While developing recipes for the menu of her third restaurant, Einat Admony started by tossing Jasmine rice, cumin seeds, orange rind, and caramelized onion into a cast iron skillet, setting it over flame until the bottom was browned, crunchy, and fragrant.
Two months later, the dish had taken on the contribution of Hillary Sterling, who worked with Einat to replace the onions with slices of potato, substitute saffron for cumin, then top the rice with a whole roasted poussin--glazed with a reduction made from pomegranate juice, walnuts, and Persian lime.
The dish is just one example of the collaboration it takes to keep any good restaurant running, in a business that leads to chef worship but depends on a whole team of dedicated cooks.
Maria Vargas had barely made it to grade school when her father bought La Taza de Oro, a Puerto Rican diner that had moved from the Upper West Side to Chelsea during the 1960s. Almost half a century later, La Taza de Oro is still bustling – thanks to Vargas, her late parents, her husband, and a loyal staff that tends to massive, simmering pots of Spanish rice and carne guisada for hours on end.
These holdouts, however, would be long since gone if Vargas didn't also own the building, operating a business whose profit margin is personal than financial. She holds onto the diner, running it the way her parents did in a neighborhood that they would hardly recognize, in hopes of offering the new Chelsea a piece of the old.
Lina Chavez, the owner of Carnitas El Atoradero, is no stranger to hard work. After running a bodega in the Bronx for ten years and cooking some of New York's best carnitas in that bodega for two years, she's opened a standalone restaurant and runs both businesses, side-by-side, seven days a week.
In the process, she's also earned a reputation for zero-compromise Mexican cooking. Whether she's serving a fresh, simple guacamole or a rich, complex mole poblano, Lina is driven by a desire to share an authentic piece of her life with others.
© Soundtrack Credit: "New York Poblana" by James Boo.
Takumi Ito, the manager of Hide-chan Ramen in Manhattan, grew up on Chef Hideto Kawahara's father's ramen in the south of Japan.
Four years after helping Hide-chan bring his Hakata-style ramen to New York, Takumi reflects on New York's own "ramen lifestyle." While it's his job to introduce newcomers to the Hakata-style ramen that has made Hide-chan famous, Ito has noticed that New Yorkers have a particular way of eating ramen that he never knew when he was slurping noodles in his hometown.
© Soundtrack credit: "Tokyo" composed and performed by The Books. Recording courtesy of Temporary Residence.
Since 2002, Bronx-based Buddhist monk Thich Thien Chi has been a spiritual guide to Vietnamese Buddhists from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. He's also turned his temple into one of the city's most interesting dining halls, working for hours every weekend to serve free vegetarian meals along with his Sunday service.
Thien Chi's use of vegetarian cooking to reduce the number of meat-based meals his followers eat is a novel way to put Buddhist principles into practice. In conversation, however, the monk downplays the significance of the food itself. As this year's Lunar New Year's celebration at the temple showed, a hot meal is but one of many sources of sustenance for a community facing the future.
Good soup is a hallmark of Polish cuisine, and when it comes to good soups there are few competitors to zurek. Sometimes called "white borsch" (a related soup with slightly different ingredients), the blend of fermented rye stock, spices, kielbasa and egg makes for hearty start to a good Polish meal. And at Lomzynianka, perhaps the coziest Polish restaurant in New York, zurek can do perfectly fine on its own.
© Soundtrack credit: "Polish Soup Is Good Food" by Gray Whale and James Boo.
When Theresa Wong experienced a Chinese tea ceremony for the first time, she hadn't considered "the difference between drinking tea and tasting tea." Years later, the former insurance saleswoman guides customers through tastings at a small gourmet tea shop for a living. She still considers herself a student, but with every tea ceremony she becomes more the teacher of a tradition that reaches across the globe.
CC-BY-NC Soundtrack Credit: "Rowan Oak" by Tom Kitty Oliver.
When Delong Chang, a longtime Chinatown cook, opened his own restaurant, he decided to focus on bo zai fan, a dish that was popular where he grew up in southern China. Cooking rice in clay pots until the edges are slightly crusty has to be done just so, and to Chang the results should be an all-encompassing experience.
© Soundtrack credit: "Blue Jay" composed and performed by Prints. Recording courtesy of Temporary Residence and Bank Robber Music.
A deceptively simple concoction with few ingredients, Chinese "la mian" (hand-pulled noodles) depend on the hands of a skilled noodle to bring everything together -- by pulling everything apart. The noodle-making process brings a natural rhythm to noodle shops like Manhattan Chinatown's Sheng Wang, punctuating the slurping of diners with the sounds of dough knocking against the table.
Marc Halprin had worked in bagel distribution for 15 years when he was offered a chance to buy Kossar’s Bialys. Obsessed with reviving the old-fashioned bagel recipe in New York, he set that goal aside after realizing that the bialy had just as much history (and just as many tough, unsatisfying renditions throughout the city).
While Kossar's historic bialy and name can be found in stores all over town, Halprin has worked furiously to make good on the bakery’s reputation by perfecting the qualities of this simple, onion-topped roll. In the process, he’s transitioned from being a bagel businessman to a straightforward champion for the taste of old New York.
Peter Pan Donuts, one of New York's most beloved doughnut shops, has seen the immigrant neighborhood of Greenpoint changed by an influx of developments and younger residents over the past 15 years.
Co-owner Donna Siafakas expresses gratitude for how lively these newcomers have made her slice of home, but without an essential place like Peter Pan for locals of all stripes to sit at the counter and get along, it's hard to imagine what would link the old fashioned and the new generation together.
© Soundtrack credit: "No Glaze" by Justin Andrew Johnson and James Boo.
