Foraging for Food: Expand Your Idea of Local

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We have all been cooking a lot more these days. Luckily I’ve always liked to cook, and I have been trying to make many new recipes to help dispel the boredom of the lockdown. I consider myself lucky to be a die-hard New Yorker, home to myriad cuisines from around the world. What is wonderful about being in New York these days is that our city is diverse, and it is a single society made up of people from many different backgrounds, races and religions. We stood together after 9/11 as a city, and we are standing behind our protesters demanding equal justice in helping create a shared vision and policy agenda to win rights, recognition, and resources for many in the Black community.

I am also a huge supporter of small business. Shop Local has always been a mantra — and that holds true now more than ever. I have been shopping in the small stores all over the city for years and so I was pretty well stocked up on real foods when the city closed up in March. As I needed to find more food, I decided to discover which of my favorite places were open and serving customers.

I have never been a fan of industrial supermarkets, though I might make an exception for Wegman’s. Vegetables hosed down with water so they rot quickly? Nope. Fish with unknown country of origin? Nah. Although I can get meat cut to order at Fairway, I will confess that I find the stores a bit too crowded these days to shop only there. Amazon-owned Whole Foods? Forget about it. My local supermarkets scare me as my neighbors here tend not to social distance, and I cannot understand why every register is open so when I am checking out my back is less than 2 feet from the cashier at the next register. I applaud and appreciate all the people who work there, but management really needs to space out their staff more. We are lucky have a car, and have been able to get to different parts of the city. Shopping safaris have become our way to see the city and it has paid off.

An East Village Landmark.

Because New York is the quintessential melting pot, neighborhoods were settled by different nationalities and ethnicities. Happily some of their stores remain. Often the buildings they operate in are family owned, so they don’t come with huge rent increases. This allows them to keep their prices lower, offering better value. One of my favorite pastry stores is Veniero Pasticceria. Before the virus, the cafe inside was always packed.

Distancing is taken seriously.

There were a few people in line to get into the store and the people inside were polite, with everyone was spaced out appropriately. Putting the take-a-number dispenser outside is a good idea. And in case you can’t physically get to Veniero, they do offer delivery locally and will ship all over the country.

The Cafe at the back is closed, but there are cases of sweets here.

The sweets here — Neapolitan, cannolis, sfogliatelle, Italian cheesecakes, tiramisu, and all sorts of other yummy cakes and pastries — are baked every day.

Venerios is known for its small and delicious pastries, rugelach and cookies.

If you have never been, I definitely suggest a visit once the City opens up, but in the meantime why not sweeten your day with some of their delicious products.

Veniero Pasticceria, 142 East 11th Street, (212) 674-7070

Customers waiting outside.

East Village Meat Market is a relative newcomer to the neighborhood. Opened in 1970, it offers Eastern European comfort food.  It is a butcher shop that also sells prepared foods. Customers are happy to wait in line to get in, and again the store is not crowded.

Prepared food includes pierogis, and borscht, chickens and goulash.

There is a wide range of prepared foods and cold cuts. Many things that you won’t find anywhere else. They do ship and you can order on their website. Obviously there is more in the store than can be shipped. They also carry Eastern European sweets and treats.

Eastern European specialties are found here.

Hot prepared food is available for take away, and all meat is cut to order.

A wide range of sausages are to be found.

Sausages and salamis are a specialty here as well. Kielbasa, and others from Hungary, Germany and Italy fill the cases. They also offer babkas and other sweets.

East Village Meat Market139 Second Avenue, (212) 228-5590

Call your orders in and pick them up.

Meyers of Keswick is a small piece of Britain parked in the West Village. You cannot go into the store, but you can call and place an order and pick it up, or have it delivered. From Ribena to Vanish, the super stain remover, all sorts of canned and packaged Brit goods are here. At Christmas they have a proper Christmas Pudding with hard sauce. For those with sweet tooths, rest assured your favorite candy can be found here.

British treats that cannot be beat.

They have freshly made scones with real clotted cream, Marmite, McVites bisquits, HP Sauce, Horlick’s powder, and Yorkshire Pudding mix, and so much more.

Grab and go can be gotten here.

Myers of Keswick also makes Cumberland sausage and bangers. All sorts of pies from pork to chicken and leek are here. Scotch eggs, cornish pastries, sausage rolls, shepherd’s pie, and real English bacon. Grab a take-away feast and have a pub night at home instead of Covid cocktails.

Myers of Keswick634 Hudson Street, (212) 691-4194

A family business with family values.

O Ottomanelli and Sons Meat Market has been a fixture of Bleecker Street for many years. This family owned business has been working with small and local farms ever since it opened over 60 years ago. It still is a family business, and the customers are not just from the neighborhood. Many people who have moved out of the Village are still regular customers drawn by the wide range of products.

The store has remained open with protection.

