Gastronomy, culture on tour

Photos by Bradley Hawks

In light of the mellowing of the weather and the driving instinct to dine outdoors, this week I decided to break convention and try an outdoor dining approach that samples not one, but up to 15 different restaurants. What better way to savor a kaleidoscope of tasty morsels than by following a neighborhood expert on a food crawl through the borough? Jeff Orlick has been hosting some of the most popular food tours in the city, from midnight food crawls to tours of Little India and a “Fiesta Crawl” leading from Jackson Heights to Corona. For my inaugural crawl, however, my friends and I chose the “Queens Taste of the World.”

When Orlick explained that mostly tourists and non-New Yorkers participate in his food tours, it took me a bit by surprise. Knowing that Queens is one of the most culturally diverse pockets in the world, it only stands to reason that the more you know, the more you realize just how much you don’t know.

The gift of Orlick’s extensive knowledge, experience and personal relationships offers a unique passport to a world that would otherwise be daunting. With just a satchel holding bottled water and plastic utensils, he nimbly weaves you through the streets of Jackson Heights. From tamales steamed in corn husks with queso and mole to savory kebabs, hand-wrapped dumplings and stewed lentils, the tour is a flavor explosion.

In just a few hours, we sampled cuisines, visited stores and explored the cultures of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Tibet, Italy, Peru, Colombia and Mexico. Around every corner, there was a smiling face eager to see Orlick and share their world with our tour.

Orlick crafted a tour that catered to our personal interests with close to 15 fascinating stops… dumpling shops tucked in the back of mobile phone dealerships, subterranean artifact stores below street level, hidden schools where immigrants learn the ins and outs of running a taxi cab and street vendors galore.

Orlick is extremely approachable and makes tours that, while structured, feel very natural and organic. Often other tours can seem over-produced or touristy, even plastic.  Orlick’s is an authentic, comfortable, natural and deliciously eye-opening exploration of the cultures, people and foods that make Queens one of the most exciting melting pots on Earth.

Public tours are scheduled in advance and private tours can be planned as well.  For rates and schedules, visit www.iwantmorefood.com or purchase tickets via vayable.com.