Follow The Five P’s: How To Organize A Food Crawl
Go on a food crawl! There’s nothing like getting together with a bunch of “food-minded” people and gorging on delicious food all day. You get fresh air, exercise, and STUFFED.
The air and the exercise balance out some of the over-eating so you feel less guilty that you might be if you were parked on the sofa, stuffing your face for the same amount of time. My friends and I organize food crawls all over New York City. People wonder why I’m not five hundred pounds. Eating with a crowd is my secret. Many mouths make for lots of little tastes. It’s much less filling than having to eat EVERYTHING myself.
Here are my Popularity, Planning, People, Politesse, and Purchasing tips for organizing a food crawl with your favorite foodies. If you have more tips to add, leave a comment.
Oh, if you don’t have the energy for a putting together a food crawl, you could go on a food tour. Check out my friend Joe DiStefano’s Queens food tours. All the organizing is done. You just show up and chow down.
I made one of the dishes we had on the crawl, Miang Kana, that inspired my interest in going to check out the Thai food scene in Queens. My boyfriend’s daughter had this dish in Thailand and we decided we had to find it in Queens. That led to a visit, which led to our food crawl.
Pick a delicious theme so people will want to come. Can you imagine folks signing up for a rocky mountain oyster food crawl? Neither can I. We choose our food crawl themes by type of food like our recent Thai Food crawl (#farangfeast) or by neighborhood like our numerous Flushing (#crushingflushing) food crawls or by a combination of the two, as was the case with our Downtown-ish Brooklyn Wing Crawl (#wingingitbk).
At times, our crawls are more of a quest, like this week’s upcoming Dessert Quest (#dessertquestnyc) which will travel to over several neighborhoods in two boroughs.
Pick out places that are known for having the best food because you want to avoid duds — no one likes duds. Check out websites that food enthusiasts frequent for ideas. In New York, we use Eater, Grub Street, Serious Eats, Tasting Table, etc. Ask food professionals, food lovers, food bloggers, etc, where they would go? I’m friends with many food people on Facebook and Twitter, so I ask them. I also see what’s popular on Instagram by searching hashtags or the location. You can read online reviews too, but I only truly believe what’s good by listening to people who like the same foods as I do.
Guests - Decide how may people you want to have on your crawl. I’m a more the merrier kind of person, but I put limits on crawls. Consider the logistics, like the size of the places you’re going to visit. The more people you have the more challenging it can be to keep everyone on track. Our crawls range from 6 to 16 people, depending on the theme. When I invite guests, I tend to over invite because there will always be people who flake. Also be clear on the invite about whether they can invite their friens.
Proximity - Plan your route. Arrange the stops so they are in order with the least amount of walking. I work this out on a Google Map. The only take-away I had from the high school physics class I failed is the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. I try to stick to straight lines where possible and minimize zigging, zagging, and backtracking.
Arrange stops according to hours of operation. In New York, most places are open all day, every day, but there are exceptions. Call or tweet ahead to make sure they are open.
When we planned the wing crawl, we really wanted to try Super Wings in East New York. I reached out to them via social media and email and they didn’t respond. It turned out they were not open on the day we wanted to visit. We rearranged the crawl and skipped them. At the last minute, they decided to open for us. By that time, it was too late to rearrange our schedule. Last minute changes with a group can be confusing, people could get lost in the reshuffle, so they are best avoided.
If you have a large group, check to see if the destinations can handle the crowd. You can also make sure ahead of time they have the dish that you want to try if it’s not on the regular menu. For the wing crawl, we called Pizza Loves Emily beforehand because they don’t serve their Hot Nguyen wings at brunch (only happy hour). They were very kind to make them for us when we arrived at noon.
Social Media - Choose a hashtag for your crawl so attendees, their friends and fans can follow the “yum” on social media platforms. If you’re posting photos from your crawl and are very zealous about being organized you can track down the Twitter and Instagram handles of the places you’re visiting beforehand.
Tools - Bring a lightweight plastic container and-or plastic bags for leftovers. You may want to bring a knife,extra forks, napkins and perhaps wipes.
Sightseeing - Sometimes there are inedible things along the crawl that may or may not be of interest to your group. Normally, we don’t bother with anything but food. We did stop eating for a minute on the Thai food crawl and Joe DiStefano took us to visit the Wat Buddha Thai Thavorn Vanaram, the Thai Buddhist Temple in Queens. It worked because it was in the original plan and we were all willing to go. It was cool to meet and chat with one of the monks and it was a very serene place to have a reflective moment and digest. Before planning non-eating moments, check with your guests.
