Quickies Noodle Challenge Update : I am pleased to announce that we've now received  19  very interesting entries! Thank you very much and remember this is open to everyone, worldwide, so keep them coming! As this may be the last Quickies Challenge for a while,  we really hope there will be a fantastic turnout. Of course, if you really want more challenges, let us know and we'll do our best to oblige! Send in as many entries as you like, just remember to get them in by midnight of  December 14 2010 (EST)  - we're looking forward to shouting out the winner and showcasing a fantastic line up of entries on December 15 2010 (EST)  !! What's your motivation? A gorgeous autographed cookbook! (take a peek here) And now on to the day's post....

the view outside our Washington Heights apartment kitchen widow

Hello readers and friends! I have gotten a few mails from some of you, asking about my "disappearing act" but no, I haven't abandoned my blog or any of you - I've just been in New York the last week or so. My apologies for not visiting or responding to your questions and comments on my last post, as I was on pins and needles the last two weeks. You see, our trip to New York was on very shaky ground. After a false start which included the onset of a sudden and ferocious fever, days before the trip, a dearth of affordable hotel accomodations and getting bumped off the flight from Singapore, two nights running, we were ready to write off the entire holiday. On the third night, we trudged to the airport, brimming with doubt and frustration, taunted by visions of our week long, paid-in-full, non-returnable apartment rental in Washington Heights fizzing away like an opened bottle of soda, quickly going flat. This time, however Lady Luck smiled down on us and one 24 hour, cramped cattle class flight across 2 continents and several bodies of water later, we were in JFK Airport.

Have you ever experienced having your perception of something you have no real knowledge of, coloured by hype?  Every person I asked, every online forum I read, repeatedly warned that the area we would be staying at, and in fact, any place, upwards of 120th St on Broadway, was a hotbed of crime, drug culture, youthful unrest, and almost certain muggings and even death, at night, in a predominantly Hispanic and Black neighbourhood. Unfortunately, the truth is always some version of the swirling rumours, and in this case, season after season of NYPD Blue, crime stats, rivers of anecdotal evidence of rude and crazy New Yorkers and Marshall Eriksen's passionate rant about the tiny, bruised elbow inducing, elf doorways of New York City....... or is it?

the guggenheim, in passing.......from a bus window *sigh* five days in new york is just not enough

We left home with heavy hearts, minimal cash, one tiny camera and 2 cell phones amongst the five of us and no laptop, regret creeping ever higher that we hadn't researched the Washington Heights neighbourhood before committing to our apartment rental. We came and saw a quiet, unglamorous neighbourhood, yes, teeming with Hispanic and Black residents. We were spoken to in Spanish all the time, and when it became clear we didn't understand, ticklish lessons in Spanish ensued in restaurants, supermarkets and on street corners. We were served huge portions in restaurants and we had prices slashed off our restaurant bills. We found huge London Broil steaks at the corner supermarket, enough to feed 5 cold and hungry travellers, for around USD 12, with enough left over for a breakfast hash the next day, for Pete's sake!!!

lunch at margot restaurant - plastic tablecloths and the best rice and red beans and beef stew i've tasted, ever

So, what can I tell you about New York City, that hasn't already been said? Everyone knows it never sleeps,  it's the throbbing, pulsing centre of the planet, the definition of cool, the essence of diversity, a rich, beguiling tapestry of old and new, the rough hewn and the perfectly polished. It's glittering in parts, decaying in others, a hot mess of delightful, confusing, mesmerising contradictions! The Mecca of the modern world, the financial and cultural capital of  billionaire wannabes and culture vultures. But, did anyone ever tell you, that New York is nice, and that New Yorkers down the length and across the breadth of Manhattan, are NICE?!?!?

Not once, did I get a door slammed in my face - everyone held doors open for each other, stood in line, waited their turn, said "Thank you", and "You're welcome", "Please", and "Excuse me" at the slightest brush of an elbow!! People bent down and picked up stuff you'd unwittingly dropped, chased after you, made sure it was returned safe, to your hand. People struck up conversations in shopping malls and on buses and we were told how magical Singapore seemed and how it was a must-go-to destination! I didn't know if I was in the Twilight Zone, before or after New York!

