The Grub Street Diet

Writer Simon Rich Eats Sugar Cereal Like an Animal and More Sardine Sandwiches Than He’s Comfortable Admitting

In the sardine aisle at Key Foods, a spot Rich knows well.
In the sardine aisle at Key Foods, a spot Rich knows well. Photo: Melissa Hom

“When they told me about this thing, I was so terrified that it was a sting operation by my mother to see if I’ve been eating right,” Simon Rich says. “Telling a reporter what I eat is the equivalent of a serial killer going to confession for the first time in 30 years and letting it fly.” To be fair, Rich is a busy guy: Writing for Saturday Night Live keeps him up until all hours during the week, and his weekends and days off are taken up working on his second novel, What in God’s Name?, which he calls “a comedy about angels.” And did we mention he’s all of 26? Lest you think that Rich might’ve cleaned up his act for Grub Street, he assures us we’re getting the unvarnished truth: “The humiliating thing is that even knowing that my diet would be made public, I still made no attempt to turn it into something even resembling healthy.” For more proof, read on in this week’s New York Diet.

Friday, November 26
So last week, we didn’t have a show at SNL since we were off for Thanksgiving. When left to my own devices, I revert to the same writing schedule I’ve been on since I was a teenager, which is, I wake up and eat an enormous amount of sugar cereal and coffee, write for a few hours until I get hungry, and then I usually eat a sardine sandwich. My favorite brands are King Oscar and this green one called Granadaisa. The box is green, the sardines are not. Just look for the green box next to the red boxes. The red ones are great, too. I like them with oil and salt, you know, in the can, and I throw them on toasted rye bread. And I usually also put mustard on it; this week it was Colman’s mustard, but that varies, too. If I’m feeling spontaneous I’ll get, like, Grey Poupon or something.

The other humiliating thing — and there are a number of humiliating things about telling you what I eat — is that, every week when I go to the Key Foods to go shopping, I only get like, a few cans of sardines, ‘cause I lie to myself and say, This is the last week I’m going to live like this. Next week I’m going to change my life, so I’m not going to do the logical thing, which would be to just buy an entire crate of sardines. I’m just going to get a few cans until next week, when my life is going to change. Then, of course, I’m back the following Sunday in the sardine aisle. I eat mostly bomb-shelter food. It’s like I’m surviving a nuclear apocalypse that only I’m aware of. My writing partners, Marika Sawyer and John Mulaney, they joke that if I were 10 years old they could call child-protective services to rescue me, but I’m 26, so there’s nothing they can do, because technically I’m a grown-up and I have only myself to blame for living this way.

Dinner, I cooked penne with sausages that I got at Key Foods … I forget what brand of sausage it was. Just like, packaged sausages. I basically fried up the sausages, I cooked the pasta, I cut up the sausages and threw it on the pasta, and added a ton of garlic and olive oil to the pan, and just a ton of crushed red pepper. It was pretty good. I was pretty proud of myself. I have a hilariously limited range of things I know how to cook. For me, that’s like a five-course dinner for ten people. But unfortunately, I didn’t have any vegetables. I assume that, it being a Friday night, I probably had a couple of beers? I’m trying to think of what kind of beers I would have had in my fridge … probably Sam Adams or Brooklyn Lager, something like that. I usually drink those kind of beers. I didn’t go out. It’s funny, because not only am I going to have to admit to you my humiliating eating habits, I’m also going to have to admit to you my humiliating social life. The two nightmares are intertwined. That had never occurred to me until now. It’s intense. I’ve never been in therapy before, so you’re going to be hearing a lot of things for the first time.

Saturday, November 27
Again, I was just left to my own devices, so the exact same breakfast. And this was something I was debating whether or not to even admit to you, but I made a decision that I was just going to disclose everything and let the chips fall where they may: I don’t drink any milk in my cereal. I eat it dry, in the way an animal would eat cereal if an animal was aware of its existence. I usually have like, a couple of bowls. But I do use a spoon. In that way, I resemble a human when I’m eating it.

Same sardine sandwich for lunch, too. I’ve been doing it pretty much since I started writing every day, which is when I was around 17. There were always sardines tucked into different cupboards, growing up in a Jewish apartment in Manhattan. I just fell in love with them at a really early age. At this point, I don’t know if I still love them or if it’s force of habit. But when you wake up every day and you get set to write for many hours in a row, it can be a scary thing. You don’t know if it’s going to turn out well, and it’s comforting sometimes to have at least certain parts of your schedule set in stone. If a chapter is going terribly, at least you can say to yourself, Well, at least I know, in a couple of hours, I get to eat sardines. I write for as many hours as I can. It usually varies from about four to ten hours, seven days a week. I work on a computer with no Internet, just to make sure that I don’t get distracted. I’ve always been a quantity-over-quality type of writer. I sort of feel like the more I churn out, the likelier it’ll be that something I create is any good. It’s sort of like cooking: Most of the meals I make for my friends are terrible, but they usually only remember the one or two good ones, so I’m hoping that carries over to my writing.

