You would be hard pressed finding a cuisine that isn’t available in New York City. One of the most diverse and interesting aspects of the melting pot city is the array of international influences. In the Foreign Cuisine Finder series I share all the delicious discoveries I make on my global adventures, and while in NYC I came across these two foods that were entirely new to me.
Though one half of my paternal great grandparents were Jewish, they passed away before I was born and I never had much exposure to the culture or cuisine (their descendents were less observant of their faith). The New York City metropolitan area is home to the largest population of Jewish people outside of Israel, which makes it the perfect place to be introduced to traditional dishes such as the knish. The squares of dough are traditionally stuffed with onion and mashed potatoes or other savoury fillings, and fried until golden. Of course, time has seen them evolve new flavours savoury and sweet, and there is a loose code of baking round knishes and frying the square ones. Knishes were brought to New York by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and were sold from pushcarts in the early 20th century. Now there are knisheries like the historic Yonah Shimmel’s Knish Bakery, where I sampled my first ever knish on a walking tour of the Lower East Side. I was sold on the first bite – such a warming, carb-loaded, comfort food on a cold and drizzly day.
Halva is a crumbly, sesame-paste (tahini) based fudge that makes the perfect dessert for someone who doesn’t have an overly sweet tooth. It is difficult to pinpoint the geographic origin of halva, however the first known halva recipe to be documented in writing dates back to the 13th century Kitab al-Tabikh (Book of Dishes), and further recipes appeared in Moorish Spain during the same century. As the sweet dish spread its wings and migrated across the Mediterranean and Central Asia, it was localised with regional ingredients including rosewater, pistachios, almonds, dates and coconut. Today in New York you will find a plethora of flavours available including chocolate. I love to eat it crumbled over creamy soft-serve ice cream from Seed + Mill at Chelsea Market. Eat it fresh and don’t buy the pre-packaged stuff, it is often bitter.
If you have a favourite food discovery from your travels, please share it with us in the comments.