Ah… New York! You see it on TV, in the movies and hear about it from everyone who has ever been, not to mention, also from those (which is almost everyone else) who wishes to visit the infamous city someday. Well… that’s where I’ve been in case you wondering why the sudden lack of posts from me lately, and if you weren’t wondering…I’m telling you anyway!
I had the pleasure of visiting the alluring city of New York for the first time last week, for my brother’s wedding. During the week we managed to squeeze in a couple days of sight-seeing of the Big Apple which I soon realized was not nearly enough, but it did give us a glimpse of what the city had to offer. Being the big foodies that my entire family are, we decided on doing a walking food tour. It is an interesting yet fun way to get a feel of a place through it’s food/ cuisine. In our case, we just wanted to sample as much as we could while checking out the sights of NYC 😉
Our food tour covered the neighborhood in Manhattan known as Hell’s Kitchen. It includes the areas of Clinton and Midtown West and extends from 34th Street to 59th Street, from Eighth Avenue right up to the Hudson River. Hell’s Kitchen was a modest, gritty neighborhood that once housed a lot of the poor, working-class immigrants. It was notorious for a lot of Ethnic conflict especially between Irish and Puerto Rican gangs.
Although there are a number of stories as to how the area got the name “Hell’s Kitchen” our tour guide shared with us the most common version which traces it to the story of Dutch Fred The Cop, a veteran policeman, who with his rookie partner, was watching a small riot on West 39th Street near 10th Avenue. The rookie is supposed to have said, “This place is hell itself,” to which Fred replied, “Hell’s a mild climate. This is Hell’s Kitchen.”
The apartment complexes in this area were designed to accommodate as many people as possible, so they had small living spaces with communal bathrooms and big common kitchens in the basements that all the residents of the buildings shared. As time went by, people started modifying the apartments to include their own individual kitchens and so the big kitchens were left unused. So the smart thing to do was to convert the common spaces into little restaurants as the kitchens were already setup. It didn’t take long for all the immigrants to setup their own little food joints to share their ethnic cuisine and start businesses.
Today in the heart of the theater district in Hell’s Kitchen on West 46th St. between 8th & 9th Aves. you will find the most diverse and astounding number of eateries anywhere in the world. Said to have over 35 restaurants in the one block stretch, the choices of different cuisines alone will make your head spin (it definitely made mine spin and also made me want to move to New York just eat at all these places). From Caribbean, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Irish, Mexican and Thai to Afghan, Argentine, Ethiopian, Peruvian, Turkish, Indian, Pakistani and Vietnamese, this area has it all! It’s literally like the United Nations of dining. Now, these restaurants are your hole in wall kinda places or mom-n-pop shops with quaint ambiance, but they serve up the most authentic and delicious food you can ask for and all at great prices!
We kicked off our tour with a sampling of some Mezze (appetizers served up in the Mediterranean, Middle East and Balkans, similar to the Tapas of Spain and Antipasti of Italy) at the L’Bayan. There was some aubergine/egg plant in a tomato sauce with mozzerella cheese, hummus and another egg plant dish in a yogurt based sauce, all served up with warm freshly baked pita bread.
Next stop was Latin food at OUT. This stop had me drooling at all the food on display and had we been there on our own accord it looked like a place I would have ordered way to much, just because everything looked so good and I I just have a weakness for food.
We sampled some fried plantain and some chicken empanadas (which I was too busy enjoying to take a photo of, so my apologies).
Then we hit the popular Gazala Place which serves up the cuisine of Druzea mystic religion whose faithful live mainly in the Middle Eastwhich shares flavors with Syrian, Lebanese, and Israeli traditions. Their must try item is their off the menu- Boureka- a freshly baked savory pastry of buttery Filo dough, stuffed with a variety of fillings like spinach, feta, and artichoke.We got to try the spinach and goat cheese stuffed bourekas fresh from the oven and they were melt-in-your-mouth delicious!
Our guide then said we weren’t allowed to leave the city without having a some of New York Style thin crust pizza, usually sold by the slice. So stopped by Sacco Pizza where they made us a fresh pie which was everything a pizza should be. Great crispy crust, tangy sauce and stringy, gooey cheese. It was perfection!
Last stop, we couldn’t end without dessert, so our guide took us to Holey Cream an ice-cream parlor famous for their donut sundaes.Yup, you read right…Donut Sundaes. It’s pretty much where they take a fresh made donut, slice it in half, pile on 3 scoops of ice-cream from their excellent selection of flavors (we got oatmeal- raisin, NY cheesecake and a chocolate fudge), then they frost the donut with either chocolate, vanilla or strawberry glaze and top it with your choice of toppings. Sound’s like heaven…doesn’t it? Well, it was!
That last stop was truely the icing on the cake of a wonderful food tour, which included a lot of history about the area and some interesting facts about the surrounding buildings. If you’re in New York City and have an appitite for ethinic cuisines, I’d definitely recommend doing a food tour of Hell’s Kitchen. I know just where I’m headed for the next time a get to visit the Big Apple!