Saturday, April 16, 2011

Searching for Moroccan fish balls

For Passover, traditional gefilte fish is being challenged by Moroccan fish bites.

This sounds intriguing, I thought as I read a newspaper interview with the new co-chief executive of Manischewitz, a Sephardic Jew like me who said one of his favorite company products is "Moroccan Fish Meatballs."

The story said Alain Bankier, who was born in Morocco to French parents, recalled his mother making something similar from scratch. That was in March. This week, I went looking for the product, which I remembered as Moroccan Fish Balls.

I called Manischewitz, which gave me the phone numbers of three distributors. The first said it distributed the product to only one store, a Pathmark on Route 17 south in Hackensack. 

I knew another store, Pathmark of North Hackensack on Hackensack Avenue, was going out of business, so started my search there on Friday.

The supermarket, in the Home Depot Shopping Center, looked as if it had been looted. Shelves in only one aisle held any food products, and other items were scattered around the front of the store in bins and on shelves. The store was to close today.

I found a Passover corner with bottles of gefilte fish and small boxes of matzo, but no Moroccan Fish Balls. Everything was 70% off.

I bought six jars of gefilte fish, pasta sauce made from Jersey tomatoes, two boxes of matzo; several cans of fish broth for pasta with anchovies and spinach, which I usually make with chicken broth; canned tomatoes and a bottle of spicy salsa -- paying $25.78 for items that sold for $85.74 at retail.

I then drove over to the Pathmark on Route 17, but couldn't find any fish balls. This morning, I looked at the Manischewitz online store site, and found the product, which is called "Moroccan Fish Bites, Original," not "Fish Meatballs" or Fish Balls.

An 18-ounce jar is shown with a price of $4.39 (or $4.17 each if you buy 12), and it looks like the fish bites are in a red sauce. One great Moroccan culinary contribution is harissa, a spicy chili sauce, though I'm not sure that's what in the jar, which is sold under the Season brand.

I called a second distributor and was told the Stop & Shop in Hackensack carries the product, so that's my next stop.

CampariImage by boskizzi via Flickr

Hard sell at Fairway

The Fairway Market sales flier is filled with superlatives: Only the highest quality food is sold at the Paramus store, many items are "exclusive," the butcher is a master, there's are "directors" of imports, produce and seafood; and prices are fantastic.

What did North Jersey residents do before this supermarket of superlatives opened?

After visiting two Pathmarks on Friday, I drove to Fairway to replenish my supply of coffee. The Paramus store once sold a pound of beans on special for $5.99 and before that, $4.99. Those days are over. 

I bought two pounds of "Fairway to Heaven" beans at $7.99 a pound, the lowest price I saw, and asked for a Turkish grind.

Then, I went looking for Rocal Beets from France, called "the most amazing thing we sell in the whole shooting match" by Steven Jenkins, identified in the flier as director of imports. They are fully cooked and peeled, certified both kosher and organic.

But they're not in cans; I found them in the produce section in plastic pouches. Here's Jenkins again, using capital letters to get his message across: "They taste PERFECT! CHEAP AS THE DIRT THEY GREW IN!"

Well, I have news for you: Dirt has gone up, along with everything else. I paid $3.89 for a 500-gram package.

The pouches are filled with beets and liquid, so I opened one over a colander in the sink. They taste great.

I also bought two1-pound containers of Campari tomatoes for $5 -- about 50 cents cheaper than the 2-pounder at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack. 

When I asked a Fairway employee if I could get a cup of coffee or a bite to eat -- as in Whole Foods Market in Paramus -- I was told the store has been barred from serving food, because that would unfairly compete with a Blimpie sandwich shop next door that I had never noticed.

"They serve our coffee," the Fairway employee said of Blimpie. That's nice, but no thanks. 

Jersey Boys Grill

I joined four other members of my gym for a nice lunch Wednesday at Jersey Boys Grill, a New Milford restaurant built a few years ago by the owners of Sanducci's Trattoria in River Edge.

