Ah New York…where to start with my beloved New York? A metaphorical nucleus of the world where near enough every nation is represented by the best demonstrations of culture; music, food, language – it is essentially a port key to the rest of our humble Earth. Whilst my own city London occupies a special place in my heart it cannot be denied that in the food stakes at least New York comes out superior thanks to the mind boggling diversity and availability of great food. Here are just 15 completely food related reasons why New York is better than London…
Pizza in New York is more than just a food item – it is a way of life. And why wouldn’t it be? In fact why is it not this way in every other city of the world? Everyone deserves to have the option of grabbing a slice of a freshly baked pizza pie straight out of the oven for the price of a bus ride. Pizza for lunch, pizza for dinner, pizza for a 4am pick up – these are all lifestyle options that are part and parcel of NYC living. And the taste…oh God…I shall not add my own views to the unending heated debate of who does the best pizza in the city – but suffice to say that the pizza game is so elevated that even the ‘mediocre’ establishments of NYC exceed London expectations. Can anything be more fulfilling than a slice of perfectly executed margarita topped with fresh oregano and chili flakes to your own liking at 3am? I think not…
The reason behind the bagel and pizza superiority in NYC is apparently down to the mineral content in NYC’s water…I can’t speak to the scientific validity of this but I can say that just like the pizzas, the bagels are another level in NYC. Also more readily available than an NYPD officer in a time of need, bagels are a staple available at all hours though grabbed freshly baked in the morning for breakfast is really the best way (to each his own however). From peanut butter and jelly to cream cheese and Lox there is a bagel filling to suit most needs.
Breakfast at all hours
Nothing offends me more than a breakfast spot that stops serving breakfast after a certain time on weekends– especially if that time is wholly incompatible with weekend lie ins like 1.30pm. What is this nonsense reminiscent of prison living where if you miss out on your breakfast gruel you are excommunicated out of the breakfast circle of trust?? Can we just destroy the seemingly necessary imposed correlation between time of day and type of food consumed and start serving up poached eggs WHENEVER THE DAMN CUSTOMER WANTS (Bill’s I am looking at you and as a chain I will put you on blast). So then, with that context in mind imagine my delight at concept of all DAY and all NIGHT breakfast options available at every 24 hr diner in NYC. This is the type of world we should aspire to live in- where food choices are not restricted by a sense of propriety based exclusively on the position of the sun – this type of superstitious sorcery is incompatible with the free age we live in today. Blueberry pancakes, scrambled eggs and home fries please…which brings me onto my next point…
Potato is of course the uncontested leader of all food items that lends itself to such a generous array of potential uses; “Fried? Boiled? Baked? Mashed? We offer varieties that can be used for dessert too ya know?” – Seriously there is nothing potatoes can do wrong, but Americans have discovered an additional daily use of potatoes in the form of home fries.
Grated/chopped and fried served with eggs for breakfast (or any damn meal of the day) we have to ask ourselves why we did not think of this and start the revolution to bring this over to every establishment serving breakfast within the M25.
Whilst we’re on the topic of food usually associated with breakfast let me take a minute to eulogize the wonder that is the American pancake. Filled with blueberries or chocolate chips, topped with bananas and nutella or just humble maple syrup pancakes are so simple yet so decadent and comforting. Increasingly offered up in London especially at American style novelty places no one quite gets it the same as the non-assuming diners of NYC. Grabbing some pancakes at midnight from a neighbourhood diner is simply not a lifestyle option in London – these circles of fluffy bliss need to be elevated from the ranks of novelty brunch joints to the conventional consciousness of our eating habits.
The post recession era ushered in an unforgiving executioner for many cupcake joints which deemed the Sex and the City cutesy bakeries charging $5 for a red velvet macchiato salted caramel cream cupcake as overly indulgent and superfluous (only to make way for macaroon purgatory). That said however some have survived and are thriving in the current climate and the cupcake game levels are just simply not met in London (apart from by Hummingbird bakery – and even then flavors are quite conservative compared to their flashy American cousins). Case in point is Molly’s cupcakes in Greenwich village –with build your own cupcake options and swing seats this place has all the required aesthetics but what about the taste?
Oh dear Lord, chocolate and peanut butter ganache cupcake topped with butterscotch – need I say any more?
Another heavyweight in the baked sweet goods department is the NYC cookie game. I’m not even the biggest cookie fan however the acclaimed Harlem and upper east side establishment of Levain changed that. Levain’s freshly baked cookies are incredibly gooey inside and just melt in your hands before you even get them in your mouth.
With only four flavor options to choose from I can wholeheartedly vouch for the chocolate chip walnut and the dark chocolate peanut butter chip for unadulterated decadence.
Also big in the NYC cookie game is Insomnia cookies – the hint is in the name really, you can get your cookies delivered to your door at 3am for those nights you’re kept awake by a burning want, no need, for a snickerdoodle cookie. If you can’t wait for the delivery you can make your way to a store to order till 3am too…very convenient and makes the opening hours of London cookie establishments look archaic.
