Street Level Cuisine in the City that Never Sleeps

When I arrived in New York City on December 19 and found my room in the apartment I was subletting, I dropped my bags and investigated the habitat.

I had been warned about the kitchen from the girl I was renting the room from (who is also named Kitchen), and sure enough there was a stack of dishes that started at the drain and rose pell-mell above the lip of the sink, near the head of the faucet.

In addition, the sink was half-filled with water that had been stagnating for an undetermined amount of time. It was the type of liquid, which if drained, would leave a mustard-yellow high-volume mark around the edge of the basin.

This initial encounter set the tone for my subsequent relationship with the kitchen during my stay in New York; we more-or-less left each other alone.

Fortunately, New York is an eater’s paradise.

The neighbourhood I was staying in had what were called Grocery & Delis on nearly every city block. These resembled second-rate convenience stores, with the exception of the small sandwich bar that each possessed; these sandwiches were delicious, (relatively) nutritious, and satisfying in a “When-in-Rome” sort of way.

Venturing south from my nest in the north-end of Manhattan (Harlem), the density of street vendors steadily increased. These little rectangles-on-wheels were about eight feet long and three feet wide, and usually roofed by a beach umbrella or two.

Great plumes of exotic steam would flavour the surrounding area, as the small man operating the cart would dish out cheap hot dogs and shawarma to millionaires and street urchins alike.

A dozen such stands were lined-up outside the stately , neoclassical walls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) on 5th Avenue. At first, the apparent clash of highbrow culture and proletarian cuisine aroused my sense of irony and I chuckled at the sight, but as I acclimatized to the city and witnessed the way New Yorkers of all walks-of-life rub shoulders with each other, the scene outside the Met made more sense.

It was, however, the pizza that I gravitated towards.

New York-style pizza was the only genre I saw being served with any conviction. Such a pie originates as a huge circular collage, before being cut into generous wedges and placed underneath heat lamps, behind glass panes . When one orders a slice, the man behind the counter wrangles it onto a spatula-type instrument, slides in into a brick oven for a minute , and serves it to you, warm as the Western Sahara .

The pizzas are characterized by thin crusts, which require structural support in the form of a hand under the base, keeping the slice from flopping downward. The real pros fold their slice in half and eat it as a pseudo sandwich.

I saw wedges of pizza as cheap as $1 and never more expensive than $4. And one slice kept me going for the whole afternoon.

With these stats in mind, coupled with New York’s abundance of pizza joints, a simple cost/benefit analysis dictated that slices were to become a food-staple during my three-week stay in the Big Apple.

And the truth is, even if I had arrived to an immaculate kitchen that smelled vaguely of lavender, I still would have eaten a lot of pizza.

But you already knew that, didn’t you?

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