kranenborg demonstrates a very simple fish cooking technique from his new book. A little water is brought to boil in a saucepan. A heat- proof plate goes on top, a little oil in the plate and then the fish... whatever fish you like, but make sure the fish is cut to similar size so it will take about the same time to cook, and a second plate on top. Everything cooks for five minutes. Meanwhile a salad is made from strips of spinach, cucumber, asparagus, red onion, a little vegetable oil and a little vinegar. The salad goes into a serving bowl and the cooked fish on top. 

KRANENBORG:  The secret of this is that... china keeps...spread the heat very good so it will not cook but it will keep hot and that is what we want with fish. You have to taste the fish like it should be and not overcook it.  The thickness of the china is enough.

WOLF:  During the early 1600's there was an extraordinary increase in world trade.  Everyone in Europe who had a boat wanted to take off for some distant port in the hope of buying something and selling it for big bucks when he got back home.  That trade created a worldwide Dutch empire, and in Holland, an enormous amount of local wealth. Holland became the financial capital of Europe, and in 1602 the Dutch East India Company was formed, and in a very unusual move for the time, shares were offered to the general public, which allowed the general public to share in the wealth. Within ten years Holland was the largest importer of spices to Europe. The most important part of the Dutch empire were its holdings in what is now Indonesia, some eight thousand islands stretching over three thousand miles and packed with things to bring back and sell.  Spices were an essential part of that trade, but the Dutch also introduced coffee plantations that became quite significant. Most of the coffee was shipped back to Europe from a port known as Java.  It became such an important port that the world java is now a synonym for coffee. That four- hundred-year-old relationship between the Dutch and the East Indies has had an enormous impact on Dutch cooking.  A lot of the East Indian flavoring techniques are part of Dutch cooking today and there are Indonesian restaurants all over the country that serve great food from Borneo and Bali.

WOLF:  Holland's four-hundred-year-old history of trading with the East Indies has influenced the way the chefs of this country do their  work. Marcel Drissen, the sous-chef at Amsterdam's Amstel Hotel, illustrates the point with his choice of seasonings for his chicken curry. Two boneless, skinless chicken breasts are cut into bite-sized pieces and browned in a little vegetable oil for two minutes, and removed and held aside. Into the same pan, thin sticks of eggplant, a little curry powder, a cup of chicken broth, a few sprigs of thyme, a few minutes of cooking, quarter cup of coconut cream, half cup of sour cream (low-fat sour cream works just as well and so does plain low-fat yogurt), salt, pepper; the chicken goes back in, chopped tomato, a moment to warm everything up, but be careful... too much heat will separate the yogurt if you use that instead of sour cream. Into a serving bowl, a garnish of eggplant chips. Curry and coconut: you can certainly taste the East Indies in this dish.

The city plan of Amsterdam is based on three canals that form three semi-circles, one inside the other. Together they are described as the Canal Girdle. The outside canal in English is called the Prince's Canal. In the middle is the Emperor's Canal, and on the inside the Gentleman's Canal. It's interesting that the most elegant and ambitious of the three is the Gentleman's Canal, not those named with royal titles.  It's a reminder that for centuries the people of Amsterdam have loved the small businessman, the individual entrepreneur, and like most people, the owner of a small business tries to keep his taxes as low as he honestly can -- or at least to get the most for his money.

WOLF:  During the 1700's the people here paid their homeowner's tax based on the width of the front of their house, and that's why so many houses along the canals are so narrow.  But those same houses go up and they go back, and as they go back they get wider. A pie-shaped house with the thinnest part facing the street helped cut down on your taxes and let you keep a bigger slice of your own economic pie. That's the Trippenhuis,  built in 1662. It's like a Venetian palace. Across the street is the narrowest house in Amsterdam. The story goes that the Tripp family coachman was expressing his wish for a home on the canal, even if it was only as wide as the door of his master's house. Mr. Tripp overheard him and built him just that: a house as wide as the Tripp door. The extraordinary architecture of Amsterdam is one of its greatest joys.  The government has designated some seven thousand buildings in the old center as historically significant.  The character of these streets, which tells the history of the city for almost eight centuries, will be preserved. The people of Amsterdam have done a pretty good job of preserving their heritage.  Holding onto the old buildings was essential.

WOLF:  And they've built museums for just about everything Dutch that you can think of. They're also doing a good job of holding onto their gastronomic heritage. There are chefs all over this town who are researching old recipes, reproducing them and making the gastronomic past part of the present.  DePoort Restaurant, at the center of the town's oldest area, started as a beer brewery in 1592.  It was the place where Heineken was first made.  Today the restaurant offers some of the most traditional home foods of Holland:  Dutch pea soup, a meal in itself with a piece of pork and slices of sausage; herring in various forms; hotspot, which is a combination of mashed potatoes, sauteed onions and carrots.  Made me go out and get a pair of wooden shoes; a wonderful Dutch dish. And giant pancakes served with apples or preserves. These are the real Dutch treats. 

The Dutch city of Amsterdam is a visual treat, with its tree-lined canals, magnificent old houses and picturesque streets. Amsterdam can also be a gastronomic treat. The point is made at Amsterdam Amstel Hotel by Pastry Chef Jost Von Velsen as he prepares classic Dutch butter cookies. First ingredient into the  bowl is butter, only fitting for a butter cookie, then some sugar and some more sugar and an egg.  Flour is added in and everything is mixed together by hand.  Doing it this way, by hand, helps to blend the ingredients together more smoothly.  The dough rests in the refrigerator for an hour and is then rolled out to a thickness of about a half an inch. Three-inch rounds are cut out, placed onto parchment paper, given a quick paint job with egg wash, and a criss- cross pattern.  At which point they are placed into round cookie forms. You can buy these cookie forms or you can take a bunch of your standard food cans and cut out the top and bottom. Then into a preheated oven for twenty minutes and they're ready to serve.

