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NYC Foodies, Get Thee to New Jersey


Fat Guy
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Well, Mitsuwa is Japanese, so living in Chinatown doesn't really cover it. And I'd say those travel-time estimates are nearly double the amount of time similar trips have taken me. From the Lower East Side, F or V to West 4th. For PATH you get out and walk 3 blocks to the 9th Street PATH station. For Port Authority you change to the A, C or E to get right into Port Authority. I can't imagine a 3- or 4-hour round-trip scenario absent a blizzard plus every possible missed connection both ways. That's assuming public transportation. Someone on the Lower East Side with a car should be able to get to Hoboken in a ridiculously short amount of time, especially on a weekend when the Holland Tunnel is wide open. Should take about as much time as driving to Sripraphai.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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And I'd say those travel-time estimates are nearly double the amount of time similar trips have taken me. From the Lower East Side, F or V to West 4th. For PATH you get out and walk 3 blocks to the 9th Street PATH station.

Let's examine this...

The "Tube" program I have on my Palm Pilot, which is updated on synchronization and has proven very reliable over the years, estimates 15 minutes from Mitch's station to the West 4th Street station (including waiting time). Figure 10 minutes walking time from Mitch's door to the subway station. Figure another 10 minutes of walking/waiting time to get from the West 4th Street station onto a PATH train to Hoboken. PATH says it's 10 minutes from the 9th Street PATH station to the Hoboken PATH station. Figure another 10 minutes minimum walking time to a Hoboken culinary destination. That's 55 minutes one way from Mitch's door to a Hoboken culinary destination, for an approximate round-trip time of 1 hour and 50 minutes. An hour of eating and/or shopping brings the round-trip commitment to right around 3 hours (+/- 30 minutes for transportation karma).

The PATH from 9th Street to Newark takes around 35 minutes, so that makes the round trip door-to-door transportation time around 3 hours for a total trip of around 4 hours including an hour of shopping and/or eating (+/- 30 minutes for transportation karma).

For Port Authority you change to the A, C or E to get right into Port Authority. I can't imagine a 3- or 4-hour round-trip scenario absent a blizzard plus every possible missed connection both ways.

"Tube" estimates 30 minutes from Mitch's station to the Port Authority Station. Figure 10 minutes walking time from Mitch's door to his subway station and another 10 minutes to get from the Port Authority subway platform to the Mitsuwa shuttle bus. The Mitsuwa shuttle bus leaves around once an hour on weekdays and around twice an hour on weekends, so tack on another 10 minutes of waiting time. At this point, it's 60 minutes from Mitch's door to sitting in a departing Mitsuwa shuttle bus. Mapquest estimates around 25 minutes from Port Authority to Mitsuwa in perfect traffic. Let's call it 30 minutes in typical traffic. At this point, it's a 90 minute door-to-door trip, which works out to a round-trip time of 3 hours. Let's say +/- 30 minutes for transportation karma, and the round trip transportation time is between 2.5 and 3.5 hours. Figure an hour of shopping and 15 minutes waiting for the return shuttle bus (which is an inevitable minimum, due to the scheduling of the bus) and we're talking about a 3:45 to 4:45 time commitment to go to a Japanese grocery store.

One can argue that these are "just estimates" but they are estimates based on published information and the +/- 30 minutes should easily handle any reasonable variability (I'm not saying that it couldn't happen maybe an hour faster on a "miracle day" when every train/bus is waiting for you in the station and there is no traffic, but that's an atypical outlier).

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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That's a pretty good analysis, Sam. To make sure I can catch a bus at Port Authority - I will leave my house one hour and ten minutes before the scheduled bus departure...walk to the F, xfer at W 4th, etc. My philosophy is, if anything can go wrong on a public transportation commute, it sometimes will.

As an aside, some of the larger supermarkets in Chinatown have quite an extensive selection of Japanese items - most certainly anything I'm apt to cook with. And, if not there, JAS Mart and the others are even more well stocked.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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I should point out, for the sake of accuracy and perspective, that it's around a 2 hour round trip by subway from Mitch's apartment and Sripraphai.

