“My pants are tight,” I said to Faye, my good friend since childhood and fellow native New Yorker.
She rolled her eyes. “It’s because you’re in New York,” she said, and then described how she experienced the same my-pants-are-tight phenomenon when she moved back here from Russia. “Basically, it’s impossible not to gain weight in this city. The food is just so good!”
And it’s everywhere.
One could travel the world through the culinary arts here in New York:
A Yemen restaurant in Brooklyn where there are neither English menus nor eating utensils (your hands will do).
Dipping ramen warmed with obsidian-colored hot stones.
Chicken and waffles in their birthplace of Harlem at the dinner-breakfast threshold of the early A.M.
Kimchi pancakes and Sapporo at the magic post/pre-karaoke hour of midnight.
Crispy potato pancakes and potted meat pierogies in the old Ukranian pockets of the Lower East Side.
But these are my top five:
1. Pumpernickel bagel with lox spread and a large coffee.
Simple, filling, and a little more affordable than straight up lox. This was my go-to breakfast on mornings when I’d work in my aunt’s office. I came in so often that the cashiers at the bagel shop told me I can skip the line. Finally, I’m a VIP somewhere!! 🙂 Just in time to leave the country. 🙁
I lost count of the number of times I had pizza this time. I had plain, pepperoni, white, and The Grandma, which is a square pizza that is layered thusly: cheese, sauce, fresh basil. Mostly I went to my aunts’ neighborhood pizza place, Arturo’s—their pies truly are superior to almost anything else I’ve had elsewhere. Their crust achieves the perfect chewy-to-crispy ratio, they don’t use the cheapest mozzarella ever (some pizzerias use mozzarella that has a gross artificial rubbery look to them), and the grease pools elegantly onto the paper plate. Damn, son.
3. Shake Shack
Only made it here once (and once is enough), but Shake Shack is where I go for my fast food fix. Admittedly, I never needed a fast food fix until Shake Shack came on the scene. Founded by Michelen star restauranteur Danny Meyer, Shake Shack is easy on the wallet but satisfying in the belly. Because it’s so crowded, it’s typical to share a table with someone — and that’s how I discovered that Shake Shack is a bit of an international travel hub, as I often end up dining with other teachers of English abroad.
Diners are where I go to remember where I came from—a far more cosmic purpose than simply to eat. I derive a great deal of comfort from the knowledge that I will never see the bottom of a coffee cup, not with servers rushing around, pot in hand; the endless chain of refills create the illusion that time flows uninterrupted, that my childhood is not so remote. I am probably the only weirdo who waxes philosophical about diners. Except for Faye here:
Needless to say, I don’t go to diners for the food–although I do like it.
5. Good Italian
On the eve of every big adventure in my life, my aunts and I dine at a local Italian spot called Arturo’s, a favorite of ours for about thirty years…so, my whole life, basically. My Qingdao trip was no exception. Good Italian is not a thing in China, so I made sure to have my fill, as you can see from the photo. (I had veal stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella, topped with a marsala wine sauce.)
Bonus food….my aunt’s cooking
My aunt cooked me all of my favorite meals. Boeuf bourguignon. Asparagus pesto pasta. Eggplant parmigiana. Meatloaf. Steak. Omelettes with popovers and prosecco. “Are you sure you want to go to China?” my aunt asked. “I cook whatever you want and you don’t even pay rent. You have a pretty good deal here.”
Don’t worry, I always come back for another round!!