We made burger runs, on foot, at 2 in the morning, in what was supposed to be one of New York's roughest neighbourhoods, and returned to our apartment, unharmed, unmolested, unmugged.....untouched! We were more than safe on the subway, which we rode everyday, even at night - we were entertained by zealous street preachers, amazingly talented amateur bands and ridiculously limber dancers who plied not only the station platforms, but even the trains themselves!

the almost blinding spectacle that is times square

And oh my God!! Did I tell you about the food? Some of the best hotdogs going for about USD 2, pizzas bigger than car tyres, oozing with so much cheese, you'd think it grew on trees, all down the sidewalk.... Chinese food, Japanese food, Italian, Mid Eastern, Southeast Asian, Korean, Mediterranean, Latin American, at every other turn! Damn if my point and shoot camera hadn't succumbed to the biting cold and died on the second day of our trip! Reason enough to return with a better camera and my trusty laptop to better capture the amazing spirit and essence of this unbelievable place, and more conveniently navigate it's streets and attractions by harnessing the power of the internet!

the empire state building of course!

Thank you New York City, for the beautiful impressions and memories! You're worth traversing two continents and the Atlantic, and risking deep vein thrombosis!! And hell yeah, we'll be back!

Eating cheaply and well in New York City

El Malecon
(the signboard only says Malecon)
4141 Broadway
(between 175th St & 176th St)
New York, NY 10033
Neighborhood: Washington Heights

A noisy, family style restaurant with a mostly Hispanic clientele, serving good and cheap Caribbean and Latin food. Service is fast and friendly. Staff speak little English but are very helpful and ordering in English is not too difficult. A meal for 5 with 2 drinks and 1 dessert (with enough leftovers to take home for a very hearty midnight snack) cost USD 50. Portions are generous.


Spit Roast Chicken - USD 12 (Very tasty and moist with crisp skin)
Avocado Salad - USD 4
Tres Leches Cake (3 milk cake) - USD 5
Morir Sonando (A Dominincan drink of milk and orange juice) - USD 3.50
Be sure to ask for more of the killer green flecked, citrus and cilantro based sauce served with the chicken

Margot Restaurant
3822 Broadway
(between 159th St & 160th St)
New York, NY 10032
Neighborhood: Washington Heights

A rustic, small and slightly cramped family restaurant with a  mostly Hispanic clientele, serving authentic home style Dominican and Latin food.  Service is efficient and friendly. Staff speak mostly Spanish, but there was one guy who spoke English and took our orders. A meal for 5 with 3 drinks cost USD 70. Portions are generous enough to split between two small eaters.


Res Guisado (Stewed Beef) - USD 10 (served with rice and salad) Incredibly tasty, meltingly tender beef with luscious gravy
Tostones (Fried Green Plantain Slices) - USD 2.50
Rice with Red Beans - USD 3 (Amazingly tasty with a gorgeous smoky aroma and meltingly tender but not mushy beans)
Guanabana (Soursop Drink) - USD 3

Ray's Pizza

We were cold, hungry and our feet were aching for a chair when we stumbled on this pizza heaven - can't remember the exact adress but it was a couple of streets north of Chelsea Market (75, 9th Avenue, Between 15th and 16th Streets). It's a utilitarian place, and they're serious about their pizza. We had what looked like a two food wide monster, piled with pepperoni, garlic and mushrooms and bleeding cheese for around USD 30. By the way, The Fat Witch Bakery at Chelsea Market (the smell will lead you there) had the most incredible brownie smells I have  ever sniffed in my life. No, we did not stop for brownies, but I will, next time.......

Papaya King
179 East 86th Street, New York, NY, 10028

A standing room only, tiny corner joint with a lot of jostling, shoulder and elbow grazing as part of the experience. Think constant streams of people coming in and going out, punctuated with hunger inducing smells of caramelising onions, chilli, cumin and bubbling cheese. Papaya King hotdogs were part of Ted Mosby's argument about New York being better than New Jersey, or was that the best place in the world to live, and apparently, Julia Child thought they make the best hot dogs in the world. I don't know if I totally agree, but you do get really good, really juicy hot dogs from around USD 2. My favourite was the "Side on Top" - a dog with beef chilli, curly fries, melted cheese and onions on top. The Papaya Pride smoothie (a mix of papaya, orange and strawberry) and the curly fries were both to-die-for. Sorry, can't remember the exact prices - it was such a mad house when we went :P

NOTE - prices may not be exact or may change or I may just be fogged up by jetlag, and yes I am a "How I Met Your Mother" fan.