DON’T be spontaneous and go to a random restaurant…Yelp or Google it before
I (unfortunately) speak from experience. There is nothing more amazing than discovering a cute little restaurant while out and about and leaving with a smile on your face and a new favorite place. It recently happened to me in Lisbon, I was too hungry to make my way to the restaurant I had in mind, and didn’t have Wifi to check reviews. I ended up eating the best cod quiche in the world. While this would be a common story anywhere else, I would consider it a miracle in New York, and the USA in general. The only few times I trusted my instinct to pick a random spot turned out to be a disaster. Don’t be fooled by candle-lit restaurants or French/Italian sounding menus…some places in the City spend more time “fluffing up” than in the kitchen. If you need to eat and don’t have Internet access, do yourself a favor and avoid restaurants with photos of the food on their menus (eeew,) or even worse, fake food displays outside. These are kind of “universal tips” but they will keep you away from tourist traps. Another way to make sure you eat the best that New York has to offer is to know your neighborhoods. You have better chances to find a good restaurant where New Yorkers go out, like in the East Village, Lower East Side, Nolita, or Williamsburg than in touristy areas such as Times Square, Little Italy, or the Upper East Side.
DON’T be cheap with food…Buy quality products, your body and wallet will thank you later
If there is one thing that all New Yorkers and tourists can agree on, it’s that eating in New York ain’t cheap. Whether you are dining out or grocery shopping, it seems like feeding yourself is a luxury. When you are new to the City, it’s very tempting to adopt a low-cost mentality because prices get so overwhelming. As an exchange student, I used to either buy enough stuff to cook a basic pasta dish, order Chinese at home, or eat cheap Mexican food while out. But I was doing it all wrong! Even with those sad options, most of my money went towards eating, not to mention the 5 kilos (10 pounds) that I gained in 7 months. The bottom line is that food is expensive in New York, good or bad. So if you are going to eat – and frankly, you should – just spend it on good stuff! Yes, organic vegetables and antibiotic-free meat is overpriced, but think of it as an investment. Money you spend on healthy food is money you save on a gym membership, stupid diet products, and eventually…doctor’s appointments. Most importantly, things will actually HAVE a taste.
DON’T rush while grocery shopping…take time to read labels
Now you understand that when it comes to eating right in the City, you need to know your New York restaurants and accept to buy quality products. But what does quality even mean in a country where food regulation is so loose? Shopping at Fairway, Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s doesn’t necessarily guarantee getting good stuff. You have to learn how to spot the “fake” shit. While a package that reads “All Natural” in France is likely to be so, you should assume that it’s the opposite here in America. Organic labels tell me a products is not as bad as the rest, but the best quality indicator is always the ingredient list. You can have something organic with high-fructose corn syrup or canola oil in it, which, by the way, are my two worst American enemies. They don’t make life easy because they are literally EVERYWHERE. Just to give you a quick example, Coke in Europe has real cane sugar, whereas it’s high fructose corn syrup here in the US. It’s one of the many things I grew up with and still have at home but not in America. I’m not a scientist, but I know that there is no reason why we should use artificial crap like corn syrup instead of sugar and canola instead of olive oil other than economic profit. If you can avoid these two things and make sure to buy at least some organic food (especially animal products like meat, eggs and dairy,) you can survive American food!
What have been your challenges with food in New York or the US?