There are many ways to explore the city. Some choose stick to their own neighborhood and daily route to work. Others stray far and wide, exploring the subway system or specific neighborhoods as they look for architectural wonders or obscure artifacts of history.
In 2016, my goal is to explore New York City and its neighborhoods through its food, mainly ethnic cuisine. Where else can you find Egyptian, French and Greek restaurants on the same block?
So long as we live in New York City this year, I plan to visit at least one new international restaurant each week — or 52 cuisines in 52 weeks. It could be the Dominican bakery around the corner from my apartment in Marble Hill, a unique Halal food stand in Midtown, a quick workday lunch at a Caribbean place I just learned about on Houston Street or a Georgian restaurant in a distant Brooklyn neighborhood.
We kicked this project off today with a long hike through the Bronx.
Week 1: Bangladeshi Food in Parkchester and Pastries in the Bronx's Little Italy
The goal for today was Neerob, a Bangladeshi restaurant in Parkchester praised in the New York Times in 2011 for being one of the only places in the city where true Bangladeshi food is served. We decided to walk from Marble Hill to Parkchester in the east Bronx through the Bronx's Little Italy, hiking along Kingsbridge Road, Fordham Road, Arthur Avenue, and eventually below the Bronx Zoo and over to Unionport Road and Starling Ave. — a 5.2 mile hike.
The first stop was the less famous but much larger Little Italy along Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, one of the largest Italian neighborhoods in the city with one of the region's highest concentrations of Italian meat markets, bakeries and shops.
That's where we found Gino's Pastry Shop, where I ate a pastry called sfogliatella, or "lobster tail," a pastry with resembling a lobster tail made with thin leaves of pastry.
Delicious. Jacob ate a cannoli, and soon we found ourselves wandering through the bustling Arthur Ave. Market, which is replete with vendors hawking olive oil, fresh vegetables, pizza and "This is the Bronx" hats and T-shirts, each of which is probably aimed at tourists.
From there, we wandered through the central Bronx and over to Parkchester, a planned development of uniform housing towers built by Met Life just before World War II. Neerob is in a Bangladeshi district just a couple of blocks away from the housing towers.
As we walked into the restaurant, there were cases of mostly unlabeled food on the right, and seating in an adjacent room on the left. Is there table service? Do we order at the counter? And what exactly were they serving? Except for the clearly-labeled biryanis, or rice dishes, in the case, we couldn't tell for sure. That's what stands out about this place: You're supposed to know what the food in the display case is, and you shouldn't need labels or a menu to help you identify it. Its deliciousness is supposed to be self evident.
And it was. We were seated, and we ordered from a takeout menu, and when we got our food, the flavor was as bursting as we'd expected.
Jacob ordered goat curry, and I had channa dal and chicken korma with garlic naan and mango lassi, an Indian yogurt drink.
Each dish was rich and spicy, and totally unlike any korma or dal I've had at any Indian restaurant in town. Most customers in the restaurant ate with their hands, but as the only obvious Westerners in the restaurant, we were given utensils.
Delicious. Of course. Some of the best South Asian food I've had in NYC so far.
The real treat, aside from the food, was visiting this part of the Bronx, which is so far removed from the typical tourist track that you'll be unlikely to ever see one here, a trait it shares with Marble Hill and much of far Uptown Manhattan.