Only three customers are allowed in the store at a time. You can call in orders for pickup, and online delivery is also available from the website. Everything is cut to order, just as you want it. The butchers have been working here forever (and know everything), some of whom appear to be upwards of 60 years old.

Ottomaelli’s is the old school real deal.

They have all the usual meats and cuts of meat, but also stock unusual products. The gentleman who was preparing my order said that they were currently carrying camel, as they had requests for it from many runners. He had no idea what it tasted like. Ottomanelli also stocks ostrich, buffalo, squab, venison, duck and wild boar. All of this in a building built in 1874.

O Ottomanelli and Sons285 Bleecker Street, (212) 675-4217

Customers are happy to wait outside the store.

This part of Bleecker Street used to be full of vegetable markets, fishmongers, pastry and coffee shops. Murray’s Cheese is still here along with Rocco’s pastry and gelato. This was an Italian neighborhood, and the shops reflected that. Faicco’s market is a neighborhood favorite.

The shelves are full.

Four people are allowed in the store at a time, and the customers are all respectful of the staff and other patrons. Faicco’s offers a small selection of meat and chicken and has delicious home-made sausages. The meat case is topped high with Italian cookies and sweets.

The customers in Faicco’s are polite.

The shelves are full of pastas, oils, condiments, sauces and other treats. At the back of the store there is a counter filled with salamis, sausages and Italian cured meats and a lot of cheeses. Faicco’s is famous for its heros and other curated sandwiches.

Prepared foods and sandwiches are a draw here.

They also offer a large range of home made sauces and prepared foods, like lasagna, eggplant parm, soups, salads and platters of cheeses and salamis.

Baked goods and sweets are part of the mix.

You can find a good selection of breads and rolls as well. My guilty favorite is the decadent prosciutto bread — the best I have found in the city. If you can’t make it down to the Village, visit their website and place your order.

Faicco’s260 Bleecker Street, (212) 243-1974

Employees keep the store clean.

One of my other favorite shopping areas is Ninth Avenue or Hell’s Kitchen. Sea Breeze Fish Market is a wholesaler that sells to restaurants and also to the public. Their prices are fair and much lower than other stores in the city. There is a wide variety of fish and seafood, and all of it is gleaming fresh. The customers respectfully keep their distance, and the store is constantly cleaned.

The catch of the day.

Lobsters, cooked and alive, salmon, different grades of tuna, dry scallops, squid and octopus are up front. All sorts of crabs, as well as crayfish are available according to the season.

All fish are filleted in the back.

The assortment of fish changes all the time. I have been lucky enough to find real Dover sole — not the farmed variety — here a few times and well as red mullet. Buy the fish whole, or have it freshly filleted; you can even get the bones and make a fish fumet.

Oysters, clams, mussels and cooked lobster.

They also stock clams, oysters, mussels, and shellfish. This is a third generation family business, and they know and welcome their customers. It is hard to sell really fresh fish online, so purchases must be made in the store.

Sea Breeze Fish Market, 941 Ninth Avenue, (212) 563-7537

Herbs, fruits and specialty products.

Ninth Avenue International Foods is a small market that specializes in Greek and Middle Eastern food. The walls are packed with almost every dried fruit, nut and grain product you need. I found rice flower there for a Vietnamese recipe for fried quail I am going to attempt. I love their citron confit, the lemons featured in Moroccan cuisine. You can also get delicious spinach pie, moussaka and dolmas. And a selection of olives from all over the Mediterranean. They have the best taramasalata in the city as well as tzatziki and baba ganoush.

Greek pastries and other treats.

Baklava and beyond, you will find it here. The shelves are also full of hard-to-come-by items like rose water, and a big selection of honey, olive oil, pastas and other staples. They also have really good cheeses.

The huge containers of loose spices and grains now covered.

The centerpiece of the shop had always been the huge drums full of spices sold by the 1/4 pound from around the world, and a huge selections of rices, seeds and beans. These are now covered due to the virus. International  is also a family run business, and it does not have a website, but it does have a lot of  dedicated customers from the neighborhood and beyond.

Ninth Avenue International Market943 Ninth Avenue, (212) 279-1000

Fine dining Japanese style.

Wokuni is a Japanese restaurant that also has a fish market in the restaurant. The parent company operates an ethically sustainable fish farm near Nagasaki in Japan specializing in tuna. The rest of their fish comes from all over the globe. The restaurant is obviously closed now, but the Fish Market is open.

A small fish market in the restaurant.

Get specially designed sushi and sashimi to go, or buy containers and make your own sushi. Fish meant for grilling is available, too. This fish change with the seasons, and they are the fish used in Japanese cuisine so they are different species than what one might see in a Western fish market in some cases.

Wokuni327 Lexington Avenue, (212) 447-1212

The store is spread out through several row houses.

Every serious cook in New York has heard of Kalustyan’s. The original store opened in 1944 and specialized in Indian food. When the original owner died, the new owners expanded the product base to include most cuisines of the world. There are thousands of different products here. The original storefront has spread sideways into multiple buildings.

