Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New York Food-to-Go: From The Everything Bagel to Shawarma

An "everything" bagel with lox and cream cheese at Ess-A-Bagel, on 3rd Avenue (photo by Luis Bastardo) 


It would take years to fully explore the boroughs of New York City, filled as they are with museums, galleries, parks, restaurants, markets, shops, sporting events and a million other venues and activities. At some point in the odyssey, though, you have to stop to eat, which can put a kink in your plans. It takes time to search for a good, affordable restaurant wherever you may be, to come to an agreement with everyone in your group about what kind of food you would all like to eat, to finally settle on a choice, then to wait to be seated, waited on, receive the food, pay the check, all the while losing valuable touring time. Luckily, New York is also the center of the universe for take-out food, solving the dilemma by offering conveniently wrapped food-to-go on almost every corner. Just pick your lunch, pay and go. No need to wait or agree on any one cuisine as there is something for everyone. The multi-ethnicity and diversity of NYC is never more evident than in the city's food carts. Everything from Armenian to Vietnamese to the reliably good Philly Cheese Steak is available in every part of the city. Fresh, hot, cooked to order, cheap and delicious...what could be better?


     Delicious smelling grilled sausages, onions and peppers at a summer street fair, 43rd street (photo by Luis Bastardo)


Of course, it's not just the street vendors that offer food-to-go. Almost every restaurant and food market stall has a take-out menu and often has a separate ordering area to expedite the process. Again, the options are endless: hot pastrami sandwiches on warm, aromatic rye bread with crisp kosher pickles from a Lower East Side deli, succulent lamb and chicken kebabs with cool, minty tzatziki sauce in the West Village, crispy pommes frites seved in paper cones with exotic-flavored sauces from the East Village, steamed crab-filled dumplings from Chinatown, Sambuca-scented cannolis from Little Italy, steamed hot dogs topped with Gulden's Spicy Mustard and grilled onions in Central Park. In the summer, street fairs abound and everything from  tropical fruit smoothies to golden arepas filled with melted mozzarella or queso blanco to plates of Greek moussaka can be had for less than $5. In autumn and winter, it's hard to resist the comforting smells of hot, roasted chestnuts wafting from the street corner carts, or the fried sugar and cinnamon aroma of crisp, hot Mexican churros for sale in the subways.

        Enjoying a giant salted soft pretzel in front of the NYSE, Wall Street (photo by Luis Bastardo)

For breakfast, New Yorkers and savvy tourists head to H & H Bagels or Ess-A-Bagel for an "everything" bagel (topped with toasted onion, garlic, sesame seeds, poppy seeds and kosher salt) served with scallion cream cheese and lox (cured salmon). New York is truly the city that never sleeps and takeout food is available day and night. If you're not feeling all that hungry, you can always buy a snack instead of a meal. Warm giant soft pretzels, a NYC favorite, are available throughout the city. Craving something sweet? Try chocolate dipped fruit kebabs or dulce de leche filled crepes made to order. Venturing out to the boroughs, there is no shortage of portable food. In fact, the choices are even more diverse. Each neighborhood attracts a specific ethnic group, many of whose denizens were chefs in their countries of birth.


A variety of chocolate-coated fruit kebabs and candy apples at a street fair, NYC (photo by Luis Bastardo)


New Yorkers take their food vendors very seriously. Every year, the city hands out Vendy Awards to the best sidewalk chefs, with sub-categories such as best dessert and best rookie. Called by chef Mario Batali, the "Oscars of food for the real New York" , in 2010, the Vendy finalists included contestants from Venezuela, Mexico, Morocco, the Middle East and Austria, with the top prize going to Fares “Freddy” Zeidais, The King of Falafel and Shawarma. Ticket prices to attend the annual awards ceremony range from $85 general admission to $1000 individual sponsorships and every year, the tickets sell out. In multi-cultural, culinarily obsessed New York, food is everything and street food, the most democratic manifestation of that preoccupation. It's not necessary to visit Le Bernardin to eat well. Anyone can enjoy the fruits of the global and talented chefs in New York: just drop by your local food cart, no reservations needed.


Fresh cannolis filled with sweetened ricotta. Little Italy (photo by Luis Bastardo)


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