Tuesday, 25 September 2018

10 Must Eat Food In New York City As A Tourist ~ Part I


This is the first part of my list of 10 Must eat food in New York City. I have always seen this, food is the only thing that gives you an instant insight into the cultural background of a place. You know someone even without getting into a conversation. I find it as interesting to learn how a certain dish made its way into the very fabric of a community as much as I love to visit places which have stood tall bearing testimony to years of work which shaped a country. The vibrant mix of cultures in New York City results in numerous dishes which is not possible for any tourist to sample in a small amount of time. I was here for four days, yet I missed many of the must eat New York City Special Food. So this is actually a list which is mandatory in the long list of Must have. I arrived at this list after long hours of research through the internet, reading local newspapers and magazines and chatting with fellow culinary bloggers based here. You are most welcome to add your list in the comments below. Also my choice was based on my dietary preferences so please feel free to add on to this list.


Before I go ahead with this post I need to thank all my readers, my friends from the blogging world, my friends on social media for giving me so much love and support throughout my absence here. I am back after 9 months and am truly grateful to all who missed my presence here. Honestly it is you who give me the strength and inspire me time and again to come back to something which I love to do. “Even the darkest and most dreary times will one day pass and sunshine shall seep in covering everything bad and blanket You with contentment and bliss.” I never for once ceased to believe in this during this span of time. So after the storm passed, the skies cleared out, I packed my bags and headed straight for a rendezvous with the Big Apple. I needed my mojo back and so I had to travel.

New York City from the 80th floor of Empire State Building

New York City was on my bucket list for long. The Big Apple throbs with vigor and is vibrant 24X7. The perfect place to get back to life after a setback. The drive from the Airport to Times Square started slowly coloring my anticipation as we started getting close to Manhattan. The first thing that struck me was how the streets were in perfect perpendicular grid form throughout. Traffic is slow moving with people and pets dotting the walks. Loved the sudden visual influx of colors, sounds from diverse mediums and smells from the fleeting kiosks filled with food. Helped to fish me out of the troubled times I had been through bringing a wide smile on my face as I popped my head out of the taxi window eagerly taking in everything with the excitement of a kid.

Times Square

It had started to drizzle lightly as we arrived at the Hotel. We quickly checked in and almost immediately went down to Times Square to buy mobile sim cards so that we would remain connected with the rest of the world all through our American sojourn. As I stepped into Times Square the cacophony of sounds masked my voice which got drowned in the sea of buzz that emanated from the place. My eyes blinked and fluttered making an earnest effort to encapsulate the optical extravaganza that was brought about by the numerous neon boards which dazzled the streets on both sides. I totally got lost in the humdrum with multitudes of people walking past me as I stood riveted unable to move away even a single step from this happy eclectic carnival. My poor ears were totally overwhelmed at being thrown into this ocean of rhythmic clamour, my eyes were trying their best to acclimatize to the optical spectacle while I followed the scent of deliciousness which flowed out from the food kiosks.

Times Square

1) PRETZELS



I had found my calling for the evening and I just went drawn to it like a bee to a flower. Not that I hadn’t seen pretzels in bakery’s in Dubai, but this was something else. The size was enormous compared to the one I was familiar with. In Dubai I have easily overlooked these in my trips to the supermarket bakery but in Times Square you cannot walk 100 meters without coming across a kiosk or cart selling Pretzels. In Dubai I have seen kids grabbing the hard pretzels which would make a crunching sound as they bit into it. Here however the soft ones are more popular. They are basically dough to which salt is added , rolled into a long rope and turned and twisted to give them that indigenous shape. Next they are popped in boiling water and as soon as they rise to the top they are fished out and transferred to a baking tray and either covered with cheese or a topping of choice and baked till brown. 

Pretzels were introduced to North America by German & Swiss German immigrants and over the years have become a very popular on the go bite, which is quite filling. In fact many of the culinary New York City Bloggers tell me that Pretzels have become a logogram in the city and can be seen imprinted on many T-shirt’s or clothing. As I ordered mine with an extra slathering of cheese, I could feel a wave of excitement surge over me. It was as if I was about to hold the most coveted piece of thing in my hands. As the young Egyptian student who ran this Kiosk handed over the warm, soft,  cheese covered, brown, heart shaped, skillfully knotted street food, it felt like almost holding a piece of food history in my hand. In that instant I realized that a major chunk of my mojo was back as I sunk my teeth into the stretchy, chewy, cheesy goodness. So when in New York City you are never far away from a Pretzel and you must have one or else your food outing in The Big Apple will remain incomplete.

