Taste of Home
There’s no place like home for the holidays. Maybe it’s the decorated store windows, or a familiar song belted by a busking saxophonist, or the way snowflakes dance down to the sidewalk, but there’s something about New York City this time of year that makes locals and visitors alike feel homesick. Where can we find the comfort of home in the Big Apple?
To find out, we consulted some bona fide experts on homesickness—foreign diplomats. They spend years away from home, running the consulates in NYC. Like many travelers, these officials have learned that familiar flavors are often the fastest cure for homesickness. And lucky for them (and us!), this vibrant city has restaurants serving cuisines from every corner of the world.
Diplomats have scoured all five boroughs to find the best versions of comfort food from their homelands. Here’s where they dine for a taste of home.
When German Consul General David Gill hankers after food from home, he heads to the Upper East Side’s Heidelberg, one of the oldest family-run German restaurants in the United States. “It has a classic German atmosphere that makes you feel like you’ve been transported to [a German] town’s oldest café with familiar sights, sounds and, most importantly, smells,” he says. “It’s the perfect spot on a cold winter night when you need a bit of German gemütlichkeit [good cheer] or coziness.”
Another place that banishes homesickness for Gill is Zum Schneider in Alphabet City. “Zum Schneider has a year-round biergarten vibe, especially when a soccer game is on the big screen,” he says. “All of the waiters speak German. There’s no better way to feel at home than when you’re speaking your mother tongue and eating your favorite foods.”
Alastair J.M. Walton, Australian consul general, may not be able to find the open spaces and beaches that he misses in Australia here in New York, but he’s pinpointed a few places in the city to nosh on Down Under grub.
“You only have to visit NoLIta, which has been dubbed ‘Little Australia,’ to get your Aussie fix,” he says. “It’s incredible seeing the likes of Two Hands, Charley St, Bluestone Bowery Café, Ruby’s Cafe, Gran Tivoli and Good Thanks taking over the area.” Nothing beats an Aussie breakfast, and for that, Walton heads to Banter in Greenwich Village.
“I also visit Chinese Tuxedo for its Australian-Asian fusion [cooking],” he says. “Lastly, we can’t forget about The Australian Bar and Restaurant in Midtown—the iconic go-to when you want a parma [chicken Parmesan] or meat pie paired with live Australian sport.”
Barbecue is a big deal in Brazil, according to Marco Antonio Nakata, the country’s deputy consul general in New York. Servers cut a staggering array of beef tableside, and diners can also hit the buffet for salads, sides and fixins.
For the most genuine Brazilian barbecue experience here, Nakata makes a reservation at Fogo de Chão, across from the Museum of Modern Art. “When I’m there, I feel that I’m in a steak house in Brazil,” he says. “It has the right atmosphere and interior design.”
But when Nakata craves something lighter (say, Brazil’s beloved cheese bread snack, pão de queijo), he pops into Padoca, a Brazilian bakery on the Upper East Side. And when he’s looking for Brazilian home cooking (and the warm hospitality of his motherland), he chooses Casa in the West Village.
“Casa uses decorations from Brazil. The furniture, the color of the walls and everything reminds me of a traditional Brazilian home,” he says. Plus, the chef there prepares Brazil’s national dish, feijoada, a black bean stew that might just be the ultimate comfort food for Brazilian expats.
Most Indonesian immigrants to New York have made Queens their home, which is exactly why Annisa Tyas Purwanti, Indonesia’s consul for consular affairs, heads to this diverse borough when she yearns for the country’s spicy fried foods.
“We’re a nation of foodies, and food is the lifeblood of every social gathering or life event,” she says. “Don’t be surprised that each Indonesian has their own strongly championed favorite dish or vendor.”
This Indonesian’s favorites include Awang Kitchen, Asian Taste 86 Halal Indonesian Fusion and Upi Jaya (76-04 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, Queens, 718.458.1807, no website). “From Awang Kitchen my go to-is always the crispy fried duck or chicken, with green chili sambal. It’s Indonesian-style fried chicken, so it’s been marinated and steamed with spices and then fried,” says Purwanti.
“From Asian Taste 86, I love the grilled fish and the steamed fish dumplings and veggies with peanut sauce,” she continues. “And from Upi Jaya, [I get] Indonesia’s most iconic dishes, beef rendang and saté padang.”
Sushi, tempura, ramen and even okonomiyaki—Japanese foods are everywhere in New York. So which spots serve authentic Japanese cuisine?
“Sakagura and Jukai,” says Yusuke Mizoroki, consul of the economic division at the Consulate General of Japan, referring to two restaurants in Midtown East. “I find these restaurants are really cozy [and] a good way to feel Japan itself.”
He typically orders seafood dishes and washes them down with complementary sake when he’s feeling homesick. But it’s not just the cuisine that makes him feel at home—it’s the hospitality, especially the ritual of the oshibori [wet towel] offered to diners to clean their hands before the meal.
Estonian cuisine is rooted in its famous black rye bread. Known as leib, the hearty bread is served at most meals with cultured butter. The simplicity of the crispy crust and fermented flavor is deeply satisfying.
When Kairi Künka, Estonian consul general, longs for leib (or home in general), she heads to Estonian House, a cultural center with a bar and restaurant in Murray Hill. “First and foremost, it’s the people [at Estonian House who] give you a taste of home. [But] it also provides the most popular staples of Estonian cuisine,” she says.
In December, Künka looks forward to trying the holiday specialties at the restaurant. “The Christmas menu with sauerkraut, blood sausage and potatoes is a family favorite,” she adds.
When Portuguese Consul General Maria de Fátima Mendes, a self-proclaimed “sweet tooth,” longs for a pastel de nata, a traditional Portuguese egg custard tart, in New York, she turns to Joey Bats Café on Allen Street. “The pastel de nata is Joe’s mother’s recipe, and it’s delicious and crusty,” she says.
But when the diplomat finds herself missing the savory side of Portuguese cuisine, she’s found a few restaurants in New York with top-notch menus. “For dinner, Aldea by Chef George Mendes creates haute cuisine from original Portuguese recipes, with an innovative approach,” she says of the upscale restaurant that has earned a Michelin star for traditional dishes like arroz de pato (rice with duck) and shrimp with corn porridge.
Mendes also recommends Taberna 97, a tavern that offers Portuguese-style tapas. Diners can choose from small, flavor-packed plates like smoked firewater-grilled sausage, jumbo shrimp sautéed with garlic and white wine, and cod fritters.
In the six years Carlos Gerardo Izzo, Mexican consul for public affairs, has been posted in New York City, he’s had a chance to try a lot of the city’s Mexican restaurants.
“The first thing I think of when I’m homesick is tacos. So I go to Taco Mix in East Harlem. It’s really rustic, and it has tacos al pastor, made like a gyro,” he says. “I also like La Chula, in the heart of Spanish Harlem, where the trays are made of tin.”
When he wants a more elaborate Mexican meal, Cosme is his restaurant of choice. The sleek spot in the Flatiron District earned the highest ranking among U.S. restaurants on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list this year.
And finally, when he wants a fun, unfussy place to sip margaritas and crunch on chips and guac after a day at the consulate, he grabs a seat at the bar at La Pulperia, a Latin fusion restaurant on the Upper East Side. “La Pulperia has the best margaritas and sangria,” he says. “But it’s not the food that reminds me most of Mexico—it’s the warmth of the Mexican people working there. Food is just the excuse.”