Pan Ki-moon: The United Nations You’ve Never Heard Of, Right Here In New York
Many rounds of cyber stalking and one phone conversation reveal Charles Bibilos to be an all-American skinny guy with big ears: this is surprising only because for the past few years, he has been eating his way deep into the core of the Big Apple, on a mission to find meals from every country in the world, right here in New York.
“When I moved here, I thought, ‘what can I do in New York that I can’t do anywhere else I’ve lived?’” Bibilos tells us when we track him down between meals. The answer turned out to be the United Nations of Food, probably the most exhaustive chronicle of New York’s thriving global food culture, with reviews of meals eaten at restaurants and pubs, behind storefronts and in church basements, at homes and through caterers.
“When I started out, I thought I’d get to 70, maybe 80 countries,” he says. He has already checked off a commendable 134, which means that he’s approximately 25 countries away from the finish line. PS: Although the UN counts 193 countries around the world, Bibilos’ definition is a little more lax. If it’s a country with a population of over a million, it makes it onto his list.
“The last few are going to be tough,” he muses. “I’m going to have to meet people who will cook for me, basically.” Someone from Turkmenistan, please give this man a call.
A quick romp through United Nations of Food yields a recent discovery of Welsh fried bread made from seaweed and oatmeal, served for breakfast at a Welsh government-approved restaurant in Astoria; a meditation on crocodile meat; and a story about how Bibilos’s Armenian friend warned him off New York’s only Armenian restaurant and offered to cook him a meal instead, but then was admitted into an Ivy League MBA program and began dating a model. Speaking of dating, the blog has a section offering “Maybe a naked photo of my gorgeous girlfriend,” which turns out to be… never mind, we won’t spoil it for you.
We think it might be cool to get Bibilos to go local, and ask him to pick a dozen of his all-American favourites in New York instead. It isn’t easy. “Food from other countries has always been the thing that’s exciting to me. It's kind of amazing how infrequently I eat American food,” he hedges.
But we persist, and are rewarded with the following gems. No need to thank us, dear reader.
Grilled cheese: Little Muenster, DUMBO, Brooklyn; I'm a fan of the grilled cheese with fried egg and caramelized onions.
Garbage plate: Daddy-O’s, West Village; The garbage plate is a Rochester, NY invention: macaroni salad and/or fried potatoes topped with two burgers or two hot dogs and smothered in meat sauce and mustard. Totally a diet meal.
Philly cheesesteak: Shorty's, Midtown West; Mmm, broccoli rabe.
Pizza: Crocodile Lounge, East Village; Awesome mostly because the pizza is free with every drink you buy. It’s crappy pizza, but the price is perfect. Honorary mentions to Tony & Tina’s, Arthur Avenue, The Bronx; Lucali, Carroll Garden, Brooklyn and Royal pizza, Midtown East.
Reuben sandwich: David's Brisket House, Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn.
Southern fried chicken: Momofuku Noodle Bar, East Village; It’s not easy to get a ticket for this stuff, but it’s pretty freaking good.
Knishes: Yonah Schimmel, Lower East Side.
BBQ: Daisy May's BBQ, Midtown; I have a soft spot for the collards and Memphis dry rub ribs.
Hot dogs: Citi Field; If I’m at a ballgame, maybe I’ll get a hot dog there. But not otherwise. I’d have to be desperate.
Steak: Parnell’s, Midtown East.
Bagels: Tompkins Square Bagels, East Village + Daniel’s Bagel, Murray Hill; I like a good lox and cream cheese, but mostly if I want a bagel I just want carbs. A lot of the time, I’ll just buy three - sesame, salt, cinnamon and raisin – and I’ll walk around and eat them all.
Burgers: Jameson’s Bar & Kitchen, Midtown + Muldoon’s Irish Pub, Midtown; For me burgers are comfort food on a relaxed night out, usually when I just need serious calories to soak up all the beer I’m drinking.
Getting there: Visit http://www.unitednationsoffood.com, subscription free.
This story was contributed by Amrita Gupta, a freelance journalist currently completing a Master’s in Food Studies at New York University.