“May we borrow a cup of sugar?” I know, it’s a tad idyllic. And it’s certainly an anachronism in today’s introverted, disconnected world. But once upon a time, perhaps more recently than you can imagine, this concept was commonplace. You might recall recently hearing about Chris Salvatore and Norma Cook, a 31-year old actor and his 89-year old neighbor who were in the news when they became unlikely roommates (RIP, Norma). But there was a time when this wouldn’t have made headlines. We regularly reached out to those in our communities, shared provisions, broke bread together, attended to the elderly, and shouldered the burden of raising children. We knew our long-standing neighbors, welcomed newcomers and even stayed in touch with those who moved away.
I was pondering this recently, somewhat abstractly, while watching a movie on Netflix. It’s called Today’s Special, and I happened upon it during one of those all-too-frequent occurrences when I simply couldn’t find anything that struck my fancy. And I’ll admit, I juuuust about scrolled past it.
Today’s Special didn’t win any major awards. There were no flashy actors (though there were some incredible veteran players in the ensemble cast). It’s a simple, somewhat cliché story. But it embodies some beautiful ideals. It’s a New York story. It’s an immigrant story. It’s a story about cuisine, family, identity and love. And it’s a story that resonates with me, particularly in light of recent events.
On a recent weekend Lynn and I ventured out into the city, which turned out to be a risky proposition given the weather. It was bitterly cold, the wind was pushing us forward, backward and sideways and a hazardous mixture of rain and sleet steadily pelted us with minuscule shards of what felt like wet glass. We found no respite in the subterranean tunnels of the subway system, either. Trains were slow or nonexistent. Runoff gushed or dripped from every crack and crevice. Impatient, ill-tempered commuters milled about anxiously until they finally gave up, cursing as they wandered off. But we were on a mission of sorts, so we battled through it.
Our plans involved a map we had purchased, as the weekend approached, from Breaking Bread NYC. Breaking Bread NYC is a charitable project with the stated aim of “bringing people together with shared food experiences through food tours, campaigns, and events”. The map set us back only $10 and doubled as a donation to local hunger relief initiatives. The focus of the map was on local businesses serving cuisine from countries listed on the recent travel ban. For Lynn and I, eating as a way of protest seemed like a natural fit.
The map offered nine locations in Manhattan. Happily, we found a few that we had not yet had the opportunity to sample. So we decided to hit up Ravagh and Moustache, respectively. At Ravagh, a casual Persian eatery, I went with a hearty bowl of Ash Reshteh, a traditional lentil and noodle soup, perfect for such a cold day, while Lynn lapped up the subtle smokiness of Mirza Ghassemi (a spiced, grilled aubergine spread) with warm, fresh pita bread. From there, we moved on to Moustache, where we ordered the Green Pitza with leeks, scallions, herbs and fresh mozzarella. The pitza crust was crispy and delicious and the sweetness of the leeks and mild saltiness and creaminess of the cheese was the perfect marriage.
If you make a similar donation through Breaking Bread NYC, you will continue to receive maps every Saturday “until they run out of recommendations”, so you’ll have the opportunity to discover new eateries and offer your continued support. If you prefer a more in-depth food and cultural experience, Breaking Bread NYC is also offering a variety of guided meals and food tours. Visit their Facebook page to purchase your food map and to check out all available events.