The G-20 meeting here in Pittsburgh today and tomorrow is an occasion that, whatever your politics, you can ponder with your palate.
The Group of Twenty is made up of the finance ministers and central bank governors of 19 countries, including the United States, as well as the European Union, which includes 27 member states. These countries represent two-thirds of the world's population as well as about 90 percent of global gross national product and 80 percent of world trade. So their influence is huge on the world's food scene.
It's not hard to find here tasty and affordable tastes and influences from all 20, as hit home to me during a day last week I spent visiting many of our specialty shops. I came back with a gee whiz feeling and the start of a nice spread for a G-20 party . . . or at least some good stuff to nosh on while I'm working in an almost shutdown Downtown during the summit.
Discover authentic tastes of this South American country, such as savory empanadas, at Squirrel Hill's Tango Cafe, where an "Homenaje a la Mujer" (Tribute to Women) exhibit by Argentine artist Dina Ruta opens tonight. I carried out an assortment of intriguing sweets, including a canoucito, a cookie cone filled with dulce de leche (caramelized milk) and topped with chocolate ($2.70), and an alfajor de chocolate ($2.50), two round soft cookies filled with dulce de leche and covered in chocolate.
5806 Forward Ave, Squirrel Hill; tangocafepgh.com; 412-421-1390.
Barley's & Hop's bottle shop in the South Park Shops (barleysandhops.com) has an amazing selection of imported beers, including some from most of the G-20 countries. I went Down Under with a bottle of Coopers Sparkling Ale ($3.50), which can be cloudy with yeast, as it's conditioned in the bottle. The classic is one of the six brews served earlier this week at the World Affairs Council's G-20 Beer Summit at the Sharp Edge in Friendship/East Liberty. Through Sunday, all four Sharp Edges are offering "G-20 Taster Racks," tastes of four beers from different G-20 nations (sharpedgebeer).com. Meanwhile, Lawrenceville's Church Brew Works just debuted a "B-20" brown ale, which also will be available at Kaya and Six Penn Kitchen, made with ingredients from 14 G-20 countries, everything from Australian candied ginger to Indian charnushka to Russian buckwheat. The Church also is serving brews from 13 G-20 countries, including Coopers.
A soft drink option is the "Brazilian original," that South American country's popular Guarana Antarctica, made with guarana, an Amazonian plant whose seed has about twice the caffeine as coffee. I found a cold can ($1.25) at Renya Foods in the Strip District.
New to me is Margaret's Fine Imports, at 5872 Forbes Ave. in Squirrel Hill. A Polish immigrant, Margaret Harris stocks teas, coffees and other goodies from all over. From our northern neighbor, she brings in teas in maple and ice wine flavors ($6.50 a box). She holds a tea class and tasting on the first Wednesday of the month.
At Lotus Food Co. in the Strip District, which is like an Asian food fun park, I couldn't resist the sleek packaging of "ChaCha," "large and plump full sunflower seeds from the natural Inner Mongolian environmental-friendly farm" ($2.19). I chose the "spiced," which the package says are "stuffed with traditional herbal flavor, after steaming and roasting the crispy tasty seeds for sure bring you the happiness of delicious feeling."
One word: fromage. The helpful young woman at the cheese counter at the Bethel Park Giant Eagle Market District hooked me up with a gorgeous swirly slice each of classic cranberry- and herb-dusted Rians Le Roule spreadable cream cheese ($21.99 a pound). She also gave me a taste of her favorite brie, Le Delice de Bourgogne, fortifying me for the long walk in the international food aisles.
John McGinnis & Co. in Castle Shannon advertises itself "Pittsburgh's #1 most well stocked German items store," offering everything from meats to mustards, jarred gooseberries and soup mixes, candies and more. They even have a German-born staffer, Lilo Camp, who kindly talked me through some special products, such as Handkase or hand cheese, which when traditionally served with chopped onion, is called Handkase mit Musik, or hand cheese with music, because it can give you, uh, gas. I opted for some Fleischwurst and Leberkase (German bologna and a similar "liver cheese," at $3.89 and $3.99 a pound), some hot Lowensenf Extra mustard ($4.99) and rye bread ($2.29).
Things have a way of morphing as they move around the globe. The local Indian restaurants, Tamarind, had a South Indian cook with some time on his hands, Shaktivel Ramaswamy, and so he started baking cakes, as he'd done for hotels in India (otherwise, baking of any sort is rare there). The upshot is Tamarind Delight, a bakery that turns out cakes and cookies for both Tamarinds (Oakland, Scott) and the Manpasand's Spice Center stores (Scott, Robinson). I picked up two pieces of eggless layer cake, in mango and "death by chocolate" ($1.99 each) and one Indian-style "dry cake" filled with plums ($5.99). Taking it one turn further, owner Prasad Potluri says they made cakes for Aliquippa's recent Italian San Rocco Festival.
Perhaps the easiest way to get your Indonesia on is with a Sumatra coffee from there, but I picked up a bag of Indonesia Muntok white peppercorns ($4.15) at Penzeys Spices in the Strip District, where I learned that white pepper is more-ripe black pepper that is soaked so the black shell can be removed.
