Foodie Sunday: The Smell of New York.
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..
Image source, foodsubs.com