On Poetry and Culture Shock

New York food

The fact that I have done one New York chronicle doesn’t mean I’m finished with the town. This is the food report. I could have survived for four days on fruit and bagels and save a ton of money, but food was a part of the experience and I would have considered it half a holiday if it didn’t include exotic food.

-You can buy great breakfast on the streets in the morning! The little stalls don’t have just bagels (Spaniards: a bagel is a piece of bread shaped like a doughnut. It’s hard and compact, like Andalusian bollos de masadura). They also have tea and several different types of coffee. In Spanish terms this would be as if a churros shop (non-Spaniards: churros are finger-thick sticks of deep-fried batter, that Spaniards have for breakfast on weekends) also had coffee and toast, all to take away. It is wonderfully practical.

-Spaniards know that some foreigners, like the British and the Americans, have eggs for breakfast. What I discovered in New York is that eggs seem to be a strictly breakfast food and that diners and delis that give you a varied menu in the mornings don’t serve any of their egg dishes and toasts after 11 am. I found that weird not because I’m Spanish, but because I have lived in Britain, where the traditional food has so little variety that the nicest meal you can have in most cheap eateries (and probably people’s houses too) is the all-day breakfast.

-There are as many little stalls out in the streets selling fruit and sometimes juices as there are stalls with junk food, and even if much of it is out of season, it’s not expensive. I wonder why.

-I ate in several different Chinese restaurants and I had dumplings in all. One of them had the most delicious, fresh-tasting cabbage dumplings I’ve ever had. When the meal was over I looked behind me and saw four people were wrapping little bits of greens… on top of a newspaper. Newspapers are printed with poisonous ink. Lo que no mata engorda.

-It is humanly possible to eat noodles with chopsticks! Actually, it’s easier than eating bite-sized chunks! I ordered a noodle dish and the waiter told me after the order was sent that it was a soup. Fine. And here comes my soup, with julienne-cut vegetables and noodles like thick spaghetti. I was tempted to ask for a fork, but I gave it a try. It makes you slurp sometimes, of course, but it is possible.

-There are very easy rules to find a cheap(er) place to eat. Avenues are more expensive than streets. Corners are more expensive than the middle of the streets. If you are unlucky enough to be in the Upper East Side at lunchtime, food will be cheaper the further east you go (because you are heading away from Central Park). And when in doubt, eat ethnic (Italian or Asian, but not Japanese).

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