new york foods i crave

I like to eat. But I’m by no means a gourmet. I like to try international foods, and I especially like foods that are quick and cheap. Therefore, New York was basically heaven. And New York has pretty stringent food safety standards, so I saw nothing sketchy about getting something from a truck. In China, however … I’m way more cautious and therefore less adventurous. It’s a shame. Maybe once I’m sure my stomach has turned to steel again I’ll venture out more.

Anyhow, here are four of the foods I really, really miss from good ol’ New York City. To me, these foods are quintessentially New York.

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1. Supermarket Sushi – The first time I had sushi was in New York. To be honest, I’ve never had real proper sushi, just the sushi that comes in a little plastic box and can be found in virtually every supermarket (at least every New York supermarket). The first few times I was a bit iffy, but after a while I fell in love. Especially because it’s so darn easy to eat. And one cannot live on deli sandwiches alone.

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2. Dirty Water Dogs – Err … yeah. Normally I don’t call them “dirty water dogs” (my friend A likes to call them that). I do admit they’re a bit disgusting, but I like them! I only partake sometimes though! Too often and I’d probably keel over before I turned 30. Those little hot dog carts are everywhere and a hot dog is usually only a buck (some places charge up to two, which is a ripoff). By no means am I saying that they’re good, but after a day of museum hopping or shopping, nothing hits the spot like a classic American hot dog. Ketchup only, please.

However, if you’re looking for a really good hot dog, you can’t go wrong with New York hot dog staples like Gray’s Papaya (classic, LOVE), Crif Dogs (good dogs with good flavor options – like bacon), or Asia Dog (artisan dogs with trippy Asian toppings … kimchi, anyone?).

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3. Falafel Sandwich – Otherwise known as falafel on pita, this is the classic food truck food. Again, these trucks can in no way compare to places like Mamoun’s Falafel in Greenwich Village, but is Mamoun’s on every street corner? Nope. You can’t beat the convenience of grabbing a four-dollar falafel sandwich on your way to school (at the truck a block from your apartment), or leaving work (a block from your office), or between classes (at either gate of your university), et cetera. In addition to the falafel sandwiches, these halal trucks all serve the standard fare of falafel, chicken, or lamb on rice.

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4. Bagels – Last but definitely not least, the bagels. I always thought people were overstating how great New York’s bagels were. I concede that I was wrong on that point. THE BAGELS ARE AMAZING. Once I discovered the amazing-ness of a real New York hand-rolled water-boiled bagel, I couldn’t turn back. How could I have been so naive as to buy those prepackaged supermarket bagels? Ugh. The only downside is that you gotta eat these fresh, so you can’t get these on the street (do not buy a bagel from a food cart – it’s soooo not the same) and it’s more of a morning food than an all-day everywhere thing.

I usually go with a plain bagel or sometimes asiago cheese if the place has it, no spread or toasting. Oh, and pair a bagel with a Greek frap (aka frappé) and I’m in heaven. Best place to go for the combo? New York City Bagel and Coffee House (NYCBCH) in Astoria, Queens. Absolute Bagels on the UWS is also great, but unfortunately no fraps there.

And most unfortunate of all? New York doesn’t have any of this. Well, they have poor imitations of these things and they probably have really good real sushi … but it just ain’t the same. Sigh.

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taro root + sugar

One thing I love about living in China is that I get introduced to all these new traditions. Last Thursday, September 19, was the Mid-Autumn Festival, otherwise known as the Moon Festival because of all the yummy mooncakes you traditionally consume. Well, there’s also this whole legend behind the festival, but I always associate the festival with mooncakes. Anyhow, apparently it’s also customary to eat taro, at least in Shanghai … something about how the name (芋头 / yù tóu) is pronounced in the dialect. Who knew?

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Taro is not the most delicious looking thing in the world. In fact, it looks rather disgusting and unappetizing. Although I’m Chinese, the first time I actually saw/ate a real taro was approximately two weeks ago. I’ve had taro puffs many times before (they’re deep-fried pastries with mashed taro and ground pork filling) because they’re common fare for dim sum, but I can’t really say that by eating those I’d experienced real taro.

I’ve never prepared it myself because I’ve heard it’s a bit of a hassle. When it’s raw, the outside can be really irritating to your skin. But after you wash it really well, you boil it.

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Let them cool off a bit, then peel them. The outside comes off fairly easy, and then the little things look like naked mole rats (IMHO).