WOLF:  KLM, the Royal Dutch Airline of Holland, is the oldest airline still operating. It made its first flight in 1920.  The concept of eating or drinking on an aircraft was unheard of; even when transcontinental flights were introduced, there was very little food on board. The airport in Amsterdam has an aircraft museum, and this an actual plane from the 20's. Just before you took off you were issued a leather jacket, a pair of goggles, a hot water bottle and a set of earplugs. The final destination might have been half a world away but the actual trip was  made up of many small flights. Very often the stops were scheduled around meal times. So you could get out of the aircraft and go into a restaurant or a hotel dining room and eat properly. These days, however, in-flight food is considered a major part of an airline's activities.

The average KLM 747 takes on five-and-a- half tons of food for each flight. They offer fourteen different types of special meals. The latest and fastest-growing  trend at KLM is for meals that reflect the public's interest in food for good health. You can order a low-salt meal, a low- cholesterol meal or a low-calorie meal...or you could live it up... in moderation of course.

WOLF:  Most airlines started by flying people around in their home country, from one local town to another.  But that was not true for KLM.  Holland is a country with such a small geographic area that you're almost better off getting around it by car or bike or canal boat. As a result of that fact, from the very beginning KLM has been an international airline and that's had an interesting effect on its approach to food. For over four hundred years the people of Holland have been trading with the Dutch East Indies, an area that we now call Indonesia. So KLM has two menus on its flights; one traditional European, the other Indonesian or Asian. They also have many other ethnic kitchens including Japanese, Italian, Indian and Chinese. They have some amazing equipment too. I thought this was part of a satellite dish system.  Not quite, it's the ultimate grinder, but then, so is television. This is the world's fastest slicer; six hundred slices per minute, good for any kind of meat. This is my favorite. It's a giant frying pan; the steak goes on, when it's done the steak is turned.  When it's ready, it's slipped on to a tray. Awesome technology -- but when forty thousand people are coming to dinner you need a little technology.

WOLF:  One of the most popular tourist attractions in Amsterdam is the old Heineken Brewery. The original facility was called the Haystack Brewery and it started its production in 1572. In 1863 it was taken over by Gerhart Heineken, who at the ripe old age of twenty-two decided he could make a better beer. Today the original plant is a museum devoted to the history of beer. They have an interesting collection of art and artifacts that tell the story of the history of beer making.  It starts with material from ancient Mesopotamia and takes you right through some of your major European painters.  They also have an extensive collection of beer drinking vessels, including this unusual number: Her Royal Majesty holds a bowl above her head from which you drink an aquavit or vodka.  Then she flips over and her base fills with beer. The main reason that beer has been so popular in so many parts of the world for so many centuries is because very often beer was the only safe thing for someone to drink.  The open water found in lakes and rivers was highly polluted, and though no one actually understood the concept of bacteria at the time, they knew from experience that drinking water was dangerous.  Experience also taught them that drinking beer was safe, and the reason is quite simple; when you make beer, the water that's in it is brought to a boil.  The boiling water kills the bacteria.  So people concluded that drinking water could kill you.  Drinking beer in moderation was quite safe.

WOLF:  Here are ancient stone carvings that go back over six thousand years and clearly show people making beer.  The ancient Egyptians even put beer into the tombs of their kings so they could have a drink in the afterlife; talk about a six- pack to go.  Here at the Heineken Brewery in Holland, you can see the process pretty much the way it's been going on for the past two thousand years. It all starts with a grain called barley that people have been eating since prehistoric times. Because barley grows well in soil, even if that soil has some salt in it and because it has a very shallow root system, it was one of the earliest crops planted by the Dutch when they reclaimed their land from the sea.  Brewers start the beer making process by taking the barley and mixing it with water. The process that results is called germination, kind of wakes up the sugar in the barley.  They let that go on for a week and then they stop the process by toasting the barley. The germinated and toasted grain is called malt. The malt is transferred into a big copper kettle mixed with water and heated.  The starch in the malt changes to sugar.  Hops, which are the leaves of a vine, are added to give flavor and help preserve the beer.  The solids are filtered out and the remaining liquid is called wort. The wort is mixed with a special yeast that converts the sugar in the wort to alcohol and you have young beer. The young beer rests in a storage tank for four to six weeks, at which time it's old enough to have its own  bottle.

WOLF:  Not bad for a town that started as a bunch of huts for herring fishermen. They still eat that herring in the street, but they also eat just about everything else -- and usually at a very high quality.  So if you like good food in a very relaxed town, this is the place for you.  Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for things that taste good and make it easier to eat well.  I'm Burt Wolf. 

Burt Wolf's Table: Hawaii - #202

BURT WOLF:  Hawaii:  a hundred and thirty-two islands that stretch across the center of the Pacific Ocean; a necklace of tropical jewels.  We'll see how the ancient Hawaiians cooked... whip up some great-tasting recipes, using some of the island’s healthiest native foods, and we'll discover the fruit that keeps the goddess of the volcanoes content.  So join me in Hawaii at Burt Wolf's Table.

WOLF:  The ancient Hawaiians had a story about how their people came to be. They believed that their history began in the deep darkness  below the earth, and boy, how right they were. The islands that make up Hawaii are actually the tops of a chain of mountains that have pushed themselves up from the bottom of the ocean floor.

Hot magma is forced up from the very center of the planet. It drives its way through standing vents in the Earth's crust. It escapes through fractures on the floor of the Pacific Ocean and begins to form volcanoes. The volcanoes build up for thousands of feet until they break through the  surface of the water. The mountains that make up Hawaii are some of the biggest mountains on Earth, bigger than Mount Everest. It's estimated that the process may have started about forty-five million years ago and it's still going on.  For the Hawaiians, the gods of creation are still very busy. 

The best way to get a good look at what has been created is from a helicopter. Papillon Hawaiian helicopters is the world's largest helicopter sightseeing company.  Larry Lariosa, one of their pilots, is the third generation of his family born in Hawaii and he has a great deal of knowledge about the Islands and their history.  His helicopter gives you a unique ability to discover the area. You can just drop in wherever you like. 

WOLF:  These islands were the last major body of land to be discovered by European explorers. They were first seen by Captain James Cook in 1778. He called them the Sandwich Islands in honor of his friend John Montague, who was the Earl of Sandwich, first Lord of the Admiralty and most important, the inventor of the sandwich. 

