Most people visit New York City and want to see the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building or other tourist points of interest. Not me. When my friend Natanya and I went to the Big Apple for the BlogHer conference, I wanted to see what New Yorkers eat when they eat local.
I prepared for the trip by reviewing the Edible Manhattan and Slow Food NYC websites to see what they recommended. Since I only had one day to do it, I limited my search to Manhattan and started plotting sights on a Google Map (see below). I intended to walk most of my tour so that I could get a feel for the neighborhoods and work off any ingested calories. I wasn’t planning on it being in the mid 90’s, but it was still cooler than Austin.
Natanya had to work on Thursday, but before she headed to the office we were able to grab a delicious, bakery breakfast at Amy’s Bread in Chelsea Market. You can smell the butter before you even cross the threshold of the shop, and, man, did it smell good! We split a cheddar biscuit with egg and cheese and the flakiest croissant I’ve had on this side of the pond. Amy’s was worth every lovely calorie.
After breakfast, Natanya went to work and I explored Chelsea Market a bit more. It was early, so a number of the shops and restaurants were still closed, but it was clear that the market has some great local food choices like Hale and Hearty Soups, Dickinson’s Farmstand Meats, Ronnybrook Dairy, and Sarabeth’s Kitchen. A Chelsea Market progressive lunch is on my list for a future trip.
My next stop was O. Ottomanelli & Sons Prime Meat Market. I couldn’t buy anything since we were in a hotel, but I wanted to check out this old-fashioned butcher shop that has been operating in the heart of Manhattan for 35 years. I was astounded by their selection – they had everything from local beef, pork and rabbit to the more exotic veal sweetbreads and alligator. They definitely earned their Slow Food Snail of Approval.
From the butcher shop, I headed to Little Italy and Di Palo’s Fine Foods. I felt like I was back in Tuscany from the minute I walked through the door – cured meats hanging from the ceiling and the rich, nutty aroma of Parmigiano Reggiano filling the air.
Di Palo’s has every type of Italian ingredient that you could dream of and it was tempting to buy some of the more difficult to find items. Of course, the idea of trying to haul it home was enough incentive to only take pictures. One of my favorite treats at Di Palo’s was watching them pull mozzarella in the back room. Definitely not something you see in the neighborhood market every day.
As I stood on the sidewalk outside Di Palo’s trying to get my bearings, I was stunned to realize that Chinatown was one block away. Really? I can walk one block and go from Little Italy to Chinatown? I certainly couldn’t pass up that opportunity.
I loved walking the blocks, investigating the unusual fish, vegetables and meats. At this point, I was seriously jonesing for a kitchen and time to experiment. Instead, I visited with merchants, took pictures and fantasized about cooking ingredients of which I know little.
I was tickled to find a store that sold nothing but chopsticks (Yunhong Chopsticks) and bought a set of chopsticks for my sister and brother-in-law who use them often.
After three hours of walking around, I was getting a little overheated and needed to figure out a lunch plan. I ducked in a coffee shop for an iced latte and to cool down. As I read my Edible Manhattan, I noticed that one of their recommended dining spots was across the street.
Little Giant is a small, neighborhood restaurant, serving what they call “Seasonal American” food with high quality local ingredients. The menu is packed with fun selections, but my choice was made when I saw the Duck Confit BALT (Bacon, Avocado, Lettuce & Tomato.) Did you catch all that? Duck Confit! Bacon! Avocado! Lettuce & Tomato! I would have felt guilty if I hadn’t just walked 6 miles through Manhattan.
I grudgingly ignored the potato chips (ok, I tasted a couple) and half the sandwich because I had plans for dessert. Less than a block away is Il Labrotorio del Gelato, a local gelateria that is part kitchen, part science lab. Unlike it’s West Coast rival Humphry Slocombe, this ice cream shop isn’t trying to push you to your limits, but with flavors like Tarragon Pink Pepper, they are playing with their food. When I spied two of my favorite flavors in the cooler, I chose to play it safe and got small scoops of the cinnamon and espresso gelatos. Sometimes, you just want a classic.
By 2:00, the ice cream wasn’t the only thing melting on the sidewalk, but I had one more stop to make. My friend Jenna said I had to check out Kalustyan’s, a spice shop in the Curry Hill neighborhood which is affectionately named for its bevy of Indian restaurants. Calling Kalustyan’s a spice shop is a little unfair – it’s more like the spice version of Epcot Center for foodies. There were so many spices that I didn’t recognize from all parts of the world that it was disorienting.
After walking through the shop a third time not knowing where to start, a man next to me asked the clerk for dried Persian limes. I had to know what he was talking about and followed them through the packed aisles. After finding this treasure, I was emboldened enough to pick a few more unusual goodies to bring home. Prepare yourself for some playful recipe testing on the blog this fall!
For a Texas girl, being able to find so many exotic foods in one day, so close together, was a bit mind boggling, but I had a fantastic time exploring New York’s diverse neighborhoods and I still only scratched the surface. The next time you’re in New York, try diving into a new culinary world. I bet you’ll love the way it tastes!
View the full set of New York City food tour photos.
Map of our 2010 NYC Food Finds
View NYC Trip in a larger map