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Get a bowl of sugar, and while the taro root is still warm, dip and eat. Yum. It’s not my favorite snack in the world (I’m still a Cheetos and chips kinda girl) but it’s by far one of the healthier snacks even taking into account the sugar. Then again … I use a lot of sugar.

turrell at the guggenheim

I have a shameful secret that I would like to share with all of you. Even though I am an architect and even though I enjoy modern architecture and modern/contemporary art, it took me two whole years of living in New York to visit the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Why did it take me so long? $18 tickets – and that’s the discounted price! And when you can get into MoMA and the Met for free (with a Columbia student ID), that’s just exorbitant.

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However, the temporary exhibition by James Turrell that’s up in the Guggenheim (June 21, 2013-September 25, 2013) called “Aten Reign,” combined with my impending move from New York to Shanghai, prompted me to suck it up and shell out the dough. Was it cool? Yes. Was it “oh my goodness, drop everything and go” cool? That depends on if you’ve seen a Turrell before. To me, it wasn’t worth 18 bucks. But hey, it’s the Guggenheim and it’s New York, so you have to visit at least once.

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First off, the building. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (aka “the only architect most people have heard of” aka FLW), the architecture is truly impressive. Built in 1959 and located on 5th Avenue at 89th Street, I’ve passed it plenty of times as I walked down 5th … but normally I pass it because I’m heading to or leaving the Met. It’s one of those buildings that always gets a mention in architecture survey classes, and for good reason.

For the Turrell exhibition the building was basically empty with its signature curving walls (where artwork is usually displayed) completely blank, and a netting on the other side so you couldn’t look into the main space as you normally would. There were two unrelated galleries for “Kandinsky in Paris, 1934-1944” (nice) and the Thannhauser Collection (blah), and then the store and cafe area were untouched.

There were a few areas with other Turrell pieces such as “Afrum I (White),” but let’s be honest: No one really came to see that stuff. People didn’t come to stand in a dark room and try to see some optical illusion, or to check out Kandinsky’s work; they only check out that stuff because they spent so much cash on the darn tickets they have to recoup it somehow by ingesting culture. When you visit the Guggenheim you’re supposed to start at the top and circle your way down. But seriously, I wonder how many people just walk into the museum, lie down on the floor in the main space, and never leave. Or just take a nap.

Cool. Do you remember those commercials for those Popsicle Lick-a-Color pops? “The COLORS, Duke! The COLORS!”

paley and pal – pocket parks on 53rd

A few days ago I posted about a series of sculptures by (Albert) Paley on Park (Avenue). Well, it’s only right that I follow up that post with one about Paley Park. Because … come on! Paley on Park v. Paley Park? Golden. It’s a teensy tiny little park, and it’s not really a park in the way that Central Park is a park (id est, no room to lay out or throw a football), but it is public, although technically a POPS (privately-owned public space).

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I gotta say, it’s a very nicely done park. Midtown Manhattan is a busy, crowded, kinda soulless place. But the park is so calming, so unexpected, and so removed from all that. It’s a few steps up from street level, there’s green ivy on the side walls, some trees for shade, and a freakin’ waterfall. It’s no wonder that it’s an extremely popular place to eat lunch. Unfortunately when I visited there was some construction going on, so the pocket park was made even tinier, and I didn’t get the full effect of the waterfall.

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Paley Park is on 53rd Street, between Madison and 5th. Walk a bit further east and you’ll come across another pocket park, which in my opinion is even more impressive than Paley (although smaller and not as well designed or aesthetically pleasing). But hey, it has a chunk of the Berlin Wall. Sorry, but as impressive as the waterfall wall is, it doesn’t beat the history of THE FREAKIN’ BERLIN WALL.

This park doesn’t get as much press as Paley Park because … it’s nameless. I guess it’s the courtyard or whatever of the building 520 Madison, because people refer to the park as 520 Madison. There are five sections of the wall, and they’ve been painted by two German artists, Thierry Noir and Kiddy Citny. Not my favorite work, but how many people can say they’ve had lunch next to the Berlin Wall? And these people do it repeatedly. Amazing. New York = amazing.

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It’s also amazing to me because of how understated both of these parks are while being completely open. The whole setup is so New York. Hundreds of people walk by these parks every day – how many stop? But when you do stop and walk a few yards into that little space, you get the feeling that you’re no longer in busy Midtown, but at the same time you don’t feel cut off from the hustle and bustle that makes New York great. How many people realize that they’re walking by history? In a city like New York, there’s history and art and culture everywhere you turn, and after a while all that becomes so normal and comfortable that eating a tuna salad sandwich next to the Berlin Wall becomes commonplace. I think that’s what’s most impressive to me, that instead of confining pieces of history to a museum to be gawked at, they actually become part of the present and enrich our everyday lives.

