My first weekend of (f)unemployment has, by all counts, been a tremendous success. There’s been a bare minimum of lazy/HBO GO-TV-binge-watching time, a Saturday night celebrating a wedding on a rooftop with cake and champagne and good friends, two pretty solid workouts, a torturous but necessary afternoon of cleaning out my apartment in preparation for moving, and the most New York/bucket list/blog-worthy activity of all (and the subject of this post): an eating/walking tour of Chinatown/Little Italy.
Months ago, I saw a post on Serious Eats advertising a tour they had collaborated on with a company called Stray Boots. The entire tour was self-guided using an iPhone app, it was ridiculously cheap, and we’d get to stop at some of Serious Eats’ favorite places in the neighborhood. So I quickly roped in a couple of friends, bought the tour, and then promptly forgot about it completely.
When I realized I’d had the confirmation email sitting in my inbox for 6 months and the number of free weekends I had left in NYC was rapidly dwindling, I reached out to the same friends to pick a date. After one friend had to bail and we found a replacement, Sara, Mitch, Emily and I set out for our tour.
We had no idea what to expect (other than a lot of delicious food), but the app itself is pretty brilliant. Stray Boots has various themed tours for cities all over the country, and getting access to them is as easy as just downloading the app. Each tour has a set of challenges that lead you to various sites around the neighborhood that is the focus of the tour — each restaurant/site we went to came with a little trivia question to answer or a challenge (a picture to take, etc.). You can skip any challenges you want, and if you have a big enough group, you can split up into teams and compete (you earn points for every challenge/question you complete/answer correctly). Once you complete or skip the challenge, the app also gives you a bunch of fun facts about the site you’re visiting. A little dorky, yes, but we got to eat a lot of delicious food and visit some pretty interesting historical sites and yes, even learn a few things along the way.
The highlights of our tour…
Spicy Cumin Lamb Burgers at Xi’An Famous Foods
Learning about the Five Points slums
Pork and Cabbage dumplings from Tasty Dumpling
Egg Custard Tarts from Bread Talk bakery
Beef jerky from Malaysia Beef Jerky
The dark horse of the tour. Seriously. Who would have expected that this dinky little storefront would have ridiculously delicious and fresh-tasting beef jerky? Or that I would ever describe a piece of beef jerky as “delicious and fresh-tasting”?
Learning about the Eldridge Street Synagogue
…and the fact that they host an EGG CREAMS AND EGG ROLLS FESTIVAL every year that I somehow have never heard of or attended in my 27 years as a New Yorker. Travesty.
And finally, a stop at DiPalo’s for mozzarella/capicola pinwheels
All in all, a thoroughly successful afternoon. I swear I don’t work for the company or anything, but the Stray Boots tour and entire model is seriously cool. It’s an easy an unobtrusive way to make sightseeing a little more exciting (rather than being on a giant walking tour that screams I AM A TOURIST!) Being a tourist in your own city is always fun, and I think it would also be fun to do one of the tours in a city I didn’t know quite as well. And anything that encourages me to eat dumplings and beef jerky is okay by me.
Now, the only issues are the leftover mozzarella pinwheels calling my name from my fridge and the dumpling craving sparked by only eating ONE dumpling yesterday. Whoops.