Eating historically in New York’s Chinatown and Little Italy

little italy As a native New Yorker, I’ve spent many afternoons wandering the streets of Chinatown and Little Italy, stopping to get some dumplings or some pasta and wine. While I had always kind of thought of these places as tourist hubs with delicious food, I never realized just how much history belongs to these areas, and how much of this history is still alive today.

After going on a walking tour with Ahoy New York Tours and Tasting, I now look at Chinatown and Little Italy with a new appreciation. Alana, the tour guide, led the group through each area, speaking about how the regions came to be and letting everyone sample from historical eateries.

As Alana likes to say, “If a restaurant has been around for 40 years or more, you know it’s good because it has stood the test of time.”

Around the time of the United StatesIndustrial Revolution, southern Italians began coming over to get away from high taxes and low wages. In order to help ease their culture shock they began importing foods from their homeland and opening restaurants that reflected their heritage. Lucky for us, a lot of what was created back then is still around today.cannolis The first stop on the tour was Alleva Dairy to sample prosciutto and homemade mozzarella. Opened in 1892 by the same family that runs it now, this is the oldest Italian cheese shop in America. Fun Fact: Mozzarella originated in Naples, Italy, when a monk accidentally dropped a cheese curd into a pail of hot water.

Ferrara Bakery & Cafe was the next stop, where the group got to taste their world famous cannolis. My grandmother, who is from southern Italy, actually used to swear by these, and my father still refuses to eat cannolis from any other bakery. This eatery was opened in 1892, and during WWII many Italian families would purchase Torrone, a nougat confection, from here to send to their loved ones who were fighting because the treat wouldn’t spoil.

After our sugar indulgence, the group traveled to another continent and headed over to New York’s Chinatown. People first started to notice the Chinese coming into the United States in the 1840’s. While they first tried to settle in California, they were not socially accepted there and so they came to New York in an attempt to better assimilate. While the original Chinatown was made up of only 3 streets (Mott, Doyers, and Pell) and consisted of mostly immigrants from southern China, today the area has grown to encompass 2 square miles and 200,000 Chinese-Americans from diverse backgrounds.

orange chicken chinatown A family-style lunch at Pongrsi Thai Restaurant, the oldest family-run and operated Thai restaurant in New York City, allowed the group to sample 40 years of delicious hard work with rice, Orange Chicken, Pad see ew, and a spicy Chicken Pra Ramm.

In order to let the group digest, Alana took us to visit Columbus Park, a cultural hub for the Asian community where people go to play Mahjong and checkers, practice Tai Chi, and relax. Standing there today, you would never know that the area was once considered the worst slum in the history of the U.S., and possibly even the world.

No tour of Chinatown would be complete without eating some dumplings. What many people don’t realize is that dumplings aren’t just delicious, they’re an important part of the Chinese New Year as they symbolize wealth with their ancient silver and gold ingot shape. If you’re looking for taste, try Tasty Dumpling on 54 Mulberry Street. However, if you want a front-row view of how they are made, go to Fried Dumpling on 106 Mosco Street. Hint: It’s actually a lot more complex than you probably think.

everything frostedTo end the tour, the group was taken to a place that isn’t known for its history but for its flavor. Everything Frosted sells cupcakes with an Asian flair with choices like Lychee, Red Bean, Jasmine Tea, and Black Sesame.

While the tour tells a lot about food and its historical significance, you will also see a lot of other notable points of interest, such as the Transfiguration Church, which services the most Chinese-Americans than any other church in U.S., the former Bloody Angle, which is said to be where the most murders in America have ever occurred, and the oldest tenement building in New York at 65 Mott Street.

For more information or to make a booking with Ahoy NY Tours & Tasting, click here.

Austria comes to New York: a look at the Openhouse Gallery’s Austrian pop-up shop

This month, the Openhouse Gallery in New York hosted a free Austrian pop-up shop, which gave visitors a glimpse into what they could experience in terms of art, food, tours, culture, hotels, festivals, museums, and outdoor spaces if they visited Austria.

austrian popup shop in new yorkWhile the space itself was small, it had a lot to offer. The girls who worked the exhibit were extremely helpful and were happy to walk around with me to explain exactly what everything was I was looking at.

When first walking in, I was immediately struck by a giant painting by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt called “The Kiss”. In 2012, Vienna will celebrate his 150th birthday with an array of event and exhibits in his honor.

