A is for Austrian Art
Once the center of the cultural universe, Austria has since retreated to the fringes of global consciousness. But the period of dual monarchy with its Magyar cousins fostered a vivid period of cultural creativity that had at its center a Vienna to rival London before it, and New York after. It was an incredibly fertile period for music, art, design and scientific discovery — including psychoanalysis. The Neue Galerie (1048 Fifth Ave) features early 20th-century art from the latter part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918) and until June 6 groundbreaking portrait photography from both Austria and Germany.
B is for Bangers and Mash
No country’s culinary offerings have been as maligned, ridiculed and belittled as that of the British Isles. And not without justification. While they may be adept at creating suave international spies, scathingly hilarious satire and disposable pop music sensations, preparing a palatable plate of grub seems beyond them. But being away from home does strange things to a man’s memory. The commonplace at a long remove is now extraordinary; the grotesque, charmingly eccentric. And so it is with those suggestively shaped bundles of pig bits and pureed potatoes. With any luck they’ll be good enough not to remind you of home. Pig & Whistle 922 Third Ave; Telephone Bar & Grill 149 Second Ave
C is for Crêpes
The first thing you need to learn in Paris is where the best all-night crêpe guy is located, a precious piece of info that will save you money (crêpes for breakfast… crêpes for dinner… why not?), and save you from bad red wine hangovers. There isn’t really an equivalent service in New York, but thankfully we’re starting to catch on to the real thing. Though you can get yummy crêpes at both Paradou (8 Little W. 12th St) and Café La Palette (50 MacDougal St), the closest thing to Pierre et Ibrahim’s Crêpe du Coin is the adorable little pass-through at Shade (241 Sullivan St). Oh la la la. Merveilleux!
D is for Danish Anarchy
No, not the breakfast food, the country. Specifically the “free city” of Christiania, Denmark, the subject of Matthew Buckingham and Joachim Koester’s video installation, Sandra of the Tuliphouse or How to Live in a Free State, on hand at the Kitchen (512 W. 19th St) until June 18. In 1971, Danish activists broke into a 17th-century military base and founded one of the biggest anarchist communities in the world. This look at Christiania stars a fictional lead character, an outsider named Sandra who wanders through the various lives (and their attendant power dynamics) of the locals, serving as a focal point for this intriguing look at utopian experiments and their consequences.
E is for Euzkadi
You are forgiven for not immediately recognizing “euzkadi” as the Basque word for, well Basque, that tiny group of Iberians nestled on the Spanish-French border (who want a country of their own). Somewhat awkwardly then, the East Village restaurant known as Euzkadi (108 E. 4th St) is listed on Citysearch under Spanish cuisine (ouch), but you’ll find Basque specialties here, like house favorite Paella Mariscos. Do you know why the Basques are so much fun? They mix red wine and coca cola, in a drink called a Kalimoxo. Actually, it’s delicious (kind of like cherry cola) and keeps the party going.
F is for Finnish Art
With their high suicide rates, inaccessible mother tongue and love of rolling drunkenly in the snow, the Finns pretty much have it all — and they even have art! White Box Gallery (525 W. 26th St) is presenting their second of a three-part series of major exhibitions of Finnish work, ranging across mediums and featuring people with names like Teemu, Jaakko, Anu, Ilppo, Juho and Roi. The exhibition is named for the landmark 1966 film Under Your Skin, by Finnish legend Mikko Niskanen.
G is for Greek Diners
My father, as Greek as Onassis, once accompanied me to a Greek diner. And taking the opportunity to speak to the owner in his native tongue, my pop was greeted by a phrase unfamiliar to my limited Hellenic lexicon. “You own a restaurant?” was the man’s standard greeting to his fellow, countrymen, seemingly incredulous there was something else a swarthy immigrant could do for a living. So it goes with another cultural cliché, which proves to be as true as it is enduring. From Yorkville to Yonkers, if there’s a corner diner serving onion rings, and chowder and has a framed picture of Telly Savalas, you can bet it’s owned by a man with a multisyllabic surname, hairy knuckles and difficulty pronouncing the “ch” that precedes cheeseburger or chivalry.