I should also point out that, while I may be taking the opposite side of Steven's argument in some cases or pointing out where I think he's minimizing the public transportation hassle, I am doing this in a general way. Personally, I am not at all immune to the allure of culinary trips to Jersey. I've gone there on profitable and fun trips with Steven many times, and would do so again. Not so sure I'd make the trip of my own volition via public transportation, though.

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does Hoboken even really count as Jersey?  serious question, not just trying to be provocative.

I think that this is an important question. Since the New York area is growing rapidly and its territory doesn't expand, we may just be seeing the natural growth of the region. (With public transit lagging far behind...)

Brian Yarvin

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There is little doubt that across-the-river Jersey is part of metro-NYC. It's unfortunate that it's in a different state, else the NY subway system would likely have naturally expanded in that direction as well, and traveling over there would be no different than travel to Queens.

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There is little doubt that across-the-river Jersey is part of metro-NYC.  It's unfortunate that it's in a different state, else the NY subway system would likely have naturally expanded in that direction as well, and traveling over there would be no different than travel to Queens.

Yes indeed. The travel time from midtown to Flushing and midtown to Metropark is about the same, but the cost of traveling to New Jersey MUCH higher.

For me, Main Street in Patterson and Oak Tree Road in Iselin/Edison are really just New York neighborhoods that happen not to be in New York.

Brian Yarvin

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precisely.

and I live in the WV which means that my commute to Hoboken is measured in minutes...while it would take me significantly longer to get to Murray Hill or the UES.

which is why I consider Cucharamama a must for me to check out. but if it was located somewhere else in Jersey, the amount of motivation would drop drastically.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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There is little doubt that across-the-river Jersey is part of metro-NYC.  It's unfortunate that it's in a different state, else the NY subway system would likely have naturally expanded in that direction as well, and traveling over there would be no different than travel to Queens.

Yes indeed. The travel time from midtown to Flushing and midtown to Metropark is about the same, but the cost of traveling to New Jersey MUCH higher.[...]

The 7 train also runs a lot more frequently.

And I have to disagree with you about the subway, Sam. Unlike the DC area and Boston, for example, New York really makes a bright line between the Five Boroughs and the suburbs, such that there is no subway connection to the nearest parts of Westchester or Nassau Counties. New Jersey is over a big river, so if anything, it would be a bigger deal to extend the subway there than to places like Yonkers, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, or Great Neck. (Of course, it's been mentioned previously in this thread that PATH is a subway, but it's not integrated into the NYCTA subway system.)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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That "Morning Edition" interview that we taped down at WNYC awhile back finally aired this morning. The audio file, and the accompanying list of restaurants that several of you helped with, is online here. Not my most brilliant performance ever, but amusing enough.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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at 3 in the morning you never wait more than 5 minutes on the 6 line.

I've been riding the subways all my life and the notion that "at 3 in the morning you never wait more than 5 minutes on the 6 line" is simply ludicrous.

have you ridden the 4/6 at 3 a.m. in the last few years? (5 minutes might be an exaggeration but I doubt I've ever waited as much as 10)

i agree with you on the annoyance of travelling to jersey

however i get off work frequently at 1:30 am and take the train from 59th to wall street every day

i say 15 minutes for a train (either 4 or 6) at that hour.

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  • 1 month later...

Yesterday, Saturday 26 January 2007, a group of us spent the day dining around New Jersey. I won't give my qualitative impressions yet; I think it makes more sense to hear from our focus group of undecided voters first. But just in brief outline here's what we did:

We started at Moksha, the South Indian restaurant in Edison, where we had the lunch buffet. After we stuffed ourselves and paid ($15 per person for the buffet, though with various beverages, tax and service it came out to $23 per person), we met up with Shekar, who directs the operations of the Mehtani restaurant group, of which I've spoken before.

