Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Delivering food the old-fashioned way

Fresh Pita Bread

I shop for food in probably half a dozen stores, so you'd think I would be drawn to one of those supermarket delivery services. But some of the stores I patronize regularly (Costco, Trader Joe's, Fattal's Bakery) don't deliver and I haven't warmed up to the ones that do.

I do speak regularly to the home delivery staff at the ShopRite in Hackensack, because they know exactly where everything is and whether it's in stock, saving me valuable time.

Ah, if I had the delivery services that were available to my mother, Grace Sasson, in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s in Brooklyn, life would be sweet. My mother self-published a cookbook of Sephardic Jewish recipes and made a lot of the food we ate -- including string cheese and baklava, which she learned from my father, the son of a pastry maker in Syria. We kept kosher and rarely ate out.

We had one refrigerator and two big freezers stuffed with food. One of her big time-savers was preparing a dish such as stuffed grape leaves or black-eyed peas with tender beef, placing them in a pot and putting the pot in the freezer. She only had to pull out a pot and place it directly on the stove or into the oven.

Just about everything she bought was delivered -- produce, fish, meat and Syrian bread from individual stores on nearby Kings Highway or Avenue U, and groceries from the C-Town supermarket near McDonald Avenue. She could call or stop by the store and leave her order. There was even a live-poultry market only a couple of blocks away.

One time, my father saw the fruit guy kiss my mother on the cheek, and went ballistic.

We spent the summers in Bradley Beach, on the Jersey shore, and my father would commute by train to his dry-goods store on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. (As a kid, I'd place a coin on a track and retrieve it -- flattened -- after the steam locomotive had left. ) After we picked him up, we would drive across the tracks to the farmer's market and buy 50-pound bags of potatoes and other items.
Luckily, we didn't have to go without fresh Syrian bread. A man took the train down from the city most days and hawked the pocket bread from a baby carriage he pushed down the center of the street in the sleepy, sun-spalshed community.

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  1. Great story about the fruit man kissing your mother. There is nothing like fresh Syrian bread, or as most people erroneously call it, Pita bread. I actually do enjoy going from store to store to get my items, I just have to try and go off hours to do it, either really early in the morning to the stores in Paterson or later in the evening to the supermarkets.

  2. About the bread, I agree. Until several years ago, Fattal's made its bread without any preservatives. It's good now, but it was better then. I'll have to make a trip there soon or try to get it in Hackensack on the day it comes in fresh to Sahara Stores.

  3. My mother is a fan of the Aladdin bread which is baked in Brooklyn and transported to stores in Paterson.

  4. Really? It's been years since I've had Aladdin and Damascus bread, but I think Fattal's is superior. I recall that there once was a place down a flight a steps on Atlantic Avenue that made hand-formed Syrian bread and I had it a couple of times, but don't know if it is still there. When I lived with my family, I would be the one sent to Atlantic Avenue to buy bread to break our Passover fast. One time, I got there too early -- they hadn't baked the bread yet -- and I had to kill time, which I did at the docks, watching the loading of the ship. Soon, private security people came, said I had snuck in (past a stop sign?)and searched the trunk of my car, thinking I was a smuggler. Thankfully, I didn't get arrested.

  5. Yes my mother thinks that Aladdin is the superior Syrian Bread of this area. I disagree with her, I think Fattal's is better. I too went to Damascus Bakery in Brooklyn about 4 years ago, I was not overly impressed, I remember it being a small shop. I also seem to remember them making a triangle shaped bread which I found odd. I can't believe they actually searched your trunk, that is crazy.

  6. Well, I have always had a big mouth. When they asked me what I was doing there, I said something to the effect of: "Do you think I'm a smuggler?" That was enough to provoke them. When I return to the neighborhood where my mother lived, many of the Sephardic places sell a thick, Israeli-style pocket bread that I like now and then. But I can't find any in North Jersey. I've actually heard of people and restaurants here that claim to import the stuff from Israel, but that doesn't make sense because so much of it is produced in Brooklyn, somewhere, though I don't think it's on Atlantic Ave.

  7. I have never heard of that thick pocket bread. I do sometimes enjoy the Turkish Pide though. There is yet another type of flat bread called Village Bread, they sell it at Fattals near the registers, it is good to make wrap sandwiches in. That bread is baked in Montreal. Importing bread from the Middle East sounds a little extreme, but then again they do import Kaak Breadsticks so who knows.

  8. I have a photo of a bakery in Aleppo where you can see the fresh bread on the open-air counter and, in the background, loaves puffed up in the oven. I took it in the late 1970s, but I was in the city only about 36 hours. I ate one dinner there (salagan, or kabobs, hand-chopped with a sharp knife) and one on the road, on the way up from Damascus in a group taxi. I also bought pastry and had a couple of big breakfast in my hotel, including lebneh and vegetables in the morning. It was wonderful knowing all the food, and being able to go into the bakery and ask for adjweh or greybeh.

  9. Yes, there is nothing like a tasty garyeb. They do import those from Syria, as well as barazek.

  10. My mother's greybeh melted in your mouth. And I loved the single pistachio nut at the point where the circle meets.


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