So it’s not quite Friday and it’s not quite a Fika*, but for the last Culinary post of the semester (check back for a resumed schedule June 1), I’m here to fill you in on local library times and coffee shops so that way you can be super effective during this finals season. Try out a new coffee place and a new library study location to help keep the mental taxation (somewhat, well, as much as it can be) refreshing!
114th Starbucks: 6am to 2am
111th Starbucks: 6am to 11pm
Joe’s in NoCo: M-F 8am-8pm, Sat & Sun 9am-6pm
Oren’s on 112th: 7am-9pm (closes on Sundays at 8pm)
Kuro Kuma near 124th: 7am-7:30pm (opens on Sundays at 8am)
Chokolat Cafe around 123rd: M-W 7am-9pm, Th-Fri 7am-10pm, weekend 8am-9pm/10pm
Brownie’s in Avery: M-Th 8am-6:30pm, Fri 8am-5pm
Uris Deli: M-Th 8am-5pm, Fri 8am-3pm
Carleton in Mudd: M-F 8am-430pm
Blue Java Dodge: M-Th 8am-7pm, Fri 8am-5pm
Cafe 212: 8am to 8pm
Blue Java Butler: M-Th 8am-2am, Fri 8am-9pm, Sat noon-6pm, Sun noon-2am
Sometimes, life gets weird. It all happens in a very short period of time. Coincidences, accidents, fate, luck, bad luck, good luck, providence, misfortune, destiny, doom, kismet, the way the cookie crumbles. Whatever you want to call it, I’ve basically imploded emotionally this semester. But somehow, I made it through and have kept going to class and going to club meetings and editing the blog, though with no posts of my own. And so, I introduce my first post back in a while (and one of my last for the semester-finals are approaching and I’m all too aware of them) with this explanation for my lack of posts (and also as an answer to people who keep asking “Yo, where you been this semester?”).*
I’m not alone in this struggle, I know. Students here are easily swept up in the stress of life, and for good reason, too. We all strive to be our best selves, and even then, set goals for who we think we are and who we think we can be. No one holds us to higher standards than ourselves. Sometimes we try to blame it on the institution, or even our peers. But at the end of the day, I know that I hold myself accountable for everything I do, and that’s one factor that makes being a student here so exhausting. However, even in my darkest moments, I’m getting better about realizing that there’s always one thing that makes me feel a lot better: getting out of my room/library/office for a break with friends.
Last night, after a particularly intense roller coaster day, I was prepared to curl up in my bed and hide from everything when I decided to go out with my friends for dinner at Max Soha. We ate outside, and it was delicious and lovely. My roommate Allison went back early for orchestra rehearsal for the Varsity Show (which opens tonight and you should all go see!), so Christin and I went to Kitchenette next door for some dessert. While Kitchenette (Amsterdam near 123rd) is a favorite of mine for brunch and hamburgers, I had never had the desserts (even though they’re a prominent local bakery). Christin showed me the wonders of the dessert case. We were scrambling for small change, and our nice cashier told us she’d take the six dollars flat for my dessert but Christin and I scrounged up 80 cents in dimes and pennies and made it work.
Christin and I went for a walk over to “Broadway Malls,” a mini-garden with a plethora of spring flowers and a cozy sitting area. It’s finally warm here in New York, after a very long winter, and even though I was still a bit anxious, the lovely weather and the great company of the evening just made everything better. Christin shared bites of her banana cream pie (delightfully crunchy crust, smooth pudding texture) and I ooh-ed and aww-ed over my pudding. Sold in a little jar (and they even give you the cap), Kitchenette’s dark chocolate pudding varies in density depending on how long it’s been allowed to set. I actually enjoyed this–the top part of the pudding was thicker and more viscous, whereas the middle section was still light and creamy. Probably unintentional, I enjoyed this peculiarity anyway. Flavor wise, the pudding was spot on.