In addition to Moksha where we had lunch, the Mehtani group owns several other properties in the same retail complex on Oak Tree Road: a dessert-snack shop called Mithaas, a pan-Asian place called Ming, a classic North Indian restaurant called Moghul and a catering hall called Mirage. On the other side of Oak Tree Road they have a takeout shop called Moghul Express and, behind the shop, the main catering kitchen where they produce the food for weddings and other events (the Mehtani group does about 200 catered events for about 70,000 people per year). Shekar took us through all of those restaurants and kitchens (the group also operates three restaurants in Morristown, which we didn't visit), and sent us on our way with little boxes of Indian desserts.

Also in Edison we visited the Subzi Mundi, a large Indian supermarket.

Then we drove to West Orange for hot dogs and sausages at Jimmy Buff's. Our resident hot-dog expert, John (his member name here is "John"), met us there along with Jim (the owner and grandson of the Jimmy in the restaurant's name). We ate and had a chance to talk to John and Jim about the history of the place. An added bonus: Jim bought our (second) lunch.

From there we headed to the Super H-Mart, which is a Korean supermarket that anchors a Korean shopping complex in Ridgefield Park.

Then we drove to Mitsuwa Market, a Japanee supermarket with attached retail stores, in Edgewater. In addition to doing some shopping, we also had ramen at the attached Ramen Santoka concession.

Finally, we had burgers at White Manna in Hackensack.

I'm pretty sure that's it.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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So, comments here from the peanut gallery...

Full of vim and vigor, we set out on a fine Saturday morning to conquer a selection of NJ's finest foodie offerings...

(...well, no. The vim and vigor was less in evidence than the bleary hung-over "it's 11am already?" of an average NY Saturday morning, but we were still good to go!)

In the FG-mobile were the Guy himself, me, raji, his g/f (I'm not going to try her name because I'll mangle the spelling, so raji, it's your job!), and that mellowest of pups Momo, who endured our general eccentricities with great aplomb; actually, I've rarely see a pet, child, or wage-earning adult who was quite such an easygoing companion on a road trip.

So, first stop was Edison, Oak Tree Road, and thence Moksha, the South Indian component of the mighty Mehtani restaurant empire (which includes 7 restaurants plus a ginormous catering operation).

For those of you who haven't been to Edison, just being there arguably proves one of FG's ancillary points (one I'll come back to a few times in this post): The environment alone can justify a trip like this from the Asian foodie's perspective. For those of you who haven't been, Edison, or rather the Edison-Iselin-Metropark triangle in question, basically looks like a standard '70s-80s constructed suburb whose population all died of a plague and were magically replaced overnight by Indians. The Applebee's still looks like an Applebee's and the Pizza Hut like a pizza hut, only now the former is a fancy sit-down Mughlai restaurant and the latter a drive-through chaatkhara.

Moksha, along with (deep breath here) Moghul, Mithaas, and Mirage, the Mehtani's North Indian, sweet/chaat, and on-site catering operations, respectively, is located in a standard suburban shopping mall, complete with giant parking lots, multiple levels, the whole shebang. Other than FG and a couple pulling out of the dry cleaners', not a single European face was in evidence. (Including Momo, we were running a 75% Asian-white ratio in the van. :wink: )

I've eaten the Mehtanis' food, but pretty much only the North Indian stuff (courtesy of their flagship restaurant, Moghul) and sweets via takeout; as my family is South Indian, we tend to eat our native cuisine(s) at home or, if we go out, to stick to vegetarian restaurants (like Saravanaas in Manhattan, or Sai Bhavan or Dosa Hutt in Flushing, etc.).

Moksha's buffet was a strong selection of dishes with a relatively idiosyncratic regional mix (some Chettinad, some Iyengar, some straight-up Tamil) and a *really* exceptional selection of chutneys and pickles. (The GM, Danashekhar, explained that the condiments are all house-made individually for the different restaurant operations, which given that we're talking four entirely different styles of cuisine is really a heroically ambitious task.)

In brief, Moksha and its related parts turned out to be my favorite experience of the day, for several reasons.

