Foods That I Grew Up Eating For Lunch In New York
“The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why, and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question ‘How can we eat?’ the second by the question ‘Why do we eat?’ and the third by the question ‘Where shall we have lunch?” Douglas Adams
When I was a kid, we did not have the lunch choices that are available to our children today. Lunch usually involved two pieces of bread. There were two or three small delis on a block. If you lived in an Italian or Chinese neighborhood, there were several of those restaurants on the block as well. New York’s wealth of immigrants honed our eating habits and favorite foods.
Coffee shops and luncheonettes were on every street. Coffee shops were what we now call casual dining restaurants. Despite that these places primarily sold sit-down meals and not just coffee, you were usually welcome to sit in one for hours while ordering nothing but coffee with free refills.They had a lunch counter in the front with round stools and small tables in the back. They served burgers, grilled cheese, BLTs, pancakes and scrambled eggs. No lattes, almond milk or farm to table eggs with a side of avocado and chicken sausage. If you wanted fresh fruit it was half a grapefruit or cantaloupe and cottage cheese. No smoothies or green juice. Cottage cheese was the diet food of diners and luncheonettes. If you didn’t want grease and carbs, the diet plates were cottage cheese and cantaloupe, cottage cheese and tuna or cottage cheese and a burger patty.No one there had ever heard of kale.The coffee shops were often owned by Greek immigrants and had Greek specialties on the menu.
The egg cream is the iconic growing up in New York drink. Everyone has a best egg cream story from a lunch counter somewhere. There is no egg in it – only chocolate syrup, seltzer and milk. The seltzer should be fresh from a soda gun . The most important thing is the correct ratio of chocolate to seltzer to milk and the frothy head with flecks of chocolate syrup at the top of the glass. U- Bet is the chocolate syrup of choice for egg creams.
The Hebrew National Deli in my neighborhood was part deli and part convenience/grocery store. I think it had a few tables in the back but we never sat there. We usually got grilled frankfurters with mustard and sauerkraut to go and walked and ate them. Hot Dogs are the original street food in New York and sold out of carts on corners in Manhattan. I always found it odd to sit at a table in LA and eat a hot dog with my kids.
The deli was located across the street from Mrs Stahls legendary, dingy knish store on Brighton Beach Avenue under the elevated train. A knish is baked dough with a filling. I remember cheese, kasha or potato. I’m not a knish fan. The smell would hit you when you got off the train and I would often find one in my hand from my mother who thought I should be eating more.
Sometimes we rode our bikes on Sundays to Nathans in Coney Island. We had hot dogs and fries. The hot dog popped when you bit into it with a perfect blend of meat and spices. The fries were not thin but thick, crinkly cut and fried to perfection. Nathan’s was located on the corner of Surf and Sillwell Avenues in a neighborhood where you stayed aware of your surroundings. My parents went as kids when the mobsters and film stars frequented the place. By the time we got there, Coney Island was a shabby version of its former splendor. We still rode the Cyclone and Ferris Wheel but it was before the hipsters and gentrification.
New York had such a large Italian immigrant population that pizza places were everywhere. Everyone had their favorite but they were all good. A New York pizza is traditionally hand tossed and I have memories of some seriously skilled pizza tossers. High gluten flour and NY water are credited with giving the crust its unique taste. It is made with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese and traditionally cut into eight slices. The New York way to eat a slice of pizza is to pick it up and eat it flat to get the full flavor. You can fold it when it gets messy but a knife and fork will immediately peg you as an out of towner. The crust is not paper-thin. It’s not thick like Chicago. It is in between. There are no chicken and sweet sauce or pineapple toppings . It was sausage, pepperoni or red peppers.
When I wasn’t having pizza for lunch, I would be eating a meatball hero sandwich. It was meatballs with tomato sauce topped with melted cheese between two slices of Italian bread. I have never seen meatballs served like that in Italy. It was a NY Italian American spaghetti joint meal. The Italian restaurants in my neighborhood were Sicilian. There was always a lot of red sauce, shellfish, pasta, bread, red wine and cannolis. We sat in restaurants with red and white checked tablecloths and posters of Italian tourist attractions eating those very messy sandwiches.
