Take a bite out of the Big Apple with this surprise-stuffed NYC food tour
There’s no better way to explore New York than with a culinary walk through its distinct neighborhoods
There’s no better way to explore New York than with a culinary walk through its distinct neighborhoods. And when the tour is colored with interesting people, history and melody, that makes it an even more delicious experience!
Standing on the side of a street in busy NoHo, Anny – colorful Anny, in her bright blue smock and red lipstick – crooned out the most mellifluous, goosebump-inducing rendition of “I wish you love” I’d ever heard. No, this wasn’t just another talented busker trying to make a buck. This was, in fact, our food tour guide – who just happened to be a supremely talented aspiring singer/actress and a classic example of quintessential New York quirkiness.
Who knew that one of the most memorable moments for me, a foodie, in my three-hour walking culinary tour of NoHo (that’s North of Houston street) and Nolita (North of Little Italy) with Foods of NY wouldn’t be centered around a dish, but would be right at the end when Anny decided to sing us a goodbye song?
Not that we didn’t have memorable moments earlier in the day too.
This tour neatly serves up a slice of the “real” New York, starting with a bite of the iconic “Brooklyn blackout” cupcake, followed by a taste of Roman-style pizza at Emporio, the Mott Street trattoria with a cult following. I knew right then that this was going to be one of those tours where I’d really get to go off the tourist trail - not just with the food, but by uncovering a lesser-known side to the city’s history.
Walking through the leafy, quaint streets of ever-shrinking Little Italy, we learnt about how this neighborhood was born, with the three great waves of Italian migrations from the 1870s onwards. And how back then, people from different regions in Italy stayed together on certain streets, creating sub-pockets within the neighborhood - effectively mapping out Italy in downtown Manhattan – while holding on to their long-cherished regional rivalries.
This is, after all, the original home of the Italian mafia and where the iconic Godfather movies were filmed. We followed in Scorcese’s trail, with snatches of film trivia and shoot locations adding color to our walk. We even got to say hello to Moe, a wrinkled old butcher who, as an intrinsic part of the fabric of local society for as long as anyone can remember, also played a cameo in one of the films (and is Anny’s friend, naturally!).
The evolution of this micro-neighborhood from a seedy suburb into a gentrified residential area has seen none of its historic charm disappear, however. The turn-of-the-century architecture, complete with intricate ornamentation showcasing Italian craftsmanship, is well-preserved in the low-rise buildings – many with interesting back-stories of their own – and the quaint, arty Elizabeth Street garden.
But just in case there was any confusion about this being a history tour rather than a food tour, our walk is regularly punctuated with tasting stops representative of just how multicultural New York is. We sat down to sample a classic French version of a chicken salad sandwich – on house-baked sourdough – at the elegant, trendy Tartinery; we stepped into the funky, colorful, Insta-perfect Tacombi for a taste of the more-ish Mexican street food Esquites (toasted corn slathered in lime juice, chilli powder and Cotija cheese); and we popped in simple but wow mouthfuls of homemade ricotta on wholegrain bread drizzled with olive oil, while standing around at The Smile, a real loved-by-locals, hole-in-the-wall eatery that you can only find if you have the inside track.
Along the way, we’d swapped the atmospheric streets of NoLita for the wider, busier boulevards of NoHo. Here, the history is a bit more recent – we caught a glimpse of the anamorphic tribute to David Bowie that a street artist had created on a metal fence.
And if I thought topping it all off with a salted caramel gelato at artisanal deli Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria (mmmm!) and warm hugs was ending things on as sweet a note as possible, I was wrong - I hadn’t counted on Anny’s music!