I’ve lived in Astoria for 11 years. There are lots of grocery stores here, and new foodstuffs all the time. But it’s been a long time since I’ve found something I’ve never even heard of: oxymeli. It was just sitting there, all innocent, on the shelf at my usual Greek grocery, Greek House on 30th Avenue. I love this guy because it’s the best kind of tiny store–the kind where the more you look, the more you see things you need. Also because he stocks a lot of Turkish items, despite this neighborhood’s prejudice against. He also has good bulk chocolate and bulk spices, even mahleb, the sour cherry pits that I needed when I got on my Syrian cooking kick last year.
I always go in for one thing, and come out without about eight (it helps that there’s a 99-cent ATM in there too). This time, I was waiting for my feta to get bundled up when I saw the oxymeli.
I say “the oxymeli” as though I knew what it was. But no. It was in with the vinegars. The label says it’s a combination of sweet wine, currant vinegar, figgy stuff and honey. There are actual little chunks of fruit in it too. There’s not too much on the Web about it–it seems like it’s a modern reinvention of an ancient recipe, made by just one company, Liostrofi. (Classicists, help me out!)
I fed some to our visiting genius-bartender friend, who promptly declared, “It’s shrub!” It does taste a little like something a spry 95-year-old man has been drinking every morning his whole life, and credits with keeping him fit. And I’m not surprised that a lot of the other info about it online seems to come from SCA types (a slippery slope, food history…).
Anyhoo, it’s delicious! I used it instead of balsamic vinegar to macerate some strawberries, and it was lighter but more complex. I heartily recommend it…if you can find it.
And because our pantry is overstuffed, I have to manage it the same way I do my clothes, tossing old to make room for new. The victim this time was a bottle of Rooh Afza, appealingly billed as “The Summer Drink of the East,” and smelling of rose and “fragrant screwpine.” Alas, it didn’t taste like much but sugar, and even its pretty label and ridiculous bright-pinkness couldn’t save it. Buh-bye, Rooh, and thanks anyway to Hamdafd Laboratories of Pakistan (though I love the sound of a drink made by Something Laboratories, don’t you?). According to Wikipedia, Rooh Afza used to be something more elaborate. It’s a mild understatement to call this version “less complex.”
Oh, but I lie. I snuck in another new thing, without quite purging something else. It’s a bottle of mulberry syrup from Syria. It was a risky thing to bring back, considering it could have made a horrific mess in my luggage. But it’s intact (if now even already a third consumed), and in a drink-mixing frenzy over the last few days, I found it goes well with gin, and with bananas in a smoothie. Now that’s versatile–a real keeper.