Part of the selection of dried fruits and olives.

The store is packed with products from everywhere. The selections are so vast that they should consider giving you a map of the store to point you in the right direction. Kalustyan’s also offers a great selection of cookware and a small selection of natural beauty products from around the world.

What kind of sugar do you want?

There are sections for beans, rice, couscous, flour and sugar. This is just a snapshot of some of the many different kinds of sugar — Demerara, Donut, Fondant and Icing, Powdered Brown and Granulated Sugar Crystals. Every product category is stocked just as widely.

Condiments and mushrooms galore.

Dried mushroom to truffles, with desert sauces thrown in. There are also cases with milk, eggs, cheeses, and small selection of vegetables.

You can find pretty much anything you want.

There are shelves full of spices from around the world. I needed some cinnamon and there were eight or so different types to chose from. I am not sure I know the difference between Indonesian and Indian cinnamon, so I went with Vietnamese.

Cookbooks are for Sale Behind the Checkout Counter.

People were distancing at the checkout. The staff is helpful, and they know where everything is.  And Kalustyan’s has its own Wikipedia page. Their website sells most of the products in the store for delivery around the country.

Kalustyan’s123 Lexington Avenue, (212) 685-3451

Cheesemongers for over 60 years.

One of the best stores in my neighborhood is Ideal Cheese Shop. They sell wholesale and retail, and have a large selection of cheese from around the country and the world. Only four customers at a time are allowed in the store at once, so it is safe to shop here.

The friendly staff cuts your choices.

Cheese is cut just for you, and tasting slices are offered for every cheese. The staff can offer suggestions on the different types of cheese from all around the world. Do you prefer a stinkier cheese? They are happy to help you find the most pungent.

Cured meats, salamis, and other goodies.

Along with cheese they have a small but curated selection of sausages, dried and cured meats like bresaola, prosciutto, and a selection of imported hams. They also sell a collection of pastes and spreads that pair with the cheeses that you buy.

A small selection of the Italian cheeses.

The cheeses are all identified by animal, strength and other qualities.

Bisquits, crackers, pasta, oils and many other things.

Implements for cutting, serving and enjoying cheese are here. Olive oils, vinegars, imported nuts, honey, specialty pasta and fine chocolate are all here. There is a small selection of things to drink like very hard to find Sanbitter From Italy and Cipriani Bellini mix. Ideal is a wonderful neighborhood store. You can order online through Mercato.

Ideal Cheese Shop942 First Avenue, (212) 688-7579

Japanese candies and snacks.

Katagiri has two locations in midtown. I normally shop at the one on 59th Street. This is another store with so many kinds of products tucked all over the place. Founded in 1907, it is the oldest Japanese market in the city. Many of the products are labeled in Japanese, so it can be a little confusing.

Protected check out.

Only a few customers at a time are allowed in the store. Across from the cash register there is a sushi counter and a case containing prepacked foods to go. The counter is currently not active, but will reopen soon.

Curries, sauces, noodles and rice.

Some of the shelves are waiting to be restocked, but you will find all the products you need for creating Japanese and other Asian cuisines. And plenty of Japanese snacks.

Sushi grade fish, organic eggs, miso, tofus and vegetables.

At the back of the store there is a counter for excellent Japanese fish and some meat. There is a good selection of Japanese vegetables, and in the freezer case there are many frozen meats, dumplings, and vegetables. And of course there is a mochi case. All foods but perishable goods can be ordered online.

Katagiri224 East 59th Street and 307 Lexington Avenue

A wide selection of fruits and vegetables at my local fruit street cart on 49th Street and Second Avenue.

One of my favorite places in the neighborhood to shop is my local fruit street cart on 49th Street and Second Avenue. There are vegetable carts all around the city — four within walking distance of my home. They are all run by hard working immigrants. This cart is open 24/7 and only close in the worst weather. There are almost no shops selling only vegetable and fruits in the city anymore. Thus, these carts fill a void. And they prove how anyone can make it in New York.

Dogs are welcome!

There are always customers at the stand. It is run by a gentleman who goes by the name of “The Professor.” He is Turkish, as are the others who help him sell, and very customer friendly. Several years ago I asked him if he could get figs, as one rarely sees them in most grocery stores. Figs started appearing whenever they were available, including early this March. And his prices are very good.

I see this stand and others being replenished all the time. I have no idea how the vendors are organized, but they are a great addition to the streets of New York.

The stand is frequently stocked by vans and trucks.

I am looking forward to the city opening up (phase one of reopening begins today). With that said, we should all be grateful for the multitude of small stores and vendors who dutifully operated during the shutdown and continue to feed and nourish thousands of New Yorkers. New Yorkers working with and for New Yorkers.

Barbara Hodes is the owner of NYC Private Shopping Tour, offering customized tours in New York and Brooklyn.

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