O, Astoria!

In the light of Lonely Planet’s recent pick for #1 destination to travel within the US, I shall talk about how much I loved Queens – specifically Astoria, home to the Ranch – when I lived in New York.

photo courtesy of New York Times

photo courtesy of New York Times

Let the hipsters in Brooklyn condescend Queens and let Manhattanites act like the civilization ends with the Queensboro Bridge and you need to commute with donkeys after. I’m a proud former Astorian.

Yes, Brooklyn may have the hippest, coolest places, can it compare to the niceness of Queens people? And the commute… The places you can actually afford now in Brooklyn are so far that it’s really difficult for people who work in the city. Don’t even get me started on the L or the G train… I love the N train! Commute is so convenient to the city if you live on the N line that you start planning your social life based on whether or not where you’re going is close to N,Q line. Both Central Park and Prospect Park are on the N or Q line, I worked in Midtown, and Herald Sq Stop was 20 min. away, Union Sq, East Village, Soho, Chinatown… And it’s on the major transfer hubs, so if you do need to transfer, it’s not difficult.

When I lived at the Ranch, it was at the last stop (Ditmars) of the N/Q trains, so if and when I fall asleep on the train, kind strangers would gently wake me up so I wouldn’t find myself going back and forth and finally at a strange & bad neighborhood (I’m not saying it didn’t happen anyway at 4 AM one night, but it happened much less than any other places).

30th Ave after Greece's win of a game in the FIFA '14

30th Ave after Greece’s win of a game in the FIFA ’14

Astoria has the nicest, friendliest people. There is this shared feeling of ‘I know I live in the coolest neighborhood, but it’s hard for other people to understand’. The local bodegas, laundromat people, coffee shops, waiters and bartenders are always so friendly and give you some slack if you are short on money by dimes or nickles.

And Astoria Park? Just pretty!

Don’t even get me started on the food! Ah, the food. So so delicious. I may be partial to the food because I’m Turkish, and it’s a Greek neighborhood, which is basically the same food (sorry Turks and Greeks, we gotta just admit we eat the same stuff and get on with our lives without caring who came up with what).

Not just the Greek food, almost everything is more delicious there. So here are some of my humble recommendations if you go to Astoria (and you should).

 

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Hawkers = Home

Many say the best way to get perspective on a country is through its taxi drivers. They are the all seeing eyes and ears of any nation. Though I’ve had my fair share of colourful cabbies (there was one who sang Waltzing Matilda and waxed lyrical about British colonisation throughout our half an hour journey), this post is not about them. This one’s about the humble hawker centre.

If you’ve never been to Singapore, hawker centres are a little piece of foodie heaven. Whatever your poison, be it seafood, pasta, chicken wings or noodles, they’ve got it! These are not quaint little restaurants with romantic ambiance. These places are laid out in a noisy, oily, rambunctious circle of little stores. Think of a grubbier high school canteen with better food and a slimmer chance of people chucking food at you (no promises). They even have the Antony Bourdain seal of approval.

nom, nom, nom!

nom, nom, nom! photo courtesy of the straits times

Now hawker centres are no easy undertaking. A simple visit could result in you waddling away, stuffed to the gills with your body weight in edibles. So here’s a simple instructional to make sure you come out of your first experience with your BMI intact.

  1. There is strength in numbers.
so much food, so little time

so much food, so little time

This is definitely a time where the more the merrier. Hawker centres are a great place to eat family style where everyone gets to pick whatever catches their fancy. The more people you bring, the more options you have. A budget of $10-$12SGD per person should more than feed a group of 4 or more (if you get seafood, it could be a little more). Great time to make a couple of new friends at the hostel and take them over.

 

  1. The fanciest places doesn’t mean the best food

Yup, this is one those instances that make social media invaluable. The best hawker centres are not the ones that are the poshest or the ones that are raved about in guidebooks. Not that they are all wrong. Places like Newton Circus, Makkansutra at the Esplanade and Lau Pa Sat have good food; they’re just not very good on your wallet. It may seem like all food is the same but there are subtle differences and there are some places that are just better than. So ask the locals at your hostel or hotel or be a child of the 21st Century and just Google it!

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