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Little Momo in the Big Apple

Summer Recap: Eating New York!

I am a very big fan of food. In fact, some might even say I am obsessed with it. I schedule my weekend outings around gustatory adventures scattered across the city. Likewise, I often plan my lunch and dinner meals carefully in order to ensure that I can fit in the food craving(s) of the week. Food is often a delightful entrée (pun intended) to new lands and cultures, yet my very favorite meals are reminiscent of holidays, celebrations and other fun times shared with family and friends.

As I reflect on the summer of 2008, I happily remember all the delicious meals I have eaten, where they were eaten, and the company with whom I shared them. Mmm, how could I forget dim sum in Flushing, pastrami on rye on the Lower East Side, Venezuelan arepas in the East Village, huevos rancheros, macaroni and cheese, samosas, bagels, pizza, artisanal ice cream…? Food is my favorite way to experience a city, which brings me back to New York – a great city for a food fanatic.

New York is well known for its ubiquitous street food vendors. Halal meat carts, hot dog carts, “Mr. Softee” ice cream trucks, bagel and coffee trucks, and even the semi-fancy “Dessert Trucks” can all be found within a five-block radius on a good weekday in Greenwich Village. Street vendors are such a big part of the local flavor that there is even an annual contest, the Vendy Awards, that recognizes the best street food chefs in a friendly battle for the title award. Aside from the convenience factor, I love street food culture because it contributes to the city’s character on multiple levels, allowing even New Yorkers on tight budgets the opportunity to sample the best in eclectic, authentic, international fare.

When the weather becomes warmer, another street food development enters the New York scene. Spring and summer usher in the street festival, bustling gatherings that attract street vendors and sweaty crowds alike. The omnipresent offerings at these events are: “mozzarepas” (a delicious, nontraditional fusion of South American and Italian cuisine), grilled corn, sweet potato fries, an assortment of $1 Thai food, Italian sausages, funnel cake, smoothies, and lemonade. (There are also non-food vendors selling socks, jewelry, clothing, sunglasses and massages.) I stumbled upon one of these almost every weekend this summer.

There are also larger, more specialized street festivals, like the Bastille Day celebration on 60th Street in July and the eleven-day-long Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy in September. These are characterized by blending the usual street vendors with additional elements that better fit the celebration’s theme. The Bastille Day festival boasts a variety of food from various Francophone countries, including French pastries, mussels and pommes frites, crêpes, Moroccan merguez sausage with couscous, and Belgian waffles. The Feast of San Gennaro, rooted in religious tradition, offers a variety of Italian American dishes and desserts, including Italian sausage, pasta, pizza, zeppoli, gelati, and cannoli. San Gennaro is even home to the annual Cannoli Eating Competition, officially sanctioned by the World Federation of Professional Eaters.

While I enjoyed each and every street festival I attended this summer, my favorite was definitely the 8th Annual New York City International Pickle Day Festival on the Lower East Side. The masterminds behind this excellent festival, the folks at the NY Food Museum, are obviously die-hard pickle purists. None of the usual street festival vendors were present—it was two blocks of wall-to-wall (or in this case, booth-to-booth) pickles, with a handful of local restaurants selling other food items. The Pickle Day Festival brochure featured an extensive list of multicultural pickle vendors (each of whom offered free samples) and a simple recipe for pickling garlic using miso paste.

My associate and I sampled at least 10 different varieties of pickles, including kosher pickles, spicy cucumber pickles, pickled asparagus, pickled green beans, kim chee, and even Austrian pickled cantaloupe! My only suggestion would be for the festival to branch out even more by including the wide assortment of Japanese pickled products (mmm, umeboshi and takuan!). In the end, my friend and I left with bags of half-sours from local L.E.S. favorite Guss’ and jars of kosher dill pickles produced by a group called Adamah. Adamah’s products are sustainably grown, probiotic pickles grown by a Jewish environmental fellowship group for young adults, and they are quite possibly the best pickles I have ever tasted. The International Pickle Festival managed to be original, delicious, and educational—the quintessential New York food adventure.

© 2008 Simone Momoye Fujita

food new york

About this series

A column of reflections written from the perspective of a Nikkei, an American, an Asian American, a native Californian, a Japanese American (yonsei), a twenty-eight year old woman, and a hapa, Simone Momoye Fujita.