An Accidental Foodie in New York City

We recently made an impromptu trip to New York City for some emergency business with a looming deadline. Due to the nature of the trip, we didn't do much planning. We told a few people about it and were given a list of things to do and foods to eat: pizza, bagels, burgers, ramen... We took mental notes. 

We got ourselves plane tickets, packed a few things, and off we went, leaving our laptops behind and forgetting the camera. As a city girl, I was really looking forward to seeing New York City for the first time. We had our smartphones, some travel wits, and a big appetite for one of the most exciting cities in the world. We only managed to scratch the surface but boy did we see and eat!

So here I present to you a food lover's account of a spontaneous visit to NYC, complete with online resources and apps used. All photos taken with my iPhone, and some first appeared on my Instagram

1. You're bound to hit the hot spots.
We like exploring a new city on foot, and took long walks around different neighborhoods to soak up the city's atmosphere. When we were hungry or thirsty, we turned to the Thrillist app to help us locate restaurants, cafes, and bars around us. 

That's how we found by CHLOE (185 Bleecker Street) in the West Village, a plant-based restaurant with a cheery outlook and probably the best vegan burger I've ever tasted. There was, of course, a long line and an inadequate number of seats for everyone in the cosy place, but people seemed happy to wait for their shiitake bacon and beet ketchup. I know because I asked a few folks and they gave me a unanimous "YES IT'S WORTH IT!" reply. It's true that good things come to those who wait because the Guac Burger was highly commendable. 

When we found out that Chef Chloe was the first vegan chef to win Food Network's Cupcake Wars, we went back into the unceasing line to get a vegan cupcake. The flavors of the winning Raspberry Tiramisu cupcake were impressive but I found the frosting a little too "oily" for my liking. There's a recipe on her website if you're interested. 

On another occasion, while looking for coffee in Chinatown, a cute little vegan and gluten-free bakery by the name of Erin McKenna's Bakery (248 Broome Street) caught my attention. I've written about my own vegan baking experience using Mckenna's latest book, Bread & Butter, and found our random encounter with her bakery in NYC to be completely serendipitous.

McKenna can be credited as one of the trailblazers of the gluten-free craze, having opened her bakery (then known as BabyCakes) more than ten years ago before "gluten-free" and "vegan" were buzzwords, and is now considered one of the bests of its kind in the country. The hype became clear to us when we bit into the chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting!

 

2. The great Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan is open year-round. 
Whenever we're in a new city, we make it a point to visit the local produce market. When we googled "farmers market in NYC", the Union Square Greenmarket (North and West sides of Union Square) came highly recommended for good reasons. 

In addition to being conveniently located in one of the city's most well-known spaces, it is also open four days a week throughout the year from early in the morning to late in the afternoon, making it possible for us to fit it into our short trip. We gladly partook in the merriment of a bustling mid-week market, sampled some local offerings, and got farm-fresh fruits to fuel the rest of our journey. 

 

3. The independent bookstores are a real gem. 
Imagine my excitement when we found a bookstore entirely dedicated to cookbooks! At the charming Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks (28 East Second Street) in the East Village, you'll find rare, out-of-print books and old editions of popular food magazines (check out those vintage copies of SAVEUR). There are reportedly about 5,000 books here, so if you love cookbooks and reading about food, you'd want to spend some time here. 

New York City is littered with independent bookstores and Greenwich Village certainly has a fair share of them. We found our way to the reputable Three Lives and Company (154 West 10 Street), which has been in the Village for more than 30 years, we were informed. Old neighborhood bookstores are, in my opinion, a great way to learn about a place. Step into one and find someone to talk to, maybe even ask for restaurant recommendations. And don't forget to check out the local interest display. We made a few nice discoveries that way!

Besides our own two feet, we relied on the subway, like many New Yorkers, to move between places. For many years I've been following the Underground New York Public Library, "a visual library featuring the Reading-Riders of the NYC Subways" by photographer Ourit Ben-Haim. And I'm happy to report that I spied several book readers, and was particularly excited about the one reading a Haruki Murakami book.

 

4. The bagels are worth waiting and stretching your stomach for.
When in New York, eat bagels. That's what we were told. So one late morning, after having settled the business we were there to do in midtown Manhattan, we prompted Google Maps to show us the bagel points nearest to us, cross-checked them with the rankings on Time Out New York and made a bee-line for Ess-a-Bagel (835 3rd Avenue).

Little did we know, the rest of the world was also there! We joined everyone in a long, snaking line, all the while staring at the menu and changing our minds between the bagels and cream cheese options. I was more than delighted to find vegan cream cheese made of tofu on the menu. By the time it was our turn to order, brunch had turned into lunch. But we soon learned that a bagel at Ess-a-Bagel was enough to last two meals!

Look at the size of the bagel and the thick spread in the middle! I settled on a Whole Wheat Everything bagel with Sun-dried Tomato Tofu Spread. Crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside, it was just the way I like bagels. The tofu "cream cheese" really hit the spot too, and inspired a recipe I will be sharing in an upcoming post. Look out for it!

 

5. You will have no problem walking off the Big Apple. 
What to do with all those extra calories in, you ask? Walk it off! NYC is a big city with plenty to see and do for everyone. In our experience, the best way to take in the major sights and also discover hidden treasures is by walking. You can do it any way you like, at your own time and pace, and it's free. We found the self-guided walks suggested by Walking Off the Big Apple extremely useful, especially if you're looking to pair the walks with great eats and drinks

It's amazing how many bridges connect the island of Manhattan to other New York City boroughs. We stayed in an Airbnb in Brooklyn, which gave us plenty of excuses to walk across the East River. The scenic Brooklyn Bridge is probably the most popular and an important landmark for being one of the oldest suspension bridges in the country and reportedly the longest in the world during its unveiling in the 1880s. 

 

Other noteworthy foodie discoveries include customizable salads using local ingredients at Sweetgreen (various locations), the giant Korean burritos at food truck-turned restaurant Korilla BBQ (23 3rd Avenue), and a taste of home at New Malaysia (46-48 Bowery) in Chinatown.

Like I said, we only scratched the surface, but I'm making my way back to New York for more delicious experiences when I attend the SAVEUR Blog Awards, in which Vermilion Roots is a finalist in the Best New Voice category, at the end of September.

Give me your recommendations! Tell me in the comment section below your favorite places to eat and drink in the Big Apple. 

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