A few months ago I went on a food tour of New York’s West Village with Sidewalks of NY Food and Walking Tours. It has since become one of my favourite NYC experiences and something I would recommend to other food-loving NYC visitors.
So, when I learned the company also offers a tour of the Lower East Side (LES), which includes stops at some of New York’s famous Jewish food purveyors, I knew I had to add it to my bucket list.
The foodie stars must have been aligned for me because when I took the tour a few weeks ago I discovered autumn is one of the best times for it; I got to take in the vibrant fall leaves while noshing on hearty comfort foods.
The tour started off at Yonah Schimmel Knishery, a Jewish bakery famous for its knishes. A knish (pronounced ka-nish) is potato or something mixed with potato, along with spices and onions, wrapped in a thin dough and baked.
Yonah Schimmel offers a variety of knishes, including spinach, sweet potato and mushroom. You can even get cheese knishes made with sweet stuff like blueberry or apple.
They served our tour group the basic potato knish, which resembled a large round biscuit on the outside and had a mashed potato-like inside. It was a warm, hearty snack and just the quarter of knish I tried was filling. These might be fighting words to true knish lovers but the one thing missing for me was a ladle of gravy to pour on top.
I didn’t get a photo of the knish (sorry, I was too hungry to wait!). But you can check out Yonah Schimmel’s famous knishes here.
The next stop was Jewish appetizing shop Russ & Daughters where my group sampled traditional raspberry rugelach: a gooey pastry with a delicious raspberry filling.
A tour of the Lower East Side wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Katz’s Delicatessen. It’s known for its pastrami sandwich and attracts famous faces from presidents to celebrities – just check out the photos that fill the walls.
It’s even the place where the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene from When Harry Met Sally… was filmed.
When our tour group arrived during a packed Sunday lunchtime, we bypassed the line and headed to tables in the back. We made our own mini versions of Katz’s famous sandwiches from heaping plates of pastrami, slices of rye bread and mustard. The meat was tender, super flavourful and so worthy of its famous reputation.
Oh, and here’s the most important part. When you go to Katz’s, you’ll get a ticket at the door, which they’ll collect when you leave. Don’t lose that ticket or you’ll pay a $50 lost ticket fee. Yikes!
Next stop was Economy Candy, one of the few old school candy stores left. The store is packed to the ceiling with every candy you can imagine, making it paradise for any true sweet lover.
We sampled Halvah, a confection made from sesame. While its beige appearance and dry texture seemed a little out of place in a rainbow-hued candy store, the flavour was sweet and tasty.
The desserts continued at Doughnut Plant where we sampled two doughnuts. The Brooklyn Blackout was rich and chocolaty, while the Tres Leches was filled with a sweet cream and covered with a white glaze. If only I could have had one of each to myself…
A couple of doors down we stopped at Jewish deli Kossar’s where we sampled their bialys. These almost-like-a-bagel rolls came slathered in the middle with warm, melty cream cheese.
While bialys resemble bagels, minus the hole in the middle, they are puffier and denser. And while bagels are baked and boiled, bialys are only baked. According to our guide, a bialy is a classic “hand food” because it’s easy to eat on go. I need one of these every morning!
The last two stops on the tour took us to the Pickle Guys and Homemade Dumpling where we sampled half sour and full sour pickles (it turns out I’m a full sour kind of girl) and tasty pork dumplings.
After eight stops on the tour, I was happily full. I loved the variety of samples and the history I learned about LES along the way, and would recommend this tour to other foodies.