Help navigate the non-stop New York City restaurant scene with Try This: Traveling the Globe Without Leaving the Table by “Restaurant Girl” Danyelle Freeman. Available June 7, the guidebook digs into multi-cultural dining by expounding on the ins and outs of everything from British food and French cuisine to Vietnamese and everything in between. “Just because something is foreign to you doesn’t mean you have to feel like a tourist at the table,” says Freeman. She goes over the basics, the tricks of the trade, the dos and don’ts and shows you how to get the most out of every morsel. We chatted with her.
What sparked the idea for Try This?
DANYELLE FREEMAN: My birthday dinner at The Spotted Pig the year it opened. We were a group of fairly fashionable New Yorkers who ate out five nights a week. We thought we were experienced eaters who knew our way around most menus, but everyone took one look at The Spotted Pig’s menu and got very quiet. The menu was written in English, but it might as well have been in a foreign language. None of had ever heard of or tasted dishes like rollmops, champs, devil’s on horseback or, my personal favorite, spotted dick. We desperately needed a glossary or some sort of guide to the menu, so I decided to write one—not just for gastropub cooking, but also for the multitude of cuisines we eat from all over the world.
Is the tone of the book different from what we’ve come to know on RestaurantGirl.com?
DF: Try This has the same fun and hip sensibility as RestaurantGirl.com, but the book is definitely more serious. It’s not easy to squeeze the vast world of cuisines into one book, never mind do them justice. That’s a responsibility I didn’t take lightly.
What was the most interesting thing you learned in your research?
DF: How humble most culture’s foods are. Almost every great dish had humble beginnings. For instance, French cassoulet and coq au vin are both considered classic French dishes that you might find in an elegant restaurant or bistro, yet, ironically, both are rustic dishes created by peasants in the countryside.
Did you discover any ethnic cuisines that aren’t represented in New York City?
DF: No, we’ve got it all and then some! We have cuisines I couldn’t even fit in the book, like Cambodian, Guayanese and Filipino. There’s no denying that we’re definitely stronger in some ethnic foods than others. Aside from Italy, we probably have the best Italian restaurants in the world. But most would agree there’s better Mexican in California, and while I think SriPraPhai in Queens is one of the best Thai restaurants in the country, we could certainly use a few more great Thai joints.
Anything else not covered in the book that you wish was?
DF: African and South American cooking. But it’s pretty hard to pack the world’s cuisines into one book. All the more reason for me to write another Try This, celebrating cuisines that didn’t make the cut this round.
How often do you travel abroad to experience these cuisines in their natural environment? And how drastic are the differences from what we have in NYC?
DF: I travel as often as I can. It’s amazing to sample a country’s cooking where it was born, made with the very ingredients that grow off the land. But it’s just as amazing that we can sample those dishes right here on American soil. I still get giddy knowing I can get a terrific bowl of Vietnamese pho or Greek moussaka, tender grilled octopus and tzatziki in New York. I’ve had killer tamales and cactus tacos in Brooklyn and a great bibimbop and barbeque galbi in Koreatown. I’ve actually had better Spanish flan and patatas bravas in Los Angeles—at Jose Andres’ The Bazaar—than in Madrid. Of course there are some dishes that don’t travel well, or just taste better in their country of origin. Nothing beats eating Spanish charcuterie on Spanish soil. And what’s better than savoring paella Valencia in its birthplace? Not much. But for the most part, you can get outstanding global cooking not just in New York City, but all over the United States.