The first time I visited NYC was 5 years ago, the summer of my graduation. I spent 5 days there and fell in love. More particularly, I heavily courted the food this city had (has) to offer. On my measly student budget, I tried out as many recommended restaurants as possible. I haven’t been back there since…..until of course, spring this year. I was on my way to a wedding in Toronto, and a stopover in NYC to visit my bestfriend, S, was planned.
Many a friend has been to visit S since she moved to NYC a year ago to complete her Masters degree. And with every visitor she tailors a particular itinerary according to personal interests. Some prefer to party, some prefer to shop, while others opt for the museums, and erm….the UN building tour. With me, she knew exactly what I was after. FOOD. And food she delivered alright. In 3 days, we went to a dinner fashioned from dumpster diving, a vegan supper club called 4-Course Vegan, and numerous gourmet food stores such as William Sonoma & The Meadow, a store specialising in salt. She took me to the cupcake cafe made famous by Sex & The City, Magnolia Bakery, where I bought the cutest aprons, we had coffee at Red Rooster, a restaurant favored by Obama himself (where it was impossible to get a table by simply dropping in), and we had delicious oyster pancakes at Momofuku Noodle Bar.
But what astounded me most, something I hadn’t even realised on my previous, maiden trip to this city was the variety of cuisines available in New York City.
I know this isn’t anything new, we all know how many cultures and languages are a part of the melting pot that is New York City. But for that multi-culturalism to spill over into the eating scene, and the extent to which it has, surprised and delighted me. I never thought I’d eat the following cuisines, some of which I have never even considered as official ‘cuisines’! From Senegalese, to Uigher to authentic Amerian ‘soul’ food, no stone was left unturned, no continent left untasted. The following restaurants also took me out of Manhattan and into the ‘burbs of Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, neighbourhoods not alot of us tend to visit when all we have is Manhattan in mind. Thanks to my darling S for an amazing, eye-opening 3 days of feasting.
Senegalese restaurant: Restaurant le Baobab (Harlem)
Our first stop was in this very African corner of upper Manhattan. We had to drop by this place 2-3 times before they had in stock the dish we were looking for: the Peanut Lamb Curry. Absolutely delicious. (While walking along the street here, I also picked up some delicious cassava couscous, at a local grocery. It has a very particular flavour I prefer to plain couscous.)
We ordered the whole fish with plantain as well.
Address: 120 W 116th St (between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd (Seventh Ave) and Malcolm X) Harlem, (212) 864-4700, Subway: 2, 3 to 116th St
Our next stop was an Uzbek Jewish restaurant called Cheburechneya in Queens. That’s Jewish cuisine….made by Jews of Uzbekistan. I had never even had Uzbek food let alone the cuisine of a minority living in Uzbekistan. However, standing in Wall Street, about to enter the subway, we realised it was Passover and this place could well and truly be closed for the Jewish holiday. After 3 unanswered calls, we were forced to conclude that they were indeed shut. We weighed our options, discussed alternatives. Disappointment set in.
But New York City never disappoints. Someone suggests visiting a Uigher restaurant they’d heard of in Queens. Uigher? The people of this small, sometimes persecuted, minority in Western China have their very own restaurant here in a small corner of North America? Talk about respresenting.
So we got on a very long subway ride to the far end of Queens, to a small restaurant called Kashkar. Situated in a very Russian neighbourhood, you could tell we were entering an ethnic hub as everyone on the train became increasingly blonder and taller. Warning, this place is far from Manhattan. Leave aside at least an hour plus to get there. But we were determined. Uigher’s cook a cuisine of fusion….an influence of the ‘stans means it has a meat heavy menu, that is similar to Middle Eastern food…yet with a strong hint of China in the form of noodles and dumplings. Intriguing.
Uigher restaurant: Kashkar (Queens)
Address: Kashkar Cafe, 1141 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn, New York 11235, 718-743-3832
Soul food: Margie’s Red Rose diner (Harlem)
Margie passed away in 2009 — and Ayoka, her daughter, initially closed down this small soul food eaterie in Harlem. When I visited, she had finally reopened it, completely renovated, keeping the authentic touch of her mother’s legacy yet breathing her own personality into the space. I had a taste of typical soul food (as you can deduce from my food-heavy itinerary, I was at this point bursting at the seams, battling jet lag and thus every meal was sending me to la la land, but everything must be tasted! so we ordered 3 different dishes and told Ayoka not to be insulted if we don’t finish her food, we were on a mission) — soul food belongs specifically to African-Americans and originates from Africa but with of course a lot of influence from the southern belt of the USA. I ordered fried chicken, candied yam and macaroni & cheese. Yum yum yum. Eating fried chicken in a soul food diner is the only time you can order this dish and still claim to be a foodie.
Mac & cheese – Candied Yam
Address: 275 W 144th St, (between 7th Ave & 8th Ave), New York, NY 10030(Harlem) http://www.facebook.com/pages/Margies-Red-Rose-Diner/112044248848712
Jamaican-Caribbean cuisine: Golden Star Jerk Centre (The Bronx)
The Bronx is a fascinating place. Up till 1979, it was an area marked by violence and upheaval…it was probably what you might expect an American ‘ghetto’ to look like. Today, it looks like any other neighbourhood. One thing I realised upon walking through it and riding on the bus to Golden Star, is how unique and different African-American culture is. We imagine America to be this uniform mass of the same people, with the same culture, language and traditions, but it is so far from the truth. As a native English-speaking member of the developed, modern world, I assume I will find familiarity in the people of America, after all, I grew up watching American television, eating American food, using American products….but this visit to the Bronx made me feel completely alien. On the bus I overheard a young girl chatting and joking on her mobile phone, and honestly, it felt like she was speaking a whole other language. It was English alright, but using words and slang…..hip hop? black american speak? it went right over my head. One the bus out of the Bronx, a woman stepped on the foot of a guy who up till then had been chatting amiably with his partner — the woman walked away and off the bus without even looking back, but our friend meanwhile went into a rage. ‘What the **** is your problem? You see that? What the hell was that about?’ The anger was something I didn’t understand. My reaction would definitely have been of annoyance and slight disgust, sure, but to start shouting, to become enraged….I didn’t get that.The food though was awesome. Alot of Indian influences in Jamaican food, for obvious reasons and I loved it. slow-cooked goat knuckles (above) delicious curry crabs (below)
Don’t expect alot from the set up of this place, there are no tables other than a bar counter with stools by the side, and they will give you your food in styrofoam box. Tasty though 🙂
Address: 3768 White Plains Road, Bronx, NY 10467-5723, United States, (718) 655-5585