Food in the US is a punch in the face with flavour. It’s not mild or bland, it’s almost like turning up the volume on the taste. I find when I’m in the US that savoury foods are often too salty and sweet foods are too sweet. It’s all delicious though. It’s not healthy but it’s so damn good. It’s all that sugar, salt and fat! It makes our brains light up like Times Square!
Fine dining and Michelin star restaurants absolutely do not have the monopoly on tasty food. Often I think that food cooked with love, hospitality, generosity and plenty is the best. There are lots of cheap and cheerful places all over Manhattan with excellent food. We stayed in East Village and were thrilled to find a large number of excellent places to eat. We also did a couple of food/walking “tips only” tours which were great fun and delicious as well. Here are some of our eating experiences in New York. Nom Nom Nom!!
How can you go to New York and not have a “dirty water” dog! These are the famous New York Hot Dogs. They are called “dirty water” dogs because the sausage is cooked and left in a vat of warmish water and pulled out when a customer requests a hot dog. We were advised that locals would ask for a “dog” and not a “hot dog”. If you ask for a “hot dog”, you reveal yourself to being a tourist and then become exposed to price gouging. We found that most food cart vendors in Manhattan do not advertise their prices openly. This is against the law but they do this to price gouge unsuspecting tourists. Beware! Do not support these unscrupulous vendors. We made a conscious decision only to support food establishments which openly display their pricing.
Enough about pricing, let’s discuss the hot dog. Well, it was very small and underwhelming. The bun is made of fluffy soft white bread which has no substance. The entire hot dog is consumed in three bites and in 15 minutes you’re hungry again.
Instead of spending a few dollars on an average hot dog, get a taco instead with the money. We found Otto’s Tacos in the East Village to be so scrumptious that we went twice during our stay in New York. They prepare each taco as you order them with home-made corn tortillas (really authentic rustic flavour). The chosen proteins are accompanied only with some coriander and sauce. The simplicity allows the taste of the filling and the texture of the taco to really shine. It makes for a religious eating experience!
Also in East Village is an outlet of Xi’an Famous Foods. This shop boasts Anthony Bourdain as one of its biggest fans. They specialities include Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger and the hand ripped spicy noodles. Even though Xi’an is in China, this tastes unlike most Chinese food. Due to the heavy use of cumin, it tastes almost Middle Eastern to me. Xi’an is situated at the start of the Silk Road and it explains the fusion of flavours and Middle Eastern spices. The hand ripped noodles are a surprise with its addictively chewy texture and a spiciness that builds in your mouth as you work through the dish. The lamb burger was delicious. It reminded me of a kebab with the bread and the cumin spiced filling. Everything is served in typical American style for this sort of cheap eatery on disposable plates which of course you throw away once you’re finished.
In America, one cannot visit without having a hamburger. The consumption of a hamburger is totally normalised in the US. It’s not so much an occasional treat but an everyday food. We chose to get hamburgers from Steak ‘n Shake based on a recommendation from a Californian friend. These burgers were indeed delicious but for health reasons, we limited ourselves to only one meal of hamburgers during our visit. Greasy, cheesy burgers are not everyday food! The best burgers I’ve had in the US are from Red Robin, a burger chain on the west coast of the US. Those burgers are utterly divine but also a heart attack waiting to happen! Anyway, what do you expect from the nation that brought us the Hashbrown Double and deep fried cheescake?
One of the most fun ways I’ve found for discovering new places and food is to do “tips only” food walking tours. Whilst in New York, I did a food tour of Greenwich Village and of Flatbush Brooklyn. Both were excellent.
In Greenwich Village, we stopped for falafel at Mamoun’s falafel. These were nice but not the best falafel I’ve ever had. This was followed by two pizza stops. First was Artichoke Pizza followed by Bleecker Street Pizza. It does seem crazy to do two pizza stops in one tour but this is New York City, home of some of the best pizza in the world AND, these two pizza were so very different yet both distinctive and delicious. The speciality at Artichoke Pizza is of course Artichoke Pizza. It’s a bit like creamy artichoke dip on top of a pizza. The crust was more robust to support the topping. It was creamy, tasty and rich. I don’t think you can eat a lot of it. By contrast, the Bleecker Street Pizza had a thin crust and had “Nonna Maria’s” special tomato sauce on it. Much lighter, but still very tasty and the crust was just beautifully cooked and a little crispy.
