We’re back! Three weeks in the good ole USA and too many fun times to mention. Oh and a heatwave which meant we barely ventured outside for the first week. Doh. Bad job, people who live in England and claim they want ‘real summer’, oops. But all that air conditioning means you can keep stuffing your belly even in the hottest summer weather so that is what we did…
I know there are people who think American food is basically just burgers and donuts – but there is so much more! There are lots of foods I love which are still hard to find in England and I was lucky enough to eat most of them while we were away. Maybe my little list of recommendations will even come in handy if you’re heading to New York or elsewhere in America for a taste of the wonderful excess and variety of food on offer… Most of my favourite foods aren’t about eating in nice restaurants, but if you’re into that, New York has hundreds of great places to offer – the top places that stick in my mind are Casellula, the trustees dining room at the Met, Picholine and Lupa.
Oh and the people are wonderful too! No one could say the Americans aren’t generous hosts and I’m missing my fabulous friends and family already. I know I’ll be back soon.
- Pizza: This is probably the food I miss the most. Which is kinda crazy cause you can totally get pizza in England. But it’s not New York pizza. And that my friends is the best pizza in the world in my book. I think it’s something about the slightly sweeter sauce, the extra stringy cheese, the soft crust with the crunchy bottom from the incredibly hot oven and the herbs and dried chillies you sprinkle on top… Or maybe it’s just eating it late at night in New York! But head to a Ray’s or any other tiny, hole-in-the-wall pizza shop and find out for yourself.
- Chinese: OK, so this is another food I can get in England, but again it just doesn’t compare. Chinese food in England all seems to be made from the same oily, bland base. Unlike my favourite dishes back home – sesame noodles, broccoli in garlic sauce, sesame chicken (a fake dish I allow when it’s from Empire Chinese cause for some reason Asian fake meat is sooooo much better than the stuff they sell in stores) and so many more. It all tastes of something different, woo-hoo. And they even make your wraps for you at the table:
- Diners: As a Jersey girl this has to be on the list. New Jersey is full of traditional American diners and we spent a lot of time there as teenagers, smoking cigarettes and drinking endless cups of coffee and soda thanks to the wonder of free refills. Those poor waitresses. Anyway, now I go back for dishes like grilled cheese, cheese fries, milkshakes, and of course, the all-day breakfast (which in America includes things like pancakes, French toast, eggs, meat and my favourite – homefries). Oh and don’t forget to try a New York bagel store as well if you’re in the market for a typical American breakfast – again, nothing like their heavy, bread-y cousins sold abroad.
- Deli sandwiches: I know sandwiches don’t sound very impressive but there is something special about freshly sliced cold cuts and cheeses on rolls studded with tasty poppyseeds or dark pumpernickel bread. My ultimate veggie sandwich is a roll with provolone cheese and lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, oil and vinegar and hot peppers. The. Best. Sandwich. Ever. Head to P&W Sandwiches uptown if you’re in the neighbourhood, but many corner shops can also make a mean deli sandwich too.
- Mexican: Possibly my favourite cuisine in the world and luckily it’s finally crossing the Atlantic with some decent burrito bars opening in London recently. But the USA is still the best place to get your fix of rice and beans, burritos (with fillings like cactus ‘nopal’ mmmm), enchiladas, chimichangas (best food word ever), guacamole made fresh at your table and more. My top pick downtown is Cafe El Portal, or for something fancier we loved Rosa Mexicano (especially the desserts – see below – tres leches cake, flan, churros and cheesecake, oh my goodness…) and I hear Toloache is also fab.
- Snacks: I know this sounds wrong, but am I the only person who goes to a new country and looks for new and bizarre chip/crisp flavours to try?? England has opened my eyes to Quavers, Monster Munch and strange but tasty flavours like Worcestershire sauce, Prawn Cocktail, Thai Sweet Chilli and Bacon (always ‘suitable for vegetarians’ for some reason, yay). Many European countries have some wonderfully simple paprika options going on, and don’t even get me started on Asian flavours (we saw a bag labelled with a picture of a smilling octupus for a start). But when I’m back in the USA, I’ve got to eat Cheddar and Sour Cream flavour, barbeque Utz chips, Cheetos and Smart Food popcorn (and more recently Popcorn Indiana Kettlecorn – wooooow). Oh and this year I also squeezed in an ice cream sandwich that totally rocked my world – I haven’t had one since trips to the pool as a kid but god are they still good! So wrong that someone who loves healthy food and vegetables can eat so much crap but food memories are a bit like that – you just have to go with it I reckon.
- Food vans: The food van seems to be a new trend in London, Washington DC and many other cities, with all sorts of cuisines represented – from ice creams to burritos to the humble tater tot. But I reckon New York was there first – snacks like soft pretzels, hot dogs, and gyros have been served from vans for as long as I can remember and are still worth a try. But my top food van experience this year came via Dangerously Delicious Pies in DC – their ‘hot rod’ pie full of melty cheese, sliced potatoes, beautifully soft onions and dash of hot sauce will be replicated in my kitchen very very soon – watch out.
- Farmers markets: Ok, this one’s mostly for the Brits or anyone else living on the same latitude as Greenland (sad but true!). Summer fruit that’s been ripened on the vine or on the tree is sooooooooooo much tastier than those rock hard fruits we get in the supermarkets and have to ‘ripen at home’. The perfectly ripe, juicy peaches and nectarines I bought at Eastern Market in DC reminded me how lucky I was to grow up in a country that can produce all these wonderful foods on its doorstep. Oh and the markets all seem obsessed with heirloom tomatoes – now that’s something they can grow in England, fingers crossed we see a few more varieties in the shops here one day too…
- Drinks: After all that food, you need something to wash it down no? Due to the high profile of boring American lager brands like Bud, many foreigners are surprised to hear that craft beers and ales are a billion-dollar industry and well-represented in most bars in major cities. We did find the American craft beers a bit strong – both in flavour and alcohol content – compared to what we’re used to in England, but there are definitely some great breweries out there and lots of experimentation going on, which can only be good for ales everywhere. I used the invaluable Gotham Imbiber websiteto find local ale houses wherever we were in NYC.
- The other big trend in drinks in NYC seems to be the hidden, speakeasy cocktail bar. PDT is probably the most famous – you enter a brightly lit hot dog joint in the East Village, go into the red British phone booth, pick up the phone and request a table. If there’s space, the wall next to you opens up and you walk from the phone booth into a dimly lit bar and order an expensive but delicious cocktail… This time we were taken to a newer edition to the scene which I thought executed the speakeasy concept even better, with drinks based on traditional liquors like rye, brandy, scoth and gin: Raines Law Room.
What a trip! Now back to England for a good ole Indian curry, a Turkish kebab and some healthy, home-grown veggies…
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