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MIT student blogger Yan Z. '12

New York by Yan Z. '12

A break from Cambridge.

[EDIT: It has been noted that the photos in this entry don’t show up in Internet Explorer. I’ll try to fix this soon, but in the meantime, I suggest converting to Firefox.]

[EDIT RELOADED: Manually fixed. My endorsement of Firefox still holds, though.]

For the first time since August, my inner conscience begs pardon for the prolific plastering of my face on mitblogs; the bloggable fraction of my life has, since the start of Spring Break, swerved cleanly out of MIT. But, enough with preliminary disclaimers. My current state of unadulterated chillaxedness mingled with exhaustion calls for photoblogodocumentationism.

On Sunday morning, I was up before sunrise, stuffing my worldly possessions into an oversized gym bag and wishing that someone would invent a backpack on wheels and call it a suitcase and sell it at places like Target for $49.99 or so. Three hours and 15 dollars later, Ben ’10 and I were on a last-minute, cheap-as-anything-in-Chinatown bus in (guess what) Chinatown bound for New York City.

Should you ever find yourself at MIT with 48 hours of absolutely nothing worth doing*, I suggest hauling your personal belongings over to the South Station subway stop and forking over 15 bucks for the next bus to NYC. No reservations. Just straight-up efficient, thankfully frillless transportation service.

*This if-condition is hilarious for several reasons that you will discover upon matriculation.

When I say no frills, I mean that the highlight of the trip may well have been the infamous Burger-King-or-McDonald’s pit stop. The driver stops at a gas station. Passengers get out and inevitably confront the eternal question of whether Burger King or McDonald’s is better at mutagenizing potatoes.

Not-so-shortly thereafter, in the infant hours of the afternoon, New York City rose up like a second sun beaming carcinogenically on my smiling, sleep-deprived face.

My first impression of Manhattan was cemented by the shockingly audacious sight of a Chinese-operated fried chicken joint.

Deposited squarely in the bowels of Chinatown, Ben and I took our luggage and walked about 19 steps before running into a boba tea shop, not-so-subtly flaunting a “How to Not Choke” sign in the faces of boba-slurping patrons. I love the straightforwardness of New York.

In a subway station en route to Ben’s house in West New York, New Jersey (a wonderful name for a fake city, by the way), the strains of old showtunes mercilessly adapted to chainsaw and violin bow grated against the loud buzz of public transportation. Unbelievably charming.

We reached Ben’s house at around 3 in the afternoon, where Ben’s mom had prepared a late lunch of fish and porridge. It’s good to not-really-be home.

I went upstairs and discovered out my borrowed mattress in the attic was decked out with Watchmen-style smiley faces.

The remainder of the afternoon was a paragon of tame, residential normalcy. Ben and his dad played tennis. We walked the dog. I took a run in some park in New Jersey. Dinner was served at home. Afterwards, Ben and I gleefully jumped on the bus to Times Square. The eye-frazzling shock of Manhattan at night was akin to thousands of multicolored 100-watt Christmas lights spontaneously exploding in the docile lap of a neat and well-trimmed living room that happens to look like New Jersey.

Advertisements loomed overhead like pop-up ads delivered by Godzilla

In search of internal peace and meditation, we dug into the Lower East Side and hopped through a string of sushi bars, most of which fit the category of glorified basement.

Settling at last into a posh-yet-Zenlike bench at one of the swankier, less-fluorescent restaurants in the neighborhood, I dove into a second dinner of Theme and Variations on a Piece of Tuna. Pure slices of raw fish, gingerly soaked in soy and glazed with wasabi, tastes like Monet, or maybe special relativity. Elegant and subtle.

The spellbinding mouthfeel of sashimi in tranquil concord with tiny pearls of rice was shattered soon after when I walked outside, turned the corner, and met the Indian restaurant where aestheticism crawled to die. Tackiness on an astronomical scale was all over the place.

A few hours later, I managed to sleep.

The next morning was a tribute to subway rides, cold sunshine, and $1 pork buns gleaned from a tiny Chinatown bakery.

Followed by a quick noontime fling into a recession-priced dumpling house, where Ben and I bought pork-and-chive fried dumplings, beef-stuffed pancakes, and duck bone soup for less than 5 bucks.

