Food walks with my daughter- To New York with love
Series 1 : East Village and A slice of Little Italy
When I see the empty streets of Manhattan now , I cannot but think of the summer we spent last year there….when the city was buzzing with the never ending streets teeming with New Yorkers and of course , tourists like us.
How quickly things can change but memories of the distant land once discovered by many , Europeans or the Dutch centuries ago , was also discovered in a different light by me …through food .
We spread our walk over many days trying to visit as many must see foodie places as we could. This was the first trip that I did not go with a group or book a walk with a local food walker . This time my foodie partner was my daughter, who i will refer to as 'A', is a great navigator and made the walk easy and enjoyable. We chalked out our route the previous evening , marked all the streets and cross sections,train stations and landmarks . It was an old school way but still very enjoyable . And the rest we left to our instincts. I was ready for some whining and some arguments on the way ...
We picked beautiful August days in New York, some were sunny and some with a bit of rain. One of the best times to visit this city . Even though its high in touristic traffic , this is one of the reasons why I was attracted to the city- its buzz.
Walk 1: America is not only about fast food , upsized burgers and giant sandwiches ..We started off the beaten track to taste the city’s finest offering , an East European dumpling called the Pierogi . Much like the dimsum or the momo of the east , this can be savoury or sweet.
Vaselka , a Ukranian restaurant in the heart of East Village , opened since 1954 , was our stop to taste this dish. Meaning Rainbow in Ukranian , it was quite a huge space with a bar on the side and we got ourselves a seat towards the rear to have a perfect view of the entire place. We were early as there were a few tables taken.
Potato and truffle steamed Piergos, their famous Buttermilk Waffles ; my daughters choice and upon recommendation the Cheese Blitzes was what I opted for ,which are Ukrainian style crepes. The most popular filling is of potatoes, white cheese and sauted onions. One can find fruit filled pierogis too. Vaselka is known for thir handmade Varenyky -Piergos with fillings of meat , potato, cheese , truffle mushrooms, Argula and Goatcheese , Sauerkraut and mushroon and Brocolli and Cheddar. They serve Ukranian specialities such as Stuffed cabbage , Beef Stroganoff, Veal Goulash and meatballs to name a few.
The original homeland of pierogis is Poland. They are always referred to in plural form since it is always served 2 or more. Known as peasants food , the resemblance to the dimsum cannot be denied. It was imported to the United States by Polish immigrants and earlier may have reached Italy through the travels of Marco Polo who came back from China during the 13th Centaury AD.
The first cookbooks were published in the 17th Centaury AD where they were mentioned. It was popular in Slovakia , Czech Republic , Germany and Romania apart from Ukraine and was a Polish staple . So do order these if you find these on a menu to take a bite of the travelling dumpling.
As fascinating is its history , its taste is as simple and delicious .
Blitzes are like usually folded, rolled and filled thin crepes . According to Joe Pastry, thought to have been originated in Poland, Slovakia or Hungary, probably a traditional food item that gained popularity around 1800 , when they first began to appear on the culinary map.In some US cities, they can be called from blinis(Russian) to palatschinken (German), palascinta (Hungarian) , each having their own variation. For example, blinis are made of buckwheat and usually leavened with yeast.
If you find any of these on a menu…its perfect for a breakfast or brunch.
Started as a candy store and coffee shop, it still stands in the same place it did as in 1954, founded by Ukrainian Immigrants Wolodymyr and Olha Dermochwal. Walking further towards 1st Avenue, around 10-12 minutes we passed lots of graffiti. 'A' was loving each wall as we passed some bold designs …and there it was, one of the most famous Bagel shops in New York. Russ and Daughters, I loved the name which was part of the attraction. There was a huge smile on her face when she saw the name on the storefront, both being rare phenomenons.
Usually found with doughnuts , bagels are the savoury version. So what was unique about these here?
"RUSS & DAUGHTERS OCCUPIES THAT RARE AND TINY PLACE ON THE MOUNTAINTOP RESERVED FOR THOSE WHO ARE NOT JUST THE OLDEST AND THE LAST — BUT ALSO THE BEST." - Anthony Bourdain
Purveyerors since 1914 , dishing out the most delicious appetizers like smoked salmon , cheeses, breads and cakes and bagles.
We packed some scallion crème cheese bagels, pretzel bagels and babka that I wanted to taste. The Store was very well lit and had chatty servers that make you very relaxed if you don't know what to order or try out. I was served by one who had travelled to Delhi and had loved it there and wanted to visit Dubai.
So back to bagels which were very common in German monasteries as a feast day bread and were later savoured by Queen Judwocka, the first female monarch of Poland by giving up cake and pastries for Lent.
But another popular story was that a baker in Austria invented this in the latter half of the 17th century as a tribute to the Polish King who helped save Austria from Turkish invaders and called it buegel due to his love for horses.
