Bagel Daydreams

You literally can’t find a proper bagel outside New York City. The world is infested with bagel imitators, but alas none can compare to the real deal. Brooklyn Bagels in Queens and Chelsea is home to my favorite bagel. I would wake up every morning have a whole-wheat bagel smeared with scallion cream cheese and a coffee. Somehow I kept my boyish figure.

Recently, I woke up to torrential New York rain. It was more intense than the sounds of the ocean waves crashing on the shore. That particular morning, I had an intense bagel craving and became a man on a mission. I was going to have a Brooklyn bagel.

Stepping into the rain soaked Upper West Side sidewalks didn’t hinder my goal. I propped open my umbrella and walked toward the subway. Wearing a buttoned up shirt, I left my sweater and blazer behind. The1 train station had the heat intensity of diving into a big bowl of pea soup. I was schvitizing intensely, but kept my spirits up.

As I rode the 1 train down to 23rd street, images of a big doughy bagel played in my head. I kept fantasizing about the taste and the warm smooth coffee that went along with it. Excitedly, I exited the subway station feeling quite excited. Suddenly, I started running for my life.

Torrential rain hit 23rd street. I had one big block to go. The rain intensified. My shirt was drenched and pants were wet in the wrong spots. A bunch of New Yorkers also tried to find refuge from the rain underneath scaffolding.

I was wet and the pea soup effect permeated the air. However, I thought to myself ” I came all this way for a bagel, just to get rained on?” After a few minutes, the people left the safety nest of the scaffolding and weathered the tough as nails New York sidewalk.

Fuck staying dry, it was time to play in the rain and have a delicious bagel. Even with terrible weather, I successfully achieved my bagel goal. The bagel tasted delicious, warm, and chewy. The coffee perfectly complimented it.  My bagel escapade is a very New York experience.

Life in the city can be rough. However, New York always has something exciting in store, if we’re willing to travel through harsh rain to get there.

Soup Season

When I was struggling in New York City. Judy would invite me over to her apartment in Brooklyn. She would cook me her famous linguini with clam sauce. Even after enjoying a hearty meal, she would pack me a bowl of the dish to go with a box of Entiments’ coffee cake. The F train smelled like a fancy Italian bistro on the way home, but I feasted well.

A few years later, Judy and I were both living in California, since her family had migrated west. One afternoon, she invited me over to her daughter Jackie’s apartment, where she wanted to introduce me to the art of making the family’s legendary Italian chicken soup.

I drove to Winchester, which is close to Temecula and about an hour from San Diego. We went to the local Stater Bros, where we gathered the recipes. Of course, it was more of a scavenger hunt trying to find the ingredients in Winchester, than Brooklyn, but we managed. I was excited to learn how to cook, especially Italian. When I stood in line my neurosis came out.

I kept looking at the chicken’s packaging making sure nothing had been punctured. Judy laughed. I had never touched a raw chicken, but not all good things come easy. We went back to Jackie’s apartment. She was several months pregnant and had a craving for the homey soup.

We drank a ton of coffee, then began cooking the Italian feast. Judy kept trying to show me how to skin the carrots, using the knife in an upward motion. Unfortunately, I grew frightened of the knife. Instead I was put to work in the chopping department. I did great chopping. All the celery and carrots came out perfectly sliced.

The chicken cooked. Soon the veggies were placed in the pot with the broth steaming and then small bits of pasta added. The apartment smelled of garlic and tomato, a most romantic scent. We waited for the soup to cook. After it was finished, we served ourselves. The taste was truly remarkable. To make an excellent soup even better, we added Parmesan. It gave it a delicious cheesiness, which complimented the Italian flavoring

After cake and more coffee, I was officially stuffed. I drove through the rural fields and dark canyons of Winchester, well fed. I didn’t necessarily graduate to the ranks of an Italian chef, but had a great time cooking with Judy and Jackie. I am looking forward to the winter cold for another dose of Italian chicken soup.