Northbound to pricier climes, I passed through Soho and found absolutely nothing worth blogging about.

Until I practically tripped over the front step of Momofuku Ssam, a restaurant so infamous among the type of people who would call a restaurant infamous that its name appears nowhere on the building. I was feverishly tempted to step in and have a 3-course lunch that Winnie ’02, mitblogs interim communications director by day and NYC food blogger extraordinaire by night, would consider one of the best meals in the city (this says a tremendous deal about the food). But, I didn’t because I was poor and not really hungry, both of which are inadequate excuses in retrospect. Anyway, enough about my personal faults.

Here’s the address, in case you ever pass by under sunnier circumstances:

As measure of consolation, I went next door to the recently-opened, borderline experimental Momofuku Milk Bar and Bakery, where foodies all around the city reverently flock to indulge in the likes of banana green curry bread, chorizo challah, and cornflake-marshmallow-chocolate-chip cookies.

To my unending sadness, the milk bar no longer had salty pistachio caramel soft-serve. In an act of unknowing brilliancy, I substituted the cereal milk soft serve, which tasted like nothing less than silky, creamy gelato made out of cornflakes. My sensory receptors went clinically insane upon contact. It was bizarre and confusing and mind-blowingly delicious.

Ben skipped out on the opportunity to radically expand his understanding of the cereal + milk equation, so he went to a teahouse down the street and had a bowl of noodles. I didn’t approve.

When I had finally recovered sufficiently to recognize the concept of dinner as a tangible necessity, I was sitting with Ben’s family in a florescent-lit cafeteria in the middle of an Asian grocery store in New Jersey, preparing to surmount the generous helpings of Korean dishes spread over two tables. Starters consisted of a spicy/salty jell-o, garnished with haphazard vegetables. This defies my powers of explanation.

Followed in line by spicy seafood noodles, egg pancakes, clay pot tofu, and fried chicken glazed in honey orange sauce and what might have been dynamite powder, judging by its semi-violent spiciness.

The next day, much to the shock of my personal fan club, I stopped eating for a while and took a picture of the exceedingly vitreous Apple Store next to Central Park.

Then I went back to dining and food-photographing in desperate profusion, because I only had about 12 hours left in New York and was getting depressed by the fact that I hadn’t yet eaten at every single restaurant in the city. Next up was Ippudo, a high-end ramen restaurant recommended to me by Winnie ’02. Lo and behold, stepping through sheets of red drapes and other aggressively-hip, pseudo-Japanese d√©cor, I waited for a table and was accosted by none other than Winnie herself. Never mind that the probability of two mitblogs acquaintances randomly running into each other hundreds of miles away from MIT in a city with over 1.6 million people is about as slim as next year’s iPod release; the real punchline is that Winnie’s recommendation changed my life, or at least the part of my life that has a serious emotional investment in pork.

Ippudo’s rendition of pork buns is miraculous: a luxuriously soft cushion of bread folded over slices of meltingly-rich, thickly marbled meat indulgent enough to make bacon look like celery. Engrossed in a transcendent moment of sublime saltiness, I could have died happy, or even failed all my classes happy.

Then came the firm, honest ramen noodles soaked in rich pork broth and topped with thin slices of (guess what) more pork.

Which, in itself, was worth the trip.

As far as my memory is concerned, the rest of the night was nothing more than puddles in the momentous footsteps of an unforgettable dinner. Time probably passed: stumbling awake at 5:00 AM on Wednesday morning, tripping back into unconsciousness, waking up again, Ben’s mom compelling me to swallow another slice of toast, Manhattan blurred at dawn, an impromptu bus ticket purchased 20 minutes before departure, waiting at the side of the street with a gaggle of strangers, a bus, heaps of luggage, slipping into a neck-cramping sleep that lasted all the way back to Boston. Finally, home arrives in the beloved form of Random Hall. Life resumes to regularly scheduled programming.

Two hours later, I was in a basement research lab at MIT, preparing to check whether my batteries had exploded over the weekend.

So it goes.

40 responses to “New York”

  1. Nicole '10 says:

    Man, I’m starting to understand why people call ‘first!’… it’s very tempting when you actually are first (by the time I finish typing this, I bet someone will have beat me to it, though).

  2. Jola, Poland says:

    I like your photos wink especially Apple Store.

