New York means different things to different people … and at different times of the day … and while some are seeing a teeming metropolis at the center of the world of business and fashion and diplomatic relations, others view the city as much the same as a vast and open African savanna: when hunger strikes, food is everywhere and one needs only to turn ever so slightly this way or that to stumble upon the tastiest morsels without ever having to wander in from the great outdoors.
Street food is synonymous with The Big Apple and a person can easily graze their way from South Street Seaport to Riverside Park, from Wall Street to Harlem and from East Side to West Side without having to put one foot from whatever chosen trajectory; it’s everywhere, on almost every corner and offering not only a bounty, but also an array beyond the imagination, and the vocabulary, of many out-of-towners.
The ubiquitous hot dog is, of course, immediately recognizable to all but the most sheltered of foreign tourists (Possibly only those coming from Mars?), and they are collectively some of the best available on the planet. Each is offered up “with or without”– onions that is — and do-it-yourself condiments insure every one is destined to please even the individual palate that would choose ketchup over mustard and pass on the pickle relish.
You don’t have to wander far along any street in Manhattan to meet a hot dog vendor, but if you are a purist insisting that your dog-in-a-bun come grilled, not boiled, you can head for the corner of 49th and 6th Avenue in Midtown and find the cart marked “Hot Dog King“. A buck and a quarter will get you just that, and you can add sauerkraut if that is to your taste.
If it’s more an upscale version of dog you are hungering for, head over to Bleeker Street Park and seek out Dogmatic Dogs, the home of the “gourmet sausage system” that serves up Violet Hill Farm-grown meats in the shape of franks tastefully placed within the confines of Pain D’Avignon baguettes that have been toasted from the inside. Go for the usual if you like, but consideration of the truffle and gruyere cheese combo is recommended.
When wurst is best, Hallo Berlin (54th Street near 5th Avenue) has much more than the usual hot dog, and the sausages can come with a whole plate of accompanying dishes: fried potatoes, red cabbage and ‘kraut, plus gourmet versions of toppings and sauces.
If it’s less of a meal and more of a casual nosh you hanker for, try grabbing a pretzel or a knish on the fly. The extra carbs will have the blocks flying under your feet as you power-walk your way around town, and since both are available just about everywhere and tidy enough to munch on the move, you will need no slowing down on your way to the next food stop.
Pizza by the slice is another quick option for no-pause street eating (streating?), and choice is the name of the game with this, too. Not offered from carts, but rather most usually out the front window of a pizzeria, it still qualifies, and topping decisions are not to be made lightly when one slice of pie requires a two-handed heft that will keep you busy for at least two full blocks.
If you are serious about finding just the right pizza in Manhattan, there is a Web page with a map that can guide you to some of the best spots for a slice o’ pie in the city.
Pizza was New York’s first ethnic street food, but taste treats from all over the world are now easily available in all neighborhoods.
Does fare from the Middle East get your mouth watering? Head for Sammy’s Halal. Sammy has three carts Downtown all serving some of the best chicken-and-rice in town. He keeps his sauce recipes secret, but you will recognize a bit of garlic, some cilantro, lemon, yogurt and a hot pepper or two.
How about the Far East? Huan Ji Rice Noodles (Grand St. at Bowery) can set you up with more than just the rice noodles of the title. Try the curried fish balls with a packet of sticky rice for a pick-me-up that won’t let you down.
A taste of the West Indies might conjure up thoughts of waving palms and shifting sands even all the way from The Jamaican Dutchy cart at 51st and 7th Avenue when you are handed a plate of spicy jerk chicken or goat curry with a side of fried plantains.
The Taco Truck is the essence of truth in advertising, serving up tacos from a truck parked at the corner of 96th and Broadway on the Upper West Side, and the Tamale Lady further uptown on 109th does, indeed, sell tamales.
One rule of thumb to consider as you stroll and graze the New York City veldt as a tourist is to follow the herding instinct; where you see a long queue of locals waiting patiently … well, patiently for New Yorkers, that is … for their turn to order from one cart and not another, understand that they are there because the street food coming from there is the best on the block. Maybe even the best in the area.
And don’t worry too much about the calorie content while munching Manhattan; you are sure to walk off as many of those energy units as you can possibly put on, even if all you do is march from one cart to another.