Russ and Daughters
My mother lives in Queens, NY, and although Queens has its share of ethnic cuisines and cultural traditions, my subconscious draws me to New York City, crossroads of our world. There, I am far from the familiar, the safe, and the known. Thus, when I visited my mother during the spring of 2009, I rushed to immerse myself in the rapids of Manhattan.
The trip into the city itself was an adventure. On the bus, my eyes glanced over a multi-cultural array of adults who were drowsily stumbling to work; their familiar routine was my daring escapade. On the train, my eyes fixated on windows. One second I saw the morning rush of Main Street; another second, I overlooked the calm of Jackson Heights. Soon, I traversed the East River, overcoming one last obstacle separating me and Manhattan.
Once inside, I set my sights for Russ & Daughters, a historic appetizer shop founded in 1914 by a Jewish immigrant named Joel Russ. I pulled out my iPhone, booting up the “Maps” application to calculate a route to breakfast. My mother insisted we take a bus to the shop, but I pleaded for us to walk. I encouraged her at every street crossing, harmlessly deceiving her into thinking that we were merely a couple blocks away. I could not take the the bus again. No. Walking surrounded me with decades-old apartments so debilitated yet beautiful, with modern high-rises that testify for the triumphs of human engineering, and with quaint little shops that sell lovingly crafted trinkets which industry tries, in vain, to mimic. This was an opportunity I could not let loose. I watched as hordes of people rushed to work, on bicycles, in cars, or simply, on foot. I enjoyed the robust aroma of coffee and the dreamy scent of fresh pastries hazily drifting their way out of coffee shops.
When, at last, I reached my destination, I entered with an air of caution. I tried acting casual, like a regular, but became overwhelmed by a variety of smoked salmon, herring, sturgeon, and roe. I relented, blabbering out that I was unfamiliar with Russ & Daughters and needed assistance. Immediately, an amicable counterman promptly dispelled my fears of brusque New York service. He greeted me and advised me to try the Irish salmon. Trusting my new “friend,” I ordered an everything bagel filled with chives and onion cream cheese, smoked Irish salmon, and capers. The salmon flaunted deep orange with a pinkish hue while sleek, blanched streaks of omega-3 fatty acids gracefully ran along its side. As I bit into the sandwich, sharp, crunchy notes segued into an epiphanic mix of salty, creamy, chewiness. Staring at the jelly-like transparency of lox, I savored the fruition of my journey, but Russ & Daughters was more than just another foray into food. It was a degustation of historic New York City. Nearly a century later, I could still taste the bounty of one immigrant’s American Dream.
The above passage was originally written as a college essay, but I never completed it. However, I decided to dust the story off, since at its abandoned state, the essay would fit perfectly as a piece of food writing.
Russ & Daughters
179 East Houston St.
New York, NY 10002