To be fair to the nature of the fika, it wasn’t the food that I ate that made this fika so special. It was, to be honest, the joy and pleasure and relief of being reminded that there are people who genuinely care about me. These are people who not only put up with my silly shenanigans (jumping on benches to sneak up on them) and with my sad/stressed out nonsense (mood swings), but love me in spite of and perhaps even because of the combination of the good and the bad. While this semester has been very difficult for me personally, I really do feel so lucky to realize that there are some people who always come through for me. And I hope I do the same for them, because they make life here worth it. With every fika and non-coffee-related-hang-out, these friends have brought me literally out of my sadness and out of my room. So shout-outs to these friends: Allison for putting up with everything and picking up milk for my room-fikas and taking tea breaks, Christin for always being game for every possible fika location, Rachel for making me coffee for 10am Brit Lit, Nicole for the cupcakes (yum), Eddie for more cupcakes and fueling my caffeine addiction, my mom for sending me Nespresso capsules on rush order and getting phone-conversation coffee with me, Allie for the late night Starbucks visits, Ben and Amelia for being too loud in Hungarian Pastry Shop, writing folks like Ryan and Davis and Kal and more Ben for pizza and ice cream, the exec board staff of Culinarian for just being boss, and to all my other friends who have been down to grab a fika.
I know this is a long post, and it’s only a little bit about pudding, but I recommend to all those who read this who find themselves a bit under the weather to take a break and change it up. Go to a dessert place you’ve always wanted to try. Switch up your morning routine and grab a new cup of coffee. Text that friend that you keep meaning to text about getting coffee. Especially that last one–it’s friends, and coffee breaks with them, that will make our undergraduate career far more rewarding than tearing ourselves down in our rooms over our doubts and our regrets and our studies. I love you, my fika-mates.
Also, now that it’s finals season, I’m pretty much down for coffee at any time, so send me a text and hit me up. A Turkish proverb says, “Bir fincan kahvenin 40 yil hatiri vardir” which translates to “One cup of coffee remains in the memories for 40 years.” So, y’all ready to have some really awesome coffee conversations that we’ll remember for (at least) 40 years? Because I sure am.
Also, not sure what a fika is? Click here to find out.
*There are a lot of long sentences and parenthetical statements in this post. Just as a warning if you’re not down for lots of thoughts that may or may not be directly connected.
For the student on the go, food trucks are quite possibly one of the most beautiful things to ever grace the city’s streets. Food trucks can vary in size and food offering, but each attracts its supplicants with rich smells, loud music, and colorful side boards. Every time a new one appears on Broadway, students flock to its sides, investigating its contents. One of my favorites is here on 113th and Broadway on Mondays, and that is Wafels and Dinges.
What’s a dinge, you ask? To be honest, I really have no idea. The Belgian waffle food truck company, however, seems to take great delight in recognizing that I, amongst many others, squint in confusion at the word. No matter what a “dinge” is supposed to mean, it effectively translates into a wide assortment of glorious toppings that can grace the surface of your liege waffle. Wafels and Dinges has expanded since its founding in 2007; every day, several trucks and carts parked throughout the city fulfill the waffle needs of New Yorkers! The company was rated the number one food truck in the city by Zagat in 2010, and for good reason.
The waffles are crispy and crunchy on the outside, giving them the perfect texture that leads so many people to proclaim the waffle’s victory over the smoothness of the pancake. On the inside, the waffle is a peculiar mixture of chewy and fluffy (read: you’ll be really full after eating this waffle). The variety of dinges allow for customer creativity. The first dinge is free, the second is $1, and for $2 you receive unlimited dinges (or as the menu says, a WMD: Waffle of Massive Deliciousness). You can choose the waffle combination that beat out Bobbly Flay’s version, or craft your own from the myriad of toppings including ice cream, Belgian chocolate fudge, walnuts, strawberries, bananas, nutella**, maple syrup, dulce de leche, whipped cream, and/or spekuloos spread. Spekuloos spread is a delicious gift of flavor and texture.*
I know. I’m hungry now, too, even though I literally just had two of these waffles in the last few days. Wafels now has a new permanent location in Verdi Square on 72nd and Broadway, a quick ride on the 1 train or a pleasant walk from campus. My favorite Wafeleur companion, Garin, hailing from de olde colonial lands of Virginia, visited just to get some of these waffles (might be a slight exaggeration). He and I made our way to the heavenly smelling truck on Sunday.
