When I think of my time in New York City, my senses are the first to tingle; the smell of a freshly made Grimaldi’s pizza, the taste of a perfectly cooked ShackBurger, the sight of a Magnolia banana pudding coming your way, the touch of a warm hot chocolate filled Max Brenner hug mug and the sounds of meat crackling when cooked in a Korean barbeque. When I came back to Mumbai, after a year-long stint in New York City, I was constantly searching for similar sensations. And the more I looked, the more I realised that diverse as the city may be, Mumbai had a gaping hole when it came to New York treats.
Slowly, I found myself thinking about my New York culinary experiences. And this is where the idea of “The Empire State of Tummy” came in. I decided that, in the long run, I aspire to bring these zests to my city, which is a potpourri of flavours, and pretty much the closest rendition to New York City in India. I dreamt of this space to resemble Brooklyn Smorgasburg, a spot buzzing with great food with the backdrop of Mumbai’s skyline. As I started to dwell upon my memory for recipes, tastes and inspiration, I already knew New York had changed something in me.
I was travelling to New York City every week, for three months, in its coldest winter ever. The Greyhound bus ride from Syracuse, where I was doing my masters, was about four hours and I would reach the Port Authority bus station preciously at 9pm, every Wednesday night. My only solace, every single week, was that there was a Shake Shack just about a block away from the stop. Sure, some people, especially my fellow classmates, complained week after week, on how I dragged them to the same joint. But, in the end, even they couldn’t resist the crinkle cut cheese fries, the Shackburger and their best and meanest milkshakes. That year, the East Coast Winter had nothing on me, I was in burger heaven.
Back in Mumbai, I searched far and wide for a flavour that resembled my beloved burger; I often found myself googling recipes and trying them out. The many versions of the ShackBurger were tried and tested on my younger brother and best friend. It took a while but soon, with the right kind of spices, I had a replica of the dish. My “The Empire State of Tummy” was still a distant dream, but now, there was an outline.
Photo By: Antonio Gravante/Shutterstock
After my return, my kitchen shelf was a mix of traditional Indian spices and an array of herbs from the other side of the world. I spent weekends trying to replicate the taste of the famed Korean barbeque from Korea Town. My best friend and I had taken a trip there and we still talk about that particular sizzling meal like it was our finest Asian meal ever. While Mumbai boasted of some of the finest Asian restaurants in the country, barring one, none served Korean barbeque as it should, with a gas or charcoal grill built into the dining table. While New York’s Korea Town, that sat in Midtown Manhattan, had a variety of food places to choose from, Mumbai had none and I was determined to change that.
New York City is the hub for dessert lovers. My time there was laced with multiple visits to ice-cream store, bakeries and everything else that could satiate my sweet tooth. There were days I found myself daydreaming about Chelsea Market, where I discovered L’Arte del Gelato, with its interesting flavours of the Italian frozen dessert. I remember taking my best friend, who was on her way to Florida then, for my favourite; much to her horror, it was a large dollop of olive oil flavoured gelato, something that I crave for till this day. My idea of frozen desserts and ice creams was always limited to basic flavours, mostly because I was afraid to try something that was out of the ordinary and there wasn’t much available in Mumbai. But, that one happy scoop of olive oil gelato in the Big Apple changed my idea of unusual desserts and now, I crave for bizarre unfamiliar flavours. New York City gave me different flavours and weird combinations to look forward to and I wanted the same for my “Empire State of Tummy”.
While I loved my gelatos and ice-creams, my favourite dessert was Magnolia bakery’s banana pudding and pistachio cupcake. The soft and creamy texture of the pudding is something that I could never forget. That flavour reminded me of the times I would make a quick detour to Grand Central Terminal, just so I could pick up a cup of this pudding heaven and stare at its celestial ceiling. The pistachio cupcake reminded me of the times I’d gobble down chicken-over-rice from the Halal Guys on 53rd Street and take the four-minute walk on 6th Avenue, passing the Radio City Music Hall, to Magnolia’s tiny shop, that was always crowded. The sights and sounds of the city were all filled in each bite of that delicious pistachio meringue buttercream and I was convinced that Mumbai needed to savour this just as I had at numerous occasions.
Photo By: Carl.Salisbury / Shutterstock
From the artichoke pizza from East Village’s Artichoke Basille’s Pizza to the hot chai latte from a local Brooklyn café teamed with a seasonal pumpkin spiced donut, I wanted it all, for myself and for the foodies in Mumbai. I craved for that perfect melt-in-the mouth pastrami sandwich from the ‘Harry Met Sally’ famed Katz Delicatessen and spent hours thinking about Max Brenner’s Italian Thick hot chocolate.
I know my short stint as a New Yorker gave me a lot more than walks on Brooklyn Bridge and Broadway shows; it changed my life and my perception about food. I was introduced to a gamut of flavours that have spoilt me for life. And I take pride in introducing these to other people—friends, family and even strangers. The city’s long list of local and international dishes, laced with herbs and spices from around the world has made it my much-loved food city. And it has made me a walking, talking guide to food and changed the way I think of food. I no longer crave for basic flavours and simple tastes, I savour it all.
But, above all, I see myself as someone who will, eventually, flood the streets of Mumbai with New York. And for all this, the dream, the life changing plan and “Empire State of Tummy”, I am eternally grateful to the bustling metropolitan that is New York City.
Just like my life-changing experience, there are many others who have been inspired by places to alter something about themselves, their lives and aspirations. You can log on to www.lufthansa.com/places to be inspired by some of these amazing stories of #LifeChangingPlaces.
likes to document all her travels using leather diaries, Instagram stories and her Polaroid camera. When she isn't doing that, she can be found indulging in Bollywood movies, watching plays and gobbling sushi.
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