In 1983, Myra Alperson co-founded Hungry Pedalers Gourmet Bicycle Tours, the first bicycle tour company to combine urban cycling & eating adventures. She launched Noshwalks in August 2000. She is also the author of Nosh New York: The Food Lover’s Guide to New York City’s Most Delicious Neighborhoods. We sat down to ask her a few questions…
1. What is the history of Noshwalks?
I went to Barnard College umpteen years ago and ended up “majoring” in NYC. This was probably reflected on my transcript with rather mediocre grades in academic subjects, since my exploration were entirely my own! Settling in NYC after college, I became an avid cyclist and began cycling everywhere. This was during the first wave of bicycle commuting and bike lanes. I used my bike to explore the boroughs and started volunteering with a group called Transportation Alternatives leading free bike tours to Brighton Beach and Arthur Avenue in search of good food.
Eventually, two friends and I formed a part-time business called Hungry Pedalers Gourmet Bicycle Tours, although the word “gourmet” was probably an overstatement. As with Noshwalks, we sought inexpensive, but delicious, foods from ethnic markets and eateries in neighborhoods tourists were not going to. This period spanned 1983-1990. One of my partners and I co-wrote The Food Lover’s Guide to the Real New York, which came out in 1987 – same week as the stock market crash, alas! By 1990 our lives took us in different directions and Hungry Pedalers ended.
I started Noshnews, my newsletter (soon to become a blog) in 1999 and launched Noshwalks in 2000 to complement the newsletter. People liked the tours much more – they wanted to go places rather than read about them – so I focused on creating more tours and now offer about three dozen! My book, Nosh New York: The Food Lover’s Guide to New York City’s Most Delicious Neighborhoods, was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2003, highlighting many of the neighborhoods where I lead tours. I’ve added many more destinations in since then!
2. How do you put your tour routes together?
Walking, re-walking and re-walking yet again. Riding buses through neighborhoods and taking notes. Asking locals for recommendations. Sometimes getting off a bus when I see an interesting sign or food truck. Picking up community and ethnic newspapers in the neighborhoods and looking for restaurant ads. Reading a lot! And lots of tasting! I compile the best places and I look for routes that make sense, balancing a good variety of eateries and, when possible, incorporating park stops where we can set up tastings and, in some cases, have complete picnics. In some instances, we also visit local landmarks. Every tour is different! Every time I lead the same tour, it’s different, too, because of neighborhood changes. I try to walk a tour myself a few days before I lead it to take new places into account.
3. If I’m a foodie and it’s my first time coming to New York City, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. What are some good ways to find some classic places to check out on my first visit?
There are some well-known eateries that anyone can get to on his or her own without a food tour. They’re written up in just about every guide book you will read. If you don’t want to travel on your own, the first time visitor has plenty of choices of food tour companies, although most go to the same neighborhoods in lower Manhattan (Chinatown, Lower East Side, Little Italy) or to Chelsea Market, Meatpacking District and the East Village.
Once you have an idea of where you want to go, my advice is to do what any savvy traveler does: Do even more research ahead of time until you find the website, food blog or tour company that piques your curiosity. (You should, of course, “Like” the Noshwalks Facebook page!) Plan to use mass transit, since driving in New York City is pretty insane – and subways and buses are part of the New York experience. Using MapQuest and other apps (HopStop is a wonderful one), you will get a sense ahead of time of where these neighborhoods are and how long it will take to get there. Don’t try to pack too much into one day, especially if you really love to explore! Bring a backpack because you’ll almost inevitably find food you’ll want to bring back with you in addition to all the tasting you do on site! Save all those take-out menus you find on the way!
I personally think that the serious foodie would want to avoid the more typical destinations (or, go once so you can say you were there, but then venture further) and check out the boroughs. There are tour companies that head to Brooklyn for pizza and artisanal foods.. A few others, like mine, also head to well-known ethnic destinations in Queens. Very few – perhaps just Noshwalks! – go to areas in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, plus northern Manhattan, and, yes, Staten Island, that have great food but are just not on any tourist radar. (Did you know, for instance, that there’s a small Portuguese enclave in Queens? Almost no one does.) Come on a Noshwalk and you’ll experience some “real” New York food and have a “real” New York feast where you will probably be the only tourists.
By the way, the food costs in these neighborhoods is often lots less than where many tourists do go! So the serious foodie in New York City for the first time does have an overwhelming number of choices, but with pre-planning, you should land in the city focused and ready!
4. If I’m a New Yorker or a frequent visitor, what’s a good way to discover some great new under-the-radar spots?
While I do offer tours of the Lower East Side and Chinatown, for instance, my specialty is taking people to places they wouldn’t even think of. (And if people ask for Little Italy, I tell them I’ll take them to Little Italy of the Bronx, but that I only include Manhattan’s as part of my Lower East Side/Chinatown tour!) People who know me know that they’ll get to places they have no idea exist – and will almost always have a novel – a very satisfying – experience.
I’m not the only person convinced that the Bronx is the new frontier for interesting food tours, but I’m probably the only tour guide who now offers six different Bronx food tours and has a seventh in the works right now (plus a book)! Name an ethnic food and I can usually recommend a neighborhood where you’ll find it!
5. What’s the one culinary experience no tourist should miss when they visit New York City?
The serious food tourist should take the #7 train to Main Street and wander through the Chinese, South Asian and Korean markets of the area, in particular a basement Chinese food court that will make you think you’re in a village market in China. There’s a lot of street food, too. That visit can take much of a day! Other stops on the #7 train will take the tourist to other food experiences: Get off at 74th Street/Roosevelt Ave/Broadway and you’ll be in the heart of South Asian Queens. A few blocks further – say, 82nd Street – you’ll find an amazing array of restaurants, markets and cafes offering food from Latin America. A celebration of gluttonous delight along one remarkable subway line!