The Soup Dumplings Story

Wednesday night was my big foodie night out in New York. I headed to Sammy’s Noodles in the Village, ordered the scallion pancakes and a big beef noodle soup. After using too many napkins to wipe my brow, I took half the soup home and saved it for the next day.

New York style Chinese is my favorite. Now, that I am on the left coast (California, for those who don’t know), I crave those favorite Chinese delights. I also hold wonderful memories of Nicole and I huddled together in this divey Chinese takeout place on Second Ave. It didn’t look like much, but a refuge from the snowstorm outside. When we ate our food at the table an explosion of tastes erupted.

The hole in the wall places are the best, but my favorite Chinese restaurant of all time is Joe’s Shanghai on Pell and Bowery. It has the typical Chinese restaurant look with communal tables and slightly tucked away from the main drag. My old boss, Judy introduced me to the place, it remains her favorite restaurant.

On our first visit, she told us ” you must try the soup dumplings.” We ordered the dumplings. They arrived piping hot and looked like a fine museum display. They glistened perfectly in the light. She taught me how to eat the dumpling. I placed the dumpling on a spoon, poked a small hole using the chopstick and bit into it very carefully.

The first time, it just spilled on my shirt. By the second round, I bit into it and wow. My shirt survived and the tastes were beyond flavorful. The combination of warm broth, pork and hot chili sauce on top gave me a well-deserved case of food coma. I couldn’t stop eating. After my first Joe’s Shanghai experience, I became an addict.

Judy and I had lunch there often. No matter how many times I ordered the soup dumplings, the delicious taste never diminished. After Joe’s Shanghai, we would walk to Little Italy and have dessert at Ferrari’s. It’s a legend. I usually ordered the sponge cake with a coffee. It was always a compliment to the delicious meals at Joe’s Shanghai.

My mouth always waters for soup dumplings. I miss all the tastes of China found in New York. Soup dumplings are the dish I crave most. I could eat them everyday and feel satisfied, even with food coma persisting.

Fresh Frozen Food

I avoid frozen food like the plague. As a major foodie, I have a hard time seeing my chicken fried steak dinner covered in ice and thawed with the microwave. However, thanks to not being a chef, I’ve had to enjoy the frozen dinner. I do have a couple favorite microwavable foods.

Mama Celeste pizzas are divine. I know that they’re not the healthiest, but the pizzas have a nostalgic after school taste to them. This derives from my mom not wanting to cook dinner and feeding me what was convenient, Mama Celeste pizza.

In restaurants, one would never expect to see a microwave, especially not in Madrid, Spain. The capital is revered for its food scene. Although, tapas son el rey (tapas are king), there are small hidden restaurants, which use innovative techniques to broaden Spanish staples. One restaurant served venison cooked with traditional Spanish ingredients. Eating Bambi wasn’t much of a guilt trip and the dessert was especially unique. It was a clear colored gelatin with cinnamon powdered on top.

After a night of innovative, I longed for a night of old school Spanish flavors. Puerta del Sol is the Piccadilly Circus of Madrid. In fact, seeing the neon outdoor ad for Tio Pepe (prominently situated), a brand of cherry, officially announces, “you have arrived in Madrid.” There weren’t a ton of tourists in Puerta del Sol when I was there

I walked into a two-story restaurant. The waiter handed me a menu and the Paella caught my eye (saffron rice with various seafood and meats). I ordered it.

In the corner of my eye, I could see the waiter putting the paella plate in the microwave. I was astonished and nearly fell out of my chair. They delivered the dish and I was not pleased. It tasted ok. However, I was traumatized by the thought of my dish ever seeing the artificial lights of a microwave. I didn’t eat paella for a while.

It’s one of those dishes that taste delicious, but not everyone knows how to make it. The best I had was at a tapas bar in London. Madrid gave me memorable tastes and made me keenly aware of the microwave. However, I still fondly remember all the croquets and Jamon Iberico, while dismissing my paella encounter.

