Tag along on Calvin Trillin's downtown eating tour

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  • The day's itinerary

  • Tour takers came hungry---and toted New Yorker envelopes---at the meeting place, Father Demo Square.

  • The view from above at Murray's Cheese

  • Calvin Trillin, intrepid eater, introduces the team at Blue Ribbon Bakery.

  • The non-matzoh matzoh from Blue Ribbon stays crispy in the rain.

  • Where we would have eaten smoked mozzarella had it been open: Joe's Dairy.

  • Trillin clasps a "green sandwich," one of his more recent Chinatown discoveries.

  • Folks on the tour---still hungry---dig in to Grandaisy's potato pizza.

  • Sausage samples aplenty at Despaa

  • Trillin's favorite (and beautifully translucent) spring roll Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich

  • The tour descends on DiPalo's Fine Foods.

  • Once inside, Come Hungry eaters contemplate mozzarella.

  • Trillin's perfect banh mi is at Saigon Banh Mi Bakery.

  • Still hungry, eaters spear dumplings from C & L Dumpling House.

  • Lotus-leaf--wrapped sticky rice at 88 Dim Sum Palace.

  • The concluding feast at at 88 Dim Sum Palace.

The day's itinerary

For the first time in the nine years of its existence, Calvin Trillin's incredibly popular Come Hungry eating tour, part of the annual New Yorker Festival, took place in the rain. Thirty-five dedicated food lovers gathered in Father Demo Square, umbrellas aloft, in order to join famed food writer Calvin Trillin on a two-hour ($100) walking and eating tour that spanned from Greenwich Village to Chinatown.

Trillin regaled the group with tales of his move to New York in 1961, when he started to observe as Chinatown grew from being just "a speck of an island attached to Little Italy" into a full-blown miniature China. "The big change in eating came with the Immigration Act of 1965," he told us. It was then that New York started to become the city we know today: a place where banh mi are ubiquitous and a meal of pig-ear tacos can make for a great date.

Along the route, "Bud" (as his friends call him) Trillin talked of snacks and discoveries, his partner in crime Robert Sietsema, the architecture in Soho and the benefits of keeping a card in your pocket that tells you how to say "I'll have what the people at the next table are having" in Chinese. While we can't always have Calvin Trillin along on our travels, we can show you how to retrace his steps through the hungry person's dream tour of lower Manhattan.

We started in the Village, where Trillin makes his home and where he began his own culinary explorations. First stop was local institution Murray's Cheese. We stopped for a slice of granna padano flatbread, topped with salty shreds of Parmesan and crispy bits of prosciutto. Right next door to Murray's is Faicco's Pork Store (260 Bleecker St between Leroy and Morton Sts, 718-236-0119)—you'll recognize it by the giant pig on the sign out front. It's known for its soprassata and generally excellent butchered items.

A couple of blocks to Blue Ribbon Bakery & Market allowed for a short period of digestion before grabbing dinner-plate-size matzo crackers dusted with rosemary and sea salt. Apart from being unleavened, they supposedly have nothing to do with the Jewish food of the same name. They're perfect, Trillin says, for parties—or for just snacking on while walking to our next destination.

In an aim to keep us sated between stops, the tour gets a delivery of what Trillin refers to as "green sandwiches" while en route to our next destination. The sesame-seed-flecked buns stuffed with spicy Chinese greens can be found at a stand on the southwest corner of Forsyth Street and East Broadway. Trillin discovered them one day while riding his bike through Chinatown. Without knowing what they're called (hence "green sandwiches"), Trillin bought one and never looked back.

Next, we made our way to the original location of Sullivan Street Bakery—now the home of Grandaisy Bakery, which continues to put out Sullivan's signature goods. Trillin recommends any of the pizzas, crisp rectangular flatbreads paved with simple yet satisfying toppings. We got slices of the starch-heavy, olive-oil-drizzled potato pie and the pungent cauliflower-and-Gruyre variety.

We continued through Soho to visit Despaa, which specializes in Spanish imports and freshly made Spanish foods. We sampled slices of the tortilla Despaa, made of eggs, potatoes, onion, chorizo and green pepper. Trillin's tip: Order an entire tortilla 24 hours in advance for an easy dinner-party centerpiece.

Across the border into Chinatown, we stopped at Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich (369 Broome St between Elizabeth and Mott Sts, 212-219-8341) for what Trillin says are some of the only flavorful, non-bean-sprout-heavy spring rolls in the city. They came out warm, flavored heavily with anise and stuffed with (as promised) a minimal amount of bean sprouts and crisp shredded carrot.

Since Trillin's favorite place for smoked mozzarella (which he pronounces "muzzerelle"), Joe's Dairy (156 Sullivan St at W Houston St, 212-677-8780), is closed on Sundays, we headed to the famed Italian-goods store Di Palo's Fine Foods for slices of fresh, warm, slightly salty mozzarella. Trillin also suggested we taste the provolone-encased butter.

Now ambling the produce-lined streets of Chinatown, we stopped into what first appeared to be a jewelry store. In fact, it's Banh Mi Saigon Bakery (138 Mott St between Grand and Hester Sts, 212-941-1541), where we ate the signature Vietnamese pork-stuffed sandwiches, which Trillin cited as a "good argument for colonialism." The crusty French bread filled with crispy roasted pork, sliced pork roll and shredded vegetables was the ideal companion for the few blocks it took to get to our second-to-last stop.

Among the many five-for-a-dollar dumpling spots in Chinatown, Trillin's current pick is C&L Dumpling House (77 Chrystie St between Grand and Hester Sts, 212-219-8850). The dumplings are fairly thin-skinned, with a crispy base, and are filled with juicy—and not too greasy—ground pork.

We followed Forsyth under the Manhattan Bridge and came across a brightly colored, Christmas-light--filled mall. Inside was our final destination—88 Palace (88 East Broadway between Forsyth and Market Sts, 212-941-8886). We ended all of that eating with...a dim sum feast. We filled the tiny part of our stomachs that were still empty with plates of wilted greens, chive-and-shrimp dumplings, shrimp noodles, turnip cakes, chiu chow dumplings stuffed with pork and peanuts, steamed lotus-leaf--wrapped rice packets and a coconut dessert that resembled a Chinese flan.

By the end of the meal the group began to slump in their seats, full to the point of bursting with dishes representing at least four different ethnic cuisines. But Trillin, ever the professional, showed no sign of defeat. He briskly excused himself from the table to attend yet another event. The rest of us discussed our future plans...for naps.—Justine Sterling

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