Friday, January 28, 2011

Kasha Knish at Yonah Shimmel, and other food adventures in the Lower East Side

Well I had been anticipating snow and today I got snow, inches and inches of it. In the morning as I had my breakfast I took a photo of a little red scooter that is always parked at the top of my street (I guess it's not really scooter weather!) This morning it was completely covered in snow.

This was the day for my food and bookshop tour of the East Village and Lower East Side with Bonnie and we soldiered on through it - wading through snow-covered sidewalks splashing through slushy puddles and walking head down as it snowed on us!

I met Bonnie at Strand Books (no new purchases from there) and we headed off to three local secondhand booksellers in the area. Bonnie was the perfect host and there was no elbowing for access to the cookbook shelves! I picked up a couple of excellent preserving books and some Eastern European cookbooks that are so hard to find in Australia. We also paid a visit to the Housing Works Bookshop. Housing Works provides housing for people with AIDS and they have a really great bookshop with good quality stock as well as a nice cafe up the back of the store. Books are reasonably priced and there were a couple of treasures for Bonnie and I. Bookbuying behind us, we headed off on the serious business of the day, a tour of some of Bonnie's favourite local specialty food shops, ending with a trip to Katz Delicatessen, recommended by just about every tour guide for a taste of an old fashioned New York deli.

First stop was at Yosha Shimmel for a Knish. Bonnie used to come here with her Dad when they came to New York from New Jersey. We were pacing ourselves and split a kasha knish which is made from buckwheat and eaten with lots of mustard. It was a first time for me, and my best description for it would be that it is dumpling-like, soft but dense and warming - perfect comfort food for a snow day. The shop is in original condition, complete with the dumb waiter that brings the many varieties of knishes up from the basement kitchen:

Next stop was just a few doors down at Russ and Daughters (although no daughters were in attendance yesterday) This 'awesome' delicatessen is an Aladdin's cave of smoked fish, caviars, cheese spreads of every sort, barrels of pickles, pickled fish etc.

After leaving this wonderland, we headed off on a tour of the neighbourhood, including a stretch which used to be populated by fabric and dress shops as well as lingerie shops where apparently (according to the local expert) the old Jewish proprietors can size you up for a new bra just by looking at you (with clothes on!).

We also passed through the edges of what used to be known as Little Italy, but which is slowly being encroached upon by Chinatown.

Other food stops along the way included the Donut Factory, where I sampled a creme brulee donut and picked up a Meyer Lemon donut for Bonnie's friend Chris who minded the store so we could play.(Unfortunately my Iphone managed to delete a lot of my photos from today. I've got others on my camera, but haven't been able to download them due to very slow wireless at the hotel)

A little bakery a few doors down supplied a bagel to go with my smoked sabel and cream cheese for the next morning's breakfast. We headed over to another bakery for more Jewish specialties including what Bonnie called a bell - a small cake with a spongebase, a ground poppyseed filling in a chocolate shell - it had an unusual, almost marzipan-like flavour. As we arrived at the shop school was letting out across the road, and behind us came mums with kids to buy after-school treats. Two old men were in serious conversation with the young Orthodox man behind the counter - it turned out he was showing one of them how to use a large-numbered mobile phone. As he turned to leave one of the old men said to Bonnie and I - "you see that man? He is a good man. Do you know why? Because he is my friend" It was very sweet, the closest an elderly Jewish man could come to saying "I love you man".

By now dusk was closing in and we headed over for a quick look around the Essex Market ( artisan cheese stands alongside a huge Hispanic grocery) before visiting Economy Candy - a huge shop with floor to ceiling shelves and bins of candies of every description- old-fashioned American favourites that are now apparently hard to come by, English specialties, a wall of jelly-bellies, I even found some lollies I remember from my childhood: Sen-Sen, Chiclets and chocolate cigarettes among them. The sweet smell of candy was everywhere and the shop was packed with people stocking up. Like most of the other stores, Mr Economy Candy was in attendance.

Our final stop, Katz's Delicatessen is a New York institution and Bonnie had saved it for last. As we walked in to the sawdust-covered room we were handed a number and made our way to the long counter stretching the length of the room. Behind each station a man would serve you and writte the total on the ticket which was presented to teh cashier as we left. Bonnie bought us a hot dog with sauerkraut to split while we checked out the other goodies. The pastrami man gave us samples of his wares as he prepared our enormous pastrami on rye sandwich (at $14.95 it was pricey, but tradition doesn;t come cheap!).

Loaded down with goodies, dead on our feet and very cold, we decided to catch a cab back to Bonnie's shop to relieve Chris and split our pastrami on rye, sample chocolate cigarettes and baked goods and (for me) buy some more cookbook treasures from Bonnie's shelves.  Having decided that taxis are the way to go I caught one back to the hotel. Snow was falling quite heavily and the streets were becoming increasingly covered, making thecab slide a bit on the roads, so I was quite glad to get back to my small warm room.

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