H is for Hops
Beer is very important to the world È Without hops, beer would be flat and void of life È Ipso facto, hops are very important to the world. But if semantic logic games aren’t your thing, you can actually just go to the Brewtopia World Beer Festival, April 16 at the Metropolitan Pavillion (125 W. 18th St) and drink your face off, partaking of international and domestic selections wet enough for any whistle. There’s also a World Wide Food Court, where you’ll no doubt find plenty of pretzels and beer brats. Mmmmm, brats.
I is for Ivory Coast
Or as it’s usually know, la Cote D’Ivoire, one of the former French colonies of central-west Africa. Only in the last few years has the Cote D’Ivoire succumbed to the internecine strife so predominant in post-colonial Africa for nearly a half-century. Consequently, New York has seen an increase in French West Africans, who, when homesick, head to Les Enfants Terribles (37 Canal St). This petit bistro is lively and fun, and patrons who come for the exotic cocktails (like the Maracana, made from fresh, crushed grapes) should stick around for the house specialty, Korhogotefemougar, the spicy, Ivoirienne version of the classic French steak frites.
J is for Jackson Heights
The heart of New York’s little India is only a subway ride away, to Jackson Heights Station in Queens. Seventy-fourth Street and the surrounding blocks offer great shopping, food and entertainment. At larger stores like Butala Emporium, people can take home everything from incense and candles to ornate wooden chests. More interested in attire? It would take you days to peruse all the saris, and the jewelry stores lining the street are so amazing that the rule is always “look, don’t touch.” The Indian restaurant Jackson Diner has become a New York institution, and there are several buffets and take-away spots that serve up spicy dishes and sweet treats. If you’re feeling ambitious, pick up some spices, chutneys and groceries from Patel Bros The sidewalks get a bit crowded on Saturdays, but you can always duck into the Eagle Theatre, which features the latest Bollywood movies on the big-screen. Otherwise, grab a mango lassi and enjoy people-watching.
K is for Kalustyan’s
You’ve heard of legendary uptown food emporium Zabar’s, and you’ve probably heard of Brooklyn spice epicenter Sahadi’s — but placing a solid third in the New York City-iconic-independent-grocery is Indian-Middle-Eastern food supply extravaganza Kalustyan’s. Founded in 1944 by one K. Kalustyan, this store (housed in the very building that hosted Chester A. Arthur’s 1881 presidential swearing in) soon gained a reputation throughout the city. The selection — everything from a belan (Indian rolling pin) to the finest Syrian truffles — can be overwhelming, and if you’re just in a rush to pick up some curry powder don’t bother. Like its myriad scents and spices, Kalustyan’s is an experience to be savored. And make sure you stop at the deli counter for a snack on your way out.
L is for Little Boy
Japan is cool and superfun! Come see the exploding subculture of Japan at Japan Society (333 E. 47th St). The exhibit features Otaku subculture and its role in cinema, performance art and design. See the Rinko-Gun Theater company perform Yaneura (Attic) listen to improvisational electronic music by Deadly She-Wolf Assassin at Armageddon! Reliving 1970s samurai manga and movie serial Lone Wolf Club (Kozure Okami), plus dance and lectures and art work like Kiddy Elephant Underwear by Chinatsu Ban!
M is for Minamoto Kitchoan
The Japanese tea ceremony is serious business, involving very strict procedures and protocols that go back for centuries. If you find yourself involved in one you’ll likely be offered some wagashi, traditional Japanese cakes made from rice flour, azuki bean-jam and sugar. Wagashi have been around for over 2,000 years and feature all of the same Japanese attention to detail and artistry that can be found in sushi or ikebana (flower arrangement). But if it’s making you nervous, you can always just skip the ceremony part and head to Minamoto Kitchoan (608 Fifth Ave) for a large selection of the very best in wagashi. Make sure to try the new sakuranbo, the finest Japanese cherries encased in a sweet jelly. Fancy!