LARRY LARIOSA:  What we'll do here is we'll just... sneak on down here... get a better view of the shoreline area.

WOLF:  They all look like they were lava floes.

LARIOSA:  Yes they were. 

WOLF:  You can see how the lava dripped down and formed everything.

LARIOSA:  True. Very true. Here is one of the most interesting points I believe here on the island... the eastern point of the island, Makapuu, translated “bulging eye.”  A tiny island, Turtle Island, the larger, Manana Island  translated Rabbit Island. And here on our left side, Splash Park where they put on a beautiful show, the dolphins and the killer whale, seven days a week. I know it sounds like a sales pitch, it is...my cousin works there. 


LARIOSA:  Gotta help out the family. Now this another interesting area, Hanouma Bay.  Here at Hanouma Bay you can jump in the water, wade out on the shallow side with a handful of fish,  they will come right up to you, eat it right off the palm of your hands. 

WOLF:  So this was a crater.


WOLF:  Of a volcano and one side of it dropped away.

LARIOSA:  You got it.  Here is an interesting point on our left. That's the fish farm, that's one of twenty-five which we now we have around the island. A lot of 'em are still being used by island fisherman to store fish which they caught out in the ocean with nets.

WOLF:  You know, that's interesting because  we're beginning to farm fish in the United States now.

LARIOSA:  That's true.

WOLF:  And people think it's a brand new thing and it's been going on for thousands of years.

LARIOSA:  That's true.

WOLF:  It's a lot easier to grow a fish than to  catch one.

LARIOSA:  It is. It is. 

WOLF:  What a lovely unspoiled valley. 

LARIOSA:  Looking at all the plants and flowers that you have here around the island, we’ve got about two thousand five hundred species, of which seventeen hundred are indigenous to the islands.  Now here coming up ahead of us on our left front this is the sugar fields.  The dark green is about a year old, the lighter brown, twenty-two to twenty-four months. Sugar requires two thousand pounds of fresh water to produce just one pound of raw sugar. Amazing.

WOLF:  Pineapples.

LARIOSA:  There's over twenty-five species of pineapple in the world. It's hand planted and hand picked and of course in front of us... the infamous North Shore surfing beaches.  During the winter months, November to March, the waves out here could possibly get up to thirty-five feet.

WOLF:  It's a nice way to spend a Monday morning.

LARIOSA:  You got it. Oh, you want to see something interesting here?  For thirty-five million dollars you can pick up this home here.

WOLF: If I had thirty-five million dollars I wouldn't pick up anything. (LAUGHS)

LARIOSA:  There's a beautiful phrase that I  tell a lot of people. (SAYS PHRASE)  It translates; With everlasting love and affection... until we meet again.


WOLF:  To understand the food of Hawaii you need to take a look at the ethnic groups that immigrated to these islands. The early groups were from Polynesia, particularly the island of Tahiti. Their major food festival was called the luau.  Authentic luaus are presented from time to time as charity events but you can see a visitor's version at Germaine's. 

WOLF:  Germaine's was started in the 70's by a woman who wanted to give people a sense of what Hawaiian hospitality is like and it turns out to be a lot of fun.

DANCE INSTRUCTOR:  To the right....and to the left. Hitchhike.  Way up in the air and pull, girls, pull. A fish...a fish.  Hitchhike.  Way up in the air, and pull girls. And pull. One more time. Step back with your left foot, touch your shoulders and throw a  kiss.  Throw a kiss.  Oh.  How about another hand for our girls, aren't they lovely.

WOLF:  Preparation for a luau centers around an emu, an ancient form of oven dug into the ground. The base and the walls of the pit are lined with a fragrant wood and lava stones. A pig goes in and is surrounded with tea and banana leaves. The fire heats up, the meat is covered. It cooks in the steam and ten to twelve hours later you are ready for the ultimate pig-out.  The luau is a way of bringing all the members of a family together for a shared experience. A food that's served at every luau is poi, a paste made from a baked root and pounded into a thick concentrate. The root is called taro. Taro is a tropical plant. For thousands of years it has been the basic starch for many cultural groups living in the South Pacific. It was originally brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians about fifteen hundred years ago, and it quickly became a food of great importance. It's grown in a patch fed by running water and harvested by hand.  The root is baked and made into a puree called poi. It has a taste somewhere between artichoke hearts and chestnuts. The islanders realized that poi could be wrapped up in leaves and would hold its nutritional value for months at a time. That made it the ideal food to take along on long ocean voyages or to stock up with to make sure you had a secure food supply. These days taro is used in Hawaii to make the traditional poi but you also find it in stuffings, cakes, breads and stews. The leaves are used as if they were spinach. Taro root and the leaves are an excellent source of protein.  They also contain vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, calcium and iron. The actual starch molecules are so small that they're usually easily digested by infants, the elderly and people on restricted diets.  So taro a moment in Hawaii and taste the poi that refreshes.

WOLF:  The luau and poi are essential elements in Hawaiian culture, and so are leis. The Hawaiian lei is a delicate necklace usually made from flowers but sometimes constructed of shells, leaves, nuts or feathers. Traditionally they were worn as head wreaths, necklaces and bracelets. They were worn during religious dances and considered as important offerings to the gods. A lei used in a sacred ceremony was thought of as the personal property of the deity to whom the ceremony was dedicated.  Each part of a lei has a specific significance. They were made with care and offered with great affection. Even today leis are a very important part of Hawaiian society. Many tourists receive them when the arrive on the islands but leis are also used by Hawaiians for all major and many minor occasions;  births, weddings, funerals, parties, and any time you want to express trust and affection.

WOLF:  The lei is clearly a symbol of Hawaiian folklore but so is the hula. Every  Sunday morning for well over a decade, children have performed the hula at the Ala Moana Center. The ritual of this dance is very complex and was always an important part of religious services.  It was central to a series of acts that were meant to establish contact with the ancient gods. In the old days, entering a hula school for a Hawaiian was the same as entering a monastery.  Some hulas are designed to influence events in the future, much as praying is used in other societies. The hula is an extraordinary folk art and its preservation a tribute to Hawaiian society.