Mohan Sharma, co-owner of a stop-and-go eatery named Thelewala, transitioned into professional cooking from running operations in five-star international hotels. After years of managing North Indian-style restaurants in New York and Connecticut, he decided to pursue a fond memory from his college years.
The tastiest part of Thelewala's menu is a shortlist of street snacks—mixtures of puffed rice, fresh herbs and vegetables, chopped chilies, and chutneys that hit the tongue with a whirlwind of flavors. Sharma doesn’t serve bhel puri and jhal muri in a paper cone as he might in Kolkata or Mumbai, but the experience is just as lively.
© Soundtrack credit: "Bosco's Country" composed and performed by Sugarman 3. Recording courtesy of Sugarman 3 and Daptone Records.
When Lou Gaudiosi announced that his family's legendary pizzeria, Sal and Carmine, would begin delivering pies to the neighborhood, he broke one of his late grandfather's golden rules. He also took responsibility for keeping the business alive, carrying on his grandfather's craft by adapting to the realities of a New York slice business that isn't what it used to be.
© Soundtrack credit: "Dream Pie " by Justin Andrew Johnson.
Michael Rogak, owner of Jomart Chocolates, almost never buys new equipment. Much of the machinery in his small-batch factory—including a Hobart mixer the size of an antique bathtub—predates the second World War. Some of it was even bought used by his father, Martin, when he founded the business in 1946.
Rogak and his staff don't hold onto these tools out of nostalgia. Their embrace of the hand-dipped chocolate has more to do with the character of Jomart, where the daily tasks of chocolate making reveal a very personal attachment to the (chocolate-covered) fruits of that labor.
© Soundtrack credit: "Hand to Mouth" by James Boo.
When Cyrilla Suwarsa’s husband asked her to marry him, he also invited her to move into his apartment, with one condition: her cashews would have to stay outside the house. That’s when Suwarsa’s business, relocated from her living room to a cubicle-sized office in DUMBO.
Importing cashews from small farms in Java, Indonesia, her family seasons the nuts with garlic, palm sugar, coconut milk, Thai chilies and other Southeast Asian flavors. Once each batch is roasted, the cashews are either mailed to customers or sold locally. While the size of the business is as small as one can imagine, its reach extends across the globe, setting its roots in a small farming community on the other side.
© Soundtrack credit: "Doorway to Java" by James Boo.
The much-loved muffins from Blue Sky Bakery may be sold in coffee shops throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan, but the joy of a Blue Sky muffin eaten straight out of the oven can only be experienced at the bakery itself. Even for locals, it can be difficult to show up at the right moment for a fresh muffin—the bakery closes by 2 p.m., and its operations are small-batch to the last.
Still, the perfect muffin is a treat worth pursuing, and owner Erik Goetze is always happy to explain why.
Galdino Molinero, a fútbol fanatic and food truck owner known to the neighborhood as "Tortas," has named every one of his 18 specialty sandwiches after a different team from the Liga MX. While he's loyal to the Pumas de la UNAM, his lineup of tortas is an all-star roster.
© Soundtrack credit: "Sueños en Realidad" composed and performed by Ozomatli. Copyrighted by and courtesy of Ozomatli.
The Red Hook Food Vendors, a collection of street cooks from a variety of Latin American countries, won a difficult battle to preserve their place of 30+years at the Red Hook Ball Fields in 2007.
Many fans of the legendary street vendors have been anxious about whether the vendors will prevail over the ongoing struggle with a difficult set of regulations. But as new challenges arise, Marcos Lainez of pupusa vendors El Olomega shares a positive outlook on the future of his family's business--and the community it represents.
On a nondescript block of the South Bronx, a building superintendent known to the neighborhood as "Piraña" runs a Puerto Rican restaurant from a re-purposed trailer. Lechonera la Piraña specializes in lechon, pastellilos, and alcapurias, but the man with the machete specializes in heart.
CC-BY-NC-SA Soundtrack credit: "Let My People Bugalú" arranged and performed by Spanglish Fly. Recording copyrighted and courtesy of Spanglish Fly.
In the world of street food, Colombian immigrant Maria Piedad Cano is better known as "The Arepa Lady." Her journey to New York reminds us that for those who come to America to make a new and better life for themselves, cooking (even nationally famous cooking) isn't necessarily the life they have in mind.
© Soundtrack credit: "Tired of Fighting" written and performed by Menahan Street Band. Copyrighted by and courtesy of Menahan Street Band and Daptone Records.
Masjid Al-Hikmah, an Indonesian mosque in Queens, has been hosting one of the city's most vibrant food events since 2005. Taking place several times throughout the warm-weather seasons, the mosque's Food Bazaar brings Queens' Indonesian home cooks out of the woodwork to introduce the rest of New York to their cuisine.
In the Queens neighborhood of Corona Heights, the first warm day of the year is synonymous with an ice from The Lemon Ice King of Corona. Co-owner and store manager Vincent Barbaccia recounts the feeling of that day, and why this ice stand has only become more precious to New York since it first opened in 1944.
A day in the life of The Baoery, a Brooklyn-based pop-up restaurant that specializes in Taiwanese-style bao.
© Soundtrack credit: "Taipei Shuffle" by James Boo.
Khachapuri, an umbrella term for a variety of cheese breads, is something of a national pastime in Georgia. In Brighton Beach, bakers, business owners and Georgian immigrants Shorena Dalakishvili and Mzia Induashvili adapt the rising ritual of khachapuri to South Brooklyn appetites.
Soundtrack credit: Georgian folk performance recorded by Jeff Greene for Evergreene Music.
David's Brisket House is a Jewish Deli run by Yemenite Muslims, in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bed-Stuy. This one-minute short is a snapshot of pastrami, brisket, and corned beef sandwiches that aren't strictly halal or kosher, but are 100% New York.