It’s that time of year again in San Francisco. Time to put on your comfortable walking shoes, strap on an empty canvas bag along with a hearty appetite and head over to the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco for the 39th Winter Fancy Food Show. With over 1,300 exhibitors from around the globe and almost 20,000 attendees, it is by far the largest specialty food event on the West Coast.
Upon entering, it’s crucial to have a plan of attack already established, otherwise you’ll get caught filling up too fast before you’ve had a chance to explore even one tenth of the gourmet offerings the many exhibitors are (sometimes literally) throwing at you throughout the 200,000 square foot space.
My game plan – hit the international pavilions first. Naturally my first stop was “Italia” where I had a chance to catch up with Marco Petrini, President of Monini Olive Oil. “You get a slightly different crowd here,” said Petrini when I asked him to compare the San Francisco show to its counterpart in New York. “It’s more corporate on the East Coast and it’s bigger. You also see a lot more additional products like utensils and such. Here it’s still the Fancy Food Show with a lot of local producers. It’s more true to the name of the show – organic, newer foods that don’t make it to the East Coast. Also, you see a lot more from Asia, whereas on the East Coast, you get a lot more of the European crowd.”
In New York the appointment is in the Summer and every year, since 1955, it brings together the best of the cusine from more than 80 Countries. It's North America’s largest specialty food and beverage marketplace which, in 2014, will be held from June 29 to July 1.
Before sitting down with Marco Petrini, I’d had a chance to discuss the current situation of olive oil distribution in the US with Roberto Magello, a Sales Manager for Verdeoro and Santangelo olive oils. “There are oils being sold in the US today that are not from Italy, that are not even packaged in Italy and are still labeled as a product of Italy.” When I asked him what he attributed that to and what should be done he simply replied “We have to stop turning the other way. From the top down – even consumers. Look at the price. If you see something with a very low cost you have to ask yourself, how could this possibly be this cheap and still be imported from Italy?”
Mr. Petrini was in agreement and also commented that it’s a matter of educating the public. “More and more there is an awareness around the quality of oil and that is helping. But Americans need to learn that there are many ways to use extra virgin olive oil. On our products we try to tell consumers what to expect in terms of taste and also suggested use. For example, this oil is better for cooking, and this one is better for salads. All of that helps consumers make an educated choice.” And choice is something Americans are not short on.
As I moved beyond Italia and the European pavilions in general, one common trend became apparent – a wide selection of new and intriguing snack foods from Asia including India, Korea, Japan and Thailand, many of which were gluten-free. Korean Seaweed Laver Crisps were a new, healthy-snack discovery and totally delicious. Also, Wai Lana Chips made from the cassava root were a nice surprise with such familiar potato chip flavors as Sea Salt & Vinegar and Barbeque.
In the Whats New and Hot Gallery I discovered something truly new and piping hot – Caffe Borsa, a single-use drip coffee that allows you to brew fresh drip coffee on the go. The coffee come in these little packets with a paper filter rigged so you can balance it on your cup. Though probably not the most eco-friendly way to caffeinate yourself everyday, it seems like a smart way to get fresh ground coffee as a frequent traveller – perfect for addicts like me.
Unlike a farmer’s market or fish market where everything is fresh, The Fancy Food Show is all about imported specialty foods that are mostly packaged and preserved in some way. While there were many purveyors whose products are organically produced or simply made, there were many with a surprising list of ingredients including mono sodium glutamate (MSG), a synthetically produced flavor enhancer that has been known to cause a series of side effects such as burning sensations of the mouth, head and neck, weakness of the arms or legs, flushing, headaches and upset stomach.
I unwittingly tried a sample of Udon noodles in beef broth and later a pre-packaged “Tuscan Mushroom Risotto” in the Italian pavilion, both with MSG. I’m one of those lucky people who experience flushing and headaches after a healthy dose of the compound, however, the beauty of the Fancy Food Show is you only try a little bit of everything, so I managed to escape unscathed.
As they say, everything in moderation (including MSG) – words to live by at the Fancy Food Show.
Discussion about this post