Saturday, April 28, 2007

Big Onion Multi-Ethnic Eating tour

So, I had a free afternoon and felt like walking around the city while munching on goodies from different cuisines. Thus after a few years of putting it off, decided to join the multi-ethnic eating tour offered by Big Onion, which snakes its way through the Lower East Side, Little Italy and Chinatown. It's actually a combination walking and eating tour, with commentary regarding the neighborhoods' history, settlers, and architecture given by the guides, but we'll focus on the food and places we stopped at to nosh (a way of saying I forgot all about the historical part).

First stop was Kossar's Bialys, the oldest bialy bakery in the USA and a Lower East Side landmark. I've never had one before, so this was a good intro into the chewy, doughy baked Polish roll (somewhat similar to a bagel). Verdict: tastes ok, though not really something I'd eat on my own (for the record, I don't like bagels either. Give me a Dunkin Donuts Boston Creme donut anytime).

Then off we were to visit The Pickle Guys, which offer a huge variety of pickles, tomatoes, olives and more. They make the pickles by storing them in barrels and letting them sit in salt brine with garlic and spices for a period ranging from a day to six months. Ignorant as I was about pickles, I was surprised to find several varieties, like "1/2 sour pickles", "3/4 sour pickles", "horseradish pickles", and so on - who knew?? Certainly not me, who comes in contact only with the pickles on top of my Big Mac. We all got one pickle each but I politely declined my share. The other 29 people (mostly groups of tourists) savored their pickle contentedly. Bah.

Crossing over into Chinatown, our guide J. ducked into Lucky King Bakery and brought out assorted goodies - delicious cookies and other treats. Another bakery we visited later in Chinatown was May May Chinese Gourmet Bakery where the tour ended. Despite its name, May May actually sells all sorts of food - I had discovered a year ago that they offered several varieties of Chinese rice dumplings, made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings (meat, red beans) and wrapped in bamboo leaves. They offered us two pieces of dimsum each - one a conventional pork siomai, and the other a vegetarian dumpling. Tasted ok, but I've had better dimsum.

Finally, in Little Italy, we stopped at Di Palo's Fine Foods, one of New York's great family-owned Italian stores renowned for their cheese, prepared foods, and other traditional Italian delicacies. By this time the tourists had filled up on the bialys, pickles and cookies, thus it was my turn to uncontestedly gobble up the extra mozzarella balls (molto bene!) and thinly-sliced sausage. Unquestionably the highlight of the food tasting tour.

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