Tokyo Tastebuds

Japan is the land of sushi, miso soup, teriyaki and delicious curry dishes. Tokyo is my favorite food city along with New York. My primary goal on the famous Tokyo journeys was to eat well. As an expensive city, Tokyo has high food standards and practices.

For a young American, my best food friend was the noodle house. Whether, I was lost in a maze of Pachinko machine parlors (equivalent of our arcades) in Shibuya or browsing the art museum at Roppongi Hills, the noodle house filled me up well and cheaply.

At the noodle bar, you go up to a machine, similar to a vending machine. There are different numbers with noodle bowl selection, pick the number, sit in the round circle of noodle enthusiasts and the waitress serves a magnificent circus of noodles, broth and fresh pork (depending on what meat you like). In Japan, it is socially acceptable to slurp and enjoy one’s soup.

The noodle house was my home away from home. However, I longed for a different taste for my palate. Tokyo has a wonderful food selection. They have traditional style French brasseries and American burgers. However, I opted for Italian. I was still living in New York on my last Tokyo trip. Therefore, the idea of going out for Italian seemed absurd.

However, I took the plunge. After taking the metro to Ueno, I walked into this fancy Italian restaurant located in a smart department store. I put my name on the list. I roamed around while I waited. Chopsticks are fine cutlery in Japan. They had a variety of chopsticks from practical to fancy. I went to check on my name.

I sat down, ordered and they brought over my Italian dinner. With all the Japanese food, I felt guilty eating Italian. Although, I had a tortellini dish, which is relative to noodles, the tastes were authentically Italian. Wow, I ate the whole dish. Tokyo can do Italian food very well.

After my unexpected voyage into Italian culinary land, I stuck to Japanese. However, it opened my mind to Tokyo’s worldliness. When I would walk in the metro station there were New York bagel shops, authentic French pastries and of course, the Japanese noodles. When in Tokyo, eat at noodle bars. It’s your wallet’s savior. Venture into the numerous cuisines the Japanese capital has to offer. It will be worth every yen.

The Curious Donut

I first encountered the decadent Spanish dish paella at the Renaissance fair. The infusion of seafood and meat complimented with Saffron rice livened up the dreary day. However, there was an unexpected visitor in my paella, an octopus. The tentacles stood out. I pushed it to the side of my paella, frightened to take a bite.

Years later, I was at a grocery store in small town Japan with my buddies Bryan and Yuki. They had samples of octopus along the seafood aisle. Bryan convinced me to try the exotic delicacy. To my surprise, the octopus tasted delicious. It was slightly rubbery, but the consistency worked. From then on, I grew to love calamari, a cousin to the octopus.

When I returned to Japan, I wandered the streets of Tokyo with curious buds. I was more open than ever to trying new foods. Tokyo’s food scene is all about perfection. The tastes mesh well and the food’s presentation is impeccable.

On the Tokyo subway, I met a group of ex-pats from England and Finland along with their Japanese friend. They invited me to spend new years at the Asakusa temple, the oldest in Tokyo. We strolled around the many food stalls and souvenirs and found a hard to find delicacy.

A man had a stall with muffin shaped tins. In the tins, he rolled the dough, using chopsticks. My friends encouraged me to try the curious creation. He served me a plastic container full of round dough, which resembled a donut. I took a bite and it had the consistency of octopus. Surprise, it was an octopus donut.

It tasted doughy and the octopus was flavorless. Soy sauce enhanced the flavor. Savory meets sweet was the primary theme of the snack. My octopus donut was piping hot, but tasty.

It was my last meal before ringing in new years at the temple. It was a truly magical evening of making new friends, trying out authentic Japanese food and celebrating the New Year at a historic location. If you ever get the opportunity indulge in an octopus donut, I say go for it.

The Parisian Burrito

My weekends are a Mexican feast for the eyes and the senses. It’s my comfort food. I love it spicy and authentic. I even pour chilly powder into my salad for a little “ay corrumba.” On Saturdays, my dad and I usually head to the Mexican market and order the works, carnitas, chile rellenos and homemade style beans.

