Our new columnist, Emma Freud, is spending a year in New York with her family, exploring the city’s food scene – and discovering how her neighbours really eat. This month, Emma finds out what it means to feed a family in a city spoilt for choice...
I’m living in New York now, having a belated gap year (I did have a gap year at the appropriate age, but the inappropriate age is more fun), and I’m trying hard to understand the food culture. I was at the apartment of a new Manhattan friend, Rachel, and came face to face with the strange truth that many New Yorkers just don’t do family meals.
I was brought up on family meals, and bring my children up to suffer them as I did. It forces them to listen, share, moan, laugh, talk to adults, be bossed around, eat my unsuccessful cooking experiments, and then, crucially, to wash up. The happy bits are joyful, just as the grumpy bits are repetitive, but it’s a key part of growing up.
Less so in New York, where 58% of meals are eaten either in restaurants or are takeouts. Hugely popular food apps tell you which restaurants are near your house, let you choose what you want (with a separate box where you can write ‘and hold the mayo’), charge the food to your credit card and then bring it round within minutes on a bike. The menus aren’t just for takeaway restaurants, they feature every restaurant in the city, all of whom deliver – from a local coffee shop to Michelin-starred fine dining.
There are healthy dinner delivery services that will bring you warm marinated sumac chicken, wheatberry & lentil salad, and rocket with a tahini vinaigrette for $11. Or Kitchensurfing, which supplies a chef to bring food and cooking utensils to your kitchen, cook, serve and do the washing-up for $25 a head. There’s even a brilliant chain called Insomnia Cookies, which for $9 will deliver a box of six freshly baked biscuits to your house at any time up until 3am. I have eaten these and can assure you they are worth the additional dress size.
So you can see the American mom’s dilemma: ‘Hey kids, what do you fancy for supper? Lamb chops and my admittedly lumpy mash followed by 20 minutes of sulky washing-up because I somehow used every pan in the house? Or a Thai green curry with miso soup, salad, rice and shrimp shumai ($9.50)? Or the best bagel in Manhattan with cream cheese and home-smoked salmon ($5)...?’
Family dining suddenly seems like the act of an older generation. For the year we’re here, though, I’m keeping up the good fight, and one dish that actually can’t be delivered is my desert island food – cheese fondue. Consequently we’ve been eating a lot of it recently, and I’ve perfected my super easy cheat’s recipe.
Next month, Emma investigates the weird and wonderful of New York's extreme food scene.
Are you an honorary or born and bred New Yorker? Tell us your favourite thing about The Big Apple's eclectic cuisine in the comments below...