Easter is another of the unfortunate Christian holidays whose original meaning gets overlooked. The whole thing kicks off with 40 days of deprivation from candy and chocolate, a sacrifice which is rewarded on Easter Sunday with – shockingly – candy and chocolate.
Everyone has earned their overpriced, ornate chocolate eggs and can engage in silly frivolity hunting for hidden candy throughout their neighborhoods and homes.
Why do we eat Easter eggs? Why are they chocolate? Why do we hunt for them? Does anyone care?
This year, Easter was an even bigger deal for the Irish. One hundred years of freedom!
The entire nation is rolling out celebrations and events for the entire year, and needless to say, Easter Sunday this year was a hugely significant day for our little country and large diaspora. All over the world, people were posting their salutes to their home country on social media, whether it was a full-costume parade-like reconstruction, or simply sitting at home with a steaming hot mug of Barry’s tea watching Michael Collins.
In New York, the hunt was on for the most authentic Irish bar in which to celebrate. The most authentic blend of tea to buy in order to commemorate your solidarity. The most authentic Irish food to attempt to cook in order to mimic the culinary skills of your ancestors. The most authentic way to celebrate Irish authenticity.
I have spent the last week with my guy on a different kind of hunt throughout New York’s culinary scene, on a constant lookout for the most authentic food, forever searching for the best in each category, rarely willing to settle for anything less.
With sites like Yelp – which I have concluded is a truly poisonous force that needs to be quelled, if not removed from this earth – it is all too easy to separate the whey from the chaff. You search for “best ramen” and within seconds you have a list ranked from best to worst, most expensive to cheapest, nearest to furthest.
With food channels like Munchies by Vice and FoodTube, and Netflix documentaries like Chef’s Table, everyone can be a connoisseur, a food snob, and a relatively well informed participant in the restaurant world. Celebrity chefs are no longer limited to the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain as the younger generation’s call for likable, interesting chefs pioneering new and innovative ways to cook and to serve food is being answered.
The entertainment value of food is no longer limited to lush, lavish meals with 7,000 components that are largely unaffordable and often pretty unattainable too. Nowadays, the real value is in the authenticity of the chef, and of the food they are preparing or presenting to their audience.
We want the best recipe for authentic ramen that we can easily prepare at home, snap to social media and congratulate ourselves on, or a recommendation and insight into one of the best authentic ramen restaurants that we can one day hope to visit.
The joy of the hunt lies in the unknown. We want a restaurant that has the quality assurance from a trustworthy source, but still retains that key element of hidden treasure. We’re not idiots, we know we’re not the ones actually discovering it or finding it for the first time, but we feel a camaraderie with the chef who did, and now we can be a part of it too.
I spent my Saturday afternoon hunting down the most authentic Chinese food in New York. For those of us living on this side of the planet, and this side of an annual salary (the extremely low/virtually non-existent side) this is the closest we are going to get to Asian food in Asia. I was following the recommendations of Taiwanese/New Yorker chef Eddie Huang whose show "Fresh Off the Boat" I am completely obsessed with.
We boarded the 7 train and made our way to Flushing to track down the Nang Xiang Dumpling House, no longer willing to settle for mainstream Manhattan Chinatown, but needing to go farther afield into unknown territory to locate the most authentic soup dumplings on the East Coast.
Getting off the subway, it genuinely felt like we were in China – not that I’ve been, but I have a strong imagination. Every sign is in Chinese, every person is Chinese, and the landscape is so unlike that of Manhattan that there is no reassuring skyscraper backdrop to remind you of where you really are.
We sat, we ordered exactly what they ordered on the show, and we were not disappointed. The food was astoundingly good, and alarmingly cheap. We came back to Manhattan buzzing with news of what delicious treats exist off the island and instantly rounded up a crew to return for a feast.
On Easter Sunday, we weren’t hunting for chocolate eggs, or for the truest form of Ireland available in New York, but we continued on our trail for authentic Chinese food in New York. We decided to pop in to Eddie Huang’s own restaurant, Bao Haus on the Lower East Side to see what he had created.
We joked, en route, that maybe he would be there at 5 p.m. on Easter Sunday and we could thank him for all of his awesome recommendations. Opening the door, we found ourselves standing directly behind him in the queue. What are the odds?
As anticipated, the food was awesome, and the experience was made all the more memorable by his presence. We were truly, authentically star-struck.
We sheepishly thanked him, were in awe of his kindness, enthusiasm and genuine interest in what we were up to, and took note of his additional recommendations on where to try the best of the best in New York City. We left without a photo, or an autograph or any proof-bearing paraphernalia. It had been an authentic, chance encounter that can only happen in New York City.
In our own universe of long-distance reunion, we had been completely tuned out of the real world. Totally unaware that it was even Easter Sunday, we had been on our own hunt around the city.
And this got me thinking. When it comes to true authenticity in New York, whether it be the origin of a Christian tradition, the deepest roots of Irish diaspora that you can find, or the best Chinese food you can get your hands on, the hunt never ends. There is always something new to discover, layers of overlapping culture and history in which to delve, and the constant sense of finding and enjoying something new.