N is for the New York Festival of International Literary
The good people at PEN, the international writers’ advocacy cum schmooze club, are presenting this weeklong festival of readings, conversations, panel discussions, parties and snacks, from April 16 to 22. Highlights include: The Believer magazine variety show hosted by Jonathan Ames, featuring Rick Moody, Chimamanda Ngozu Adichie and Tome Bissell; a discussion called The Power of the Pen, on the ability of writers to change the world in which they live, featuring Margaret Atwood, Wole Soyinka, Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Franzen, Ryszard Kapuscinski, and more; a tribute to recently departed Polish poet Cszelaw Milosz, with Bei Dao, Robert Hass, Eva Hoffman, Azar Nafisi, Leon Wieseltier and Adam Zagajewski. For a full listing of events and venues (all over the city), visit www.pen.org.
O is for Oaxaca
Malcolm Lowry’s classic dream-novel of a drunk’s sad last days, Under the Volcano, is set in the heart of Oaxaca, in southwestern Mexico. Luckily for you though, you don’t need the plane ticket to catch a taste of the region (nor do you necessarily need to drink yourself to death with mescal), just head to 12 E. 36th St, to the bar named in honor of the book. Under the Volcano (the bar, not the book) has all the mescal and fine tequila you’ll ever need, along with standard Mexican snacking fare, should your appetite survive the alcoholic assault. And while the neighborhood is about as far away from small town Mexico as you can get, if you squint your eyes real tight (and drink, drink, drink) you might just a hear a rumble from the mountain.
P is for Pakistani Cricket
Ah, cultural imperialism and its politically charged cauldron of effects both unintended and unforeseen. Who could have imagined Franco-Africans living in the Parisian banlieus would develop their own brand of Yankee-inspired hip-hop? Or the fact a British-schooled Indian lawyer would lead a genteel revolt against his colonial masters? The Brits probably also never dreamed that their beloved game would be taken up by its subjects in the sub-continent and used to humiliate them one wicket at a time. The Clash of the Cricket Titans will feature Pakistan’s politically charged tour of India, shown live on April 14 and 16 at ImaginAsian cinema (239 E. 59th St) www.theimaginasian.com — admission includes Munchies bag!
Q is for Queensland (as in Australia)
We don’t generally like to trade in nationalistic stereotyping, but we always make an exception for Australians (and sometimes Canadians). Aussies are generally loud and brash and entertain no second thoughts about satisfying their ample appetites. At the Sun Burnt Cow (137 Ave C) those appetites might include a craving for Chook Sticks or Roo Bangers (chicken and kangaroo respectively), or in a weird kind of autophagy, the eponymous Sun Burnt Bessie On a Stick — and to wash it all down you can take your pick from a Stoli Mootini or a Moojito. If you’re feeling frisky they also have a variety of world music events, and DJs on the weekends, and a cool garden to boot.
R is for Russians in Red Hook
Russia has exported a lot of great things: deeply philosophical literature, hockey players, those little dolls that go on forever, and vodka — but rock ’n’ roll isn’t high on the list. In an effort to right the balance, a concerned group of Russian musicians is presenting Optimystica Fest, a weekend event at the Hook (18 Commerce St) starting Saturday, April 16. On hand will be the so-called St. Petersburg indie sound, with bands you’ve never heard of like Interzona, Tequilajazz and Markscheider Kunst — but the scene itself is likely to be worth the trip to Red Hook. Shows on both nights begin at 9pm.
S is for Single Malt Scotch at St. Andrew’s
New York City is lousy with Irish bars. Everywhere you spit there’s a Duffy’s or an O’Sullivan’s; but you try looking for a MacLeod’s or a Campbell’s and you’re out of luck. For some reason, there’s only one bona fide Scottish pub on the island of Manhattan, and it’s called St. Andrew’s (120 W. 44th St). But rest easy, this pub/restaurant just off Times Square can take care of most of your Scottish cravings, especially the big one: single malt Scotch. St. Andrew’s boasts the single largest collection of fine Scotch in all of New York, everything from the most modest of blends to fine (and expensive) reserves. Which makes it a lot easier to wash down the haggis.
