“Gimme a buck Buddy and I’ll let you kick my ass” was the first thing an American has ever said to me. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing but standing in the middle of Times Square at dusk with a heavy ruck sack on my 7hour travelling back it seemed oddly appropriate. This, surely isn’t the standard Yankee greeting is it? Eskimos rub noses, the Japanese bow to each other do Americans take kickings for money!? But no, they don’t, before I could land a blow my new mate shook his knuckely fist at me grabbed his crotch and skipped off down 42nd street making a noise like a strangled budgie.
New York Streets do actual belch steam. This was something I had always assumed was ‘added for effect’ in TV shows like Kojack and NYPD Blue but they actually do and Times Square is a human blender. It literally crawls with human beings illuminated in shades of neon from the huge eletro-advertising panels and market tickers hanging from any inch of free wall space. Disconcertingly, David Beckham’s massive knackers in CK knickers seemed to be the ‘board of the month’ when I was there. I stared for a spell at this giant bulge connected to a ‘footballer’ looming at me out of the concrete and neon and felt very ‘modest’, a quick and deft double pocket fumble assured me that my knackers in Pennys knickers were at least still there and were unlikely to have their own you tube channel anytime soon unlike Becks’ 15 foot bollox.
6pm, standing in Times Square, looking for The Big Apple hostel having not eaten anything since the in-flight baby food I could have eaten an apple through a tennis racket. So, needs must and I literally stumbled into the first open door my nose led me to. Thankfully it was a simple common or garden Deli cum Liquor store. ‘Tads’ had wall of booze on the right and wall of bubbling soup vats on the left, a retail combination not often seen were I come from. I made a mental note to open an ice cream and curry shop the minute I got back home.
I’m not a ‘soupy’ but I’ve been making chicken noodle soup for a long time, its’ been a staple part of my diet for years, not because I’m Jewish (I’m not) but because it’s what I consider to be the King of the Soup food group. It’s a simple but effective sustenance dish – no more no less. So the familiar and the comfort genes kicked in and I drew myself ½ a litre of this broth safe in the knowledge that this would be the emergency finger in my dangerously bulging hunger dyke.
I paid the guy in the store, exchanged small talk, offered to kick his ass for a buck then left. It was dark and I stood at the corner of West 45th Street watching the Christmas Tree that is Times Square and eating chicken noodle soup in November.
Sometimes the planets just align. Sometimes cosmic order and balance just happen without your intervention or knowledge but standing there in New York City with chicken noodle soup is a food experience that is tattooed on my brain. I’ve had a few in my time and a lot of them don’t involve ‘starred’ eateries, in fact a lot of them involve food components that wouldn’t ever find their way into a professional kitchen. How can shredded Chicken thighs, Carrots, a whisper of garlic, Oily stock…the type of stock you know was made from a chicken that summered in Malibu and Wintered in Aspin and noodles all in the correct proportions mingle with carbon monoxide, car horns, street bums and Japanese tourists make for a heady experience that is impossible to replicate? That’s my first question to God when I confront the guy. Chicken Thighs are first hard fried in their skins, cooled and shredded (including the skin), a little garlic is brought down in a pot and finely diced spring onion is softened with some butter. Good carrots washed and peeled are batoned and sweated in the garlicy onions and the chicken and pre cooked noodles (some places use spaghetti) are then bathed in that oily chicken stock and the whole things just simmers…sometimes for days and periodically added to as needed.
I find it kinda groovy though that your surroundings, emotions, sights and sounds can greatly affect your relationship with food. Aside from the fact that this was the greatest Chicken Noodle soup I have ever had, I was also eating it standing on a corner in one of the greatest cities on earth watching the human circus play out in front of me. The NYPD
On West 42nd Street the Broadway Centre Theatre was showing Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein and featured a giant green animatronic ‘Frankie’ taking swipes at unsuspecting passers by from the front door signage, Ripley’s Believe it or Not show had a line that wrapped around onto 8th Avenue populated with German and Polish tourists armed to the teeth with all manner of photographic technology. A group of road workers Noo Yawked at teach other about ‘bust mains’ and a troupe of be-curled, be-speckled, and be-hatted orthodox Jews trouped past Jewishly. I then realized why my broth is known as Jewish penicillin. It makes you feel great.
It was a long way from Keller’s place but it’s the simple things that are best.