One of my favourite games to play while strolling the streets of NYC or riding the subway is something I like to call “How do they do it?” That is, how does that person make it work to live in this city. Because while the living is good here, it certainly is not easy (read: affordable). I think that the only people in this city immune to constantly juggling money and priorities are the billionaires. Everyone else, regardless of how well they manage their money, also comes up against the act of weighing the pros and cons of spending x amount on this rather than that, whether that be real estate/rent, clothing, entertainment, food, education, you name it. I think it is fascinating to learn about or project what might be someone’s priorities and thus the trade-offs he or she makes to live here. For example, because I do not want a roommate (my next will be called husband), I give up a lot of my disposable income to rent. Hence, the budget. For others who may want to shop, drink, or eat out more than me, roommate(s) living is a given. So, I sit there, on the train, looking at the people across from me, and ask myself how they do it. Do they have four roommates or five? Do they only eat instant ramen? Do they never go to movies because they rely on Seamless for every meal? Are they contemplating a move to Bay Ridge to keep their Bloomies balance in check? When was the last time they stepped on a plane if they go through $400 per weekend eating and drinking off the Eater Heat Maps? Sometimes I do not read on the subway.
While eating out can get very expensive, very fast, there are loopholes. Dollar pizza slices still exist, bananas can be found at sidewalk fruit vendors for 25 cents, and you might even find a hot dog stand that will sell you a dirty water dog for $2 or less. This is hardly a well-balanced diet, but I am just pointing out (with hyperbole) that cheap eats are not hard to find, with many places receiving notoriety for having a good cheap eat. Prosperity Dumpling in Chinatown is one of these places. It appears on many lists and does swift business with locals and tourists alike.
The most popular option is four fried pork and chive dumplings for $1. Kind of ridiculous. And in my opinion, kind of ridiculous as a destination eat. The place is small and dingy, but with heavy turnover, I had no worries. The steady stream of customers meant that my dumplings were not fried to order, but ready and waiting for the next hand that would present that measliest of bills. They were hot and fresh, indeed, but let me count the ways in which I would have preferred to have spent another dollar to have the style of dumplings at Lam Zhou: They were too doughy, they were not crispy enough on their fried side, despite the appearance of green, there was barely any chive flavour, and worst of all, after one bite, the pork stuffing easily falls out and sits there, bolus-like, next to the flabby now-empty shell.
But, these bloated perogies were only $1, and their heft could easily serve as lunch or perhaps more importantly, as the greasy starch needed late at night to help soothe the effects of too many beers. Maybe the kid with six (seven?) roommates only has $1 and does not want the extra walk to or wait of Lam Zhou. If they get the job done, can they be so bad? For me to eat again, yes. But to add to my game playing on the subway, not at all. Because now I can think, do they eat Prosperity dumplings or dollar slices to be able to afford those jeans?