Then, a few days later, my dad was in town and while we were at dinner, I told him I had recently gone to Wafels and Dinges. My dad casually asked, “Oh, did you want to go again tomorrow?” And I replied, “We could actually go tonight, I think the cart’s there til 10pm.” A few minutes later, we were in a cab heading to 72nd. Our mecca to Wafels was well-received by the waffle-maker who boisterously welcomed us into the world of heavenly dinges and even took a photo with us.
Overall, Wafels and Dinges is just a fun, delightful fika option. The truck’s design and its packaging are bright and entertaining. Take time to read all the funny little placques on the truck and look for all of the text (especially the fine print!) on your waffle box, spekuloos cookie, and coffee cup. Wafels and Dinges clearly makes a point of finding amusement and joy in its own work, sharing the waffle love and laughter with its customers. This continues even onto the truck’s Facebook page. Daily updates let you know what the secret code is that will let you get a free dinge (some recent ones have included: acting like a flying squirrel, telling a joke to your Wafeleur/Wafelette, or pretend you’re smoking from a corn cob pipe). The coffee is pretty good actually, a lot better than what I’d expect from most food trucks (plus you get a free cookie!). My personal favorite combination, in case you were wondering, is a liege waffle with spekuloos spread, whipped cream, walnuts, and strawberries. Yum.
You can find the location of various trucks by clicking “Find Us” on the company’s website, checking their Facebook, or following them on Twitter. Scroll down to see my gallery (sorry, cell phone pics) of my waffle journey!
*I did some research, and here’s what I found: Speculoos is made from caramelized gingerbread cookie which was traditionally baked for consumption on St. Nicholas day in Belgium.
**While finding gifs for my post, I also discovered that there’s apparently a really intense internet love for nutella (one, two, three, four, five)…which honestly is unsurprising considering the recent outpouring of commentary about how much nutella Columbia students alone reportedly consume. (Nutellagate?) So, my fellow students, if the nutella pangs are just too much for you…hit up 113th on Mondays, and just literally pour a whole jar of it onto a waffle.
This past Sunday, my roommate Allison led some friends and I down to Chinatown for the Chinese New Year’s festival (it’s the Year of the Snake now, in case you want to be culture savvy). Allison and our friend Josh impressively climbed to the top of a large red sculpture on the playground and were able to see much of the festivities. Those of us less inclined (cough, not coordinated, cough) goofed around in the snow and tried to find food. Of course, since it was New Year’s, most of the Chinese eateries in the area were closed for the celebrations. After the resounding cracks of lightning fireworks echoed off of the surrounding brownstones in a crescendo of smoke and sound, and after the dazzling area of colorful confetti floating through the air, our adventurous group walked back up Prince Street to a bakery we had passed on the way.
Little Cupcake Bakeshop is quite possibly one of the cutest places in New York. I’d be willing to bet money on it. Situated beneath several apartments (whose residents must be very lucky), Bakeshop has a picturesque white awning and an old school fluorescent sign welcoming patrons in. The coffee menu is extensive, though not as varied as the baked delicacies filling the wide glass cases. It helped, of course, that the Bakeshop was decorated for Valentine’s Day, warm pinks and reds filling up the bakery with affectionate whimsy.
I loved my helping of the Oreo cheesecake, and Christin devoured her almond chocolate cupcake. My latte was decent, not exceptionally unique, but solid and warm in the aftermath of standing in the snow for two hours. The frosting on the coconut cupcake was delicious though the actual cupcake was a bit dry and disappointing. Next time, I’m looking forward to checking out the full fledged cakes.
Overall, it’s the atmosphere of this fika locale that captures the charm. With teas and a variety of baked goods, Little Cupcake Bakeshop is an ideal stop after shopping in SoHo or even an early breakfast. I envy the people who live above this charming eatery.
Oh, and the bakery had a 90s playlist that caused employees (and the female half of my group) to start singing to Bowling for Soup and Counting Crows. I feel this is pertinent. It was a fresh musical approach to a truly delightful fika. Click through the photos below to share my fika adventure!
Little Cupcake Bakeshop was established in 2005. The Manhattan location is on the intersection of Prince and Mott. It opens at 7:30am on the weekdays, and 8 on the weekend (open til 11pm or later every night).
