The New York Diet

Novelist Gary Shteyngart Scarfs Lox, Philosophizes Over Spinach

Shteyngart, with girlfriend Mabel Hwang, at their favorite breakfast spot, Brown: “I want to die there some day.”Photo: Melissa Hom
Absurdistan author and Lower East Side denizen Gary Shteyngart is 40 pages into a new novel about “a guy who eats really well and wants to live forever.” We’re thinking it’s a bit autobiographical, given what he ate during the days between Friday, September 22 and Wednesday the 27th.

Gary Shteyngart

I had a very nice, succulent dungeoness crab at Fatty Crab last night. They claimed that their crabs are fresh all year. I thought, Oh, my God, that’s so untrue.

Then I ate some kind of praline white-chocolate cheesecake at Magnolia Bakery. I was so happy [about the possible trans-fats ban]; I mean, sad too, because I’ll never taste them again. But I don’t have to constantly think, What am I eating here?

My girlfriend and I met in Rome, so we eat a lot of Roman food. Tuesday night we went to Max and had this really unexciting spaghetti with shrimp, not al dente enough for me, very mushy, yuck. I’ve been to Max’s many times before, but this was a bad dish. For Italian, you almost have to go to Babbo to get something really nice.

Before Max, I had a Vietnamese sandwich, a báhn mì, stuffed with chicken instead of pork, because I wanted to eat healthier. It’s doctor’s orders — my cholesterol is something science fiction–like for my age. In Russia [where Shteyngart was born], life expectancy is 58. Everyone dies of a heart attack. I grew up on butter and meat and potatoes, so I’m trying very hard to steer away. I’d love to wake up and eat a stick of butter and take a shot of vodka.

I started Monday with an egg-white spinach-and-Feta omelette from the local diner. As Rumsfeld would say, “It is what it is.” I don’t give a damn [about the spinach warning]. I just know that’s not how I’m going to die — it’s too sad. Killed by something I don’t even enjoy eating — that would be definitive proof of lack of God.

Later I grabbed a half-sour pickle from Guss’ and a Kossar’s bialy and went to town on that. It was missing only the whitefish from Russ & Daughters.

Sunday I remember starting out with a Lower East Side platter at Brown on Hester Street. Mmm, lox. And my girlfriend had a nice baked egg. I love that place. I want to die there some day. It’s the kind of New York that doesn’t seem to exist anymore; a very non-tourist, quaint, middle-class kind of place.

An egg-white omelette with feta and spinach started Saturday. Sad. Grabbed a pretzel on the way to my shrink, felt guilty. Tired all day, ended up just slurping some black-bean soup at home and eating a crapload of very tasty apples. My girlfriend is from California where they eat that type of thing. My stomach cried me to sleep.

Dinner at El Faro, my favorite Spanish place, with the spicy shrimp al ajillo and seafood mariscada in green sauce, all scooped up with yummy fried potatoes. El Faro introduced me to garlic. I grew up with a lot of bland Russian cuisine — kasha, farmers’ cheese. The first time I ate there, my mouth just exploded; I spent the next summer in Spain eating garlic by the ton. Plus, I eat in a lot of very trendy, chichi, ethnic places, so El Faro is my one link to the past.

Friday night, I had drinks and tapas at Bar Carrera on Second Avenue. It’s exactly like a Spanish tapas place should be — when you’re finished with your napkin, you throw it on the floor. Eating at those places in Spain helped me become so much less anal — I would be shaving at the bar. I love their little porky sandwiches in those sweetened hot buns, and I go crazy for their cheese plate and olives and that pepper-stuffed-with-tuna deal, and the selection of sherries warms me through and through. Earlier, I had eaten an apple for lunch and pretended to have weight issues.

As told to Daniel Maurer

Novelist Gary Shteyngart Scarfs Lox, Philosophizes Over Spinach