Tiburón -Shark- Žralok

Tiburón -Shark- Žralok: Writing Cooking Traveling

Thursday, July 29, 2010

5 Food Places I Wish I’d Taken Advantage of When I Lived in New York

I don’t miss living in New York. It’s a difficult, cold city if you’re not head over heels in love with it. But I also think back on all the missed opportunities—the places I now wish were only a $2.50 subway ride away from me, the flavors and atmospheres I missed and the ones I should’ve been devoted to instead of wasting my time on… other places I don’t currently miss or even remember.

While I won’t get that era of my life back, I know where to go when I visit. And I visit a lot.


When I lived in Beorum Hill, Brooklyn, my housemates would often come home loaded up with fresh ground spices, exotic chocolates bought in bulk, spinakopia and baklava the size of your hand and would rave about how good and cheap everything was in this store on Atlantic Avenue called Sahadi’s. It was like heaven in bulk apparently. But I never actually went there until I left Beorum Hill for Sunset Park—which is several subway lines away. My tipping point for getting off my lazy, convenience-centric ass was Ajay— a gourmand who has yet to lead me astray— and who on an expedition for some very good Middle Eastern food on Atlantic Avenue, finally took me to Sahadi’s. The storefront is very plain and therefore easy to miss, specially since it is flanked by nice-looking delis displaying fresh produce and flowers. Once inside, though, the busy crowdedness acknowledges the fact that this place is indeed awesome. Boxes of falafel and couscous line the shelves, while sauces with labels in Arabic and Hebrew compete for attention with bins of soft flatbreads breads and cookies. Further into the store is a counter where you can buy stuffed grape leaves and other oil-soaked delicacies like seafood salads, or stuffed pastries containing everything from meat to mushrooms. In an adjacent room, bags of spices, nuts, dried fruit, whole grain coffee, and different varieties of candy surround a square counter where men bag and weigh your selections. The smells of the place are thick and mixed up, transitioning from the dry mustiness of the canned section to the slick oily, fishy smell of the deli counter and the earthiness of the dried goods that fly from bin to scoop to bag every few seconds. Why I didn’t just live in this place is beyond me.
The Chinese Supermarket

From Beorum Hill I landed in Elmhurst, Queens, and once again I had no idea the culinary opportunity I completely wasted. I lived next to the Great Wall Supermarket and I had no idea what that even meant. Whenever I walked around my street I saw people carrying groceries in red plastic bags. I once asked a couple of guys about this and they told me that they were shopping in the supermarket across Queens Boulevard. “They have everything.”  I went searching for it but the outside resembled a gritty wholesale facility rather than the sterile, clearly labeled supermarkets I knew and loved. Going in through the narrow glass doors of the main entrance was like stepping through the rabbit hole. To say this place was overwhelming is similar to saying Chinatown tends to get crowded. This place was insane. The first shock to the system comes from the glass aquariums full of living, scary looking seafood like eels and crawfish stationed right near the entrance and manned by angry, shouting Chinese butchers. The produce was unrecognizable—many Chinese greens I’d kill for right now, fruits with strange names and textures I’d love to try but back then I just wanted apples. Although the entire space was about the size of a warehouse, the aisles were packed so tightly together they created a giant labyrinth of—yes—mostly Asian products. In the bakery aisle I found cookies with scallions in them and had a glimpse of future me when I experienced a thrill at seeing this out of place ingredient and almost bought them. Almost. All the noodles had big Chinese and Japanese characters across them but I couldn’t tell buckwheat from soba. I had no idea what Chinese Five Spice Powder was or that tamarind sauce was a key ingredient in Pad Thai. I was at the right place for someone like me but at completely the wrong time. It was before Bittman, before the food blogs, before I realized not eating meat was stupid (for me, at least)… I left the supermarket empty-handed, making a mental note to return and never did.

East Village Cheese
Murray’s Cheeses is the cheese shop I frequented when my company moved offices from Tribeca to the West Village. While very pretty and very well-stocked, Murray’s is also very expensive. And I can’t justify why I wasn’t just taking the extra ten-minute walk to its cheaper, grittier fraternal twin in the East Village. I first heard about East Village Cheeses sophomore year and the words “so cheap” were used in the same sentence. I’d walked by the store a million times, reading their ever-changing menu of cheeses plastered in handwritten signs across the glass storefront but it wasn’t shiny and expensive-looking enough to pull me in. One evening Robin and I happened to be in the neighborhood, we needed cheese, so we jumped at the chance to try it out. We were like kids in a candy store. Aside from cheeses, this plainly decorated, fluorescent-lit wonderland also had oil-soaked wonderful things like Sahadi’s. Murray’s didn’t have that. We ordered a half-pound each of a soft, not too pungent blue cheese, a tangy Bulgarian feta, sharp cheddar for mac and cheese, a small block of parmesan, marinated mushroom, stuffed grape leaves, and sardines. The total came to $40. At Murray’s we would’ve paid $40 for the cheeses alone. An extra ten minute walk was all it would’ve taken me. Laziness is expensive.

McSorley’s Ale House
In the 1970’s a group of brave women went to court to overturn a biased, backwards rule that did not allowed to them to go drink at McSorley’s Ale House. I have put those women’s efforts to waste. I can count on one hand how many times I visited McSorley’s in the six years I lived in New York City. I’m not saying it was going to become my watering hole—there are other bars that should’ve been that for me and weren’t like Lillie’s or the Austrian pub in the Lower East Side—but so many days my friends and I would wonder, where should we go and I don’t understand why once in a while one of us didn’t think, Why not McSorley’s? What the place lacks in beer varieties—they only serve McSorley’s Ale Dark or Light, served in half-pint glasses and you have to order two at a time—they make up for in atmosphere and history. The lighting is dim and seedy like an old pub should be, often crowded though rarely impossible to find at least part of a table if you’re willing to make friends. The head waiter is a white-haired old Irishman you’ll find smoking in front of the entrance as often as you’ll find in the bar serving up chips and pints. The floor is covered in sawdust and the walls are thickly decorated with dust-caked portraits of stern old Irish men, taxidermied animals including a jackelope, Houdini’s handcuffs, and most famously a wax-covered chandelier. I heard the legend behind it from Angel Aragones, a Spanish artist and surrealism professor. Apparently a group of friends about to be shipped off to World War Two each hung a wishbone from the chandelier. Those who came back from the war, claimed their wishbones. The ones left belong to those who never returned. Be Good or Be Gone.

Essex Street Market

I never even went to this place. Its an indoor market in the style of the Chelsea Markets but infinitely cooler. The Essex Street Market was created in 1940 by mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. The idea was to get street merchants off the streets so that police cars and fire trucks could wail their siren’s song from avenue to avenue unimpeded by food carts. Aside from the usual collection of beautiful produce and breads available at most markets in New York, they also have stands that sell artisanal chocolate and candy made with bacon, hard to find Puerto Rican products like ajíes dulces, salted cod, and recao, fresh fish and meat, and you can even buy art or get a haircut while doing your shopping. This is top of my list on my next visit.

For more ideas on places to check out visit Forgotten New York or the Time Out New York website where I found some of my best date idea often for cheap or free.

** I know the pictures don't match. 

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1 comment:

  1. Family going to NY in a week. Quick! Need a recommendation of an awesome place I can take them where I can weird them out with funky food. :D