WOLF:  His name is George Mavrothalassitis. He was born in the south of France on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and  trained with some of the great chefs of Paris.  These days he is the executive chef at a magnificent restaurant in Waikiki called  La Mer.  Today George is preparing fish with a salsa made from local papayas. A  quarter cup of lime juice goes into a bowl, plus a little salt, white pepper, chopped  jalepeno pepper and fresh ginger.

GEORGE:  I prefer to chop like that than to grate...to grate it becau...to grate because...you keep the juice of the ginger inside when you cut... finely as that.

WOLF:  That gets mixed together with a half cup of olive oil, a little garlic, a half cup of chopped onion, same amount of papaya and diced red bell pepper.  A tablespoon of cilantro completes the salsa, which then rests for about an hour to let the flavors blend. While that's happening, a piece of fish steak is trimmed. What George was doing was trimming away the dark part of the fish. Whenever you have a piece of fish and you see one of these dark cores, cut it out.  If there are impurities in the fish, this is where they're stored.  A little salt goes onto the fish and some of the liquid from the salsa to keep it moist, and into a steamer over water for eight minutes. When the fish comes out, it goes on to a leaf- covered plate, and the papaya salsa goes on top. 

Shortly after Columbus landed in the Caribbean, he noted in his logbook that the natives were very strong and lived largely on a tree melon called the fruit of the angels.  The particular fruit that Columbus was actually talking about was the papaya.  European countries with trading companies in the Caribbean like England, France and Portugal were also doing business in the South Pacific and they brought papayas to Hawaii. If you see a papaya fresh in a U.S. market, the odds are a thousand to one that it was grown here in Hawaii. Papaya is a major crop here. When you're picking out a papaya in your market look for ones that have a smooth and unblemished skin. The green color should be gone and replaced by a golden yellow-orange. Half a papaya has about eighty calories and it's a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A and potassium. It can be served as a fruit with a spray of lemon or lime juice to enhance the flavor... in salads... or as the container for seafood or chicken recipes.  Hawaiian chefs use papaya to make jams, jellies, sherbets and drinks. Perhaps the most unusual quality to a papaya is its ability to tenderize meat. The juice of a green papaya contains an enzyme that's actually used to make commercial tenderizers.


WOLF:  When a volcano would erupt on Hawaii, an offering of meat was thrown into the fiery lava to quiet down Pele, the goddess who was in charge of all volcanoes.  When you did that you threw in a papaya too, just to make sure that the meat offering would be tender. You know, it's a small touch, but it's the kind of thing that a goddess always appreciates.

And any goddess would also appreciate this recipe for swordfish with a watercress crust. A piece of swordfish is trimmed into a steak.  A little vegetable oil goes into a pan and in goes the fish.  One minute of cooking on the first side, a gentle flip, and one minute of cooking on the second side.

GEORGE:  This...was I...I have to say this was my best discovery in Hawaii.  This was because it's just great to coo...for cooking. You know in France, we use English watercress and it's very good for soup and...for salad. This watercress was more a...

WOLF:  Like a vegetable.

GEORGE:  ...to make sauce gor...is just gorgeous.  It's very peppery. It's very, very, very nice.

WOLF:  Watercress is pureed in a blender with a little vegetable oil and it's mixed together with the white of an egg and a little salt and pepper. That mixture is spread out on top of the fishsteak. Into a three hundred and fifty degree fahrenheit oven for three minutes and it's ready to serve. Some braised leeks go onto a serving plate and the fish with the watercress crust and some sliced carrots that have been cooked with a little  butter, sugar and fresh ginger. The watercress crust is a great idea. Watercress is actually a very  important crop in Hawaii. 

Right smack in the middle of Aiea, Hawaii is the Sumida Farm... eleven acres that have resisted the developers’ concrete for almost a hundred years.  Since the turn of the century, the Sumida family has used this land to cultivate a delicate crop of watercress. Watercress is a peppery- flavored green leafy plant that grows along the  sides of flowing water. The water on the Sumida farm comes from this ancient natural spring. Watercress has been part of the human diet for thousands of years. As a matter of fact, the ancient Greeks thought of it as a health food and they would feed it to their soldiers before they went into battle. About two thousand years later, the British navy had pretty much the same approach. They would feed it to their sailors to prevent scurvy, a disease that you get if you don't have enough vitamin C in your diet.  Well, both the ancient Greeks and the British navy certainly knew what they were talking about. Watercress is packed with vitamin C, and it also contains lots of minerals that are very important to your health. These days we're finding out that watercress also contains beta carotene, which is a building block for vitamin A and may turn out to be a very important cancer blocker. Most of the watercress grown in Hawaii goes into the dishes of the large Asian population. The peppery flavor adds a natural zest. It's one of the islands favorite leafy vegetables.

WOLF:  When you think about the foods of Hawaii, watercress may not be the first thing that comes to mind.  The superstar of Hawaiian produce is the pineapple and it is the basis for one of George's most popular deserts. A pineapple is trimmed of its outside rind and sliced lengthwise into six wedges. The corestrip is cut off and the wedge is sliced into bite-sized pieces. The pieces go into a heated non-stick pan.  No oil or butter in the pan, just the hot surface. The heat of the surface caramelizes the natural sugar in the pineapple and you end up with a crisp brown crust. Turn the pineapple pieces until you see a crust forming. The total cooking time should be about a minute on each side. When they're ready, they get spread out on your favorite pastry crust that's been cut into an eight-inch disk and baked until done.  A little pineapple sauce goes around the dough, and a decoration of guava.

WOLF:  The ancient Hawaiians called it “wave sliding” and it was a symbolic pact that dealt with conquering fear and understanding the changes of life. It was also a lot of fun. As early as the fourteenth century, Hawaiians were singing songs about the achievements of the great surfers. Important chiefs would surf against each other, the winner receiving large plots of land from the losers. England's Captain Cook and his crew first saw surfers in the 1770's and wrote in their logbook that that “these men feel the most supreme pleasure.  The boldness with which they performed these difficult and dangerous maneuvers is astonishing and scarce to be believed.”