Blimpies was the original submarine sandwich fast food chain. It was shredded lettuce with tomatoes on cold cuts with red wine vinegar and oil. A salad on a sandwich was unheard of in Brooklyn and people used to line up to get them.
I still eat all these foods for lunch. Living in LA, it is more about turkey burgers and turkey hot dogs. I’m trying not to eat gluten – unless I’m eating pizza. I ate Subway sandwiches with my kids when they were young. I wouldn’t attempt to find a good egg cream or cannoli in LA. Your environment teaches you what comfort food is. Pizza is still my favorite food. Every once in a while I will go to Carneys, wait on line at Pinks or order the meatballs at Jon and Vinnys for a taste of my childhood.
First Food That I Want To Eat When I Revisit a Country
“Like I said before. Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”Anthony Bourdain
Japan Sushi at Tsukiji Market, any dessert made with yuzu or green tea.
Turkey Pide, fresh pomegranate juice, anything with eggplant, and any dessert made with semolina.
Croatia Fresh tuna and bean salad, grilled calamari and swiss chard.
Cambodia Fresh coconut water and amok (I loved Cambodian food).
Greece Avgolemono soup, baklava and Greek salad (feta, tomatoes and olive oil don’t taste the same anywhere else).
Italy Pizza, pasta with fresh tomato sauce and basil. (My dream is to go to Sicily and eat pizza).
South Africa Biltong (Im not even a meateater and I love it).
Israel Falafel and Hummus.
Colombia Guanabana juice and Arepa con Quisito.
Spain Churros, hot chocolate and real gazpacho.
Panama Sancocho soup.
Netherlands Pofferjes and poached egg on brioche with smoked salmon, (first time that I have had that).
Brazil Tacaca with shrimp and fresh acai ( not the watered down sugary stuff we get here) in the Amazon.
Thailand Thai iced coffee.
Peru Ceviche with giant corn.
Argentina Alfajores from Havanna.
Mexico Tacos, guacamole, mole or really anything in Oaxaca. (except not a fan of the crickets every day)
USA When I come home I want a turkey burger from Golden State in LA.
How To Tell If Someone You Know Was Born And Raised In New York
“The city is uncomfortable and inconvenient; but New Yorkers temperamentally do not crave comfort and convenience – if they did they would live elsewhere.” E.B. White
Nw Yorkers don’t wait for a street light to turn green to cross the street.
They don’t go to the corner to cross.
They don’t know what a cross walk is.
They walk fast and they walk everywhere. Unless it is raining, then try to get a taxi. You won’t.
New Yorkers talk fast. They might interject a comment if they overhear a stranger’s conversation and then walk on by.
They talk loud – sorry, they speak loudly. Don’t judge them. Remember that they grew up in the noisiest city in the world.
They don’t necessarily believe that one person needs to talk at a time. It is a cultural thing.
They honk their horns in traffic.
New Yorkers avoid eye contact when walking down the street.
They don’t smile on the street.
They appear rude but really they are assertive. Some are rude.
They immediately check for their wallet when someone bumps into them.
People from New York follow baseball and basketball.
They never give directions saying North, East, West and South. It is always street names or Uptown and Downtown.
They hail passing taxis with their hand instead of calling for one.
They think every city has cruising taxis and are very surprised when they don’t.
They never give an exact address in a taxi. They just say eighteenth and first.
New Yorkers ignore crazy behavior. Homeless people, prostitutes, transvestites, cross dressers, lunatics and street performers are all part of the scenery.
They are surprised when restaurants close at ten.
Unless they are in Italy or New York, they complain about the pizza. They eat it while they are complaining.
They also complain about the Chinese Food and the bagels anywhere but New York. They eat it anyway .
People from New York avoid restrooms in parks and subways.
They don’t go to Central Park at night unless it is for a concert or performance in the park. They always leave with the crowd.
