As I battled the crowds along 5th Avenue the other day, the stomach rumbled and the eyes lit up at the prospect of visiting a street vendor. The mobile silver carts here serve everything from pretzels to roasted chestnuts, gyros (yeeros) and hot dogs. The smell of caramelised peanuts beckoned but I only had eyes for a knish.
My first ever knish (say ker-nish) involved me nodding at the offer of mustard, and watching fascinated as the man unwrapped a foil package, plunged a knife deep into its core, and then squirted a generous slather of mustard within. $1.50 in quarters was handed over and after a series of discreet photographs on the street (of course!), I inspected my knish at close quarters.
What is it? A great big wad of mashed potato. Compacted into a squat tear-drop shape and coated in a thin layer of what seemed like breadcrumbs. Usually this Yiddish snack is encased in a light pastry dough, but this street version seemed to have been fried in breadcrumbs and the bottom was slightly burnt. But I like burnt, which just means overzealous caramelisation in my book, and the steaming hot parcel of portable comfort food was gobbled with shivering delight.
Have I mentioned the weather? 0C is cold. -10C is just plain ridiculous! That's 32F and 14F. Entering and exiting subways and shops means a removal of hats and gloves and the unzipping of oversized jackets. A lot of New Yorkers wear ear muffs which looks rather cute, and North Face seems to have the market cornered in black puffa jackets.
We checked out the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum which features the world's fastest aircraft, the A-12 Blackbird which can reach speeds of mach 3.6 (more than 3 times the speed the sound). Across the road we sampled blueberry bagels from the H&H Bagels factory. I weep for the bagel withdrawal symptoms I will experience back in Sydney.
H&H bagels are perfection. An almost tacky crust and a soft fluffy inteior which is divine eaten untoasted with just a smidge of cream cheese. H&H bagels are probably the priciest (US$1 each) but they are worth every divine mouthful. We were also intrigued to watch the baker shaping the bagels, stretching a mound of dough into a donut shape by poking his fingers in the middle.
We wandered through Hell's Kitchen now being re-marketed as Clinton. It's not particularly dangerous looking although I did notice a number of cars in the carpark doubling as housing. A community market garden had giant pumpkins growing and I became pathetically excited when I spotted a friendly-looking snowman in the corner.
We had lunch at Tehuitzingo, a much-appreciated culinary tip-off from Sean. A cluttered grocery shop out the front gives way to a tiny counter out the back that seems straight out of Mexico. I could not resist trying the huitlacoche quesadilla. Known euphemistically as mushroom corn, huitlacoche is actually fungus-infested maize, perceived as a pest by Americans, but much lauded by Mexicans as an expensive delicacy.
The corn was a disconcerting black colour, but the taste was nutty and slightly sweet. I would eat huitlacoche again, and the food here was a bargain too. My quesadilla was only $3 and we watched a Spanish version of Jerry Springer as we wolfed down our meal.
Tomorrow we head for Washington DC. Not known for its cuisine but the home of the free museum. Now we really like the sounds of that!
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12/08/2005 11:59:00 p.m.