One of my favorite walks around campus is walking north on Broadway past the Union Theological Seminary and the Manhattan School of Music. Not only does it provide picturesque reminders of local academia, but also views of the 1 train dipping past the horizon as buildings rise and fall like mountains. In the spring, trees on this walk scatter enough blossoms to make it snow. In the summer, the urban heaviness of heat feels timeless and constant, a tradition of the strongest and most dedicated living through these months. In the fall, everything is, of course, a myriad of scarlets and oranges (autumn, for the record, is my favorite season in New York). And, now in the winter, the trees are bare but the spider-like bark leads your eyes upward to admire the facades of Broadway’s buildings.
My point? The ten (to twenty, depending on your pace) minute walk to Kuro Kuma prepares you for satisfaction no matter what time of the year. This week, my friend Christin and I walked briskly through the wind tunnel and arrived, rosy-cheeked, at the espresso bar oasis. Located on the same city block as Bettolona and a street away from Jin Ramen, Kuro Kuma is an ideal location for students and professors who live in Morningside Heights and want a break from the usual local fare. Technically in Harlem, Kuro Kuma is located on LaSalle on the west side of the 1 train bridge (nearest subway stop is 125th).
Inside, Kuro Kuma is cozy and delightful. The interiors are painted sky blue, save for one exposed brick that adds automatic urban texture to any eatery. In the warmer days, a chalkboard sign sits outside and welcomes customers in with jaunty doodles. This coffee shop has four tables, enough to accommodate walk-ins and planned coffee dates without ever becoming too overwhelming. Christin and I placed our orders during an apparent lull-as soon as we sat down, six customers came in. It was busy enough that our coffee maker asked us to wait to pay at the end (honestly, I love this because it makes me feel like I can enjoy my break and not feel rushed). A few neighborhood regulars walked by with their dogs and chatted with customers and employees inside as they ordered their afternoon decafs.
Christin had hot chocolate, and while she enjoyed it, she felt that it was a bit too rich for her taste. I loved my latte (when do I ever not?). Smooth and creamy, this was a beverage that makes one nod with proud satisfaction: “That’s a good espresso-based drink that stimulates my mental acuity.” Christin and I shared a pecan sticky bun that I had fun unraveling. Sweet and chewy, the inner texture was just right. It was a bit difficult to pull off tidy pieces, so I’d recommend just going in with confidence and taking a big bite. The sticky bun also had yellow raisins, and while normally I react with wincing and eye-twitching to dried grapes, I was pleasantly surprised at their effortless incorporation into my afternoon treat. (For the record, Kuro Kuma offers plenty of other baked goods that are just right for your daily fikas.)
So, take a walk from campus and check out Kuro Kuma the next time you have a casual interview or a friend date. Kuro Kuma, as Christin pointed out, is conveniently located a block away from Knox Hall (the epicenter of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies).
Check out Kuro Kuma’s Facebook page here. Click on any of the photos below to see larger versions! Not sure what a fika is? Read my first of the series here.
For Amanda’s first post of the season, she will spend the italics section of her post feeling a strange, out-of-body experience as she briefly wonders if her life is being narrated by herself OR Amanda explains what she means by fika.
Last spring, I read a magazine article that talked about how, in Sweden, people take “fika” breaks. Fika roughly means “to drink coffee with friends on a small break with a little snack” (or something along those lines) as in “Would you like to fika with me?” and “I had a great fika this afternoon.” I remember thinking, this is incredibly charming. I instantly realized that this is what the break rooms are really meant for in corporate buildings. We are meant to take breaks from our work at approximately 10:30 and 3:45 to enjoy the exhilarating refreshment of a caffeinated beverage compounded with the sugary rush of a small chocolate roll! I get it! I. WILL. FIKA!
Fika seems to be like a more elaborate version of the Yiddish nosh. Fika is a bona-fide social institution in Sweden (people don’t play when it comes to their breaks). According to Culinary Cultures of Europe by Stephen Mennell, the fika is an important part of everyday Swedish life as it provides a chance to say hi to your mother, take that cute guy from the elevator on a date, and tell your buddies about your new motorcycle. Even government employees are known to take breaks from work to fika. Fikas are what we Americans traditionally think of as the “coffee date” (ie precursor to the tension-filled drinks or high-pressured stakes of dinner), but function even better as “non-date dates.”
This being said, the fika is no light-hearted matter if you’re a host…