These days, with our beleaguered subway system in such disarray, you certainly don’t want to spend more time underground after being wedged into a car full of fellow grumpy New York MTA riders. When I reach my stop, my first impulse is to race groundhog-like through the tunnels and passageways so I can poke my head above ground at the first opportunity.
Not so fast, MTA passenger, not so fast. There are treasures just past the turnstyle at the 59th Street-Columbus Circle Station (1/A/B/C/D) in the aptly named Turnstyle Underground Market. I’d heard tell of this underground permanent semi-Smorgasburg and had low expectations, so I was pleasantly surprised at the sleek and interesting row of eateries and shops—from Zai Lai Taiwanese food and Bolivian Llama Party (“Fun & Delicious Bolivian Food”) to Chick ‘N Cone (handheld chicken and waffles, #socluckinggood!) and a Venezuelan Arepa Factory. But what caught my eye immediately was Russian Daa! Dumplings, purveyor of pelmeni filled with everything from Siberian pork (labeled “popular”) to lamb and feta, also “popular.”
For $9.95 you can have a “snack duet” of 14 dumplings. Daa is the only food vendor I know of whose prices have come down; a February 2018 Florence Fabricant “Front Burner” piece lists 14 pelmeni for $12.95. I ordered seven of the Siberian pork—mini hexagonal bundles twisted closed at the tops, and seven potato dumplings. The latter were crescent shaped and had thicker skins with a more substantial potato mash filling. Yet this “meat and potatoes” meal was anything but; the pork and potato were replete with notes of dill and other herbs. Some Yelpers complain of the “microscopic” size of the meat pelmeni (veal, chicken, beef and more), so I think pairing them with more substantial potato dumplings is a good idea. Plus you get a nice fat pickle slice, ample sour cream, which is a must to pair with pelmeni, and for $.25 extra either a luscious red pepper sauce or a zippy adjika tomato sauce. I paid 99¢ for the classic Afenka chocolate wafer, because of the darling babushka baby on the wrapper. Not only can you order your dumplings in broth, but you can get packages of frozen dumplings to cook at home, non-alcoholic Kvas, the fermented “probiotic” Russian drink, and other imported Russian snack foods. It was fun to eat my dumplings at a zigzagging tile table that goes the length of the food court. Finally, something to love about the underground warren of the Columbus Circle station!
A Digression…Texting with Grace
Just as I finished my dumplings and was making my way above ground, I heard the pock of a text. It was my son who now lives and works in Montreal. “Watching last episode of Breaking Bad!” His text suddenly reminded me that over the summer he had told me about having some delicious Russian dumplings at “some stand in the subway”. What serendipity to hear from him at that moment I had finished indulging. I texted back “OMG!” (I’ve watched “Breaking Bad” two+ times, I admit) to which he responded “He’s at Gretchen and Elliot’s place now. I’m very nervous how it will go.” Then I texted for him to hold tight and that I had just had Russian dumplings at a subway stand. It has taken me a long time to just be happy with these kinds of text exchanges and not to respond by taking up the entire screen with prying questions about my son’s now-foreign life. With my daughter, too, I’m learning that her sending a funny Meme demands nothing more than for me to click the “Ha Ha” symbol. I don’t have to use each text as an opportunity to text-nag back about financial dealings or deadlines of which she’s all too aware. And so we send out these slender cyberthreads to each other across time and space and remain connected, and I am learning to accept these minimal connections with grace. “Which stand?” my son texted back. I sent him a photo, nothing more.