So Saturday … sometimes when I’m working I lose track of everything, and suddenly I’m very hungry and I have no options, and so when that happens I usually order Chinese food, and on Saturday I ordered it from Andy’s. It’s a place on Montague Street, and I think Henry, between Henry and Clinton. You know you’ve ordered too much food when a delivery place gives you multiple sets of plastic cutlery, assuming that you’re a party of people instead of a single, sad, lonely person. But it was completely deserved in my case, because I ordered roast pork with scallions, a side of Chinese broccoli, and also an unnecessary order of pork dumplings. I felt like I needed them, for some reason. I sometimes order from Fortune House, and when I’m at work, I order in from Grand Sichuan a ton, which my brother introduced me to. It’s one of my favorite restaurants in the city. I also really like Wu Liang Ye, which is on 49th I think, or something like that. Again, I like really embarrassing, gross things. I’ve been known to ruin rewrite tables from ordering food of such strong scents that no one can concentrate. One time I ordered an entire crab, and it, like, almost sabotaged a show, because nobody could concentrate on writing; they were just concentrating on the horrible smell and bizarre sight of my dinner. To drink, it was just a lot of water for all the salt.

After dinner I went to Floyd bar with a friend. I don’t go out very often, but I guess insomuch as a place could be regular for me, it is regular. Whenever I go, I get carded, and I don’t go at a high-enough frequency for the bouncer to recognize me. He still cards me. I had a couple of, I guess, I don’t remember. But probably Brooklyn Lagers.

Sunday, November 28
No breakfast. I slept in kinda late. I don’t really work until I’ve had something to eat, and more specifically, until I’ve had a gallon of coffee, so I decided just to go out and go across the street and get some lunch. I went to Teresa’s on Montague and Hicks, and I had a pastrami sandwich with fries and coffee. It’s like, a Polish place. It’s really good. They have really good fries.

I cook dinner every Sunday with my friends Monica and Pat. They’re the main chefs. They’re not as afraid of fire as I am. We’ve been doing Sunday-night dinner for months and months, but we all went to college together, and we’ve been cooking together for over five years. Pat’s one of my roommates, and Monica lives nearby. I’m the sous-chef, which basically means my job is to keep running out to buy more bottles of wine for everyone until they forget that I’m not helping. They once let me take over the menu and cook everything myself. I cooked liver and onions, and it was such a disaster that they’ve never let me take over again, and they never will. But they cooked basically a much better version of the meal that I cooked on Friday. It was penne with sausages, but they took them out of the casing, and there was broccoli rabe, and there was red pepper, and it was, like, a subtle amount of red pepper. Not an obscene, dangerous amount of red pepper. And there was garlic bread, which was amazing. And we got some cheeses from Garden of Eden, which is over on Montague and Court, which is a really good place. I really like going there. I got us some Cheddar cheese from Iowa, I think? And some blue cheese from England; I don’t remember which kind. And I got us some olives and some sun-dried tomatoes, and we ate those, and then we had dinner. For wine I always go to … I forgot the name of the store, but there’s a great store on Montague, between … basically right next to Teresa’s. It’s near Hicks Street. [It’s Montague Wines and Spirits.] I’ve befriended this guy, Joe, who’s the wine buyer at the store, and I really trust him. He’s a really nice, smart, funny guy, and I pretty much just tell him what we’re cooking, and he tells me what we’re supposed to get. Sometimes I give him credit for picking the wine, and sometimes I just pretend like I know what I’m doing.

Monday, November 29
Monday, I’m back to work. My work eating schedule has been sort of the same since I started. My fourth season, you would think I would have learned by now how to get through a week without damaging my body, but I haven’t learned anything. On Monday, I got a salad from Bocca on my way to work. It sounds healthy until you hear what’s in it: bacon, blue cheese, and chicken breaded to the point that it’s more or less fried. No breakfast. We have really weird hours at SNL. We stay up writing on Monday until about 1 or 2 a.m. — me and Marika and Mulaney — and then on Tuesday we write until 8 or 9 a.m. the following morning, so I try to sleep late on Monday and Tuesday to get a head start. Or you know, to get some sleep.

For dinner, I ordered in from Uncle Nick’s, and I had like, a lamb shish kebab thing that was really good, with rice, onions, and peppers. And a ton of coffee. An unhealthy amount of coffee.

Tuesday, November 30
On my way to work, I got duck dumplings from this dumpling truck called Rickshaw, which I really like. When I got to work, I realized I didn’t have any coffee, so I drank some espresso from this Nespresso machine that Amy Poehler gave SNL as a present when she hosted, which is about the nicest thing you could give comedy writers.

On Tuesday nights, NBC springs for food for the writers, which is awesome. It was Eatery, and I had a lot of macaroni and cheese. If my teenage self knew that one day he would get free macaroni and cheese in exchange for writing jokes, it would blow his mind. And it still does blow my mind. And then at around 4 a.m., I ate a Snickers bar, which was an obvious mistake. I knew even eating it that it was a mistake. It seemed like a really good idea at 4:15, but then by 6 a.m., when I was about to crash and I still had two more hours of writing to do, I felt like I had made a mistake.

Wednesday, December 1
On my way to work I went to Prêt, just because I was running late, and I got the Coronation turkey sandwich. It’s like a chutney sandwich. And a bag of salt-and-pepper chips, which was really good.

I went out to dinner, to a place called Zampa. I went with a friend at nine, as soon as I got out of work. I try to go out on Wednesday nights, just because it’s the only time during the SNL week when I really have a night off. Sometimes Thursdays, too, but Thursday is rewrites and also some rehearsal. This week’s host is Robert De Niro. When you have someone like Robert De Niro, it’s incredibly exciting that a bunch of comedy-writing nerds get to put words into the mouth of such an amazing, respectable actor.

Writer Simon Rich Eats Sugar Cereal Like an Animal and More Sardine Sandwiches