WOLF:  Well I'll tell you... two hundred years have passed since then but I feel pretty much the way Captain Cook did.  Surfing became a sport right here on Waikiki Beach in the early 1900's when a group of local surfers organized a club. I think for a man my age to learn to surf now would be a little nuts -- and if I'm going to deal with little nuts in Hawaii, it's going to be those macadamias.

Macadamia nuts are the seeds of a tropical tree that was originally a native of Australia. It was named after John McAdam, a chemist who lived during the mid 1800's and promoted the plant in Australia.  Macadamia nuts originally arrived in Hawaii in the 1880's and were thought of primarily as an ornamental plant rather than a source of nuts, because a macadamia nut is a tough nut to crack. As a matter of fact, when automobiles first arrived in Hawaii they were used to open macadamia nuts. They'd take two planks of wood, put the nuts in between and drive the car over the top to break the protective shells. These days that job is done by commercial rollers that produce over three thousand pounds of pressure per square inch -- but it's all worth it.

WOLF:  Inside is a delicate, crisp meat that seems to melt into a sweet creamy flavor. Today Hawaii produces ninety percent of the world's macadamia nuts, and local companies present them in many different ways -- including chocolate-covered, in brittle and as cookies.  Macadamia nuts contain about a hundred calories in a half-ounce portion and their fat is unsaturated, which is good. They also have some phosphorus, some iron, B-1 and a little bit of calcium. The vacuum-packed cans will last for about two years, but as soon as you open them you should refrigerate the contents. Macadamia nuts are a common ingredient in Hawaiian dishes. Chef Jamain at the Kahala Hilton uses them in his recipe for Hawaiian brownies. Two cups of sugar go into a mixing bowl, a half teaspoon of  salt, nine ounces of butter, a quarter cup of corn syrup and lots of mixing.

GERMAIN:  They should be really made at home in the... in the mixer.

WOLF:  Then you don't get the great Hawaiian sun, but you do get a much fluffier mixture.

GERMAIN:  You know, Burt, we...we in Hawaii are now getting tired with the sun; is your turn now.

WOLF:  (LAUGHS) Okay. All of the ingredients need to be well-mixed. And in goes one cup of cocoa powder... four eggs, one cup of flour and two cups of chopped macadamia nuts.  When all the ingredients are fully incorporated, an eleven-by-seventeen jellyroll pan is lined with parchment paper.  Your batter gets poured in and  spread out, a garnish of chopped macadamia nuts on top and into a pre-heated three hundred and twenty-five degree fahrenheit oven for thirty minutes. When it comes out you get a bunch of brownies that could drive you nuts.  The chef likes to serve the brownies with a scoop of ice cream on top, some hot fudge, strawberries and whipped cream.  You know, it fits perfectly into my weight loss diet because I just share it with the other two hundred and thirty one guests at the hotel -- and what a hotel it is.

WOLF:  When travel writers rank the world's finest resorts, the Kahala Hilton is regularly included. It sits on the edge of a secluded white sandy beach on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. For over twenty-five  years it has lured travelers in search of a peaceful and private rest. Paddle boating, snorkeling, wind surfing, scuba diving or just lazing on a raft in the brilliant Hawaiian sun. There's an oceanside pool for those who prefer fresh-water swimming and a manmade lagoon which has become home to three bottlenosed dolphins. Waterfalls, lush gardens and an oceanside lounge that was a regular setting for scenes in Magnum P.I.   The Kahala Hilton is also well known for its food. Executive Chef Dominque Germain trained in a number of fine restaurants in his homeland of France and perfected his skills in Montreal, Canada before coming to Hawaii. Today the foods of Hawaii result from the many ethnic groups who have applied their homeland kitchen techniques to the local produce, including ginger. Ginger originated in Southeast Asia and was transplanted to the warm parts of our planet thousands of years ago. Ancient documents show ginger being traded in the Mediterranean in the first century A.D., and it shows up in English recipes by the 1100s. The Spanish planted it in the Caribbean right after the  arrival of Columbus. And Chef Dominque Germain puts that Hawaiian ginger to work in a  recipe for fish with a ginger pesto sauce.  Start by peeling the skin of a hand of ginger and slicing up about a half cup's worth. Peel and crush four cloves of garlic.  A little vegetable oil goes into a hot pan, and the ginger and the garlic.  A few flips while it's cooking, then into a blender, an ounce of cashew nuts, a few pinenuts, a few macadamia nuts, some cilantro, a few basil leaves, the juice of a lemon and a little vegetable oil, a hit of tabasco and a little sesame oil, a little tasting.  Salt and pepper goes onto a piece of red snapper, the snapper goes into a saucepan, fish stock and lemon juice are added and brought to a simmer so the fish can cook for about eight minutes. At that point the fish is removed to a serving plate, a touch of cream goes into the pan and the sauce is cooked down until it thickens.  Then in goes the ginger pesto.

DOMINIQUE GERMAIN:  Now it really looks ono.

WOLF:  What does ono mean?

GERMAIN:  Ono means in Hawaiian “delicious.” 

WOLF:  The fish goes onto a serving plate, a few vegetables and the sauce.

WOLF:  Every day somewhere on the islands of Hawaii there is a rainbow, a perfect symbol for the natural beauty of this area.  But it's also an excellent symbol for what's happening here culturally.  Hawaii is made up of dozens of different ethnic groups... different sizes, different colors, different shapes, different philosophies, different languages and different religions.  And yet  they live side by side with virtually no tension. It is a rainbow of people, more beautiful than any rainbow I have seen anywhere else in the world and as they exchange their appreciation for each other's culture, they exchange their appreciation for each other's foods.   And that has a lot to teach us about eating well.  Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for things that taste good and make it easier to eat well. I'm Burt Wolf.

Burt Wolf's Table: Taipei - #201

BURT WOLF:  The Taipei Chinese Food Festival -- an annual event that brings together the superstars of Chinese gastronomy. It's the place to get a look at the relationship of food to Chinese  culture. We'll also learn some of the easiest and best tasting recipes in Chinese cooking and tour Taiwan's beautiful northeast coast. So join me at the Taipei food festival at Burt Wolf's Table.