T is Tibetan Food at Tsampa
Two words: tsogo ngopa. Ok, two more words: shiitake pancakes. These are four of our favorite words, as they signify one delicious meal at this charming little East Village restaurant(212 E. 9th St). If you’re wary of appropriated Tibetan kitsch and earnest men from San Francisco with ponytails, fear not, this place is actually owned and run by Tibetans. The kitchen uses all-organic ingredients (but they don’t take it out on your wallet) and makes the best chai we’ve ever had. Here’s one more word for you: momo (specialized Tibetan dumplings that are not to be missed).
U is for Ukrainian
Why you dernblasted whipper snappers! The East Village wasn’t always the gentrified capital of globo-hipster monoculture, no sir, it used be an old-fashioned working-class neighborhood. And another thing, it was full of Ukrainians! They were everywhere! And it was good. Times have changed, but you can still get a sense of the old neighborhood at places like all-star diner Veselka (144 Second Ave) or the aptly named Ukrainian East Village Restaurant (140 Second Ave), and for a look at Ukrainian culture, try the Ukrainian Museum (203 Second Ave) and their prized collection of pysanka, or Ukrainian Easter Eggs.
V is for Vietnamese Subs
When you think subs you’re probably more inclined to think of Hoagies than Hanoi, but Vietnamese submarine sandwiches are a lesser-known tradition than the cheesesteak variety made popular in the city of brotherly love. Perhaps because of the long baguettes provided by its French occupiers, the Bahn mi has survived as a delicious and amazingly cheap lunch treat, filled with any combination of spicy meats, fresh vegetables, hot sauce and cilantro. A low profile location that doubles as a video-variety store is Chinatown’s Sau Voi Corp (101 Lafayette St)
W is for Walloon
Belgium is a kooky little country. The top half speaks Flemish and the bottom half speaks French. Kookier still, the French Belgians call themselves Walloons. What’s not kooky about Belgium? Their absolute expertise with two of civilizations greatest accomplishments: french fries and beer, both of which can be found at upscale Meatpacking District restaurant called Markt (401 W. 14 th St). For a more casual, faster Belgian experience, try Pommes Frites (123 Second Ave), where you can take your fries to go in a cone, slathered in one of 26 delicious toppings.
X is for Aix en Provence
Ever since that old, uptown Mexican restaurant (the one that began with the letter X) shut down, this has been a difficult category to fill — so we cheated. Here’s how it works: Aix en Provence is a beautiful little town in the south of France, about an hour from Nice; Chez Jaqueline (72 MacDougal St) is a charming little restaurant that specializes in cuisine from Nice — get it? Yeah, it’s a bit of a stretch, but make sure you try the classic soup de poissons, and the Pavé de Loup Róti à la Tapenade, avec la Sauce Vierge. Trust us.
Y is for Yiddish Theater
For over a half-century, New York was the world capital of Yiddish theater. Beginning in 1892, with the fist Yiddish theater production ever held in America (it was called Koldunya; or, the Witch), the area around the Bowery and Second Avenue gave rise to theaters like the Oriental, the Thalia, the Windsor, the Rumanian Opera House, and many more — in 1914, there were an astonishing 14 Yiddish theater companies. But as totalitarian madness destroyed the roots of Yiddish culture in Europe, the scene wilted in New York, and has only been carried on through sporadic productions by the Hebrew Actors Union. For a little nosh of the past, head to the legendary Second Avenue Deli (156 Second Ave), always a destination point for theatergoers of past generations.
Z is for Zebulon vs. Zum Schneider
Jazz club vs. biergarten, O’Batzda (Bavarian cheese spread) vs. Camembert (spreadable French cheese), Côtes du Rhone vs. Allgauer Büble — no matter how together they might seem on the whole European Union thing, France and Germany are always ready to go toe-to-toe, whether it’s over Alsace or a soccer match. So instead of picking one entry for Z we’ve split the difference between this cooler-than-cool Williamsburg bar and music venue (Zebulon, 258 Wythe Ave), and that lovely little slice of Munich in Alphabet City (Zum Schneider, 107 Ave C). They’re both good… everyone’s a winner