Food / Travel

The New York Food Chronicles: a reflection

Just under 24 hours left, and I am already missing New York. I still have a day left, but I am already starting to adjust to not being here, to it being out of reach, and I don’t know if I want to interrupt that. Sometimes it’s better to just say goodbye quietly.

There have been times, even on this visit, when I have thought I am finally tiring of this massive beast of a city – maybe the streets do look all the same, maybe all the things to do and places to eat are same, same. But then something happens: the sun peeks out from behind the clouds; I wander down an unfamiliar street and discover something new; I find myself on a (surprisingly clean) seat in an open space somewhere with a cold coffee or towering ice cream in my hand, and I am smitten again. No, seduced. No, in love. We are definitely in love. New York has me dancing in the palm of its vibrantly decorated, intricately (grid)lined hand.

I came to New York this time as I have come every time: hungry, both literally and metaphorically. I have been eager to see what New York has to offer the food lover, and how it has changed since the days my cousin wrote for me, on his list of places to eat when I was very new to the City, ‘Grimaldi’s for pizza – mmmmm’. And isn’t discovering the best places to eat like a purposeful treasure hunt which also qualifies you to really know a place? To know where to eat is to know how to survive, and if you know how to survive in a captivating jungle like New York – well, that would be an achievement.

I am also ever-hungry to discover New York, to absorb its sights and sounds and turn over all stones that come my way. Over the last few weeks, I have done what I always do here: greedily grab any opportunity to walk the City’s streets, take unfamiliar turns, peer into new and unknown shops and cafes, hoping that eventually I might be able to uncover enough to say, triumphantly, ‘I know this city!’ It is not uncommon for me to walk several miles in a day, often eschewing the subway to do so, from Clinton Hill to downtown Manhattan; Wall Street to Central Park; Meatpacking to the Upper West Side. I am, I know, holding a candle to a futile dream: I am a lifelong Londoner, but would never claim to know its intimate nooks and crannies, or every inch of its streets, despite my love and curiosity for it. Naturally, it must also be so with this city, too; with both, it seems, their mysteries seem to increase the more I discover, always holding my interest. I am possessive, I suppose: I want to know a city which I have grown up with, which has given me some of my fondest memories from my teenage years to the present day.

The City is my companion as I walk and eat and shop – I am never alone here – and it never tires of offering me things to watch and do and experience. Some of my favourite coffee shop haunts here are fabulous for one of my favourite New York past-times: people-watching. I always end up inspired by the self-expression people have here, and how that is expressed in their clothing, hair, body decoration, make-up, and accessories. New York always teaches me something about self-love, self-acceptance and freedom of expression – and if the lesson is learned over a cup of good coffee or hot chocolate, then all the better.

I must humbly repeat my disclaimer here: I do not know this city yet; I am still chasing it, although it allows me to do so playfully, always teasing me with something more. But I have had the joy and privilege of wandering its streets and sampling its food for the last few weeks, and I can safely claim to have a more intimate knowledge of it than I did on my arrival this time. I have also been able to make references back to what I’ve experienced in my home town of London, and that has allowed me to make useful comparisons as to what I think is good or better. My own personal map of New York is now richer and more detailed: I have new favourite places; I have tried and tested food at places just to satisfy my curiosity, and I may well never go there again – but at least I know what is behind that door; Brooklyn is no longer a grey, unknown hinterland with the odd outpost I would know and head for, but very much part of my New York map; I know for certain that my heart still belongs Downtown. My food directory has been updated, and although I cannot claim to win the eating-survival contest, I can confidently say that I can survive in this incredible city, and have a great time doing so. I am looking forward to sharing my notes in my next few posts!

 

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