IMO, the food was on a level with places like Chola (raji for more on this), with some dishes (the masala vadai, which was in an unusual Madurai style, the kootu, and the poriyal) rising to the level of places like Tamarind or Surya back under Raji Jallepalli: That is to say, easily comparable with top-end stuff in Chennai, Kodi, etc. Moreover, this was a $15 buffet-style lunch, as FG mentioned, whereas you would need the full sit-down dinner action to generate comparable cuisine from the places I mentioned. Finally, the chutneys and pickles really were a step beyond in ambition and execution (with the exceptions, IMO, of the chutneys at Saraavanas and Dosa Hutt, both of which make really amazing house-made chutneys and melakai podi).

Perhaps what was even more interesting, however, was the insight that being in these places gave to suburban and immigrant aspiration and its consequences and quirks. We were led on a grand tour by the GM, who showed us the enormous kitchens, battery of staff, and front-end facilities, which are built on a kind of clean, upscale design with some basic stabs at fashionability, but in general a sense of suburban prosperity and attempt to steer pretty wide of the opulent decor of midtown places like Ada, Chola, Bay Leaf, etc. as well as the grungy lack of decor of the Queens places.

The Mehtani catering operation serves 70,000 people a year, and you can tell! This is big business that is part and parcel of immigrants reveling in their new home's prosperity. It's a different kind of aesthetic entirely from that of Indian cuisine in a denser urban center; rather than providing immigrants with a taste of home (the Flushing Main St/Kissena/JH places), or catering to diners outside the community (Bay Leaf, Chola, Shaan, etc.), these places are aiming for a crowd that feels comfortably assimilated at the same time as it is strongly embedded in a homogeneous community. They are thus adding the same "western" touches that you see at restaurants in India (the sweet shop, Mithaas, serves panini and looks like a large Starbucks; prices at all the establishments are not gentle; etc) at the same time as they're doing everything at a very authentic level from a culinary perspective, in part because the clientele couldn't imagine anything else.

Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"
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Let me start with the easiest recommendation: Mitsuwa Marketplace, in Edgewater, NJ. Mitsuwa is the premier Japanese food market in the New York metro area. If you've only been to the Japanese markets in Manhattan, you won't believe your eyes when you see Mitsuwa. It's huge. It has everything. The quality is excellent. You'll see some references to a dip in quality a few years ago when Hanahreum (H-Mart) started pulling away a bunch of Mitsuwa's business, but Mitsuwa today is vital and excellent. Mitsuwa also houses a food court offering some worthy, accurate Japanese cheap eats. So you can go there to shop, and you can grab a bite before heading back. If you look out over the Hudson River from anywhere on the Upper West Side, you can see Mitsuwa, or at least the pier right next to it. There is frequent shuttle bus service (22 buses a day on weekends, 11 on weekdays) from Port Authority run by Mitsuwa -- here's the information -- and it costs $2. New Jersey forum topic on Mitsuwa.

I've been going to Mitsuwa since WAY before it got the name change. I guess I never appreciated what it was though, because I was really excited to go wherever you were describing...then I realized it was just Mitsuwa...

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(Well, I'll get to my overall impression in a moment; I've had to split up my posts due to writing these at work, on a Monday no less. Busy busy...)

So after an extended tour of the Mehtani operation and a not-so-brief stop at Subzi Mandi (my favorite of three large South Asian grocery stores along Oak Tree Rd; larger, cleaner, and about 50% more variety of stock than its analogues in Flushing, JH, or Holliswood), we headed north to Jimmy Buff to meet John the hot dog historian and try an "original Italian hot dog."

I'm a fan of down-and-dirty roadside places, but I have to say that Jimmy Buff stretched the definition for me in some ways. The place was, for lack of a better word, scary. If we hadn't had such a warm welcome and attention (as well as what practically amounted to an honor guard!) from the owner, John, and his friends, I'd have been a bit nervous. The place is in a prefab diner car minus the 50s Art Deco charm that implies. Quite grungy and full of seedy customers (though there were one or two well-dressed folk stopping in to grab a dog) and located on a random lot in a random back street in West Orange.