Head to, where else, Pittsburgh's Little Italy neighborhood of Bloomfield and Groceria Italiana for Gloria Mazzotta's famous ravioli. The first-generation American wandered into the store 25 years ago to buy lunch meat and the owner pressed her into service making ravioli, which she continues to make by hand, at age 80, three days a week. Artichoke & Gorgonzola, Cheese, Imported Cheese, Meat, Mushroom, Prosciutto, Roasted Red Pepper, Sausage and Spinach are $6.50 to $7.75 a dozen, lovingly tucked into white cardboard boxes that go right into the freezer -- and right back out. She says, "They go as fast as I can make them."
237 Cedarville St., 412-681-1227
One of my favorite ethnic food stores, Tokyo Japanese Food on Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside (412-661-3777), has started to make its own original ginger dressing, teriyaki sauce and shrimp sauce ($3.99 a jar). Coming soon is a steak sauce. My wife took one taste of the ginger dressing and said, "I want a case of this."
Reyna Foods in the Strip District is our own Mexico City. I needed a pack of their delicious house-made corn tortillas ($3; they make flour ones, too, and cinnamon-and-sugar-dusted buenolos), but I also picked up an interesting can of Chiles Poblanos Enteros, whole poblano peppers from Mexico ($5.75) that will be fun to cook with this fall.
I wandered into Gourmet Market European deli on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill and was amazed at all the product labels I couldn't read. Owner Anatol Risov assured me that the bag of circular poppy-seeded "dried bagels" I picked up ($3.99) was indeed made in Russia.
2733 Murray Ave., 412-521-0686
It's really hard to find Saudi snacks since that oil-rich country needs not make or export much food. But Labad Middle Eastern store in the Strip District has boxes of maamoul, or cookies filled with Saudi dates ($4.99).
My colleague and buddy, PG wine writer Elizabeth Downer, lived in South Africa during apartheid. She tells me that it wasn't until after trade sanctions were lifted in 1991 that South African wines were readily available in the U.S. "These wines have an outstanding reputation and are prized for their quality-to-price ratio," she writes. "Pinotage is the quintessential South African grape variety. It was bred there in 1925 crossing pinot noir with cinsaut and is rarely planted outside South Africa. The grape produces a rustic wine with lots of blackberry and plum aromas mixed with a smoky quality I've heard referred to as 'tarry.' "
On her suggestion I picked up a bottle of Nederburg Pinotage 2007, Paarl, South Africa (PLCB # 6778 $9.99). She says pinotage is "the perfect wine to drink with grilled meats and is good with pastas and pizza."
Pop open a bag of Korean Cracker, an eye-catchingly puffy popcorn seasoned with sugar and salt ($2.99 at Lotus Food Co. in the Strip District). (Or explore the kimchis, frozen dumplings and other great stuff at a Korean store such as Young's Oriental Grocery in Squirrel Hill.)
Downtown is blessed with Turkish food at Istanbul Grille. But I was charmed recently to taste the Turkish fare at a more unlikely and warm place, Sunset Pizza & Grille in Carnegie. It's owned by Sadi and Diane Bircan, who opened it three years ago, and his family helps run it.
He's from Turkey; she's from here; they used to operate Cafe Anatolia food and gift store in Market Square and, for a time, the Cafe Anatolia Turkish Kitchen in Warner Centre. The store now is online only, at cafeanatolia.com, but customers can pick up orders for free at the restaurant, which was meant to be an upscale Turkish place before Hurricane Ivan blasted their plans.
Sunset sells a lot of pizza, but also several Turkish specialties, including beef, chicken and lamb kebabs ($9.49 to $11.49); Adana kebab, or Turkish meatballs ($9.49 with fries or rice); and Cigarette Borek, deep-fried rolls of phyllo filled with feta cheese and parsley (six for $4.49).
38 E. Main St. at Mary Street, 412-276-3103, sunsetpizza.googlepages.com
Much admired British food celebrity Jamie Oliver has a new cookbook coming out next month: "Jamie's Food Revolution" (Hyperion, $35). It's subtitled, "Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals," and it looks fabulous. Mr. Oliver, who chefed for the G-20 leaders in London this spring, is in our region shooting a reality TV show, to air on ABC in January, on which he seeks to improve the eating habits of Huntington, W.Va., which has been labeled as the nation's most unhealthy area.
Donuts with holes are said to be an American invention. New and cool and made right here are the donut-hole-sized tiny donuts at Peace, Love & Little Donuts, which just opened beside 21st Street Coffee on Smallman Street in the Strip District. Owner Ron Razete makes and sells them (cash only) from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday (peaceloveandlittledonuts.com, 412-489-7693).
The EU has a rotating presidency that, for the rest of the year, is held by Sweden. In honor of this mix of many ingredients, I got a bag of Finax Swedish muesli, a "Good For You" blend of grain flakes with almond, banana and orange ($5.99 at Uncommon Market in Bethel Park).
Correction/Clarification: (Published Sept. 25, 2009) This story about foods of the G-20 as originally published Sept. 24, 2009, incorrectly noted that there are two Istanbul Grille locations. Only one is open, Downtown; the Centre Avenue location closed this summer.
Bob Batz Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 412-263-1930. First Published September 24, 2009 4:00 AM