The New York Diet

Novelist Joe Weisberg Unlocks the Mystery of ‘Ugli Fruit’ and Japanese Rice Triangles

“I had a ham-and-cheese sandwich from the truck.” Photo: Melissa Hom

Acclaimed author Joe Weisberg’s new novel, An Ordinary Spy, follows a CIA officer serving abroad in an undisclosed country. To preserve the anonymity of the country’s “very spicy” cuisine, the author redacted all references to specific ingredients in the text. Weisberg tells us that when he himself trained to be a CIA officer, he was taught to offer food — or “amenities” — to potential recruits and was graded on his ability to bring pastries to his instructor. Now that he no longer has access to Quantico’s all-you-can-eat buffet of ice creams and pies (he lives and writes in Park Slope and teaches in Jamaica Estates), we asked him how he satisfies his voracious appetite.

Sunday, January 20
I had gone down to Miami for my niece’s wedding. My sister is an exotic-tropical-food farmer. My brother-in-law brought out this strange, unattractive greenish-yellowish fruit called an Ugli fruit, sometimes called a unique fruit. He broke it up (it’s huge), and we all ate it, then had a 45-minute conversation about what it is — it seems to be a cross between an orange and a cantaloupe and a grapefruit, or an orange and a persimmon.

Monday, January 21
My sister has these Florida avocados the size of someone’s head. They’re the same shape and color of regular avocado but six times as big. One of them serves six people, and they make excellent guacamole.

I had a pizza at the airport. I came home very late and unlike me came to bed without dinner.

Tuesday, January 22
I drive to work, and I’m usually up early enough to pick up cinnamon toast to go at a diner called Roger’s on Union Turnpike. My mother used to make it for me — it’s toast with butter, sugar, and cinnamon. I took a 35-year break and rediscovered it at this diner. It’s a little bit drier than how my mother made it, so it feels healthy. I eat it during homeroom — none of my students knew what it was. A bunch have since experimented with it.

There are no restaurants close enough to get to during the half-hour allotted to lunch. There are two ways to get lunch: One, a woman named Amy orders from the takeout places but it’s all kosher. I eat like a construction worker — I go out and get a sandwich from a truck that parks outside of the school. You can eat on credit. The guy, Joe, lets you run a tab. The front of the truck has sandwiches and cookies and things, and the back of the truck is a whole separate enterprise with hot food — Chinese, pizza, KFC, and McDonald’s. Joe somehow makes a profit buying and reselling McDonald’s for what seems like the same price. I had Chinese food from the truck.

There’s a place called Taqueria in Park Slope. I ate there every night for three weeks when I first moved there. I get a carne asada and a veggie taco. I can’t handle a burrito — even though I’m a big eater, a burrito is about four meals to me. I’m very intimidated.

Wednesday, January 23
Cinnamon toast again.

I had a tuna hero, not from the truck but ordered by Amy. I’m sure she does a hundred orders a day. The school is a little short on space so there’s no cafeteria.

I’m enrolled in a graduate program at the Bank Street College of Education on the Upper West Side. Around the corner from the school is a little Japanese convenience store. I usually get some sushi for dinner, but it was all tuna. I had just read about the mercury scare, so I didn’t want tuna sushi. This guy walked up with his 6-year-old son and pulled out from a refrigerator table a triangle that’s completely wrapped. His son was begging for it. He told me, “It’s a cooked fish sandwich — you have to be very careful how you open it. If you do it wrong way, it falls apart and you won’t be able to eat it.” I said, “How do you open it?” He said, “I can’t really explain it. You have to look at the instructions,” which are in Japanese. It was daunting — it took me about ten minutes, but I did it correctly. It was a triangle of cooked rice with cooked salmon.

Thursday, January 24
For lunch I had a ham-and-cheese sandwich from the truck.

Earlier I had Grape Nuts and two chocolate-chip cookies and four Mallomars. I grew up in Chicago where pinwheels were a big thing. They’re the exact same content of a Mallomar but much bigger. It’s almost shaped like an itsy-bitsy bunt cake, with a depression in the middle. The other thing I miss is Hostess Ho Hos. Here everything is Drake’s and Yodels. A Yodel is philosophically identical to a Ho Ho, but the chocolate-to-cream ratio is different and not as favorable to cream, and the consistency and flavor of the chocolate cake is drier and sweet and less satisfying.

Novelist Joe Weisberg Unlocks the Mystery of ‘Ugli Fruit’ and