One of the main reasons I travel is to eat. I could probably summarise my ten years of overseas travel by recalling the meals I ate in each place, while being a little fuzzy on the actual sights I saw. I already enjoy eating a bit too much in my daily life, so no surprises that it’s something I really indulge in abroad.
This particular food tour started in New York at the end of November. After an adventurous start getting into an unlicensed taxi that blitzed its way through the back streets of Queens, I was reunited with my middle brother who I hadn’t seen in two and a half years (he moved to New York a year into my time in Chiang Mai). The moment I put my luggage away in his Upper East Side apartment, we went straight to his favourite Japanese curry joint for dinner. Eating within moments of arriving kind of set the tone for my trip; the first meal of many during my week-long stay on the East Coast. A whole lot of calories and NO REGRETS!
My brother is normally a bit of a health nut but having me around provided him with an excuse to take me to all his favourite dining spots. I have no such qualms about my health it seems, which is why we had a lot of proper New York food. Like bagels with cream cheese at the Ritz Diner, a Reuben sandwich at the Tick Tock Diner, burgers and cheese fries at Shake Shack. On one visit to the Village I managed to squeeze in a hot dog from Japadog, a capuccino and a $1 slice of pizza. On another day I had half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from Peanut Butter & Co., and street food from the famous Halal cart every New Yorker knows (53rd and 6th).
There was also Momofuku Milk Bar, which I’d read about online and had put on my list to check out. Owner and celebrity chef David Chang walked right past us while we were inside. I was a little excited and asked the girl behind the counter in a very uncool way, “OMG, like, was that David Chang?!”
My brother lives a few doors down from Serendipity 3 and whenever we walked past, whatever time, there was a long queue outside. I wasn’t desperately keen to go but we were walking past at 11.15pm one night and there wasn’t much of a crowd. I wasn’t hungry but thought, what the hell?
Well, what the hell indeed…the service was bad, totally at odds with received wisdom about American waiters. The staff were harried and we sat at the table for a good 15 minutes before getting any attention – and by then it was about 11.40pm, close to closing time. The food and drink, when it finally came, was fine but hardly worth writing home about. The place was a little kooky and I can see why it’d be a hit with kids (and why Mariah Carey booked the place a few days later), but I wasn’t sure why adults love it. Could somebody out there enlighten me?
New York is a cosmopolitan city, so there’s also a dazzling variety of food from all over the world. I caught up with friends at Veselka for Ukrainian food (borscht and pierogi), had post-Colbert Report Peruvian at Pio Pio and a bowl of ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar. The latter was a bit over-rated really, and I’ve had better ramen for less. The noodles confirmed my suspicion that when it comes to good Asian food, Sydney definitely wins.
In my five days in New York, I wanted food you can’t get in Australia…like soul food, which we trekked out to Harlem for. At Londel’s Sunday buffet the other patrons – all African-American – were dressed in their Sunday best and had been at church. The buffet had all the big hits like fried chicken and mac-and-cheese. Clearly, America has the best comfort food.
The trip to Harlem was one of a few trips I took out to the boroughs, because I wanted to get off the island and see other neighbourhoods. Last time I visited in New York in 2009 I stayed in the Lower East Side and made it to Brooklyn. This time, it was Harlem for soul food (and jazz in Marjorie Eliot’s parlour) and Queens. Cocktails at Shi in Long Island City; Chinese-Vietnamese food in Flushing (which wasn’t nearly as good as what you find here); and a brief stop in Jackson Heights, Queens, which I’d read about online.
Jackson Heights is a Little Pakistan, and because we were walking around in the cold, it felt a bit like London. When I lived over in London I would often frequent Brick Lane and I have a photo from December 2005 with ‘Eid Mubarak’ hanging overhead, interchanged with English Christmas greetings, so similar to what I saw that night in Jackson Heights.
It was too bad we were on our way to dinner already because the Pakistani food looked really authentic. I felt both nostalgic and gluttonous so I bought a freshly fried vegetarian samosa to eat right then and there, and a small jalebi for the road.