A boutique coffee roaster for morning espresso? The best rugelach in New York? The Indian snack food that has gone nationwide from a tiny New York City shop? These are just a few of the discoveries that awaited Tom and me on a food walk in Manhattan with Angelis Nannos of In Food We Trust. In one short morning we had a nostalgic look back at several of our previous travel destinations—Turkey, Cuba, India, and New York itself—along with an insightful glimpse into a place or two still on our travel horizon. All without leaving Mid-Town Manhattan.
Our recent stay in New York was an opportunity for Tom and me to update our New York memories with new experiences, from visits to museum exhibitions to exploration of neighborhoods new to us. Memorably, the No Passport Required food tour we took with Angelis did double duty. We enjoyed discovering authentic expressions of food traditions from around the world. And we were delighted to learn about places and flavors we can return to on our own, next time we are in the city. We first met Angelis in Istanbul, where we enjoyed two marvelous food walks with him, exploring Istanbul neighborhoods and tasting for ourselves the food history of a fabulous cultural melting pot.
One of the signature street foods there is simit. The circular bread, encrusted with sesame seeds, has been produced in Istanbul for centuries. Sometimes called a Turkish bagel in the United States, simit is a versatile, popular breakfast choice in Istanbul. There, commuters buy simit from street vendors—either from a trolley or from a tray carried on their heads. Simit is good plain, or as a sandwich with a slab of white cheese and a juicy tomato slice tucked inside. We began our Mid-Town food tour with a simit sandwich, washed down with glasses of Turkish tea. The first bite had us back in Istanbul, the slightly salty cheese and crusty bread zinging with memories of one of the world’s great food cities.
Rugelach and its forebears from Hungary, Austria and Poland are all crescent-shaped pastries filled with sweets. But when rugelach made its way to the U.S., bakers dropped the yeast and used a cream cheese dough to make the sweet treats, such as the rugelach mini we tasted on our food tour. The delicate, chocolate-filled morsel was gone in a flash, as we watched skaters circling the ice rink at Bryant Park. I could have eaten many of these little beauties, but that would have spoiled my appetite for the good food yet to come.
Lunch bites from India and Japan
Kati rolls originated in India, as grilled kebabs in a paratha wrapper, an unleavened bread that is kneaded into a rope, coiled into a round patty and griddled-fried. The rolls became a signature street food of Kolkata and are now popular in various incarnations around India and abroad. The paratha can be filled with potatoes for a Punjabi breakfast, sweetened to accompany the hearty grilled meats of Lucknow, and shallow-fried to accompany savory South Indian curries. In New York, our Kolkata street-food versions came filled with chicken tikka and goat curry, accompanied by a glass of Alphonse mango lassi. Brick walls plastered with Bollywood posters echoed with the sound of a busy lunchtime as we clustered with other diners around small tables.
Nori-wrapped onigiri rice balls—filled with umeboshi pickled plums, salmon or tuna mayo—are a popular convenience food in Japan. And they are just one of the Japanese foods to be found in a Mid-Town Manhattan bookshop. Who knew? Angelis taught us the secret to unwrapping our onigiri without sacrificing the wrappers, a trick we hope to have an opportunity to use again.
Sit-down in a Cuban diner
For more than thirty years, a diner not far from Times Square has evoked the welcoming spirit of a timeless Cuba. Behind a front door obscured by construction scaffolds and adverts for nail salons and dentists, the diner bustles with lunch-time energy. Servers keep up a steady patter as they dish out plates of spicy fried chicken, rice, beans and plantains at a pace that is pure New York. The camaraderie we experienced here was a high point of the tour for Tom and me and made the tour one to remember.
Boutique coffee roasters abound nowadays, and New Yorkers are spoiled for choice when it comes to venues for a pick-me-up espresso. Our final stop on the food tour was at a coffee bar that fuels the creative vibe of the co-working spaces on the floors above its Mid-Town location. Baristas work their magic from behind a counter that invites conversation, much like that of a local pub. My espresso was strong with just the right amount of froth and served with a smile.
It was a fitting end to a whirlwind tour, “No Passport Required”!
If you go
No Passport Required introduced us to hole-in-the-wall eateries we would never have happened upon for ourselves. It is a delicious way to travel the world in just a few short hours.
This food walk is:
- Perfect for food travelers who are short on time
- Anyone looking to discover new venues for tasty bites in Mid-Town Manhattan
- A friendly option for travelers with limited mobility (Tom and I were amazed to realize how much ground we covered within a six-block radius of our starting point)
- Replete with hearty tasting samples, along with the well-researched back-story of each stop on the tour. For research—and plenty of art history—without stretching your stomach, consider Angelis’s Yum Yum Met tour.