Blog: New York Stories

Catherine Sleep | 28 October 2004

I had my first bite of the Big Apple last weekend, and what a tasty morsel it was. Everything friends had told me about New York was true: it’s big, it’s busy, it’s brash. But what about the food?

I kicked off my sojourn in New York with a shot of wheatgrass. For this I have my colleague Leonie Barrie, editor of just-food’s sister site, to thank. Or rather to whinge at. A shot of wheatgrass is widely billed as providing the nutritional equivalent of several platefuls of raw broccoli, in a handy one-gulp-and-you’re-done power pack. This sounded ideal after the rigours of our transatlantic flight but ugh, did it ever taste disgusting. To be frank I’d rather eat the broccoli.

To get rid of the taste we headed swiftly to one of New York’s many delis, which are true treasure troves of fresh snacks and meals. Several times over the course of our tiring, busy weekend we piled into one of these little oases of good food at good prices, picked the juiciest bits and bobs from the vast self-service counters, had them weighed and mooched upstairs to the sanctuary of the sit-down area. Such a concept could do well in London.

The self-service format offered by the delis came as a relief as the portions in most of the diners and restaurants in which we ate were enormous. This is off-putting when you’re only averagely hungry, and it also does diners a disservice in encouraging them to overeat. You’ve paid for it so you want to get your money’s worth, that's human nature. This is a trend we’re embracing over here in the UK too, but supersized restaurant portions are not as widespread as in the US.

The diversity of ethnic food available is one of the joys of New York. Having only recently returned from Sardinia, we didn’t venture into Little Italy, but down in Chinatown we enjoyed the best Vietnamese food I’ve encountered outside Vietnam, and that’s saying something, for I seek it out wherever I travel.

A stroll around any neighbourhood in New York reveals that the low-carb craze is far more developed in the US than in Europe. Pizza joints, smoothie bars, even doughnut shops were proudly flaunting their low-carb goods in window signs and yes, they were getting takers. I mean really, a low-carb doughnut, what’s that about?

One aspect of New York life that took me by surprise was the attitude of locals towards tourists. Rarely have I encountered such courtesy and kindness. Service was friendly and efficient, but regular people who saw us floundering with maps on the street or subway were also eager to help us get on the right bus/subway train/road. Londoners, much as I love them, could learn something from New Yorkers when it comes to showing kindness to strangers.

One thing I found off-putting was the prevalence of large-print posters in just about every eating establishment warning of the perils of alcohol consumption to unborn babies. It seems to me that mums-to-be today are well-informed and can be trusted to make their own judgment on this one. They do not need to be embarrassed into submission by Nanny State-style posters, which are patronising in the extreme to most mums-to be and will be disregarded by the remainder.

Another surprise was the ubiquity of Coca Cola’s purified water brand, Dasani. After a scandal over bromate levels in the water here in the UK, I’d assumed it was a tarnished brand worldwide. Dasani might be a thing of the past here but it's very much alive and well and a major force in the US bottled water market. If I’d kept a closer eye on our other sister site, just-drinks, I’d doubtless have known this.

Oh, and this is a wonderful restaurant we ate in, Thalia


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