Mexican food is one of my favorites. I would step off the plane from New York and have my dad quickly drive me to the nearest taco stand. Literally, I was dreaming of the Mexican delights on the 6 1/2 hour flight to the West Coast. The urgency to quench my cravings took hold. Once, I bit into the carne asada burrito life was complete. My dad didn’t get it. New York is the best food city. However, burritos and tacos just taste better in California.

On a trip with my dad to Paris, we had a food escapade. France is renowned as one of the world’s culinary epicenters. The French eat well; butter and cheese are not frowned upon, but highly coveted for the taste buds. Our trip to Paris was a gastronomic delight. We ate lovely neighborhood brasseries around the Right Bank. We ventured into St. Germain De Pres’ fashionable, but tasty cafes. We even delighted in old-fashioned French cuisine on the Ile de St. Louis.

The taste of rosemary, fresh formage (cheese) and buttery garlic danced in our mouth like a well orchestrated can-can number. However, after nearly a week of garlic meets buttery, I craved some of the food, which makes my inner Californian do a little jig in delight, Mexican. Paris isn’t a town with taco trucks. Although, a taco truck scene in France would be a welcome change.

We found a Mexican restaurant in the Latin Quarter. It looked and smelled authentic. So, there I was in escargot meets crepe happy Paris ready to enjoy a burrito with a side of beans and rice. The food arrived; it looked different from the Mexican I am used to. One bite into my French burrito with Mexican indigents and blah, it was bland. My dad didn’t like his meal either. Nothing tasted authentic. After dinner, I had a huge crepe and returned to French delights.

Each city has the food, which attracts the masses. In Southern California, I miss my New York foods, pizza, bagels, Jewish deli, Chinese and Italian. However, my current location provides me with a wonderful taste of Mexico, which is difficult to find everywhere in the world.

The Pigeons Of London

Pigeons flock to London like David Bowie to a microphone. They nestle themselves in the capital’s most lavish squares and leafy parks. London birdies love tourists and especially fancy carbohydrates. Although, these pigeons are a serene sight in the grey London skies, they still are a most aggressive group.

One hazy and chilly London afternoon, I took a break from museum hoping to enjoy a sandwich. I bought a big New Yorker sandwich at Pret-A-Manger. The restaurant was packed, so I took my Yank inspired creation with a cappuccino to a bench in near by Marble Arch. I was dressed in a distinctive blue pea coat with a grey sweater, looking quite proper for London standards.

I opened up my sandwich, which was oozing with mustard and meat. A pigeon flocked to me. How adorable I thought. Another pigeon arrived, followed by more feathery friends. I bit into my sandwich. They politely circled around me (it is London after all). I was reliving a moment from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” as a flock of pigeons vied for my lunch. They hoped I would drop a crumb or even the whole sandwich.

Unfortunately, for them I just continued munching. They flew around me, flapping their wings loudly. However, I didn’t budge. My bench, the sandwich and I were going to commence bravely. The birds persisted. In, the end I won the battle. Victoriously, I left my beloved bench for the tube and more London adventures.

Birds may flock together. However, I won the battle of the New York sandwich. Lesson learned, eat in a cafe away from attacking pigeons. However, graceful birds flock when it comes to food, they become quite aggressive.

The Great Train Ride

In Spain, I convinced my dad to take a trip to Barcelona. He argued it would be too expensive. However, I was desperate to see the world’s largest concentration of Gothic architecture (aka funky cool building), eat more tapas and touch the Mediterranean Sea. With great persuasion, we bought train tickets to Barcelona. The night of our departure, a snowstorm hit Madrid. Also, I grew ill and lost my voice.

No matter, what mama nature gave us, Barcelona was our destination. Of course, I spent the 8-hour train journey hacking up a storm. The thought of seeing hills and the sea kept me smiling. Spain’s countryside was hidden by snow and dark skies. Our train arrived in Barcelona in the early morning. I touched the Mediterranean Sea, climbed Antonio Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia and enjoyed street performers on Las Ramblas. However, we took another train back to Madrid at night. From then on, I decided not to take another nighttime train.