Communicate - Stay in touch with your attendees to keep them in the loop about the crawl. I send several emails leading up to the crawl with the basic information. I send the list of stops to the attendees along with the other relevant information (date, meeting-time and place, etc.). I always suggest they wear comfortable shoes and carry bottled water. You can make suggestions about weather-related precautions closer to the date, like sunscreen, rain gear, etc. I try to send everyone’s social media handles to make it easier for crawlers who don’t know each other to connect.
PEOPLE: You can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends. I invite like-minded friends to go on the food crawls. I want people who are gourmands since they love good food and are happy to eat a lot of it. I prefer to avoid people who eat like birds or have incongruent food allergies or considerations on a crawl. A noodle crawl would be a challenge for someone with a gluten intolerance, but they might be fine on a Thai or Indian crawl. I have a strict no whiner or trouble makers rule. This includes narcissists and sociopaths… unless they’re lots of fun. You have to spend the whole day with these people and you don’t want drama.
Know the limitations of your group. The weather for the upcoming dessert crawl is hot, in the 90’s. I originally thought my group might want to walk to Brooklyn over the bridge, but they’ll probably opt for the subway to get a break from the sun. Walking all the way to Brooklyn could be a stretch for some on a good day. So be aware and communicative about anything that might make people uncomfortable on the crawl.
POLITESSE: Be sensitive to the places you’re visiting. If you have a large group or even a small group be courteous and aware of your impact on the flow of the businesses you are visiting. If you show up with 12 people to share two orders of wings, ask before taking up 12 seats in the restaurant. If the places we eat in are too small or too crowded we eat in the street.
We literally sat in the gutter to eat Banh Beo in Arlington, Virginia. We squatted to eat Pok Pok’s wings on the sidewalk. We always slurp down White Bear’s wontons standing up outside. PRO TIP: In Flushing you can get away with bringing outside food to one of the larger food courts as long as you are buying food at that food court as well. It is not allowed, but if you keep it on the down low, you could get away with it.
Generosity - Always tip well. You can tell the management at places you’re visiting that you’re on a crawl, but don’t expect to get special treatment or free stuff. If free food happens, wonderful, leave an even bigger tip and be sure to show the places lots of love on social media.
PURCHASING: We have handled the financing of food crawls a number of ways. Choose one that works for you and your group. Initially, we’d each take turns paying for food at each stop which works as long as no one cares that they may spend a little more money than someone else. We have also split everything at every stop and collected money from each person, every time. To me, this is a grand pain in the butt. Next time, everyone is putting in $20.00 at the beginning of the crawl to create a kitty that we’ll spend on the food. If we run out, we’ll collect more money. It works best for people wanting drinks or extras to buy their own.
Quantity - At each stop, you want to buy enough food for everyone to have a taste, but don’t buy too much food or you may be too full to complete your crawl.
Follow up - Send post crawl thanks and acknowledgments to your fellow crawlers by email or via social media. We always send out pictures on social media for a few days after our events so the fun continues online.
Where We Went On The Thai Food Crawl
- Eim Khao Man Gai — Hainanese chicken
- Sugar Club — shopping, Thai Iced Coffee, Thai Iced Tea and Witch Mojito
- Ploy Thai — Miang Kana and more
- Pata Paplean — secret noodle soups: pork tom yum, pork blood soup and dry tom yum too.
- Thai Thai grocery — shopping
- Wat Buddha Thai Thavorn Vanaram — Thai Buddhist Temple
- Khao Kang Buffet — assorted plates from the steamed table and very odd crêpe-like things
- Plant Love House — basil pork, noodles and large format papaya salad, sizzling brownie, UNBELIEVABLE Toast dessert.
Where We Went On The Downtown-ish Brooklyn Crawl
- Pizza Loves Emily
- The Islands (jerk chicken - out of wings and oxtails)
- Bonnie’s Grill
- Pork Slope
- Pok Pok
Where We Went On One Of Our Flushing Crawls
- Express Tea — Jiang bing (fried wonton & sausage filled crepe)
- Xi’an Famous Food — Liang Ping noodles; spicy cumin lamb hand ripped noodles; stewed pork burger
- Galaxy Dumplings — lamb squash dumplings (eat only these dumplings at the mall — don’t go to the restaurant)
- Chen Du Tian Fu — Dan Dan noodles; spicy cucumbers; Sichuan peppercorn fried chicken
- Corner 28 — $1:00 Peking duck buns
- White Bear — spicy wontons
- Sifu Chio — Fish ball noodle soup; Hong Kong style wonton noodle soup
- FLUSHING MALL: Diverse Dim Sum — Crab xiao long bao (soup dumplings); pork xiao long bao; salty tofu with cruller croutons; sweet tofu; pork floss sticky rice; red bean pastries
- NEW WORLD MALL: Mojoilla — takoyaki (octopus balls w bonito); Tea Twitter — spicy fried chicken skins; Xiao Yuan Huan — Taiwanese pork buns; Stinky tofu
Where We Went On Our Dessert Crawl Manhattan-Brooklyn 2015
I’d taken my friend Betsy from the blog Desserts Required on a dessert crawl in 2014. This was a follow-up.
