It was great fun, and overwhelming, to jostle my way through the crowds at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim. Laden with bags of samples and brochures, I went at top speed through aisle after aisle, searching for what interested me--ethnic food.
The Expo was so vast that in the one day I was there I could get to only a fraction of the exhibits. Still, I saw plenty of exciting ethnic products, some of them brand new. Here's my Top 10 list.
1. Filipino convenience food. Filipino cuisine has not yet gone mainstream in the United States, but this may change with the help of ready-to-serve products from Kusina Filipino Kitchen (above).
Interestingly, the package of adobo chicken with rice at the bottom is labeled "tangy chicken," perhaps to avoid confusion with Latino adobos. What makes the chicken tangy is coconut vinegar. Also in the line are sauteed chicken with mildly spicy seasonings, vegetable and chicken spring rolls (lumpia), chicken empanadas and rice noodle stir fry (pancit).
Kusina is Tagalog for kitchen. Manufactured in northern California, the products represent typical Filipino-American homestyle cooking.
The parent company is Ramar Foods, which originated with Ramon and Maria Quesada, who sold Filipino products in northern California. P.J. Quesada (above), from the third generation of the family, has made it his cause to promote Filipino cuisine in the United States. Check out the website for his Filipino Food Movement.
2. Burmese tea leaf salad kit. Tea leaves harvested and fermented in Myanmar (Burma) go into the popular tea leaf salad at Burma Superstar restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area. Just out is a kit with which to reproduce that same salad at home (above).
Labeled Burma Love Laphet, It includes two packets of seasoned fermented tea leaves (laphet) and one of traditional Burmese crunchy mix, composed of roasted peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, fried garlic chips, fried yellow split peas and sunflower seeds. Above are the salad components.
The kit suggests adding lettuce. The salad samples handed out at Expo included diced tomatoes too.
The line includes "super lights" that contain just 40 calories per bottle in flavors such as hibiscus berry-ade, lemon ginger-ade and strawerry lemon-ade. There are also super blends, which are drinkable meals; elixirs and super tonics, all made with fresh Hawaiian Oana turmeric.
To show off its beverages, Temple Turmeric set up a tropical pavilion where Expo goers could escape from the bustle of the show. A stone goddess held the treasured root.
4. Korean gochujang is one of the hottest condiments on the market. Chung Jung One presented squeezable bottles in three flavors--regular, miso and spicy ketchup sauce. Once you taste the ketchup version--gochujang blended with sweet and tangy tomato sauce--you might not want to use that other stuff on your burgers again.
5. Pho concentrates. Pho, the Vietnamese soup, gets its character from long simmered meaty broth. If you don't have the time or expertise to make this super rich broth at home, you can use Savory Choice liquid pho broth concentrates.
These come in three flavors--beef, chicken and veggie. Each packet contains enough concentrate for 2 cups of broth to which you add meat and/or vegetables and cooked rice noodles. You won't find faster pho than this.
6. American-made ghee. Tava ghee, which debuted at last year's Expo, has rebranded itself as 4th & Heart (heart is the 4th chakra) and repackaged all its products. I loved 4th & Heart's new California garlic ghee, which is light enough to slather onto bread without reeking offensively. The other newbie is white truffle ghee, for a quick touch of elegance.
The big selling point is, ghee is so easy to use. It can be stored at room temperature and is spreadable when you need it, unlike butter, which has to be softened.
4th & Heart ghees are made with premium butter, from which the solids have been removed, ending up with a product that is, surprisingly, lactose- and dairy-free. Raquel Tavares Gunsagar (above) founded the company, which is located in downtown Los Angeles.
7. Holy basil honey. Based in northern India, Sanjeevani Organics produces more than 100 organic food products. On display at its space in the India Pavilion were ghee from the company's own dairy, packets of fenugreek and mustard seeds and gorgeous honeys, including one flavored with holy basil (above).
Also known as tulsi, holy basil is revered in India as a sacred plant, so a spoonful of this every day should be good for your soul, as well as for your body. Another honey in the line is flavored with mint.
8. Saffron spray. If you've admired the way Indian biryani rice is splashed with gold, there's an easy way to accomplish this. Instead of heating saffron threads in liquid and sprinkling this onto rice, you simply spray it on from a bottle. The spray bottle is new from Sadaf, which distributes a wide range of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern products.
9. Naan chips. Chips were big at Expo, most of them made from tortillas. But these are based on Indian naan breads. They're from the Maya Kaimal line of Indian products, which includes refrigerated and shelf stable sauces such as tikka masala, vindaloo, korma and Madras curry. Hot dishes served at the booth were butter chicken, lamb vindaloo, dal makhani and chana masala.
Maya Kaimal herself (above) appeared at the booth. She's the author of two cookbooks: "Curried Favors: Family Recipes from South India" and "Savoring the Spice Coast of India," which is about the food of Kerala.
10. Tortilla chips and tortillas. How could anyone resist sweet cinnamon tortilla chips? Reminiscent of buñuelos, they're part of the Los Cantores line of chips produced by Mexican Corn Products of Ottawa, Canada. Try them with ice cream or cafe de olla.
Other chips in the line are chipotle, jalapeño, lime, blue corn, ancient grains and a basic plain chip. The tortillas are made with white corn flour from the United States, and they're not any less Mexican because they're made in Canada. Principles in the company are from Tamazula in the state of Jalisco.
Margarita's Tortilla Factory, from Manchaca, Texas showed corn and flour tortillas (above). The diverse line includes flour tortillas flavored with spinach and onion, with southwestern seasonings or with jalapeños. In addition to white or whole wheat flour tortillas, the company offers spelt flour tortillas and stone-ground corn tortillas.
These are made without preservatives, unlike the mass market American corn tortillas that have been sitting on my kitchen counter for eight months, without drying out or showing a trace of mold.
That product is pretty scary, but Margarita's tortillas are topnotch. The corn tortillas are non-GMO, and the flour tortillas are organic.