WOLF:  The idea of a food festival goes back for thousands of years.  They began as annual street fairs where farmers, merchants, producers and traders displayed their products in the hope of getting new customers.  These are the opening ceremonies for the Taipei Chinese Food Festival on the island of Taiwan. Because of China's extensive interest in food and food's symbolic relationship to Chinese culture, this is not just another trade show. This is a major social event where the skills of master chefs are on display.

WOLF:  Chang Hung Yu is one of the chefs at Taipei's Lai Lai Sheraton Hotel. He's demonstrating the Chinese technique for making noodles by hand. He holds the world's record in this event, having made eight thousand one hundred and ninety two strands of noodles in four minutes.  His noodles are so thin that he is actually able to thread one through the eye of a needle. He certainly has this skill sewn up. Chef Munusami is making Indonesian pancakes. The objective is to get the dough as thin as possible. You should be able to read a book through it, or at least watch television. His footwork is fantastic; the second most difficult part of this recipe is picking out the right music. Dick Clark would love this. Give it a ninety-five; you can dance to it and you can eat it too. 

WOLF:  Carving is probably the most important skill demonstrated at this festival.The chef at the Howard Plaza Hotel has made this flower arrangement, but he's made it from vegetables. 

WOLF:  The chefs from the Lai Lai Sheraton constructed some of the most spectacular presentations; shrimps as birds returning to a nest of lotus nuts; a peacock that spreads its feathers into cold cuts (not exactly your standard delicatessen style). The Gallery is an art gallery with a restaurant.  You can sit in a Chang dynasty chair and watch the shrimp sail by in a three- masted watermelon. The Regent Hotel's display included a detailed farm village made of flour.

WOLF:  They also showed a group of eggs that have been emptied of their whites and yolks through a pinhole and refilled with jello.   And if you think that pickling your watermelon rind is too much trouble, check this out.

WOLF:  The Howard Hotel built its area in the style of a traditional Chinese house. In the center is a mythical being:  half-dragon, half-turtle, with smoke coming out of it's nostrils. They tell me it's a symbol of good luck, and entirely constructed of sugar.  Extra good luck for dentists.

The Dream Of The Red Chamber is the greatest and the most important of the classical Chinese novels.  It was written during the middle of the 1700's and it tells the story of two lovers who unfortunately come to a tragic end. It's a huge novel. There are nine hundred and seventy five different characters wending their way through the narrative, but when you read it you get a perfect picture of what life was like in China during the time period -- especially when it comes to food.  There are one hundred and ninety seven different scenes in the novel that deal with eating or drinking. They even have a cookbook with just the recipes from the stories. The Dream Of The Red Chamber became the theme of the Taipei Chinese Food Festival, with chefs creating many of the dishes described in the book. There are a number of general themes that run through the Red Chamber recipes. One is the desire to have attractive presentations for a single serving. This dish, made up of a whole crab steamed in a bamboo basket, is a perfect example. There's also a great interest in foods that illustrate the delicate skills of carving and shaping. This one is called a Red Goose. The emphasis on knifework is also carried out in the table decorations. These flowers are actually carved from sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkins. This one has flowers cut from onions. Chinese respect for the older generation is presented in the novel and also in the recipes. This pork dish is boiled to tenderness with the specific intent of making it easier for older people to chew. The Dream Of The Red Chamber is clearly the most important novel in Chinese literature, but it also the basis of an entire school of cooking. It is the only work of fiction that comes with a companion cookbook and a team of culinary professionals who travel around the world teaching the recipes of the dishes described in the original works.  Many of those recipes are for soups which were and still are an essential part of every Chinese meal.  This beef soup prepared by Chef Kow is an excellent example.  Chef starts by heating four cups of water; then in goes a cup of chopped beef.  That cooks for two minutes and the beef is removed from the wok and doused with water. It's a technique that greatly reduces the fat and calorie content of the meat.  Next, two cups of beef stock go into the cleaned wok. The beef returns, plus a quarter teaspoon of cornstarch mixed into a little water. Everything is brought to a boil. Two beaten egg whites are stirred in, and as soon as the egg whites are cooked, the soup goes into a serving bowl.  Some chopped broccoli or other green-colored garnish goes on top. 

Chinese children, like children all over the world, start eating with their fingers. After awhile the spoon is introduced.  At about the age of four, chopstick training begins. Chopsticks appear to have been developed specifically for use with a type of rice prepared by the Chinese. The Chinese word for chopstick actually means something like “fast helpers.”  Great description. The meal at a Chinese home starts with everybody receiving a bowl of rice. This is the real food of China. The  meat, fish, poultry, vegetables and fruits are almost considered as a relish. You receive the bowl with two hands as a mark of respect. All of the other foods come to the table in big serving dishes. You pick out the piece you want to munch and you put it on your rice bowl. It is impolite to go poking around in the serving dish. Pick your targets carefully. What you touch you should take. If you take a piece that is too big and you can't finish it in one bite, bite what you can and put the remainder down on your rice bowl. You can come back to it later.  The rice bowl is held up near your mouth and the chopsticks help you cover the distance between the two. It is a disaster to leave any rice in your rice bowl at the end of the meal. It means that you did not know how much food you needed from the beginning -- and that means waste.  And waste is unacceptable in Chinese culture. 

A dish which would be almost impossible to waste, based purely on it's irresistible flavor, is this wok-fried chicken with pineapple. The idea of putting meat and fruit together in the same recipe is pretty unusual in today's Western cooking but in earlier times it was standard operational procedure. Recipes from the ancient Romans to the Renaissance regularly combined meat, fish, poultry and fruit but the masters of this art are the Chinese.  Chef Kow at the Regent Hotel in Taipei makes the point with wok-fried chicken and pineapple. First he makes the sauce.  A little water is heated in the wok, a little ketchup goes in.  Don't laugh.  Ketchup was invented in China.  A little vinegar, and a little sugar.  That cooks together for thirty seconds and it's held aside. Bite- size pieces of skinless, boneless chicken breast are mixed with egg yolk or egg white and dipped into cornstarch. Some vegetable oil is heated. The chicken goes in; two minutes later, a half cup of  pineapple pieces are added plus a half cup of green peppers. Thirty seconds of cooking and everything is drained and held aside.  Quarter  cup of green onion, quarter cup of red pepper go into the wok;  then the ketchup mixture. The chicken is back. Thirty seconds of cooking and it's ready for the plate. 

