Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Taste of Terroir (New York)

Since I read Anna’s invitation to post about something that captures the terroir of your location, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what to post. In my mind, so much of what makes New York special from a food perspective is that you can get anything here. And yet, that doesn’t really speak to a single taste that captures the variety and complexity that is New York.

And so I went back to what I miss when I move away from NY (which I’ve done twice). And that got me started on breads. And when I say that, I really mean bagels. Bagel-mania swept the country a few years ago meaning that it is pretty easy to find round doughy things with a variety of toppings on them anywhere in the country. And yet, they’re not really bagels. I’ve heard rumors that many of these places don’t even boil their bagels (as that’s not what their customers are looking for – which is just one reason why it is critical that not everything in this country become mass customized) – though some do, and somehow it still isn’t the same. And so, it isn’t that far off to say that it really is impossible (or, at least very, very difficult) to find real bagels outside of NY. But this isn’t news. I can get as emotional and indignant as I want on the sorry state of round bread-y things around the country and still not be telling most food obsessed people something they don’t know. I didn’t want my post to be old hat (though, there is something to be said for the truth of those things recognized by all). When I thought about it, pizza was the same issue. There is decidedly a NY pizza. It is recognized by all pizza aficionados as a distinct taste and type. It is a style that people travel to taste. But like the bagel, as a post, it seems somewhat old news. I then thought pretty seriously about the thing that people whisper as what makes NY bagel’s different – the water. But that seemed a bit like cheating. I wanted a single food that summed up NY for me.

At this point, it becomes a bit like a Dr. Suess book:
I needed a taste
I needed a flavor
I needed that thing
That New Yorkers all savor

I needed to find
That one special bite
That captured New York
To show others the light

I thought and I chewed
I chewed and I thought
With each sip and each swallow
With each meal that I bought

And yet as I thought
The problem just grew
Each thing that I tried
Why, it screamed New York too

For New York is not pizza
Or bagels or lox
New York is a mixture
Of food out of the box

It’s goulash and sushi
Panini and foie gras
It’s salsa and curry
Steak and samosa

All these foods are part of the taste of New York
What makes New York different is not one flavor
But the blend of all tastes
And the distinction that gave her

There wasn’t one food
There wasn’t one taste
I had the right answer
Just needed a photo to paste

And I went back to my idea of the water. That was somehow oddly compelling. When I’m asked in a restaurant if I want ‘Sparkling or Still’, I defiantly choose ‘Tap’, knowing that New York’s water tastes quite good (we can get into a discussion of water flavors at another point, but there are definitely waters, like Evian, that just taste bad – and NY’s tap water is not one of them, it’s actually good). And, to extend the logic (in a rather cheesy way), it is the water around NY (though we’re drinking water from upstate, not the East or Hudson Rivers) that first brought such a range of people and foods to NY – making the variety that I'm talking about the norm that it is.

And so, to capture the Taste of New York, I give you my visual Ode to Eau


Anonymous Mia said...

Being originally a New Yorker, I truly enjoyed and understood your post. You "captured" (as much as anyone can!) an essence of New York that is difficult to get across. You've made me a bit homesick, even....and now I really want a slice. :)

6:12 AM  
Blogger rachel said...

You are so right! You can get the best bagels in New York. There is one deli in Skokie, IL I have found that also has real bagles. I live in the Tampa, FL area now I have yet to find a good bagel place. You're got me craving them.

12:28 PM  

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