Would you eat a guinea pig or blended chorizo ice cream? Emma Freud continues her New York adventure and samples the city’s most extreme food...
This month has been horrific – my mission to check out the city’s weird food was much more hardcore than I had anticipated. Americans think that our Marmite, Hula Hoops and trifle are peculiar, but they’re Olympic gold medallists when it comes to bizarre eating. There is a great, eccentric history of extreme food in this town – 40% of the population are immigrants and this mix of cultures has led to some astonishing taste fusions. Within a few miles of where I live, I can find chicken feet with maple syrup, braised goat’s heads, beds of seafood topped with a live octopus (not joking) and a lightly boiled duck egg complete with its embryo. I rang El Pequeño Coffee Shop, which sells spit-roasted guinea pig. ‘Ah yes, we deliver,’ said the man on the phone, ‘and don’t forget to eat the best part, the crispy little ears.’ I politely declined.
Instead I turned to The Black Ant in the East Village, which sells food made from insects. I dived into their Black Ant guacamole, and discovered that ants taste exactly like the black flakes that are left on a barbecue when you haven’t cleaned it properly. My children refused to even try them.
Grasshopper tacos from Toloache in Midtown, however, were more forthcoming with their flavours: the outside iscrunchy, the legs are a little prickly on the tongue, but once you’re through the carapace, the meat has the consistency of spicy crab. Sort of fine in theory, but as soon as you remember there’s a grasshopper in your mouth – horrendous. My children refused to be in the same room with them. Later that day, I attempted a lamb’s testicle griddled with herbs by a chef in the West Village. Richard had to look the other way while I ate it. Let me just say it tasted of stuffing, and can we never talk of it again.
This melting pot of Manhattan food cultures has also encouraged a playfulness with flavours in many of the more conventional restaurants. Sticky’s Finger Joint is a popular Downtown gourmet chicken restaurant. I ordered
the chicken goujons with a salted caramel sauce, identical to the coating on a sticky toffee pudding. The result was a challenging sweet/savoury/sweet experience. But it had nothing on their s’mores fries. These well-cooked potatoes, smothered in a vat of sticky, chocolatey, biscuity, marshmallowy goo, could be the perfect remedy to that classic late night question: ‘What do I want… chips or chocolate Hobnobs?’ That said, it was vile.
I was initially delighted to move onto the ice cream revolution. Oddfellows famous hipster ice cream parlour in Brooklyn serves a warm brioche bun filled with brown butter & sage ice cream – it’s a creamy, herby success. But extreme flavourings need subtlety, and there was nothing discreet about their chorizo ice cream. Chef had puréed a vat of the Spanish sausage, mixed the pulp with ice cream and added chorizo fat to a caramel sauce, which rippled through the meaty, creamy mixture – a nightmare flavour combination. The caramelised onion ice cream tasted confidently of slow-cooked onions, but not in a good way, and the celery ice cream was every bit as disgusting as it sounds.
And then, finally, something wonderful comes along. In their search for the ultimate milkshake, Bubby’s diner, in the Meatpacking District, has
blended vanilla ice cream, milk and a large slice of cherry pie. The result is one of the most shamelessly gorgeous things I’ve ever put into my mouth – a brain-baffling synthesis of liquid and solid. The ants, the grasshoppers, the testicles, the celery – they were all worth it for the joy of that one brave, beautifully executed experiment.
Would you try any of the above? Sample the extreme New York scene with Emma's bourbon, black cherry & bacon brownies.