These trains are convenient like red eye flights. However, I’d rather see the endless spans of Spanish countryside as opposed to feeling oblivious.

Although, I spent plenty of time basking in the joys of cosmopolitan Spain, I took a less touristy path in Japan. Tokyo makes me feel like a kid in the world’s coolest record store. There’s so many cool sounds, interesting buildings, funky neon lights and the fashion is the best in the world. I took a detour from the glossy catwalks of fashion forward Ginza and Shibuya.

My buddies Bryan and Yuki lived in a small town two hours from Tokyo. I took the bullet train for the first time. No train trip could be complete without Japanese goodies.

Kit Kat bars are quite popular. They come in a variety of flavors from exotic green tea to tantalizing grape. I stocked up and paired the chocolaty delights with a bag of pizza-flavored potato chips. These curious potato chips have always been hard to find outside Japan, but (surprise) actually tasted like pepperoni pizza. With goodies all in place, I was ready for more laid back surroundings.

As the train left Tokyo station, the Japanese capital looked like it just jumped out of an anime cartoon. The train progressed; Tokyo’s steel and glass wonderland remained in place.

Half way through the trip noisy Tokyo turned into snow-covered lands. Classic Japan emerged; the houses were all traditionally (you guessed it) Japanese.  They were like miniature Imperial Palaces. As the train came into the station, even the culture changed. Fashion forward Tokyo turned into a more down to earth, homey environment. It was the equivalent of going from New York’s Grand Central Station to a far out suburb.

It was lovely to see my friends and visit a side of Japan not splashed in neon and loud rock n’ roll. We celebrated my arrival by going to a traditional style diner. Curry was the cheeseburger deluxe of the menu. Bryan and I always enjoyed it with cheese (which is added into the curry) dripping from our chopsticks

Seeing Japan during the light and its many facets remains a favorite travel memory. My first long distance train trip was to Barcelona. I’ve ridden trains in two continents (not including depending on the subway every day). However, nothing beats looking out the window at a nation’s splendor. Not matter how boring grass and hills become, it’s always inspiring.

A Foodie in New York

Living in a blizzard means two things you are craving a box of coffee cake or booze to keep warm, of course. Like any good New Yorker, I always went to work even on a blizzard. Of course, I couldn’t see a damn thing, but a curious smell woke me up first thing in the morning.

The sweet smell of bread baking is one of the world’s great scents. My apartment in Queens was around the corner from a mom n’ pop’s bakery. They always had simple, but splendid dessert displays in their windows. The aroma was intoxicating. Therefore, I grabbed a chocolate croissant & a small coffee. It woke me up on the walk to the subway & the journey to Times Square for work.

My life in New York revolved around food. There were the pizzerias, bagel joints, New York style Chinese &  egg cream. These foods & establishments were so New Yawk, that you could almost hear the bagel proclaim ” ah fuhgettaboutit.” My friend Jenny was my coffee buddy. We always met up & would enjoy a big up of java together. While pondering the big questions of life, we proceeded to hit every bakery on Manhattan’s East Side.

She always walked in, sniffed around & asked for free samples. They always had some sample. She felt satisfied with a sample of a freshly baked strudel. However, the sample just increased my hunger. By the time we hit the Upper East Side, I couldn’t resist any longer. We hit a gourmet market & I ordered a quiche, which had the most explosive taste of crust, ham & cheese.

If the quiche weren’t enough, we then went to the chichi Marc Jacobs clad moms with expensive baby-strollers cupcake shop. Jenny had a small sample cupcake; I bought myself the very large red velvet. I didn’t even wait to eat it at home; it came right out of the bag & made a lovely snack while walking along the Upper East Side’s brownstone blocks.

Get me near a cupcake shop, freshly baked croissants & cheesecake, my jaw drops. I have a sweet tooth & very proud of foodie status in life. Don’t get me wrong I love a bowl of fruit, but I’d rather have the red velvet cupcake with a big coffee. I like to call it stimulation for the sweet tooth.