Padding the pavement while eating an impromptu meal is something New Yorkers are inordinately fond of. That’s partly what carryout containers are for, and as the century progresses, we find ourselves with more and more great dining establishments where there is no place — or almost no place — to eat. Get one of the excellent pastrami heroes at Harold & Ida’s, turn around, and aside from a standing shelf that might accommodate two people, there’s literally no place to consume it. The solution? Leave one half in the bag, hold the other in your hand, and chew as you walk down Avenue A.
There are several advantages to this approach. First of all, you save time in your busy day, since you’re undoubtedly going somewhere you need to be after the sandwich is finished. This also constitutes a form of multitasking that leaves you time to think about something else. What could be more pleasurable than hiking, eating, and ideating all at the same time? It becomes a delightful game: You have to maneuver around groups of slow-moving tourists, hop on and off curbs, and dodge the occasional fast-moving vehicle, dive-bombing pigeon, and scurrying rat. All the while keeping track of the bag swinging at your side, the half-sandwich inside begging to be extracted and eaten.
One added advantage: You can’t text while you’re walking and eating, or look at your email, or see what the weather is like on your phone. The walking-and-eating world is mercifully disconnected from the Internet. Of course, it’s considered rude and even perhaps illegal to eat while you’re riding the subway — there’s even a website devoted to it — though people eat on the subway anyway. But walking down the sidewalk is far less interactive than the subway. On the sidewalk even if you impinge on the consciousness of passersby, it’s only for a split second. This makes the walking-and-eating experience like having your own one-person mobile dining room. And one that you don’t have to clean up afterwards — if you spill a few crumbs from your sandwich, you can stride glibly on.
There are plenty of places on this earth where eating while walking is frowned upon. In France you could probably never get by with it. On a visit to Paris, I was frustrated to discover there were not even any carryout cups for coffee, let alone carryout containers for solid food, reminding us that drinking coffee or any other beverage out of a paper cup is one form of walking and eating that’s very easy to master. Thailand is another place where eating and walking is frowned upon, as a commentator on a BBC website notes: "Eating on the move in Thailand is impolite, except in the private cars." A person from China chimes in, "In my opinion, it is uncomfortable and does harm to my health, and causes dyspepsia."
The walking and eating aficionado knows instinctively what foods serve the purpose best. A sandwich is perfect, but some sandwiches are better than others. Thumbs up, bologna with lettuce and mayo; thumbs down eggplant parmesan hero with lots of tomato sauce. Thumbs up any breakfast sandwich (including my favorite, scrambled eggs and sausage on a buttered roll); thumbs down tuna salad on a bagel (the filling squirts out the sides).
A slice of pizza is one of the greatest walking-and-eating devices ever invented, especially a bare-bones cheese slice if you employ the fabled New York fold and decant the excess oil first. While tiny Neapolitan-style pizzas, which should ideally arrive uncut, paradoxically aren’t good walking food since the crust is way too floppy, a cup of soup is great, and a great comfort in winter, especially if you blow on it first. French fries are perhaps the most wonderful of all, though juggling the ketchup on the side in a little cup makes the game more challenging. With two hands completely free, though, you can eat almost anything, including the meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and mixed vegetables out of an aluminum container that I recently saw a guy scarfing as he perambulated with impressive velocity down Lexington Avenue.
Does it harm your digestion or put you in danger of falling into the street in front of an oncoming car? The jury is still out, but as long as so many restaurants have eliminated seating or are too crowded at mealtimes to find a spot, and New Yorkers are so hard-pressed for time, walking and eating will be not only a pleasure but a necessity.
NYC’s top five foods for walking and eating
Slice of pizza
What could be more New Yorky than a slice of pizza from a neighborhood pizzeria? You don’t have to go far to find one. Your choices often include a dozen or more permutations — just make sure you pick a slice with the fillings firmly attached. Then discard the paper plate, fold the slice using the New York fold — aka down the long side — and plow onward.
Stromboli Pizza, 83 St. Mark’s Pl., at First Avenue, East Village
Golden Pizza, 504 East 138th St., at Brook Avenue, Mott Haven
Sam’s Famous, 150 East 116th St., at Lexington Avenue, East Harlem
Available many places, including the Punjabi vegetarian carryouts that dot NYC, is the samosa, a tetrahedral pie with a crisp crust and cumin-scented potato filling. Hold the samosa in one hand and dip into the accompanying mint or tamarind chutney held in the other, while paying special attention to the meandering pedestrians in front of you.
Curry In A Hurry, 119 Lexington Ave., at 28th Street, Kips Bay
Merit Kabab, 37-67 74th St., at 37th Road, Jackson Heights
Minar, 138 West 46th St., between Sixth and Seventh avenues, Times Square
Char siu bao
Char siu bao — a pale, globular, steamed Chinese bread stuffed with a sweet barbecued pork filling — is the perfect thing to eat while walking. These are available at any restaurant that peddles dim sum, and at Chinese bakeries, too. One hand will be enough, but you need to hold the other hand a few inches underneath to catch any tumbling morsels of pork.
Hop Shing, 9 Chatham Sq., between Doyers Street and East Broadway, Chinatown
Shanghai You, 135-33 40 Rd., near Main Street, Flushing
Mei Li Wah, 64 Bayard St., between Elizabeth and Mott streets, Chinatown
Bacon, egg, and cheese
Probably the most popular walking and eating food next to a slice of pizza is the BEC: the classic bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. Many corner delis will make you one all day, and it is really one of the most economical snacks you can scarf. You can make it easier to eat while walking by asking the cook to not cut it into two parts, meaning you can hold the whole thing in one hand.
Sam’s Deli, 275 West Fourth St., between 11th and Perry streets, West Village
Andy’s Deli, multiple locations such as 295 Amsterdam Ave., at 74th Street, Upper West Side
Court Street Grocers, multiple locations such as 378 Metropolitan Ave., between Havemeyer Street and Marcy Avenue, Williamsburg
Many cultures have embraced the kebab. Halal street carts sell them and so do Greek, Israeli, and Turkish gyro, shawarma, and doner joints. Chinatown vendors mount carts that sell a vast range of seafood, poultry, and meat kebabs. Yes, you can get them everywhere, and walking with one while eating it is a breeze — as long as you don’t impale yourself upon the stick.
Mamoun’s, 119 Macdougal St., between West Third Street and Minetta Lane, Greenwich Village
Tandi Rokhat, 2678 Coney Island Ave., between Avenue X and Desmond Court, Sheepshead Bay
Franky’s Souvlaki Cart, 31-02 Steinway St., at 31st Avenue, Astoria