#12: NYC Food Tour
I was an imposter today, joining a group wide-eyed tourists on a quest for New York's yummy treats. I told no one in the group that I've lived here for a dozen years, or that I've visited this neighborhood a million times, or that we New Yorkers pronounce this street name as "HOW-ston" not "HEW-ston".
Why the secrecy? Because I wanted to explore my city with a new perspective. I wanted to eat, and walk, and see things in a new way. I was Robin Williams standing on a desk...only, ya know, with knishes and pickled mango!
The tour I joined was through Free Tours by Foot, a great alternative to the pricey options that lurk around Groupon. I selected "food tours" and finally settled on the Lower East Side adventure.
About a dozen of us showed up, despite misty rain and perfect "Netflix and Chill" weather - bravo to us!! - meeting up with our tour guide, Cory, outside of the first stop on our nibble tour: Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery.
I opted for a sweet potato knish, pricing at $4.00. Once everyone had their knishes in hand, we began our slow stroll through the neighborhood, learning bits and pieces of history and trivia as we went.
New Yorkers don't spend much time looking up. So I've not really noticed tiny details, like the story of the random statue of Russian leader Vladimir Lenin that graces the top of 178 Norfolk Street.
We also got a good dose of "well that sucks" history lessons, like how the Dutch "bought" the land from Native Americans for $24 then banished them, building an actual wall around the property. Apparently, pieces of it can still be found in the ground around Wall Street today...who knew?
While pondering the obvious political parallels, we rounded the corner and popped by Il Laboratorio del Gelato. They have over 200 flavors ranging from traditional to crazy. I bypassed the cucumber (um...?) and settled on a scoop of pumpkin and a scoop of grapefruit. Cost: $4.50.
With the tour kicking into gear, we continued to indulge our sweet tooth at Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery, famous for their unique puddings in addition to the obvious cakes/cupcakes. I tried a "shot size" of the mint chocolate chip pudding. I immediately wished I'd gone with the cupcake. It was tasty, granted, but the consistency and aesthetic of the pudding was a bit...icky. I'll spare you the mental images of what it reminded me of but, if you're a squeamish person maybe opt for a slice of carrot cake. Just sayin'. Cost: $3.00
We strolled the neighborhood, getting schooled on things like the Williamsburg Bridge and the various origins of the East Village's street names. We also heard the eyebrow-raising story of the Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Synagogue, now an eerie pile of burned rubble. Our tour guide recalled the day of the fire, passing the historical building and noticing the windows were open and the gate was unlocked. Unusual, he said, having passed the unoccupied building countless times and never seeing any signs of life. Neighborhood rumors swirl that the fire was set intentionally, so the owner could build high-rises on the spot. Dun dun dunnnnnnn!!
Now pondering the earthly legalities and eternal consequences of burning down a synagogue, we eventually found ourselves on Grand Street. There, we hit up the rest of the foodie spots all in a row, like bagels and bialys at Kossar's (cost: $1.25)...
...and goodies from North China Dumpling. Being a vegetarian, I had the steamed vegetable dumping but those fried pork things smelled amazing!! Cost: $1.00 for three
And, for the Grand Finale, we stepped outside our comfort zones at The Pickle Guys! This place pickles practically everything and it's not for the faint of heart. I was indecisive, to say the least, until a fellow tour-goer offered to let me try a piece of pickled mango. Pickled MANGO??? Yeah. And shockingly, it was damn good!!
Overall, the tour was enjoyable despite the dreary weather. Our group was rather quiet and normal - it's always more fun to have a few characters - but the guide was engaging and interesting without being overly dramatic. Plus, I actually DID learn a few things about my city!
I also learned that being a pseudo-tourist is kinda fun.
Although I'll always pronounce it: "HOW-ston".