Robert Sietsema, you are my hero

September 6, 2008

Robert Sietsema, our ethic food guide

Robert Sietsema, our ethnic food guide

I feel like I’ve found the Holy Grail. I even wondered at first why I’m even going to bother continuing to attempt to eat food from every nation on earth in New York City. It seems that it’s been done, and well documented. But then I took a closer look and thought, not quite. There is no entry for Algeria in Robert Sietsema’s The Food Lover’s Guide to the Best Ethnic Eating in New York City. Whew! I now have reason to keep going.

Robert Sietsema is longtime Village Voice food critic, and author of now-on-hiatus foodzine Down the Hatch. His book is a mandatory resource for anyone who is interested in multi-national eats in our fair city. First published in 1994 with the title Good & Cheap Ethnic Eats Under $10, the latest revision came out in 2004, and includes entries for what appears at first to be every cuisine under the sun. The guidebook, slim and rectangular, in a shape and size not unlike the Zagat guides, is organized by region/country/cuisine, more or less in alphabetical order. Each entry is limited to one paragraph, and includes a rating of one (good) to three (amazing) stars, a $ if the meal is more than $20/person, and other symbols if spicy food is available, the fish is particularly good, and/or if the establishment is vege friendly. A helpful little box of common food items to look is placed at the beginning of each section. All five boroughs and New Jersey are well covered, and a neighborhood index makes browsing your local hood easy.

This book is going to be a huge help when we get to places like Azerbaijan and Guyana, and for figuring out which restaurants in Flushing have Sichuan food and which represent Beijing. But with 100 cultural and national groupings represented, it is definitely not exhaustive of the entire UN.

We can already pride ourselves on having identified, located, and devoured Algerian cuisine in Astoria, Queens. Supereg will be filling you in on the details of that adventure very soon. In the meantime, I’m going back on the hunt for Andorran food (also not represented in the Sietsema book), which is proving to be our first real challenge.

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