You’ve seen it on TV — fearless food adventurers navigating far-flung corners of the globe, immersing themselves in the local culture and eating their way from one country to the next. That could be you.
New Yorkers have access to nearly every ethnic cuisine on the planet within city limits. But apart from intrepid chowhounds, how many of us have actually hopped the train to Elmhurst for authentic Malaysian food or sampled jerk chicken in the Bronx?
The outer boroughs have entered the culinary mainstream. “Brooklyn” was the final episode of Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” and airing this month, Andrew Zimmern heads to Queens in “Bizarre Foods America.”
But it can be intimidating to venture into lesser-known areas of the city, tasting new foods, not knowing where to go or what to order. So, how can the average New Yorker channel his or her inner Bourdain? By taking an outer borough food tour.
The tours will allow you to step out of your culinary comfort zone and explore the authentic ethnic foods found right in your own backyard.
So round up your foodie friends and take a mouthwatering trip around the world.
TOURS: Himalayan (Jackson) Heights, Downtown Flushing, Elmhurst ($50-$60)
When food celebs come to town, Joe DiStefano’s number is on speed dial. Named by New York Magazine as “the man who ate Queens,” Joe is a passionate expert on New York’s most culturally diverse borough. From Elmhurst’s Indonesian and Thai enclaves to the labyrinthlike food courts of Flushing, Joe’s tours offer an off-the-beaten-path culinary experience rife with hidden storefronts and unexpected delicacies, such as a flower shop selling freshly made tofu drizzled with ginger syrup. Joe’s culinary knowledge runs deep, and his enthusiasm for authentic flavor makes you feel like you’re being let in on the city’s best edible secrets.
WHAT YOU’LL EAT: Ecuadorean roast pig, spicy Tibetan tripe, Chinese soup dumplings, Nepalese jerky, a Vietnamese “insanity sandwich”
‘Famous Fat Dave’ Freedenberg
TOUR: Five-Borough Eating Tour ($200, food and ride included)
One thing that sets “Fat” Dave apart is his set of wheels — a classic Marathon Checker cab. Jump in the backseat and eat your way from Coney Island to City Island. As a former cabbie, Dave would ask for food tips in different neighborhoods down to the exact dish instead of cab fare, building an extensive repertoire of local eats. For first-timers, Dave suggests Brooklyn and the Bronx, but every borough is up for grabs on his custom-built tours. The food is a unique mix of international, or “old-school New York,” and sometimes a combination of the two, like a Yemeni Muslim-run Jewish deli in Bed-Stuy serving up classic pastrami. Dave’s philosophy: “I think of New York as one big road trip of the whole world.”
WHAT YOU’LL EAT: Hot beef, shawarma pizza, Yunnanese dumplings, Jamaican jerk shrimp, a “Murder Burger”
TOURS: Queens Fiesta Crawl, Tastes of the World ($59)
When you meet Jeffrey Orlick, the first thing he’ll tell you is that he’s not a tour guide, he’s a local. As a six-year resident of Jackson Heights, Orlick aims to give visitors an insider’s view of the different cultures in his neighborhood as well as supporting his community. On his nine-country world tour of Jackson Heights, you may find yourself in the back of Tibetan Mobile, a cellphone-and-DVD store, for traditional thukpa soup. Jeffrey’s other area of expertise is Roosevelt Avenue, which he navigates from Jackson Heights to Corona, tasting Mexican, Ecuadorean and Peruvian cuisine along the way. It’s not just about the food, which is good and “home-style,” says Jeff, “It’s about the experience. It’s about the people, about being engulfed in the culture.”
WHAT YOU’LL EAT: Nepalese thali platters, Filipino sisig, Mexican street-cart tacos, Tibetan “momo” dumplings, pizza