Kudos, New York.

paley on park (ave)

One of the things I’ll miss about New York is the art. The art that’s EVERYWHERE. There are galleries and museums all over the place, and it’s easy enough to wander from one to the next. In Shanghai? Not so easy. And not as great.

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Park Avenue has this thing where they display sculptures spanning a number of blocks. Last summer I posted about a series of sculptures by Rafael Barrios along Park Avenue, so I felt like I had to post something about the new sculptures by Albert Paley that are now up there. There’s a lucky total of 13 of them metal things, all abstract and twisty and industrial. They kind of look like some projects I did in architecture undergrad out of bristol board. Anyhow, they’re supposed to be up until November.

They varied in color and complexity, and some were definitely more successful than others (the horizontal white one was definitely one of the better ones). Due to their placement you never see more than one sculpture at a time, which is necessary … because these kinds of sculptures stand alone.

New York doesn’t really need sculptures on Park Avenue, but I love the fact that they’re there. That people actually fund public artwork, especially in a city like New York, where it’s so dense and your tiny crumbling little apartment costs more than half your salary and the subway is a smelly, trash-strewn, rat-infested slice of hell … that there are places like Central Park and the NYPL and Grand Central and there are sculptures and mosaics and murals everywhere … that makes me smile and remember why New York is one of the best cities in the world.

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hey little man, can you wait a tad bit longer?

So … I’m in China. Sounds exciting, right? Well, eh. When I went to Beijing at the end of June I stopped by Shanghai and left a daruma doll in the apartment – one eye filled in. The daruma doll is a good luck talisman of sorts. You’re supposed to fill in one eye when you make a goal, and when you’ve reached the goal you get to fill the other eye in. So by having a one-eyed creepy little doll staring at you, it encourages you to keep working at your goal. It’s supposedly a traditional Japanese thing (all my information is coming from Wikipedia), and even though I’m not Japanese (and have no knowledge of this thing outside what Wikipedia is telling me), I like the premise of having a visual, physical signifier of a wish. Post-it notes and to-do lists I have. But those are about tasks; this is about a goal.

I’ll fill in the other eye once I have stable employment that I’m happy with. At the moment, no bites. A short little gig teaching English? Yep. But that ain’t gonna pay the rent. Needless to say, it ain’t gonna make much of a dent in the student loans either. Wish me luck! (I’ll need it.)

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worst long-haul flight ever

I was really excited about coming to China, and it really could be an amazing experience. But that voice in my head that’s saying “You’re an idiot” just keeps getting louder. I’m not extremely superstitious, but I am somewhat. So when I got sick on my flight from the States to China, I took that as a bad omen of things to come. And now I’m really hoping I haven’t made a huge mistake.

For perspective, my stomach is practically made of steel. I rarely throw up. I never got food poisoning in China. Or India. I’ve done long-hauls before. When I came to China a few years ago, it was my first solo long-haul and I had a middle seat. I survived that. But this time … not good. This time was also my first long-haul with American Airlines. Never again. Between the crappy food (worse than even United’s meager offerings), extremely lackluster film selection (seriously, they had maybe three watchable films on the smallest of screens), my own nerves, and the sheer uncomfortableness of the seats … I could barely sleep. And so, feeling absolutely miserable and exhausted, I got sick. So sick, I actually started crying. It was that bad. One of the other passengers I passed on the way to the back of the plane was really concerned and really freaked out.

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One redeeming quality of AA? Mini bottles of wine. At the back of the plane, I stopped by and asked the flight attendants for some wine. With me looking like absolute hell, they handed me two bottles and one commented that she was surprised more people weren’t drinking, because “It’s the only way to get through these flights.” Sigh.

Moral of the story: Avoid American Airlines. But if you must fly AA for a long-haul, take advantage of the wine.

back in china. alive. somewhat.

Today is the first of September, and it’s been over a month since my last post. Wanna know why? Because I’ve left New York. Lots of moving and stuff. And I’m now in China. I’ve actually been in China for a few weeks now, but I was busy running a workshop up in Beijing for a week, and now I’m trying to get settled in Shanghai.

I’m still doing some work for the architecture firm I worked at over the summer, so that gives me some stuff to do … but I haven’t been able to find a full-time job yet, and this prolonged unemployment is making me very nervous! Also, I’ve resorted to posting by email once again because I’m trying to see how long I can hold out without a VPN service. Ah, Great Firewall of China, I bow to you once more! I have a whole backlog of posts from New York and Beijing to get through … so be prepared for an onslaught in the coming days.

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The above picture is from “Ghost Street” (簋街 / Gui Jie) in Beijing.