The actual Italian dog (a deep-fried Italian sausage AND hot dog plus fried onions, peppers, and potatoes all doused in ketchup) wasn't really my thing, although I have to say I was...er, impressed by the size of the thing and the fact that apparently, "if you want a full meal," to quote John, you can order a double-sized version (two hot dogs PLUS two sausages plus double the onions/peppers/potatoes in a loaf the size of about 1.5 full-on sub rolls).

In any event, Jimmy Buff wasn't the sort of thing I'd travel again to NJ for, but I do know plenty of road foodies or fast food aficionados who'd consider it worth the trip. It is, however, a good example of how I differentiate cities in which you really have to think about exiting the city limits (such as NY) from cities in which due to urban plan and ubiquity of cars, one thinks nothing about venturing into seedy suburban locales for a burger, taco, etc (I make a point of hitting D'Alessandro's for a cheese steak pretty much every time I'm in Philadelphia, for instance, but that's because we're driving everywhere anyway). White Manna, the last stop of our Saturday tour, evokes a similar (albeit more positive overall) response from me.

Going back to the original discussion on this thread, I'd say that due to New York's intense urban concentration and the ease with which one can dispense with the need to take anything but the subway or one's own two feet to get to a bewildering variety of places, means that the appeal of roadside fast food is vastly diminished. In fact, it almost feels unnatural to hit places like Jimmy Buff or White Manna because they have such a car-culture vibe to them. It's not that they're not appealing, but rather that they feel a world away from the dining experiences we New Yorkers have come to know and love. That can be appealing to some, off-putting to others.

The immediate comparison I drew was walking down to Parisi Bakery, Luzzo's, Paris Sandwich or Mei La Wah, all of which are quite close to my apartment, for their respective brands of fast food, or even popping into Momofuku Noodle Bar for some wings or pork buns. There's something very friendly about that ease and kind of scale that made hitting Jimmy Buff or even White Manna seem like a somewhat unrewarding schlep.

That said, White Manna was certainly worth a one-time trip for me. I'm not a huge burger connoisseur, but the place itself is worth seeing. It's the appealing side of the road-food experience. Again, I'd have to differ with FG's original post in that I don't see a necessary or even compelling reason for a New Yorker to haul out there (mainly because it's the kind of trip that you live in NY so you never have to make it!), but it was a unique and tasty experience. The place is a dining car *with* Art Deco charm (old-school 1930 style), and an equally aged grill whence come masses of slider-style steamed-grilled, onion-and-cheese infused burgers. (IIRC, they'll be on the Food Network some time this evening in that Diners Dives... show.) Quite tasty. That said, I don't know that one would need to ever come here more than once, and again, I think that White Manna would make much more sense as an urban foodie destination in LA or Houston than in NY; it's a car culture kind of place.

Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"
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I'll chime in as well, as I managed to meet up for the final two stops on this jaunt, adding another 40-some miles of GPS-aided suburb stalking to my usual route from the wilds of Pennsylvania to Manhattan. After getting a mid-afternoon call from Mayur letting me know that some Jersey food hunting was going on, I resolved to meet up with the hunting party when I could... which was at Mitsuwa.

Mitsuwa was a rather slick Asian market with a monster food court appended to it. The shopping side carried quite a variety of East Asian produce, as well as a huge selection of Japanese pantry items. It was reminiscent of the Korean mega-mart in the Philadelphia burbs that I frequent, Assi Plaza. The intrepid food hunters had hit the North Jersey Korean mega marts before I managed to meet up with them, so I can't compare the N. NJ versions to the Philly suburban version... Mitsuwa's primary problem is that it is buried deep in the most heavily built up old riverfront suburbs in North Jersey. The parking lot is a mad house, the road it is on is windy, two-laned, and packed to the gills with condos. I'd go 20 or 30 miles out of my way if there was someplace with a comparable selection of stuff in a not-quite-so-claustrophobic-traffic-nightmare locale. Mitsuwa does, apparently run a bus from Manhattan... but given their riverfront location, I think a ferry from the uptown Fairway would be the best foodie-centric transport connection to get the place into people's shopping routines.

