The Lower East Side of New York is full of unique little shops. It’s where I got two pairs of vintage pumps and a gorgeous pair of old cowboy boots, for next to nothing.
It’s also home to two kitschy cute places that are worth visiting, even if you don’t buy anything.
Rice to Riches (warning: really irritating website with autoplay, crazy flash and poor usability) serves rice pudding, and nothing but. Choose from flavours like “Honey Graham for Mr. Smith”, “Perfectly Legal Pecan Pie” or “The Edge of Rum Raisin”. And then choose decadent toppings to go on top!
It seems a tad expensive, but I’m willing to bet that one person can only eat so much rice pudding – and really, it’s more about sharing the wackiness with your friends, right? And, just in case you’re super serious about your rice pudding, they ship overnight within the US.
A few blocks away, Economy Candy is a sight to behold. The entire store smells like plastic wrappers and cheap sugar, but in a strangely comforting way. The store is stacked from floor to ceiling with – you guessed it – candy. There are old-school sugared grapefruit slices, all flavours of jelly belly jelly beans, and giant Pez dispensers. They also have a surprisingly decent selection of high-end chocolate.
Rice to Riches
37 Spring Street
New York, NY
108 Rivington Street
New York, NY
New Yorkers do not stand in lines. They certainly don’t stand in lines for street food – not usually.
They do stand in line for the halal food cart at the corner of 53rd Street and 6th Avenue. Its proximity to Times Square is a little bit ironic, because tourists stuff their faces full of chain restaurant swill when they could be having freshly prepared tastiness. There’s beef, chicken and lamb with your choice of pita or rice. All of it is smothered in some delicious sauce, and hot sauce if you want it.
I’m not sure what’s better: the people-watching opportunities (people in line, and the people who gawk at the people in line) or the incredible value. You can stuff yourself silly for under $10.
FYI: The cart is only open at night. I’m not sure what time they set up shop, but I’ve been there at 9pm and at midnight. Both times, there were at least 40-50 people in line.
I’ll return to your regularly scheduled chocolate myth debunkery soon, I promise. But in the meantime, I wanted to post a brief interlude about the world’s most amazing cabbage rolls.
Last night, I lined up for an hour at a secret location, only to be told that supplies were running low. Rations were set at one dozen perogies and one dozen vegetarian cabbage rolls. Things were looking dire. There were, however, ample supplies of the world’s hugest Ukrainian sausage. We took what we could get and booked it home, we were so excited to eat.
Well, it was worth the wait. The perogies were soft pillows of filling that actually tasted like potato, nestled inside the thinnest possible pastry. They were unctuous and tasty, and it was remarkable how much flavour an actual perogy has. I’ve been wasting away in frozen perogy land for far too long.
But the cabbage rolls! My god, the cabbage rolls. My previous experiences with cabbage rolls have been with oversized cabbage wrapped around mushy rice, the whole thing doused in sauce in a poor attempt to hide the lack of flavour and texture. These cabbage rolls were the complete opposite. They were dainty and delicate: a thin cabbage leaf hugging a flavourful mixture of perfectly al dente rice cooked with spices.
The ultimate bite: one part cabbage roll, one part perogy, one part pan-fried sausage, one part caramelized onion, one part sour cream. I dare you to find anything more perfect on a cold Friday night.
When I first moved to Ottawa, the first restaurant that I ate at was Vietnam Noodle House. It’s outside of the main clump of Vietnamese restaurants, and is a lot bigger than most. It’s a large, clean and surprisingly bright space in the basement of an otherwise nondescript commercial building.
The family who runs it is phenomenally nice. Their pho is nothing remarkable, but their main dishes are really good. They have a selection of “broken rice” dishes, which feature grains of rice that are, indeed, broken. They’re cooked al dente and topped with a variety of meat (preserved pork, barbecued chicken or pork, ham) and often a fried egg. Yum.
My family is a little, erm, unconventional. My dad is from Hong Kong and my mom is from China, but they met in Canada in the early 1970s. I was born in Vancouver and raised as a Chinese kid in a white neighbourhood. Case in point: the last time I was in Hong Kong, I was five years old. I got off the plane, saw hordes of Chinese people, and asked my mom if we were in Chinatown. Yup.
So I’ve grown up with this mixture of Chinese and Canadian cultures. For instance, my mom is a devout Christian and eschews most Chinese superstitions. But, she still refuses to clean the house on New Year’s Day for risk of sweeping away good spirits, and she arranges furniture according to the principles of feng shui.
Our Christmas traditions are no exception. We usually have a big dinner party around Christmastime, but it’s just a matter of convenience whether it’s before or after Christmas. We invite 12-15 people over, crowd around the dining table, and eat with chopsticks from plates.