Onwards to arancini balls at Faicco’s. This store sells lots of different Italian Specialities but on the day, we tried the arancini balls. These are risotto balls coated in breadcrumbs and fried. When I bit into the arancini ball, I was surprised to find a very plain and simple risotto inside and yet the ball contained so much flavour. It was surprisingly good. Often, arancini balls are made with fancy flavoured risottos e.g. sun dried tomato or mushroom but even without the frills, these arancini balls were still so flavourful. Is it the use of parmesan for umami?
At this point of the Greenwich village tour, I’m getting quite full. We are now onto the sweet stops. First is a place called, Bantam Bagels which sell mini stuffed bagel balls. I tried one called “The Jack” which is a cinnamon and nutmeg spiced bagel filled with a pumpkin spiced cream cheese. This was a special flavour due to Halloween coming up. The cream cheese in the centre was yummy! In general, I don’t care for the texture of bagels. I think they are an underwhelming and dense bread and I can’t understand why they are so popular in New York. Give me a chewy sour dough any day!
Last dessert stop. I’m now rolling and waddling along the streets of Greenwich Village when we head into Molly’s Cupcakes for a seat and a cupcake. Due to my extreme state of fullness, I chose a Mini Molly Filled Cupcake. It was chocolate with chocolate icing and a chocolate mousse filling. How many times did I say chocolate in one sentence? Can you understand why I did not remember to take a photo. My mind was clouded in a chocolate fog! I had to laugh when I bit into this indulgent cupcake. It was intentionally tiny but between the icing on top and the filling in the centre, I was amazed at how little cake there was and how that tiny bit of cake could support all the icing and the filling.
Upon completion of that tour, all I wanted to do was to go back for a lie down while all that food digested.
A few days later, we’d arranged to go on a food walking tour in Flatbush Brooklyn. I had never explored Brooklyn before and this was a great opportunity. First stop was De Hot Pot serving classic Caribbean food and roti. Roti is an unleavened flat bread from India. What is awesome is how this Indian originated food travelled with the Indian diaspora to become an integral part of the food culture of the Trinidad and Tobago and of South East Asia (e.g. Malaysia).
In this shop, we tried a Trinidad street food snack called doubles. This is a sandwich of two pieces of fried bread with chick pea curry in the middle and a dash of spicy sauce. The fried bread is similar to poori, a deep-fried Indian bread. What a delicious savoury snack! We saw the shop prepare roti for other patrons as well. Their rotis were huge, maybe 50 cm in diameter and goat curry was spooned into the centre along with other fillings and condiments and the entire thing wrapped up like a burrito wrap on steroids! If you ate that, you would not need to eat for 3 days afterwards!
After a pie stop, at the Pels Pie Company for some sweet treats, we meandered along the leafy green streets and stately homes of Brooklyn before sharing a spicy cocktail at a neighbourhood cocktail bar. This was followed by Jamaican vegetarian food at Scoops & Plates Eatery.
We had a dish of soy based mock chicken and a vegetable stew called Callaloo on a bed of emperor’s rice. Callaloo is a Caribbean dish which varies depending on the region. This particular version was thickened using okra and contained dasheen bush. Dasheen bush is a leafy vegetable. The dishes were served with emperor’s rice or forbidden rice, black rice, so named because it was once reserved for only the emperor and royal family in ancient China.
At the next stop, we tried Jamaican Escovitch fish, which is deep-fried fish marinated in a spicy vinegar and served with pickled vegetables. This was really interesting because pickling the fish helps preserve it for a few days which makes a lot of sense back when refrigerators were not so widespread. Turns out, there are pickled fish dishes in many cultures. A quick Google search showed South African, Indian and Malaysian pickled fish recipes. Isn’t it amazing how the same basic need to preserve food safely has led to a similar approach in vastly different cultures?
Our last stop on the tour of Flatbush Brooklyn is Jerk Chicken at Peppa’s Jerk Chicken. This place is unassuming but produces tasty and surprisingly tender jerk chicken. I can’t wait to try my own version of jerk chicken at home. I think an overnight marinade with jerk spices and a slow roast will give a wondrous result.
I learnt a lot during the Flatbush Brooklyn food walking tour. I had never tried food from Jamaica or Trinidad before. These are entire regions of food which are totally new to me. It always excites me to taste new food and learn new things about the origins of dishes.
I am now starving after writing this post and will now head off to start cooking my dinner!
Happy Exploring and Happy Eating!