    I woke today at 5:00 AM, but for me it was great ;p I really enjoy waking up early.

  3. Brian'13 says:

    such lovely photographs. kudos.
    You’re blogs are always worth reading.

  4. Anonymous says:

    You are such a prolific foodie. Loves it.

  5. Just reading this blog makes miss NY so much. 8 years man. It’s been a long time. Very painful for a foodie like me. But Bangladesh has some awesome food as well, thought not as much variety as in NY. :(

  6. Just one more thing – Yan how are the batteries going ?

    Another thing – please continue to make futile attempts to hide the camera when you’re taking pics in class – especially when the class video camera is pointed at you. That video turned out to be very funny – hope you remember which, I forgot the course number.

  7. Katelyn '12 says:

    Did they explode?!?! raspberry

  8. Yan says:

    @ Labib:

    Oh right, that was one of my less graceful moments in 3.091. I’m glad it was entertaining.

    @ Katelyn:


    By the way, you left an opened pack of nuts on your desk.

    Also, I think I’m going to vacuum our room today.

  9. Allison Chen says:

    /wandered in from collegeweek live lD

    Never knew it was so convenient/fast to get from Boston Chinatown to NYC! lolol. But yes, NYC’s food is AMAZING. Once you get past the tacky posters plastered on every flat surface. :Dbb Still, I’m surprised that you even FOUND time to have this spur of the moment trip. XD Things like this are a lot of fun!

  10. Anonymous says:

    The photos are turnign up as single lines of pixels for me… just like _______________________

  11. Anonymous says:

    Last line…


  12. Yan says:

    @ Anonymous:

    Weird. The pictures show up fine for me.

  13. K says:

    I’m in love with this blog!

    If I were in NYC for a day, I’d spend it visiting all the sets of Seinfeld, Friends, Mad About You, them Woody Allen movies, The Apartment, Taxi Driver, Godfather, Raging Bull, Once Upon a Time in America.. god there’s so many :| I’d need more than a day sigh..

  14. Allison Chen says:

    -shrugs- The pictures are turning up just fine for me. Probably has something to do with browsers not working, instead of your embedding/uploading. /on firefox

  15. Narce says:

    So… much… delicious… FOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD….

    Could I please eat this blog entry?

  16. Anonymous says:

    the pictures are not working for me, either. ??

  17. Liz says:

    Dear Yan,
    your word choice is amazing –
    “honest” ramen noodles, “prolific plastering” (kudos for the alliteration), “…where aestheticism crawled to die…”
    I think I’m going to pass the URL on to my AP lit teacher.

  18. Anon says:

    And my inner spelling police screeches ‘fluorescent’ into my ear.

    Still, excellent food– I mean entry. The Apple Store seems like a sight worth seeing.

  19. JonTec '13 says:


    I can confirm that on IE 7 lines appear in place of pictures; the problem does not occur in Firefox (3). I’m not sure what you’re using to write your blog posts, but I believe the problem is the value of the height attribute in your img tags:

    img height=”*”

    specifically. Changing the markup, removing that attribute from the tag, allows the images to display correctly in IE 7 and Firefox.

  20. Yan says:

    @ Anon:

    It’s possible that I indeed meant “flowering or budding” instead of “emitting ugly, glaring light.” But, pending further evidence, I’ve fixed the spelling.

    @ JonTec:

    Thanks for confirming my suspicions. The height=”*” is supposed to scale the height according to the max width (500) so that the aspect ratio remains the same. This was the first blog post that I’ve used the MIT bloggers athena locker for photo hosting instead of Flickr or my MIT scripts gallery, both of which do auto scaling. I’m trying to find a way to avoid having to manually set each image height in HTML (which would take approximately forever), but it looks like I might end up doing so . . . also, the pictures in this post turned out ridiculously pixelated.

  21. Katelyn '12 says:

    Now that I can see the pictures, I am insanely jealous that the Chinese food there seems to be infinitely superior to that in Atlanta. Not surprising, as the “Chinatown” there consists of a strip mall with a food court.

    Nuts and vacuuming duly noted.

  22. Kevin '12 says:

    Yay! New York!

    FYI there are ways of getting between New York and Boston for cheaper than $15. (Mostly companies like Megabus and Bolt Bus, who give you really cheap tickets if you actually plan stuff in advance). But chinatown buses are great for spontaneous travel.