If visitors needed help planning a trip to visit Austria, the pop-up shop featured a travel lounge, as well, with comfortable white, leather couches and a table of tour packets, culinary books, travel advice, and even an Austrian memory and matching game called Craz.The most interactive part of the exhibit, and by far my favorite, was the sampling station. Authentic Austrian goodies to try included:

  • Pumpkin seed oil and pieces of bread for dipping
  • Viennese cookies from the Vienna Cookie Company
  • Gðlles specialty vinegar
  • Rupp Alina cheeses
  • Zotter hand made organic chocolate

The next section of the pop-up shop expanded on the idea of art, design, and theater in Austria. Visitors were able to take a look at some Austrian craftsmanship from Wien Products, such as vases and other housewares. Pieces of outdoor furniture that are used to help create the lively atmosphere in the MuseumsQuartier in Vienna, one of the largest museums quarters in the world, were also on display.

autrian popup shop in new yorkVisitors could also learn about the theater culture of Austria, with the “Sound of Music” installation. The show, which is set in Austria, will debut at the Salzburger Landestheatre this Fall from October 23, 2011 to June 30, 2012. As you continue walking, you will also be able to explore a small gallery of historical Austrian paintings by Austrian artists.

At the end of the visit to the Openhouse Gallery’s Austrian pop-up shop (or the beginning, if you wanted), visitors were invited to enjoy some traditional Viennese coffee and desert in their Cafe Sacher, which included:

  • Wiener Melange- an espresso coffee with foamed milk
  • Grosser Brauner- a double espresso coffee with cream
  • a slice of original Sachertorte mit schlag with whipped cream
  • a homemade piece of Viennese apple strudel

The waitresses were even dressed in a traditional dirndl-style costume.

Interested in booking a trip to Austria? Visit the Austrian Tourism Board website. Want to know more about pop-up installations at the Openhouse Gallery in New York? Check out Paul Gerben’s Pickers Cafe that will be going on into 2012.

Celebrate fall with Cider Week in New York

apple cider festival in new york What better way to celebrate the changing of the seasons than with a week full of cider-related events. From October 16-October 24, 2011, New York will host it’s first ever Cider Week, which will include tastings, demonstrations, pairings, classes and more. Here are some of the events to check out (for the full schedule, click here):

October 16– A Cider Revival, 11AM-4PM
New Amsterdam Market

This celebration of hard cider will include cider tastings paired with tapas, sampling of both common and rare varieties of apples, cider purchasing opportunities, and the chance to buy delicious apple pies and desserts. Admission into the market is free, although you will have to purchase a ticket if you want to do the tastings.October 17– Mele and Maiale in the Meatpacking, 6PM-8PM

The event will include cider and porchetta tasting, with special guest Ezra Sherman from Eve’s Cidery. The cost is $10 and reservations should be made in advance to secure a spot. If interested in attending, click here.

October 18– Meet the Cider Maker: Original Sin, 6:30PM-9PM
Good Beer

Want to learn more about cider as well as sample new varieties? Come to this event to speak with Gidon Coll from Original Sin Cider, learn the history of Newtown Pippin apple, and taste some new Heirloom ciders. Price is $10.

October 19– Prix Fixe Dinner Menu with Cider Pairings, 7PM-10PM
Jimmy’s No.43

Enjoy a 3-course meal, each paired with a different cider. There will also be live music in the back room from 8:30PM-11PM. The menu includes:

  • A caramelized apple, walnut, and blue cheese salad paired with Dupont “Cidre Bouche Brut” sparkling cider
  • 24-hour pork braised in cider vinegar and molasses, with roasted parsnips paired with Dupont “Triple” sparkling wine cider
  • Apple cobbler paired with Dupont “Pommeau”

There will also be rare French cider products from New York, Vermont, New Hamshire and France being served all night long. The cost of the event is $45 per person.

October 20– A Cider and Cheese Tour of the Northeast, 6:30PM
Brooklyn Kitchen

Enjoy a guided tasting of regional hard and ice ciders, each paired with artisanal cheeses. Expect at least 5 pairings, as well as science, recipes, and history. The cost for the event is $50.

October 21– Cider Pairing and Cooking Demonstration, 11AM-1PM
Union Square Greenmarket

Learn how to cook with hard cider as well as how to cook dishes that pair well with the drink. This is a free event.

October 22– Tasting of Basque Ciders, 4PM-7PM
Tinto Vino

Sample ciders from North Spain as well as the moutainous region of Asturias. This is a free event.

October 23– Cider Pairing Dinner, 7PM
The Queens Kickshaw

While the specifics for this event are still being determined, attendees can expect delicious cuisine paired with unique ciders. There will be a special guest, as well. The price of this event has not yet been announced.

October 24– Cider Party, 6PM-8:15PM

This closing event will celebrate the winners of the Glywood’s Harvest Awards as they talk about their success supporting local food efforts in their community. A reception with appetizers and Hudson Valley ciders will follow. While this is a free event, RSVP is required.