New York is the home of food innovation and hype which coupled together creates ridiculous queues and insatiable demand, something I discovered to my chagrin whilst naively planning to try a Cronut (croissant meets donut) from the Dominic Ansel Bakery. 3 hour queues from 6am however are not compatible with my way of life, however I did get to try some other interesting creations from the Dominic Ansel Bakery – such as the cookie milk shots.
This is literally a shot of milk in an edible cookie ‘shot glass’ which is sold at the bakery from 3pm each day to the masses ranging from selfie taking Japanese girls, yummy mummies and their kids and hells angels bikers (no word of a lie!). Only in New York would such bizarre innovative ideas be met with so much enthusiasm, hype and recognition.
Donuts (are you sensing a theme yet?)
The donut game in New York has moved bounds and leaps from the days of just conjuring up images of Dunkin Donuts (I personally have nothing but love for Dunkin and their little munchkins).
Between the offerings of the warring establishments of Donut Plant and Dough (ok not warring, but there is discord amongst their respective disciples) you are bound to find your Donut/Doughnut soul mate.
It is a close call but for me it would have to be Donut Plant…
Little Italy – Cannolis
The diversity of New York is the best thing about the city and indeed a defining feature of all the greatest cities in the world. A food tour across the 5 boroughs could take you on a culinary journey around the world from Nepalese Momo’s, Greek Saganaki, Cuban empanadas, Palestinian falafel, Peruvian ceviche, Jewish Challah French toast and everything in between from cuisines you know to those you may never have heard of. Whilst London is so close to Italy in Europe the Italian fare on offer does not compare to that of New York. In fact the cannolis in Little Italy rival even the best I have tried in Italy itself. Having authentic and amazing Italian food in such a concentrated collection of streets in little Italy, Manhattan is something envied by every honest Londoner who has experienced the culinary delights of little Italy.
Now when it comes to food markets London beats NYC hands down. Portobello, Old Spitalfields, Leather Lane, Brick Lane and Borough market are truly markets bringing their A game that NYC cannot compete with. That said however, the Brooklyn Smorgasburg food market does bring something new to the table that is unseen in London. Admittedly this is because the ethnic communities in both cities vary dramatically meaning the NYC offerings of Japanese Brazilian fusion food, Afro-Puerto Rican Mofongo and real soul food are not that common place in London.
Also the Brooklyn smorgasburg benefits from a backdrop of the NYC skyline and Hudson river, which let’s be honest, is kind of nicer than London’s skyline (though only marginally).
As mentioned previously, great London street food is in abundance at some of the best markets the western world has to offer. However these are mostly restricted to the markets in question – NYC on the other hand has food carts on nearly every street corner from those offering coffee, Halal chicken and rice guys, Mexican nachos, Nepalese Momo’s and hotdogs (for those who are that way inclined) – you can really find it all on a street corner not too far from you.
When it comes to Mexican food London needs to bow its head in shame and repeat the lines: Chipotle, Tortilla and Poncho are a stain on Mexican cuisine. I know NYC’s Mexican offerings pail in comparison to that of California but it is still far superior to the tepid offerings we have in the big smoke. It is expected given the size of the Mexican communities in NYC compared to that of London but with all the new tacos and burrito places popping up in London you would think one of them could get it half right, no?
How do I even begin to introduce Popeyes? Essentially life can be considered as two parts – before and after your life has been enriched by the introduction of Popeyes. This Louisiana cooking chain started off in America and can now be found across the Middle East. The amazing taste of the spicy batter has led some to speculate that the secret may be crack because from the first bite you will be hooked. The battered prawn sandwiches are a revelation (you have to taste it to believe it) and the combo meal comes with glorious Cajun fries and a biscuit. I’m not too sure how the idea first originated in the south to serve ‘biscuits’ (savory type scones for us Brits) with fried chicken/fish but I’m not complaining.
Unfortunately the only way to get Popeyes in Britain is to join the U.S Army or break into the U.S army base…both of which are wrought with logistical difficulties.
Magnolia’s banana pudding
And so we come to the end of the list, and of course I have kept the best till last; the undisputed champion of desserts and nearly solely responsible for my change in dress size whilst living in New York it is the Banana Pudding from the holiest of bakeries – the Magnolia Bakery.
When I lived in New York I often made detours on my home of about 20 blocks to satisfy my unyielding need for that little white pot of heaven. In fact, a few months ago whilst scrolling heart brokenly through Google images of Banana Pudding my desire became so potent I actually booked a flight to New York that very day (and provided a very compelling yet subtle value based argument to Ali to make him think it was all his idea). Also it is prudent to note for those who have not tried it – this is not a dessert reserved for banana lovers! I dislike bananas but this is beyond the mere yellow finite fruit we are all familiar with. Layers of whipped cream, cake, and banana merge together to create something magical.
I fail to understand why residents of Tokyo, Beirut, Dubai, Kuwait, and Doha can all have this pot of dessert crack whenever they please but residents of London should be made to suffer the pain of imposed abstinence. I think this calls for a change.org petition…