2) BLACK AND WHITE COOKIES



There are a lot of narratives about the nemesis of the famous New York Black and White Cookies. A lot of  lore exist. I also heard from someone that President Barrack Obama referred to the Black and White Cookie as the 'Unity Cookie' in his 2008 run for presidential elections. But long chats with food writers and bakery owners made me see the real reason why these so popular cookies came into being. At the close of the 19th Century a number of bakeries were experimenting with the dark and light theme in desserts which was becoming quite popular with their customers. So in 1925 Hemstrought's Bakery located in Utica, New York baked their first batch of Black and White Cookies to cash on upon the in vogue dark and light theme. They called these cookies 'Half Moon Cookies'.

Soho, New York City

For the first time a cookie was not crisp, crunchy or petite, but was a large dollop of baked cake batter with a vanilla fondant covering one half and a chocolate fondant covering the other half. Truly unique isn't it. I had a list of recommended places to try the cookie from in which Russ & Daughter's was in the number 1 slot. But unfortunately the time constraint did not allow me to foray there to sample their cookie. I was staying bang opposite Junior's Restaurant And Bakery "home of the most fabulous and famous Cheesecake", Times Square and in my quest for the Must Eat Cheesecake, I also came upon their Black and White Cookies on the counter. I had to taste these cookies before leaving New York, so I decided to try theirs. Well because of my voracious sweet tooth I liked this one but the actual verdict I put on hold till I get to try from the list of must try bakeries. But you go ahead and let me know if you tried the Black and White Cookie in your trip to New York and what was the ruling of your taste buds in the comments below.

3) THE HALAL GUYS / GYRO AND CHICKEN



I have traversed the streets of New York City mostly on foot, hopping into a taxi on the rarest of the rare occasions. The biggest advantage of doing this was that I could feel the pulse of the city upfront and also get to fill my lungs with the delici of ous aromas flowing out of the kiosks, food carts, stands and food trucks. I would many a time stop by a vendor selling food and assessing his mood get into a conversation about food. It was such a fulfilling experience, I cant even begin to tell you. My best friend would be the GPRS on my mobile taking me to my destination ultimately but many a times making me take oblivious turns away from my stop. With pearls of glistening drops on my forehead and no one to vent my anger on, I would patiently track my steps back and reach the right place. By the end of the day my fashion conscious shoes would have pinched my toes crimson and made them sore. But as I would look down on all that I had scribbled on my note pad and check my DSLR to see the pictures clicked during the course of the day, all the trials and tribulations encountered would be simply a thing of the past and my painful toes too would start twitching in anticipation of where they would be treading the next day.

Clicked from the Ferry, on the way to Liberty Island

As a kid whenever someone said the name United States Of America, the only visual that would become alive before my eyes was of this mammoth statue with one extended arm holding a lamp. Next I learnt the name of this imposing statue, The Statue Of Liberty. My teens were spent watching many Hollywood movies where I would see the Statue Of Liberty again & again.Who ever loved the Hollywood movie Titanic will never forget the final scene of the movie. The character of Rose played by Kate Winslet is seen finally reaching The United States Of America in a rescue boat & that visual of The Statue of Liberty looming over her in the rain symbolizing that she has just entered USA has been captured so brilliantly by Director James Cameroon & has remained etched in my mind until this day. Oh!! it still gives me goosebumps.

Ellis Island

So as we waited endlessly on a hot sultry day in a serpentine queue at Battery Park to take the ferry to Liberty Island with a grumpy Mr. S ( he hates waiting in long queues), neither the heat nor the sweat nor anything else bothered me. I was all too excited with the idea of being on the same ground with Lady Liberty. I must tell you beautiful people, I did have goosebumps & my heart was pounding in my throat as the ferry approached the Liberty Island. The feeling of seeing something in real of which I had been hearing time & again from such a long time cannot be encapsulated in words really. With all the hustle bustle & an unrelenting crowd on the top deck of the ferry, I was still able to capture some wonderful visuals along the way.

View from the Ferry on the way back from Liberty Island

The day we visited Liberty Island, it was a Sunday and the last day of the School Summer Holiday. So it looked like a crowd equivalent to the entire New York City had queued up at Battery Park to catch the ferry to Liberty Island. To top it off the weather was really hot and humid and the journey to the Statue of Liberty was quite a challenge on that day. In fact when I chatted up with girl who was serving me the tall glass of mango slush at Liberty Island, she seemed quite surprised to see a crowd of this magnitude turn up on a given day. So by the time we had reached back to Time Square it was way past our lunch time and our tummy was on fire. I knew that I needed a meal closer to home to get me back on track and cheer up my grumpy mood. So it had to be The Halal Guys in their peony coloured food truck. There was a long queue but we didn't seem to mind it, as the delicious aroma that wafted from the food truck, did get the tummy to make peace with the mind. We chose the popular Chicken Over Rice Platter. If you are fond of Lamb choose their Lamb Over Rice Platter. These two are their most popular dishes.