We did partake of some of Mitsuwa's food court ramen, which were quite tasty, though Raji is a better person to delve into the description of that experience.

We then wended our way back onto the highway and out to Hackensack to White Manna, a neon-signed classic burger joint that made many many sliders for the crowds that flowed in and out of the place. I'm not a slider afficionado (and I've never been to a White Castle, so I can't compare the WM burgers to anything else), but it was a fun last stop.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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I'll post tonight/tomorrow with all the photos from the trip too (except the ones of yours truly trying to fit his mouth around a Jimmy Buff's in all it's calorific glory).

I've espoused Santouka's ramen ad nauseum - I'd rather hear what you, FG and Mayur had to think of your Santouka shioramens, especially since there are people out there who believe Setegaya's shioramen to be the best, whether they've tried Santouka or not.

And if Santouka's is judged to be the best, this would further support FG's original claim, as to sample the best ramen in the NYC area would be to go to across the river to Edgewater, NJ.

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Those are a few examples -- what we were able to eat in a day -- of culinary experiences that are categorically superior in New Jersey.

I wouldn't exactly reduce it to "a good Indian buffet," though. As the descriptions above provide, Edison is an Indian enclave in New Jersey that has no New York equivalent. We happened to eat a terrific meal at one exemplar, however as is painstakingly laid out in the posts above we also toured several other restaurants, a pastry shop, a catering facility and a large Indian supermarket. The point being, if you're interested in Indian cuisine and culture you're not going to find an Edison-level experience in any of New York's Little India neighborhoods. You have to go to Edison.

Likewise, we visited one example of a New Jersey hot dog place, but for someone who has an interest in hot dogs New Jersey has quite a few places that are superior to anything I've had in New York City. John's summary up-topic is comprehensive on this point. In general, in the road-food category (White Manna's burgers being another example), there's no comparison.

We also experienced ramen that I felt was superior to any available in New York City. In addition to the Indian supermarket in Edison, we visited two different Asian mega supermarkets and retail complexes, one Korean and the other Japanese: not just grocery stores but also dozens of other retail outlets and food concessions (Korean liquor store, etc.).

Moreover, it would be a simple matter to design additional day-long tours covering other categories such as Portuguese food and culture in Newark, all sorts of ethnic food shopping, etc. Indeed, I would be more than happy to repeat this challenge over and over again in different permutations.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Interesting write-ups, I wish I could have made it. As someone who worked for 13 miserable years in Fairview, NJ, I wish I'd have known about these places beforehand. Ah well. I am happier working from home now.

I do seem to recall a great hot dog place in Fort Lee but the name escapes me.

I'd be up for a day trip to Newark for Portuguese food, BTW.

Cheers! :cool:

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So, if I'm reading this correctly, I need to go to NJ for a good Indian buffet, hamburgers, hot dogs and a very large Asian food mall/court?

The food court issue is an interesting one. This is something Bourdain has mentioned on several occasions, but the US, and especially Manhattan, lacks the type of sprawling, high-quality food court that's so commonplace in Asia and, to a lesser extent Europe. Obviously Manhattan has its space constraints, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we're a supermarket rather than farmer's market culture. One-stop, destination food shopping and dining. You look at the train stations in Tokyo, much less the department stores, and it's unlike anything in the city. Perhaps Mitsuwa comes closest but even that is a pale, pathetic comparison.

So, to get back on topic, if people are willing to travel thousands of miles to eat in a large Asian food court/market, traversing the bridges and tunnels or hopping on a ferry isn't too much to ask. With that said, please don't take this post for anything more than it is. I'm certainly not endorsing the credo that city dwellers must get to NJ for the food alone.

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Raji's album of photos from the NJ food tour is here for now.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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