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Sunday, March 06, 2011

Foodie Sunday: The Smell of New York.

By Tom

Some people when asked what New York smells like will snark about subways and pee, but I find them as tiresome as people who snark that LA smells like silicone and smog. For me there are many smells of New York City: the green fields of Central Park, the lush, expensive smell of shops on Madison Avenue or the smell of the water off Battery Park, with its slight smell of the ocean.

But mostly what I think of when I think how New York smells is food.

New York is all about street vendors. Little carts selling hot dogs you scarf down on your hurried way (because in NYC there's no other way) to and fro. In winter it's roasted chestnuts, which I personally am not fond of but found when I lived there that they retain heat better than a brick hearth. On freezing mornings I'd buy a bag just to hold and then present them, still steaming to whomever wanted them at my destination, neatly combining minor hostess gift and frostbite prevention. Everyone in New York has some favorite hole-in-the-wall pizza joint, that sells slices that I think in reality are better memories than pies.

But for me the food that says "New York" like no other is the bagel.

New Yorkers will bore the rest of the planet relentlessly with the fact that there is no place on said planet except the 5 boroughs (okay, maybe Westchester) where you can get a real bagel. I have to explain to people in my adopted home who listen to the ex-New Yorkers with rolled eyes that it's true. I don't know what the heck they do to them there but they're just better. Some say it's the water; no less than quintessential New Yorker Larry King is bringing a new place to Beverly Hills that will offer ones made with "Brooklynized" water to all of us NYC expats who have been longing for a decent one. Make mine plain with lox and a heavy schmeer. The bagels we had gotten here were were like what some of the NY ex-pats become when they really dive into being Angelenos: taut, too-tanned skin and oddly mushy, as if instead of being boiled, they'd been hot-tubbed. Sometimes LA bagels will have ingredients that would cause the nicest Bubbie to glower, like chocolate chips or jalapeno, or G-d forbid both.

When I lived in NYC I lived in the East Village and at the end of my time there worked in midtown near Bloomingdale's. Since I was poor, to save money I would walk to work at least one way every day. Every day I worked I would pass the bakery on 14th Street and every day I would for a few pennies purchase a fresh bialy (a bagel that skips the boiling and goes straight to the oven). There was no way, especially in cold weather I could possibly pass up that warm, slightly yeasty smell of freshly baked bagels knowing that that chewy, oniony bialy was in there just waiting for me to slather its voluptuous folds with cream cheese and wash it down with a large coffee, regular. For me that's the penultimate smell of New York.

I hope Larry King delivers, but will continue to forgive New Yorkers for telling us there are no decent bagels in LA.

Because I can silently judge them since they still can't make a decent margarita..

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Blogger marsha said...

Tom: That bialy sounds great!


7:30 AM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

OH MY GOD....There is nothing better than a fresh ,hot New York Onion bagel with cream cheese, Onions and some good old fashioned smoked whitefish...oh yes and a side of tomatoes....Thanks for the hunger pangs...And you're right. I've never had a decent margarita in NYC...Martini? Oh yeah!

11:34 AM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Oh yes and for me? The smell of NYC will always be horses and roasted chestnuts with an espresso chaser:)

11:36 AM EST  
Blogger popcarts said...

Kossar's bialys. Can't imagine living without them.

11:38 AM EST  
Blogger taffynfontana said...

Bagels and Lox is my idea of a NY breakfast.

2:13 PM EST  
Blogger Unknown said...

"penultimate" means "second to last".

2:34 PM EST  
Anonymous JP said...

I too have noticed the irksome misuse of penultimate a few times now on this blog. I love the storytelling just the same though.

5:09 PM EST  
Blogger Flora said...

Tom, I love me a good bagel but a bialy is almost better sometimes. In my town there is one restaurant that makes what could pass for the real thing. They have a Jewish food only brunch on the weekends, though on all other days the menu varies widely. I would cheerfully eat their bialys every day, and one day perhaps I will have a "real" one in NYC. Hopefully with you and Marina. :-D

6:05 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...


That Bialy was great.

10:29 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...


I hold the hope for Larry Kings bagels

10:32 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:36 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...


I'll have to check them out!

10:37 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...


that would be wonderful!

10:38 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...


The ultimate New York smell for me is the smell the city gets during a summer thunderstorm: ozone, wet concrete and green. Since that isn't a food scent I wrote about the penultimate, bagels

10:40 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...


I'd eat it for dinner. In fact I did!

And no, the bagels weren't great..

10:41 PM EST  
Anonymous Lori. said...

Ha, I love this from the Brooklyn Water Bagel Co's site: "Designed to provide maintenance-free operation [...] via satellite monitoring of each store’s water system to ensure consistent quality."

Only in LA would we use satellite monitoring to make a bagel. It seems like it'd be easier to just have a margarita.

3:41 PM EST  
Anonymous Marian said...

For me it's a tie between Ess-A-Bagel (in the 20s on 1st) and Absolute (107th and B'way). If my apartment were in walking distance of either one I'd say I lived in the perfect location :-)

4:02 PM EST  

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