For our recent trip to the US, we stayed at a great apartment on Grand Street in the Lower East Side. It’s a big thoroughfare, and walking it takes you through a variety of different cultures, based on the various waves of immigrants, how they moved around the areas, and the foods they brought with them. There’s also the new kids moving into blocks, so the cycle continues. Take a walk with me.
We started at where Grand Street meets East Broadway. There are a lot of Orthodox Jewish families and businesses in the area. We were in the apartments just above Moishes Kosher Bakery, which is very old school looking, nothing glam (to be fair, not very inviting either). Next door, there was a takeaway, again kosher, and very traditional.
Walk further up the street, and you’ll come to Noah’s Ark, which is not a pet shop, but a kosher deli. Lots of chicken and brisket and turkey. Go a bit further and you’d come to Kossar’s Bialys, which has been a LES institution for over 65 years. I didn’t know what a bialy was, it looks like a flattened bagel still with a middle, and with onions. I’m getting some next time.
Just before you cross over Essex though, just check you haven’t missed out on something “new”. Doughnut Plant was set up as the antithesis of Krispy Kreme, and although I call them new, there is a family history going back to 1910. but really started in 1994. Stop in and try one. I recommend the Peanut Butter Banana Cream.
As you cross the road, you’ll see The Pickle Guys, continuing a tradition of pickles on Essex from 1910. Y0u don’t need to know the exact location, look for the crowds. But as you pass over this cross section, the food landscape changes, and you’re into Chinatown. Lots of fish, not to mention fruit and veg that I would have to Google to work out what the heck it was and what to do with it. If I was living round there, these would be my shops of choice for fresh stuff though.
It will feel like you’ve spent a long time being immersed in Chinese food and culture, and then all of a sudden, bam, you’re in Italy. Di Palo’s is an amazing shop, that started out five generations ago in cheese, and now has an amazing choice of Italian products. If I’d needed to cook a meal, I’d have stopped in here for the meatballs. Or some pasta.
If the choice confused, then it would be a good time to hop across the street to the Ferrara Cafe and Bakery. Was chaos just after we arrived in there, as a coachload of 50 Italians arrived, but I took it that they approved of everything, that it was just like Nonna would make. Pretty decent biscotti, though the coffee could be stronger. But they’ve been here since 1892, which means they are one of the longest lasting food businesses in the area, which has to be worth a stop by.
I have to admit, we stopped when Grand Street met Broadway, and turned right to head up to one of my favourite food haunts. Yes, I know Dean and Deluca‘s prices are ridiculous, but it’s still one of the most beautiful stores I know, it’s lasted since 1977, and was a bit of atrailblazer in the area. But I’d probably save my cash and wander to Balthazar round the corner for a proper lunch instead.
A couple of kilometres covers three main food cultures. But wandering the streets heading off from Grand Street will also bring you to a really rich variety of other cultures too. I love the LES, it’s overlooked by many UK tourists but I really recommend it for adding some great colour to a visit to the city. Worth heading to the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street to really bring the story of the area to life, or try reading The Lower East Side: Remembered, Revisited.