Outside Battery Park

What you get is a high sided aluminium foil plate which looks like a disposable aluminum foil standard pie pan. This disposable plate is filled with a layer of aromatic coloured basmati rice, followed by another layer of cooked shredded chicken, with greens tucked in on the side and a few pieces of  Arabic Bread or Kuboos placed next to the salad leaves. Once you get the whole platter in your hand, you have to stealthily move towards the side of the food truck where the squeeze sauce bottles are placed. Take your pick of their trademark white sauce, a barbeque sauce and a red hot sauce. Liberally pipe and drizzle the sauce over the top of the chicken. The sauce imparts the much required zing to the dish. Why is this dish so popular among New Yorkers? I guess it is cheap, served fresh, hot, portion size is good and so it is quite filling, worth every dollar you spend.

Liberty Island

4) CARLO'S BAKE SHOP


Cannoli

If you are an ardent fan of TLC's (Travel And Living Channel) Cake Boss , then you simply cannot afford to miss the trip to Carlo's Bake Shop , Times Square . Well I have watched all seasons of this reality show and am an ardent fan of Buddy Valastro, the star of the show and the Boss of Carlo's Bake Shop. For those of you who have never watched this reality show, you get to see tons of handcrafted, stunning, sometimes mammoth cakes being made from scratch on  this show. In other words you can let your imagination run as wild as possible and ask for a cake to be designed and Buddy and his team will surely come up with something spectacular and beyond your expectation. I have seen them create an entire Zoo, Cars the size of the actual car, New York City's pride that is the Empire State Building,  the Statue of Liberty, Adventure Park with amphibians which look so creepy and real and gorgeous wedding cakes. He is also a master at making Sugar Flowers without the use of any machine and this is something which is slowly becoming a rarity which he has kept going.

The Carlo's Bake Shop is located right in the Corner at the beginning of a street and very hard to miss, not only because of it's location but also because of the striking red board on which the name of the Shop is painted in bright yellow colour. Be prepared to stand in a queue to order both for eating in or take away. Eating in is not a good option as there are only a couple of tables to sit and eat, the majority of the shop being dedicated to displaying their goodies, memorabilia for Cake Boss fans, Bake Books by Buddy and a large glass window through which you can see all the stuff that are displayed being freshly baked. I had decided that I would order for some Cannoli which is very popular here and their Lobster Tail Pastry. I picked up both the chocolate and original of their traditional cream filled Cannoli. For the Lobster Tail Pastry I chose the Chocolate Hazel Nut filling. While Cannoli is a pastry which originated from Sicily in Italy which has a deep fried tube shaped shell filled with a decadent Ricotta cheese filling, The Lobster tail pastry is a large Pastry which is filled with cream and Custard and which looks just like the tail of a lobster. The Lobster Tail Pastry is the american version of the Italian Pastry called Sfogliatelle which means small thin leaf layers and is just apt as the pastry shell looks like layers of leaves one on top of the other.

Biting into the Cannoli results in a crunching sound followed by the creamy filling gliding out of the pastry into your fingers and palm. Do not feel ashamed to lick it off your fingers or palm. It is too yummy to be wiped off with a paper napkin and wasted. The Lobster Tail Pastry is lightly crunchy on the outside followed by a splash of the cream and custard on your tongue. Eating these pastries may be the closest feeling to eternal bliss. So may I suggest whether you have watched the show or not, are not a fan of the show Cake Boss, do definitely pay a visit to the Carlo's Bake shop as these two Pastries are surely not to be missed while you are in New York City. Trust me you will be happy that I told you about them. 

5) HOT DOG 



When in New York City, a visit to Central Park is on the itinerary of most tourists. But your Central Park tour can never be complete without the famous New York Hot Dog. As true as it is that the Hot Dog is sold not only throughout the United States of America but in many many countries of the world, so also it is mandatory to devour this Juicy Sausage placed in between a bun with mustard and sauces of choice.

This is the first part of my two part post on My List of 10 Must Eat Food in New York City. Do check back for the second part where I have sampled 5 more dishes which you cannot miss eating when in New York City

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