One of the many great things about New York City in the summertime is that we have so many food festivals -- Smorgasburg, DeKalb Market, New Amsterdam Market, Hester Street Fair. If you know me in real life, then you've probably seen me at all of these spots before. I'll usually try just about anything once, but now that I'm gluten-free, it's a bit different. My thoughts are more like, "Hmm, what's in that?" This post isn't meant to be a guide to gluten-free street eats, but more just some thoughts. My first thought... Mexican food. My second thought... ask questions. I saw these yummy pupusas for sale at Smorgasburg the other day, and although I know they're made with cornmeal, I figured it couldn't hurt to ask if there was any flour. I was in luck. No flour, and this is some very yummy gluten-free food.My next thought... Vietnamese food. Vietnamese has to be one of the most naturally gluten-free cuisines out there, and lucky for me, there seem to be a lot of vendors selling this kind of food. This was from a stand called Noodle Lane at Smorgasburg.These summer rolls were made by a vendor called Best Summer (the folks behind Lonestar BBQ). They're made with bits of smoky bacon and served with an addictive dipping sauce.And here is a carton of rice vermicelli with grilled pork on top, with plenty of veggies, peanuts, toasted shallots (I think) and fish sauce from BEP Vietnamese.I wish all Asian food was that easy but, you know, soy sauce is risky territory. I took a chance on this bbq pork from the Maharlika stand at DeKalb Market. Luckily I didn't have a reaction, but I definitely let my eyes do the thinking. That's too risky though -- better to be smart and ask questions.Desserts can get really tricky. My friend Emily of Nomnivorous was selling her marshmallows at the Bust magazine Craftacular, and she was quick to tell me that all but one flavor (one spiked with beer) were gluten-free.My buddy Dan of Danny Macaroons takes it one smart step further and puts "gluten-free" right on his menu. Now that's smart business (and very considerate).But just because a menu doesn't look right for you, don't give up so quickly. Though I'm a long-time fan, I'd all but given up on Cinnamon Snail's amazing vegan food because nearly everything they serve has wheat in some form or another (seitan, wraps, bread, pastries, you name it). Sure, it's a truck, and it might seem like they have limited resources on the road, but I waited for the crowd to die down a bit and asked them what they could do for me. Maple-mustard tempeh served as a salad instead of a sandwich sounded perfect! So what's the lesson of the story? I'll say it again -- ask questions. Of course you know your body best, and if you're much more sensitive than I am and likely to have a reaction to even trace amounts of wheat, then you're going to avoid some of these vendors altogether. But I probably don't have to tell you that. That being said, I'm looking forward to a long summer of trying new foods at NYC's great festivals, and I'm not going to let my dietary restrictions hold me back.
It must be travel season, because I've been getting a lot of requests for tips on places to eat in NYC. I'm going to list a few must-trys for people who like "cheap eats," but I'm seeking some dining tips too! I'll be in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia next week, and I need some foodie suggestions. So if you'e got any ideas, please post a comment. I'm very into food trucks and cart food, and basically anything that isn't already on the most popular list in the local Zagat guide. For NYC, first up is Lan Zhou. I've raved about it before, and I'll rave again. They've got amazing hand-pulled noodle soups, and it's fun watching the guy stretch your noodles at the other end of the restaurant. But it's the fried dumplings that always astound me. You might get other tips about where to get dumplings like these in NYC -- ignore them all, because nothing else comes even close.Next up, Xi'an, another place I've raved about before. The address is listed as 88 East Broadway, but this is a standing-room-only shop on Forsyth Street, around the corner. Get a pork burger and a lamb burger, but don't forget about the noodles. I've tried at least eight of the dishes, and they are always astounding. Watch them make your food right before your eyes (like rolling out your noodles by hand), and assume you'll be standing on the street to eat your meal (although there is some seating downstairs in the 88 East Broadway building). Important Update: If you're more of an East Village person, you're in luck -- this weekend Xi'an is opening a new location on St. Mark's just west of 1st Avenue in the space that used to be Seoul Station, and they actually have seats! Finally, Num Pang. Yes, I've raved about this one before too. NYC has a lot of banh mi shops, but I say skip them all and head straight here instead for Num Pang's Cambodian-style sandwiches. The catfish is always a winner, although I think they changed the recipe recently. I suggest going with friends, ordering 2 or 3 varieties, and sharing. And note, there is a small seating area upstairs.So there you have it -- three great tips. Again, if you've got any D.C. and Philly dining tips, please post a comment!