If you love food and you want to do something different, I highly recommend checking out one of Free Tours by Foot‘s food tours. I just discovered this company this week and went on my second tour today to the Lower East Side. They also offer food tours in Greenwich Village and Chinatown, as well as neighborhood tours. I went on the Harlem neighborhood tour yesterday. I love this company so much that I’m going on another tour tomorrow to the French Quarter in New Orleans. Be on the lookout for my article on New Orleans food coming soon!
And yes, it’s really free to take the tour (if you want). The guides work solely for tips and they are absolutely no pressure. However, I’ve enjoyed both of my tours so much that I did offer my guides a gratuity. I’ve learned a lot about not only food, but also the rich history of some of the neighborhoods in New York City.
But, let’s talk food.
We met the lovely guide, Robin, in front of Yonah Shimmel, a knish bakery. Yonah Shimmel is over 100 years old, and Yonah got the original potato recipe from his mother. He started by selling his knishes in a pushcart and eventually made enough money to buy a store. Yonah Shimmel is still run by the original family.
I have heard and seen knishes, but have actually never had one. As recommended by the man behind the counter, I opted for the mushroom knish. It’s basically a baked mashed potato dumpling with mushrooms. Robin suggested adding some mustard for a little more pizazz. If you love potatoes, mashed potatoes, twice-baked potatoes and/or pierogies, etc., you will love knishes. Why had I never tried one before?
If you’re not a fan of mushrooms, don’t fret. Yonah Shimmel also has potato, spinach, red cabbage, sweet potato, kasha, vegetable, cheese pretzel and broccoli knishes.
Want something sweet? You can also get cherry cheese, chocolate cheese, apple cheese and blueberry cheese knishes – all for $3.50 each.
Yonah Shimmel: 137 East Houston Street, New York, NY 10002
C&C Prosperity Dumpling
The Lower East Side is an extremely diverse neighborhood, and Chinatown actually used to be part of the LES years ago. So a Lower East Side food tour is not complete without some Chinese food.
For $1, you can get 4 pork and chive dumplings. I was feeling rich, so I got the fried shrimp dumplings for $1.25. They were very good, and I don’t even really like dumplings.
Because I don’t like Asian dumplings, I also got a vegetable pancake. It reminded me of Vietnamese sandwiches except the bread was softer and more delicious. I’d like to come back to this place and try the sesame duck pancake, which I’m assuming is the same as the vegetable pancake, but with duck. Yum. The vegetable pancake is only $1.25 by the way. Where else can you get a filling meal for so little?
C&C Prosperity Dumpling: 69 Clinton Street, New York, NY 10002
Here is the place to go if you want matzos fresh out of the oven. Matzo is a cracker-like bread eaten by Jews during passover. The nice man behind the counter opened a pack of matzo for us so we could at least try. We had the egg and onion.
Streit’s Matzos: 148-154 Rivington Street, New York, NY 10002
The Pickle Guys
I don’t have much to say about The Pickle Guys except that this place is pickle(d) heaven. You can get regular pickles, pickled garlic, olives, peppers, etc. I got the hot and sour pickles. It had some kick to it. Maybe you can ask for some juice to make picklebacks.
The Pickle Guys: 49 Essex Street, New York, NY 10002
Before this tour, I hadn’t even heard of a bialy. A bialy is similar to a bagel, but softer and with no hole in the middle. The particular one I got had onions in the middle. It was quite delicious!
Kossar’s Bialys: 367 Grand Street , New York, NY 10002
This was my favorite spot on the Lower East Side food tour. I’ve been wanting to try this place ever since I moved here, but I don’t frequent the LES. They have some very unique doughnut flavors like peach, pistachio or chocolate chip cookies. Also, the best part is that you can choose between yeast-based doughnuts and cake doughnuts. You can even get square doughnuts. I opted for the peach doughnut and it was delicious. It was similar to a glazed doughnut, but with a hint of peach.
The Doughnut Plant was a fantastic way to end the tour.
The Doughnut Plant: 379 Grand Street, New York, NY 10002