WOLF:  Experts on Chinese food tell me that the supernatural spirits of the other world have a special affinity for chicken recipes and that this is definitely a dish for the deities, very important to Chinese cooks.  Popular Chinese folk  religion is a blend of Taoist ideas, Confucian custom and Buddhist beliefs. It a recipe designed to meet the everyday needs of the people. Perhaps the best place to see these forces interact is the Island of Taiwan. They have over ten thousand Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian places of worship. They're busy places, filled with the smoke of incense and the clicking sound of the wooden divining blocks;  interesting piece of equipment.  If you have a question for one of the deities, you stand in front of the diety's statue, ask the  question and throw down the blocks. If the blocks are one up and one down the answer is yes, both down the answer is no. Both up means “I don't get it; please rephrase your question.”  It's an okay system, but I was hoping for something where I could get a more detailed response. So I  could ask  questions like “how do you make love last?”

Nevertheless, the temples have a very big following and almost everyone who comes in here has a food offering for one of the deities.  But the gods here are very practical.  They don't actually eat the food.  They just inhale the essence of the food.  So the food sits here for a little while and then the people who brought it in actually get to take it home and eat it.  It's a wonderful system, and everybody gets satisfied and the deities are never overweight.  What a wonderful example for all of us.

The Chinese folk religions of Taiwan believe that the human world and the supernatural world exist right next to each other.  And the people who live in the human world are responsible for sending the supernatural  beings what they need in the form of offerings.  When it comes to food, you can learn a lot about the supernatural being by taking a look at the food that's being offered. 

If  the relationship between the person offering the food and the supernatural being is very close, then the food offered is very common, the kind of stuff that the person making the offering would normally eat at home.  If you're making an offering to a deceased relative that you knew, you'd send along foods that are fully prepared and ready to eat.  If it's a processed food it might still be in the manufacturer's package.  The common food shows the closeness of the relationship.

If you're making an offering to a very important god, the food will be totally unprocessed.  A whole pig, raw, or a vegetable ripped out of the ground with its roots still hanging on.  Not the kind of food that you would find on your dining room table.  The reason that the food is offered in an unedible form is to show the distance between the human making the offering and the deity on the receiving end.  It shows the god's power to feed himself.  Moo shu and McDonald's for the mortals, an unprocessed diet for the deities.  I guess somewhere along the line the gods learned that the less a food is processed, the more nutrients remain in.

Though I think even the most powerful god in Chinese folk religion might make an exception to his or her normal eating pattern for a dish of sliced pork with spicy garlic sauce.

In proportion to its size and population, China has very little land available for farming and even less for grazing cattle.  As a result, when Chinese cooks talk about meat, they usually mean pork.  Pork is found in many soups and main dishes and as a stuffing for rolls and dumplings.  One of its easiest presentations is in a recipe for pork with spicy garlic sauce.

Chef Yeh of Taipei's Regent Hotel starts the dish with a piece of lean pork that has been steamed, but you could just as easily make the dish with a loin that has been roasted.  Most important point is that the pork should be free of all visible fat. 

The pork is cut into a block with a four-inch by one-inch side, and then to half-inch thick sheets.  Each sheet is then rolled into a little cylinder and placed on a presentation plate.  And a sauce is made by mixing together a little bit of chopped garlic, some sugar, a little chili oil, some chili paste, and a tablespoon of soy sauce, plus some red wine vinegar.   The sauce gets spooned onto the rolled-up pork and the dish is ready to serve.

The annual Taipei Chinese Food Festival always includes a series of competitive events designed to test the talents of the young chefs.  The contest that draws the biggest audience is the hour-long ice-carving classic.  Each team gets a uniform block of ice and 60 minutes to do their thing.  Electric chain saws are used to cut the block into the general shape of the sculpture.  The gloves are safety gloves designed to protect the carver from the blades. 

Once a basic outline has been formed, the artist gets into the detail using the traditional tools of a wood carver.  Being picky is central to an ice carver's personality.  They prepare for the event by designing the work and cutting a prototype.  Once they have the major pattern, they practice the sculpture over and over again, so they can reproduce it within the time limit.  They constantly readjust the form to get the best results for the time allowed.  It's a chilling challenge, with the prospect of success often melting away right before your eyes.  Just as this event was ending, the unicorn lost one of its front legs.  It was reattached with a fistful of shaved ice and a blast of butane fuel, which comes out so cold, that it fuses the ice together.  Shaved from the agony of defeat.

The Taipei Food Festival also conducts a competition in napkin folding.  The fashion for fancy napkin folding started in the 1500s.  It was considered an art form, and the people who did it were paid big bucks.  The more elaborate the folding, the more impressive the table.  Napkins were folded into birds and flowers and boats.

Here at the annual Taipei Food Festival, napkin folding is elevated to a competitive sport on the level of the Olympics.  For over 300 years, napkin folding was considered a respectable profession.  But in the late 1800s, it fell out of fashion.  It was considered too pretentious.  The leading commentator on good manners said it was like wearing a ring over a glove.  Well, excuuuuse me.

The idea of the table napkin goes  back at least as far as the ancient Romans.  They would use two of them.  One went around their neck, the other was held aside to clean their hands.  When they'd go off to someone's house for dinner, they'd bring along at least one napkin of their own.  Not that the host didn't have enough napkins to go around.  They would use their napkin to bring home the extra food that was offered to them at the end of the meal.  It was kind of showing up with your own doggy bag, but at the time it was considered quite polite.

During the Medieval period, napkins were huge, the size of bath towels.  You'd put them over your left shoulder and clean your hands on them as the meal went along.  During the 1800s, the napkin took up residence on the lap.  Napkins never became a big deal here in China.  It was always thought of as kind of weird to have something on your lap that kept getting dirtier and dirtier as the meal went on.  They went for small cloths that were moist and warm, and you'd clean your hands on them as the meal progressed, and they would change them throughout the meal. 