The cream of asparagus soup ($4.95) was filled with vegetables and potatoes, and the Cranberry Bleu Salad had delicious mesclun greens, dried cranberries, crumbled cheese and candied walnuts, all in a honey mustard dressing ($9.95)

Pat had the Asian-style fried calamari and Jimmy had a turkey burger, but didn't eat the bun.

The menu offers wood-fired pizza, ribs, pasta, steak, and fish and chips. For meat-eaters, the star is a naturally raised Berkshire Pork Chop with mashed potatoes and vegetables ($18.95). 

Jersey Boys Grill, 704 River Road, New Milford; 201-262-5600. 
Open seven days.

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Jesus, why do you have to write that he didn't eat the bun? Do you have to give every detail of our lives when you observe us.

  2. He didn't eat the nice piece of Romaine lettuce, either, but I mentioned the bun because I also have been abstaining from bread and pizza to lose weight.

    That dietary change has led to a lot of weight loss for me after years of not being able to shed pounds.

  3. I can understand him not eating the bun, but leaving the slice of romaine lettuce? Tsk tsk.

  4. I had to stop myself from spearing it on my fork, but then I understood why he turned down a turkey burger served over salad.

  5. Victor - jarred Gefilte Fish - the horror (LOL)! Seriously - I'd be happy to coach you on fresh made any time - though it's been so long since I lived in NJ that we'd need to find a fishmonger. I've been raised on fresh and need to keep making it to honor my mother (check out this article from Wednesday's Cleveland Plain Dealer on that; my recipe is featured! - - happy to get you into making Gefilte Fish from scratch any time and Happy Passover to you and your family!

  6. It's just a guess, but I'd say his salad days are over. And don't knock Fairway because they wouldn't sell you a cup of coffee, you can blame Paramus for that. I don't think they sell coffee at their original location on the upper West Side, but then you only have to walk a couple of blocks and you can have coffee and a bagel with a shmear at the little cafe that's part of Zabar's. And at the Fairway in Stamford, you can not only get a cup of coffee but a pizza, a cheesesteak, pasta, a chopped salad, and a pretty wide selection at their $6.99 hot bar. I haven't checked out the Fairway in Pelham Manor, at least I think that's where it is. I imagine, superlatives and all, that before Fairway came to Paramus, people simply did their shopping at Hackensack Market, or maybe ShopRite. Oh, and a couple of weeks ago Fairway Stamford had a sign blaming the spike in coffee prices on weather and supply issues, with a note that they will eventually come down, although that has not yet happened.

  7. Hi Nancy:

    Happy Passaover to you and your family, too.

    Actually, five of the six jars of gefilte fish I bought were for a friend.

    My Sephardic mother did make matzo balls from scratch, but I can't recall whether she served gefilte fish.

    Our Passover was a little different than the meal at our Ashkenazi neighbors: We ate rice, which European Jews didn't; and some of our ritual dishes for the ceremony were made from different ingredients, such as dates instead of apples.

    Also, the Haggadah was based on one from Aleppo, Syria.

  8. Before New York's Fairway opened in Paramus, me and other North Jerseyans stopped at the upper Manhattan store whenever we were returning from a visit to the city, and occasionally, made a special trip there. (I lived in Englewood, so it was what, six or seven miles?)

    But locating the store at the Fashion Center means it's still a special trip for me from Hackensack, and not being able to serve coffee and food there is a second strike against the store.

    I was told Fairway tried to buy out the Blimpie. Whatever. The original store on the West Side has a second-floor restaurant, I believe. And I recall stopping at the store on the island and ordering a sushi roll -- the worst.

    There is just something about Fairway that sticks in my craw -- from the years of delay before opening a North Jersey location to the hard sell in the sales flier to the snobby customers -- and then I realize that just about the only reason I go there is for coffee.

    Everything else it offers I can find at other stores at competitive or better prices, and it lags behind others in offering a variety of naturally raised beef, pork and lamb.


Please try to stay on topic.