They know the difference between a bad neighborhood and a neighborhood that just looks bad.
They are surprised that you didn’t know that the Empire State Building changes colors at night.
They are surprised that you didn’t know who won the Tony Awards.
New Yorkers avoid Times Square unless they are going to the theatre.
They use the letter R inappropriately or not at all.
They read the obituary column to find apartments.
They are not afraid of cockroaches. (They are afraid that the ones who live in their apartments know too much about their lives).
They always look for rats on a subway platform. They are afraid of rats.
They have a New York accent. Like New York garbage, it is always there. No matter how long you have been away or how much you try to disguise it, it always slips out so fuhgeddaboutit.
They are very proud to be from New York or “the city.”
Food Rules I Have Learned While Traveling.
“Travelers never think that they are the foreigners.’ ~Mason Cooley
You can eat sushi with your hands.
Sashimi is always eaten as a first course before sushi. You can’t eat sashimi with your hands.
Don’t eat anything with your hands in Chile.
You can eat with your hands in Burma (Myanmar). People eat food with their hands in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. People eat with their hands in other countries in Africa and Asia also.
Always keep your hands above the table in Mexico.
Eat only with your right hand in Egypt. (This is true for many Middle Eastern countries) Salting your food is a huge insult.
In Germany, eat your meat with a fork. Use a knife only if it is necessary. If you eat meat with a fork, it lets the cook know the meat is tender.
Pad Thai is always eaten with a fork and a spoon. Thai people eat most of their food with a spoon in their dominant hand and a fork in the other. Chopsticks are only served for soup.
Mezze (small plates) come before a meal.
Pasta is not a main course.
In Uganda, eat fried grasshoppers with your hands like chips. In Mexico eat them on a taco with guacamole and cheese. In Thailand eat them on a stick. In Burma, peel off the head and wings and gulp.
In Burma, they say that anything that walks on the ground can be eaten.
Margherita Pizza is really the only thing Italians consider pizza and should be eaten with a knife a fork. The pies are usually served unsliced. It is not a hard and fast role like never cut your spaghetti with a knife and fork.
In Mexico, never eat tacos with a knife and fork.
In France, don’t eat the bread before the meal.
Never turn down vodka in Russia or tea in Turkey.
In France, eat frogs legs like you would eat fried chicken –with your hands in a casual setting, with a knife and fork in a formal restaurant.
In Kenya drinking cows blood mixed with milk is a special treat.
Chinese people do not eat fortune cookies for dessert but oranges for good luck. It is illegal to eat an orange in a bathtub in California.
In China you are expected to leave a small amount of food uneaten on your plate. If you finish everything, you are sending the insulting message that not enough food was served to you.
It is rude to burp at a table in Japan. It is not rude to burp at a table in China.
In Singapore gum chewing is illegal.
In Mexico Men make toasts, women do not.
In Russia, Do not drink until a toast has been made.
In Armenia, if you empty a bottle into someone’s glass, it obliges them to buy the next bottle.
In restaurants in Portugal don’t ask for salt and pepper if it is not already on the table. Asking for any kind of seasoning or condiment is to cast aspersions on the cook. Cooks are highly respected people in Portugal.
Eating from individual plates strikes most people in Ethiopia as hilarious, bizarre, and wasteful. Food is always shared from a single plate without the use of cutlery.
In Japan it is acceptable to loudly slurp noodles and similar foods. In fact, it is considered flattering to do so, because it indicates that you are enjoying the food.
Do not eat fugu from an unlicensed chef. The Japanese pufferfish, or fugu, is a delicacy in Japan. It’s also potentially one of the most poisonous foods in the world, with no known antidote. Japanese chefs train for years to remove the deadly portion of the fish before serving it, though generally the goal is not to fully remove it, but to leave just enough of a trace to generate a tingling sensation in the mouth, so the customer knows how close he came to the edge. This was one of my best meals in Japan and I have lived to write this.
At this moment, someone is making a food etiquette mistake.