I’ve taken a fair few guided walks around the Lower East Side, so when I joined Urban Adventures‘ food tour last weekend, I was expecting more of the same.
Ah, how wrong I was.
The three-hour, fact-packed tour, Tenements, Tales, and Tastes, started at City Hall and took our small group north – past African burial grounds, through former slums, into Chinatown’s hidden dumpling shops and towards Little Italy’s cheese counters. And while it’s a part of the city I know pretty well, it turned out that I had a lot to learn.
Our Queens-born guide, Nikki, met us at City Hall Park, which was beautifully dusted with snow.
We heard how the Dutch first settled the city (‘New Amsterdam’) and how a group of commissioners in the 1810s planned the city’s blocks. Then we headed past the court houses to an area previously known as Five Points – where poverty-stricken immigrants with no skills lived in dilapidated homes in the 1800s.
I was intrigued to hear how its position next to City Hall (i.e. how politicians were in close contact with families who could vote for them) affected New York’s future. The Irish families living in Five Points were soon earning jobs as the city’s police officers and firemen – a tradition passed through generations.
Then it was on to Chinatown, the only part of the city still completely inhabited by a self-sufficient immigrant group. There, we headed to Fried Dumpling (106 Mosco St), where a stern woman served us the most glorious food. I would never have found somewhere like this without being nudged there, so it was definitely a treat.
As we munched away, Nikki filled us in on the history of immigrants in the area.
Next: Little Italy. I lived there for 18 months and yet I never ventured to Alleva (on the corner of Grand and Mulberry), which is less than half a block from my old apartment (yes, I’m ashamed). I learned what I’d been missing: fresh mozzarella and a beautiful store crammed with delicious and hearty produce.
Can I move back?
After passing the Bowery, we headed to one of my favorite spots in the city: Yonah Shimmel’s Knish Bakery on East Houston. I’ve been to this old eatery plenty of times before but I had zero complaints about returning because the knishes – creamy mashed potato covered in very thin pastry – are the most comforting food you could ever imagine.
Our final stop took us to a modern German biergarten, Loreley, for fresh pretzels and beers, and final questions from the group.
I must say, it was by far the friendliest tour group I’ve ever joined. There were three couples and me, and everyone was really chatty – which was made far easier by the size of the group; Urban Adventures never stretches to more than 12 to a tour.
So my thoughts? This tour is great. Nikki was so informative and passionate, and I learned so many new things about an area I thought I already knew pretty well. For $65, it’s a pretty steep ticket cost – especially compared to other tours I’ve taken in the area – but you do get a lot of food and a lot of facts.
Urban Adventures hosts activities in more than 100 cities across the world and here in NYC it has a selection of tours, each led by a local and mostly focused on food and beer. Tickets are between $60 and $70. Check out each individual tour for upcoming dates. N.b. My ticket was courtesy of Urban Adventures.