Three cultures mix it up at huge expo

One can understand Cool Passion (“The Drink of the Aztec Gods”), Kosher Cajun New York Deli, Hot & Joy steak sauce, Rip ‘n Ready chili, and the World’s First Latke Snack at a food show devoted to Kosher, Latino and Asian food.

But Jerky of the Jews?

“No one else makes kosher beef jerky,” explained Jonathan Waldstreicher, co-owner of Kosher Heaven.

Waldstreicher and four fellow Brandeis University grads decided at a friend’s wedding they needed to invent or produce something. And that something turned out to be jerky, which they nicknamed Jerky of the Jews. Why jerky?

“Because I like it and no one else was making kosher jerky,” Waldstreicher replied.

Who’s to argue? Jerky of the Jews was one of scores of products on display at a trio of food shows held last week at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York. Kosherfest, the largest of the shows, shared space with Expo Comida Latina, targeted at the Hispanic market, and All Asia Food.

“You have to try this,” Alejandro Magallanes Zesati told Karen Hochman, editorial director of The Nibble, an online food magazine. Zesati is the owner of Guayags, a Mexico-based company that makes guava-based marmalades, jellies, pastes and candied fruit.

“This is the kind of thing that’s my downfall,” said Hochman, who nevertheless gave in to temptation and sampled the marmalade. Her verdict: “I could eat the whole jar.”

A food show is a tough assignment, whether you’re a reporter or buyer. So much food to sample, so little time. Three food shows in one? Bring the Bromo Seltzer.

You could try everything from kosher hot dogs to Korean hot sauce, chicken curry to turkey sausage. And wash it down with some Cool Passion.

“The drink of the Aztec gods,” said Hugo Grappin, offering samples of Pulque Cool Passion. Grappin is export manager of Comercializadora de Pulques y Bebidas Poliqui, another Mexican company. Pulque, made from the fermented juice of maguey (a type of agave) — was popular among Aztec peoples. Don’t mistake it for fruit juice; it’s 5 percent alcohol.

Olga Pagrati, visiting from Sydney, Australia, somehow found herself helping a friend cook beef and chicken at the Hot & Joy booth.

“We improved the traditional Korean (meat and barbecue) sauce,” said Jack Seo of S.M.F. Corp, which makes Hot & Joy. “Korean sauce is spicy. This is not spicy.”

For the folks at El Yucateco, spicy is child’s play. The Yucatan, Mexico-based company makes a variety of hot sauces; the hottest, XXXTRA habanero sauce, was the most popular of the six on display at the El Yucateco booth.

“We warn people, but they want to try it anyway,” said Sonia Quiroz, who works for Grupo Padilla, a distributor.

Louis Barbone Jr. was munching on tortilla chips at the Best Mexican Foods booth. On display were salsa, chips, tortillas, six-pound jars of jalape?o peppers and blocks of Chihuahua cheese, a mild melting cheese. The Middletown, N.Y., firm, founded in 1972, is the oldest and largest Mexican food distributorship in the Northeast. Barbone’s father, Louis, started Tico Taco in New York in 1968, when there were just a handful of Mexican restaurants in the city.

“We have a lot of new, healthy products,” Barbone Jr. explained. “That’s where the market is.”

Back at Kosherfest, Jonathan Abbett and his self-described “posse” of Jewish food bloggers were about to descend on the Neshama booth. Neshama offers a line of gourmet kosher food, including 10 kinds of chicken and turkey sausage, all low fat and gluten- and MSG-free.

The Kosher Blog (www.kosherblog.net) is devoted to recipes, product and restaurant reviews, industry gossip and miscellaneous information about “real kosher-living issues that simply can’t be found elsewhere on the Internet,” according to Abbett.

“It started out small. but now we get 25-30,000 unique hits a month,” Abbett said of his Web site.

Proof that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well came in the person of Stephanie Schandler. The Long Island resident started making salad dressings in her home six years ago. She now runs Lettuce in Love, which offers four kosher salad dressings, including Sweet Balsamic (with shallots and garlic), Skinny Italian (with garlic, Dijon mustard and extra virgin olive oil), Thousand Island and Ranch.

“In the beginning, people were calling me up in the middle of the night with ranch (dressing) emergencies,” she said, laughing.

You don’t have to call her up in the middle of the night anymore; the dressings are available at select Whole Foods, ShopRite, Fairway and other stores in the metropolitan area.

“I’m a one-woman show,” said the spirited Schandler. “I’m taking the world one store at a time.”

You could call the Dancing Matzahman a one-man-and-one-woman show. Push its toe, and the animated plush figure sings and dances something called the Matzahrena. The voice belongs to Pauline Lampkin, the 95-year-old mother of Davida Lampkin-Tydings, co-owner of Davida Aprons, which makes aprons, bibs and bags.

“This is our number-one seller,” Lampkin-Tydings said. “My mother recorded this. She became a rapper at the age of 93. I have parents tell me, my kids play this 100 times a day, they won’t go anywhere without their Matzahman.”

Up one aisle, down another. Peanut Butter Bumpers. Betz Boys Kosher Cheese Pan Pizza. Purely Decadent nondairy frozen yogurt. Poppadums, or lentil chips. La Paz Cafe de Olla, an instant version of the Mexican cinnamon-flavored coffee. Tribe All Natural Hummus.

“We took all the preservatives out; we’re the only all-natural hummus line,” said Tribe spokesman Vince Ruggiero. “Hummus is a growing category. It’s a healthy alternative to all those dips. No cholesterol.”

Best product sampled at all three shows? That was easy. The chocolate babka from Green’s & Ackerman Bakery in Brooklyn. Rich, moist, sweet, sticky, chewy, chocolate-y, and absolutely irresistible.

“Don’t look at it; taste it!” exhorted Juda Ackerman, part-owner of the family-run business. “This is going to stop people from eating their muffins and bagels!”

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