- Donut Plant
- La Bergamote
- Chelsea Market*
- Fat Witch*
- Mok Bar* (pork bun)
- Liddabit Sweets*
- Aux Merveilluex De Fred
- LiLac Chocolates
- Dominique Ansel Kitchen
- Bosie Tea Parlor
- Chickalicious Westside
- François Payard
- Ladurée Soho
- Stick with Me
- Runner & Stone
- Baba’s Pierogies
- Ample Hills Creamery
- Rice To Riches
- 1 ounce dried shrimp
- 1/4 cup toasted, shredded coconut
- 2 ounces unsalted peanuts, roasted, chopped coarsely
- Ginger, peeled, tiny dice
- 1/2 Lime zest, tiny dice
- 1/2 Lime flesh, tiny chunks
- Red onions or shallots, diced
- Chilies, sliced thinly
- Cilantro leaves
- Chinese broccoli leaves, baby collard greens, wild pepper leaves, spinach leaves for wrapping.
- Sauce1/2 lime, juiced
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tablespoon dried shrimp
- 1 ounce palm sugar (brown sugar can be used) dissolved in 3 tablespoons hot water
- 1- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- Dry toast all the dried shrimp by placing them in a cast iron skillet and stirring over medium heat for five minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
- Place individual piles of each ingredient for the miang kana on a platter or large cutting board.
- Wash and dry the leaves and add them to the platter or serve them on the side.
- Prepare the sauce by mixing all the ingredients except the fish sauce and chillies in a small bowl. Add one tablespoon of fish sauce and taste. Add more fish sauce to taste or add water if the sauce is too strong. Add chili slices as desired. Place small spoons for serving in the platter.
- To eat, fold a leaf into quarters and open one of the pockets and spoon a mix of the ingredients in the leaf. Add sauce and place the whole leaf in your mouth.
- Chicken wings
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 425°.
- Line a sheet pan with a Silpat, an equivalent silicone mat or well greased parchment paper.
- Do not wash the wings, but dry the wings with paper towels to remove excess moisture. You can leave wings out, uncovered, in the fridge overnight to dry out the skin to make them even more crispy.
- Place the wings on the sheet pan with outer part of the wing facing down so you can salt the underside of the wings first. Salt the under side of the wings evenly and turn them over. Salt and pepper the outer wing evenly.
- Cook for one hour or so, until the wings are browned and crispy. You can drain off any excess fat that accumulates as they cook. Flip each wings and brush the underside with the sticky sauce of your choosing, turn them over brush the outer side with sauce. Return them to the oven for 5-7 minutes. Remove from oven, check the sauce coverage and add more, if needed. Sprinkle with crunchy component, if desired. Eat.
- Brown sugar, ginger & soy
- Balsamic & orange marmalade
- Maple & Dijon
- Gochujang, rice vinegar & palm sugar
- Hot sauce & honey
- Garlic dust
- Crushed popcorn
- Popped amaranth
- Tortilla dust
- Crushed chicharrones
- Caramelized crisp rice
- Toasted sesame seeds
- Toasted shaved almonds
- Toasted pine nuts
- Bacon bits
- Duck cracklings
Miang Kana: Thai Flavor Explosions
You can add or substitute ingredients. I’ve had it made with pork floss a dried shredded pork that you get in an Asian supermarket. I may develop a vegetarian version.
Fish sauce varies in strength. I use the one with the three crabs on the label for cooking and I use Red Boat brand for sauces and finishing dishes because it has a more refined flavor.
Cooked The Sh*t Wings
Sticky Sauce Ideas
Mix approximately 3 parts sticky/sweet with 1 part acid with 1/2 part spicy in a pot, over low heat and reduce until it’s the consistency of BBQ sauce.
Crunchy Component Ideas
I LOVE food crawls! I do a food tour in every city I visit, either via an established food tour company if I’m short on time or I arrange one myself. Your tips are spot on! Some cities, like NYC, are perfect for food crawls with the variety of options within walking distance, in other cities it has required a bit more creativity. I would love to go on a food crawl with you next time I’m in your neighborhood. I promise I am neither a whiner nor a sociopath! Just a food-lover through and through! Cheers!
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