During the mid-1800s, tens of thousands of Chinese laborers left China to find work in the United States and Canada.  The primary task was the construction of the transcontinental railroads that stretched across each country.  The Chinese workmen had their own camps and their own cooks, cooks who did their best to reproduce the recipes of their homeland. 

Very often, as a section of track was finished in an area of the country that a worker liked, he would drop out of the construction crew and look for work in a local town.  Very often that work was in a restaurant.  When he had saved up enough money, he would leave that restaurant and open up one of his own.  At that point, he would return to the cooking of the regional province of China from which he came.

Since most of the Chinese workers who came to North America during this period had come from the area of Canton, most of those original Chinese restaurants served, or at least tried to serve, traditional Cantonese dishes.   They didn't have most of the ingredients that they were accustomed to using in China, and they didn't have the real equipment that they had used back home, but their skill level was high enough to develop a local following.  And that is why almost every town in the United States and Canada has ended up with at least one Chinese restaurant. 

Of all the cultures on our planet, the Chinese are probably the most preoccupied with eating and drinking.  The great Chinese scholar Lin Yutang once wrote that “no food is really enjoyed unless it is keenly anticipated, discussed, eaten, and then commented upon.  Long before we have any special food, we think about it, rotate it in our minds, and anticipate it as a special pleasure to be shared with some of our closest friends.”

In Taiwan, food is part of almost every conversation.  If you meet a friend and you want to know how he's doing, you use the phrase, "Tsai fon le mayo," which actually translates as "Have you eaten lately?"  If you're curious about someone's profession, you use a series of words that translate into English as "What is it you do to eat?" 

Food is constantly used as a metaphor to tell a story or make a point.  A great Taoist teacher explained the role of government by saying that a country should be ruled the same way you fry a small fish.  Don't turn things over too much, keep the heat low, and be careful and delicate.  If that  scholar were with us today, and looking at the United States, and its national debt, he might add that it's a good idea to be able to pay for the fish before you buy it.

Food is also a basic part of Chinese art.  Some of the most important paintings deal with people eating or drinking or preparing food.  It's also central to Chinese literature.  There are poems about recipes and short stories that revolve around long meals. 

Only ten percent of China's giant land mass can be used for farming.  So for centuries, hundreds of millions of Chinese have depended on their ingenuity to get the food they needed; and when they got the food they needed, they had just as challenging a time finding some fuel to cook it.

As a result, the Chinese kitchen evolved a cooking style where most of the foods are cut into small, bite-size pieces that cook very quickly over intense heat.  The majority of dishes are made to order.  The first row of chefs do all the cutting and preparation of the ingredients.  Their primary tool for cutting, grinding, beating, and moving the components is the cleaver.  And for their cutting surface, the all-time favorite, a cross-section of a tree.  What could be easier to obtain, or more efficient?  They pass the prepared foods to the senior chefs who work at the wall of woks.

The intensity of the flame is controlled by a lever that is level with the cook's knee, and he uses his leg to adjust the heat.  The dishes are stir-fried quickly and sent out to the dining room, and you're ready to start again.  An extraordinarily efficient system. 

Given the difficulty of acquiring and preparing foods throughout the long history of China, it is all the more amazing that the Chinese have been able to develop one of the world's truly great cuisines. 

The waters around the island of Taiwan have been an ongoing source of seafood for thousands of years.  And seafood cookery has been a hallmark of Taiwanese cuisine as far back as the aborigines, who were the island's original inhabitants.  The Chinese chefs who do the cooking of the island these days have continued the tradition.  Chef Kao of the Regent Taipei demonstrates a classic dish of shrimp and orange sauce.

First the sauce.  Quarter cup of Rose's lime juice goes into a hot wok.  Plus a quarter cup of white vinegar.  Half cup of orange juice.  Three tablespoons of sugar and the juice of half a lime.  That cooks for a minute and the sauce is ready. 

Some water is heated in the wok and two cups of jumbo shrimp are blanched for 30 seconds and drained.  The wok is cleaned and some vegetable oil goes in to heat up.  Then the shrimp go in for 10 seconds of cooking.  The oil goes out of the wok and the shrimp go back in for 20 seconds of stir-frying.  Then onto the serving plate; the orange sauce goes on top, and a garnish of chopped orange.

The northeast coast recreational area is one of the most beautiful parts of Taiwan.  There's an extraordinary array of wildflowers covering mile after mile of hillside.  And a coastline that displays some of Mother Nature's more unusual designs.  The constant pounding of the surf has created a pattern of rectangular rock formations that are called bean curd rocks, because they remind people of the blocks of bean curd that are found in the local supermarkets.  There's also a series of mushroom-shaped stones that look like chessmen...  chessmen set out on a giant board and playing against the incoming sea. 

The honeycombs are also quite fascinating.  For many years, this part of Taiwan has been famous among Asian rock climbers.  If you're a beginner at this rather challenging sport, you can take advantage of the professional guides who will show you the ropes, so to speak. 

Boat tours present a dramatic view of the coastline.  There's a sizable collection of marine life, a major attraction for divers.  Trains come up regularly from the capital city of Taipei, making the area an easy day trip.  Lots of beachfront, camping facilities, bonfires every night, an international sand castle competition with instruction classes for first-timers.  Wind-surfing, wave-surfing and paragliding for the more adventurous, and magnificent walking paths for people who enjoy moving their bodies in a more subdued environment.  There's very little snowfall on Taiwan, but that doesn't seem to have prevented the development of a major skiing resort. They just use the grass instead.  And when the monsoon season begins, and the big Pacific breakers start coming in, the serious fishermen start coming out.  Quite a place.

Chinese food has the longest documented history of any cuisine on earth.  It goes back over 6,000 years.  And from the very beginning, the Chinese have always believed that there is a direct relationship between what you eat and your overall well-being.  And now 20th Century scientists are telling us that much of what they've been saying is absolutely true.  What an encouraging piece of news. 

Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for things that taste good and make it easier to eat well.  I'm Burt Wolf.