As someone who never seems to have enough time to truly explore a new place, I’m unsure why tours have never made it onto my itinerary. Tours are a great way to combine history, tips, local perspectives and sometimes food to provide a brief taste of the area.
Free Tours by Foot offers walking tours for a pay-what-you-wish price upon completion. The company offers many types of tours: walking, bus, boat, biking, food, even self-guided and further separates tours by specific neighborhood (multiple times a day).
Upon reserving your space(s) online, you will receive an email detailing meeting specifics and tour guide contact information. Bring about $14 cash (one dollar bills are best) if you want to try all of the (vegetarian-friendly) items on the tour. Don’t forget to bring a little extra to pay the guide for their service and time too!
If you’re curious to read about where we went on the tour and my thoughts on the food (and drink), keep reading for more details on the East Village Food Tour:
9 St. Marks Place
New York, NY 10003
Tour item: Tokyo Fog – matcha latte with almond milk and vanilla syrup
($1 for 2-3 oz sample)
The first stop of the tour was an excellent choice as an iced drink helped keep us cool on such a hot and humid day. The compact tea shop is reminiscent of ones you might find in Japan in a 9 by 6 foot room. Nohohon specializes in matcha drinks that are hand-whisked per order in the traditional Japanese manner. They have several dairy alternatives depending on your preference– almond, soy, and regular milk as well as red bean and boba toppings.
Sample tasting was available, but I opted out went for a large Furano Field – a matcha latte with lavender syrup for $5.95. It sounded too amazing to pass up. The matcha was smooth, the almond milk added a hint of extra flavor and the lavender syrup had the right amount of sweetness and aroma. I enjoyed the drink so much, I made sure to trek back every day regardless of where I was in New York. (I did end up trying the tour guide’s vanilla recommendation, but preferred lavender since vanilla was too light for my taste.)
12 St Marks Pl
New York, NY 10003
Tour item: Half of a Summer Roll – rice paper roll filled with avocado slices, carrot, cucumber & greens served with peanut sauce ($2 for half a roll)
Just right across the street from our first stop, we headed into a Latin/Colombian establishment which serves Vegan fare. The guide led us into a private room towards the back that looked like it could be used for a small banquet or private event. The room was a nice, cool haven from the heat while we waited for our tasting.
To those who have never eaten food encased in rice paper, please try this. The wrapper is thin and chewy and doesn’t taste like anything on its own, but the peanut sauce is definitely the star of the show. I am Vietnamese so I’ve had my share of foods wrapped in rice paper for the last twenty-odd years, but I did enjoy the dipping sauce because of its flavor and texture made of coarsely ground peanuts.
I also re-visited this restaurant a few days later and had the nachos and empanadas. Both were delicious!
UKRAINIAN EAST VILLAGE RESTAURANT
140 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003
Tour item: Potato varenyky or pierogi ($2 for one)
The restaurant has aesthetically remained unchanged since it first opened in 1963. It is home to Ukrainian comfort food dishes like borscht, blintzes, halusky, and pierogis.
We did not go inside, but instead waited for our guide to make the transaction with the restaurant. We sampled our pierogis in the corridor of the building.
The dough was soft and thick (more so than an Asian dumpling) and had a slight chew. The filling was made of mashed potatoes similar to a Thanksgiving side dish. Don’t pass on the optional sauteed onions and sour cream toppings which provide a creamy and fragrant flavor. The dumpling was good overall, but I can see why it may be a challenge to scarf down a whole plate of potato-filled pockets. Since I did enjoy the chewiness of the dough, I imagine that I would enjoy it with other fillings like meat and cheese also.
7 Carmine St
New York, NY 10014
Tour item: Select your own pizza slice ($3-4 per slice)
At Joe’s you will find quintessential New York style pizza. The shop offers large, thin slices popped into the oven and warmed per order. Joe’s has been featured in movies and frequented by many celebrities you can check out on their wall.
Joe’s is a as simple as they come for a no frills slice of pizza. I ordered the white pizza with ricotta. I normally like my pizza with an excessive amount of toppings, but for a grab-and-go slice, it does the trick. Service is quick and their friendly demeanor was appreciated for being such a busy establishment.
As a walking tour first-timer, I had absolutely no expectations. Booking the tour was a no-brainer once I knew that the tour was centered around food! Though to my surprise, I learned a lot of fun facts and history about the East Village that I otherwise wouldn’t have known. I’ll keep the spoilers to myself so that you can hear the fascinating tidbits on your tour!
Free Tours by Foot in NYC is highly recommended because it’s inclusive of different ethnic foods. If you aren’t keen on food tastings and would rather hear about the development and history of the area, they also offer walking, biking, and boat tours. Check out the extensive schedule in their calendar. Tours are a great way to get a feel of a city, or in this case, a taste of the city!
If you’ve gone on any tours in NYC, let me know which ones you recommend! What did you enjoy the most on your tour?