I was looking forward to tasting the Babka here ..a kind of braided bread or cake ,its very popular where there is a Jewish diaspora originating in the Jewish communities of -Polish- Lithuanian commonwealth. Unheard outside this community , its name comes from the word grandmother in Polish but it started gaining popularity after 2010 and Russ and Daughters had a hand in developing it as a trendy baked item. Chocolate is not a traditional filling but it became a popular version in the U.S.
Upon leaving Russ and Daughters ,we walked another 10 minutes to Eldrigde street, passing a small park into narrower lanes on the edge of Chinatown, to Vanessa’s Dumplings . It is on the edge of east village and little Italy and so made sense to try it on this walk. This is a tiny restaurant with a limited number of seating . One the other side of the seating is a longish counter from where you can self order and wait for your number to be announced. A bit tricky since English is not the spoken language here. ‘A’ quietly took a seat at a bench at the far end and waited for me to do all the talking though she was the one who knew a bit of mandarin! .
We had some scallion pancakes and steamed vegetarian dumplings …and judging by the look on 'A's face it was nothing to take home but the experience was enough for us, I guess .
Before anything , I guess , there was a dumpling and I can travel lengths in search of a good one. A dumpling by definition , need not be stuffed , wet and not always round. From Ukraine to China , it can be made anywhere in the world. They serve many varieties of steamed , fried and forzen dumplings , Beijing styled pancakes and stuffed buns , dumplings in soup and of course bubble teas.Vaneessas dumplings did not go 'the mile' for us but we were sure we wouldnt be dissapointed by the yet-to be-discovered Dumplings of New York .
Scallion pamcakes and Steamed Vegetable Dumplings
7 minutes from here is 'Little Italy' , another one of New York's well defined litle pockets according to foods that can be savoured . A look at the directions we were on our way , wasn’t too far off and we were looking forward to pizza at Margherita NYC. Thankfully it hadn’t opened as we got to visit the store opposite on Mulberry Street,which is the oldest cheese store in America , established in 1892, Alleva …a must go, known actually as a shrine on this particular street...well at least for foodies who get enamoured with well stocked delis . 'A' ,stationed herself at the door , trying to see when the pizzeria would open as I could see where her interest lay.
Mine clearly was inside this do called shrine , but Alleva calls itself a classic outpost for imported Italian cheeses and cured meats. I wasn’t aware of this fact until I spoke to the owner ..who was as surprised as I was about my ignorance. Feeling a bit embarrassed I was feasting on beautifully stacked with rows of fresh cheeses, meats , sandwiches.I packed some arincinis togo. They have delicious sandwiches and Paninis made with choice of meats raging from Proscuitto, Boars head Deluxe ham , Bessaola to cheeses like American yellow or white. Muenster, Pepperjack or Mozzarella.
When I was signaled of the obvious by 'A' that the pizzeria had opened ,we were right at its door at Marghertita NYC ‘s pizzas … and were seated immediately since we were the first ones. Beautifully decorated , a small sized restaurant with a grand pizza oven .We got a live demonstration of rolling of the pizza bases. Fresh off the oven, so tasty and so different from the pizzas offered by regular chains. Its family owned , serving Neopolitan pizzas or pies as they are referred to,here . They serve pastas , sandwiches , calzones too but we were there for the pizza. The Pizza was one of the best we tasted in New York as yet. No one spoke...we just ate and there was a thumbs up given by 'A' … another rare moment!
Thier Chefs have been dubbed as artisans , their menu offering over a dozen pizzas , both with red and white sauces. The dough is left to rise for over 20 hours allowing most of the gluten to dissapear making it easy to digest and the pizza remains light and airy . Napolitan Pizza crusts are thin in the centre but puff up on the sides.
One of the tastiest pizzas we had, and it was given a thumbs up by 'A'..which was rare too.
On the cross-section of Mulberry Street and Grandstreet, sits a beautiful café called Café Ferrara, established in 1892- New York’s first known Italian bakery, known to have opened for like-minded opera lovers. The lobster tail, mind you is a dessert and the canolli are well known here. As we made our way into the café, reminding us of the quaint Italian cafes with very attentive service. The gracious server recommended the Lobster tail deserts which was one the deserts Celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli chose as her last meal. ‘A’ looked at me with a “are you serious ‘ look …as we did not think we could eat another morsel but as soon as our forks were in this beautiful masterpiece, we knew we had probably eaten the best desert inhouse.
A crisp flaky pastry that wraps a rich Bavarian cream - not to be missed , go there even if its for a coffee .
umm..did I say we had no space for another morsel?
Delicious icecreams outside Cafe Ferrara
we couldn't resist the tri-color mini cake one!
As we made our way home, thinking of all the food places we visited, all the food stories we witnessed, and I not only savored these were but also precious moments spent with my daughter with as my Day 1 came to a delicious close.