  23. Anonymous says:

    The pictures are still not coming up for me??

  24. Yan says:

    @ Anonymous:

    I just fixed it. Hopefully.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Wow. I originally thought the broken pictures were a clever, homestyle attempt at artsy line breaks to separate out the text.

  26. Anonymous says:

    @ Yan,

    Yup – they’re fixed! Don’t worry anymore, your job is no longer in jeopardy! Thanks! Beautiful writing and photography – very artistic!

  27. Anonymous says:

    Hmm…a $15 bus ticket from Boston to New York isn’t bad, but I just found a flight from Berlin to Stockholm for $16. *gloating*

  28. Anonymous #2 says:

    All the pictures turn up like lines for me too. Weird.

  29. Yan says:

    @ K:

    I completely understand. The entire time, I was channeling scenes from Woody Allen’s “Manhattan”, except not in black and white.

    @ Anonymous:

    Is anyone else having the same issue? Or rather, can anyone else actually see the pictures? This is a matter of professional concern to me. I feel like my job is in jeopardy right now.

  30. Mel says:

    What’s the Chinatown in Boston like compared to the one in NYC? I’m gonna miss the good cheap food here… :o(

  31. Yan says:

    @ Mel:

    Much smaller but just about as densely packed with restaurants. There’s less variety, but you can still get a good meal for less than 6 bucks. Of course, you could always just take the bus to NYC . . .

    (Also, I blogged about Chinatown in Boston in at least two entries: “A Run through Boston” and “Adventures in Chinatown”)

  32. Oasis '11 says:

    @ Mel –

    The Boston Chinatown is almost exclusively Cantonese or Vietnamese (with a few Japanese/Korean restaurants scattered in between). There’s very little actual restaurants that are “Chinese.”

    (Cantonese and Chinese cuisine is mainly distinguished by the existence/non-existence of dimsum but there’s also flavor differences. For example, Cantonese cuisine places more emphasis on seafood, while “Chinese cuisine” (a better term would probably be “Beijing cuisine”) is often characterized by stronger uses of soy sauce and other dark sauces. I personally also think Cantonese cuisine is more versatile in terms of methods of preparing the food (there’s stir-fry, steamed food, food that comes in a clay pot…etc.) where as Beijing cuisine is mainly more braised, stewed, or stir-fried with sauce).

    Also, for the record, Taiwan Cafe in Chinatown is NOT TAIWANESE FOOD. Personally, I feel like Taiwan Cafe is kind of a disgrace to Taiwanese food. There’s a much better one in Allston. Poke me if you want directions to it (or I’ll just blog about before I graduate wink )

  33. Narce says:

    Can someone help me convert data into an edible format? I’d eat my monitor, but food would stop being on it long before it got digested.

  34. Daniel '12 says:

    Hey cool, I’ve actually been to the first sushi bar you have a picture of („DZ„É≥„Ç´). My friend dragged me there when my a capella group was on a trip to NYC.

  35. Being someone who took the opposite trip, going from NY to Boston this weekend, I hope you’d point MY factual inaccuracies if I described Cambridge. I won’t describe anything though, so all magical symmetry ends here.

    But for that reason only, I’ll point out that it’s a regular saw the subway guy is playing. A chainsaw would rip his bow and probably his arm off. And also – believe it or not – you can get arrested for photographing the NYC subway. So don’t do it when there’s cops on the platform!

  36. Yan says:

    @ Daniel:

    Cool! Was it with the toons?

    @ Oasis:

    Yep, St. Marks was like sushiville. The next street down was Curry Row (tons of Indian restaurants right next to each other). New York is so discombobulated.

  37. Oasis '11 says:

    ^ Oh yeah, is that in St. Marks? I vaguely remember passing through it (or at least I think that’s the only place in New York where you’ll see so many sushi bars in succession =p)

  38. X says:

    Cheers. Exploding batteries are usually bad.

  39. Abby says:

    Yan, this post was great! I took a similar last minute crazy trip to NYC this weekend (actually only spent 26 hours there) and it’s definitely a lot of fun to do. Maybe next time I come up you can come up too! grin

    Anyway, your blog is absolute perfection. I love reading it and miss you terribly.