Andrew Doro has visited 114 nations by way of restaurants within the five boroughs. We caught up with the traveling gourmand for a chat about why he does it, how he does it and what his culinary limits are.
You’re a 35-year-old manufacturing director at an electronics company. You live in Downtown Brooklyn and have been at this since April 2016, having just hit your 114th nation (Belarus). How did this get started?
After college, I lived in China for two years. In Wuhan in Hubei province teaching English for a year, then six months in Beijing and six months in Shanghai. I got to see how many varieties of Chinese food there are. And it made me realize how little I knew about food around the world. I’m a born-and-raised New Yorker—my mother is Taiwanese and Brooklynese and my father is Czech-Irish from Philly—but even living here there’s so much of the city so many of us never really see. Why would anyone know about the Uzbek Jewish spots in Rego Park unless they were part of that community?
So you got back from China all inspired to be as cosmopolitan as possible?
No. When I got back from China, all I wanted to do was eat at shitty diners—cheeseburgers and club sandwiches and lots of fries. I wanted really really American stuff. But American stuff is mostly gross and kinda empty and flavorless. It got to a point where I felt almost suburban, like I left the city even though I was still in it. So I wanted to change that. There’s a lot of city. I don’t think anyone has been to every neighborhood. You have to work at it. So I used this little mission as an excuse to explore, like, the Haitian scene in Canarsie. It became so fascinating. New Yorkers are obsessed with New York for good reason: it will always surprise you. There is always more New York if you try.
What was it like being such an interloper so often?
There were so many places where I didn’t know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. There’s a Bajan place called Cock’s. What’s not to love? There was an Ivorian spot that was just me and a ton of cabbies watching soccer. This Azerbaijani place was really confused that anyone who didn’t speak Azeri or Russian would be there. There’s a double spectacle: it’s a strange sight for me, and a strange sight for them.
I feel like everyone has certain hype with their national cuisine.
Everything is medicinal, everything is basically kimchi, telling you that it cures this or is good for that. Everything makes you stronger or fertile or something like that. There’s a soba noodle place, Cocoron, that tries hard to sell you on the benefits of buckwheat.
How do you pace it?
When I started, I would hit up everything—Brazilian, Moroccan, Maltese—all in one day and I would wind up stuffing myself and feeling tied down. I always try to get a local or national beer or soda, to round out the drink but also because it feels weird to eat this traditional dish with Diet Coke or whatever. Drinks help slow it down a bit.
Do you ever feel truly transported? Do you ever forget you’re in New York?
Cafe Mombar, yeah, is this fully Egyptian pocket of Astoria. And, with so much of it brought over from Sri Lanka, Lakruwana basically is Sri Lanka on Staten Island. These moments are like, I dunno, you eat at an Eritrean place and it’s like reading an Eritrean short story. Yemeni people-watching is different than people-watching in Bryant Park or Union Square. I was at this Uzbek place and there were so many birthday parties. It’s like travel. Everyone likes travel. Well, New Yorkers say they like travel.
Not always! Sometimes you ask them about their travel and they just say the Hamptons and Ibiza and Santorini and Cancun and it’s clear that they only like to travel to beaches.
Yeah, you realize what a commitment diversity is.
Most New Yorkers have tried pad Thai, dim sum, sushi, banh mi and pho. But there’s a brick wall, like, that’s diverse enough. No need to end up doing anything too wild. There is a checklist mentality, this treatment of it as exoticism. Do you ever worry you’ll become the Frasier of foodies?
You know, someone who is always casually mentioning a cute Senegalese brunch spot or great Nicaraguan desserts.
Oh, I guess maybe I am the Frasier of foodies.
And maybe you’re eating the club sandwich of that other country, y’know?
Yeah, I wouldn’t really know.
But you eat common things too anyway, no?
I’ll eat Shake Shack but I won’t go to Chipotle by choice.
It turns out New Yorkers eat a lot of basic meals of kale salads and chicken caesar wraps.
Chicken caesar wraps? No. I don’t do that. I have my limits.