March 6 – Frozen Food Day
Yeah, I know…it feels kinda weird having a national food holiday dedicated to frozen food, doesn’t it? Where’s the fresh, local, organic, free-trade ingredients we’re all so crazy about in the twentieth century? Well, where we thumb our noses at prepared foods today, a hundred years ago, commercial frozen food was not just a novel necessity, it was one of the more important inventions in food history. While people have been using cold temperatures to preserve food for thousands of years, it wasn’t until Clarence Birdseye (now of Birdseye food fame) created commercial quick-frozen foods in 1929 that it was available to the regular consumer, and with the advent of home refrigerators and freezers, frozen food became a staple in the American kitchen. It became incredibly important for long-term preservation of foods while not losing a significant amount of their nutrients in the freezing process. In the days of food droughts and limited food technology, frozen foods were vital for population health and hunger; these days, they’re great for fast, readily-available meals you can prepare with little to no effort on your part.
Oh, and frozen fish sticks. Even if you don’t eat them, they’re in your freezer, sitting in a layer of frost, with no explanation of how they got there. Go ahead, look for yourself. I’ll wait.
There have been, and still are, many foods in New York City that have frozen versions, as well as frozen food companies and plants that started, and still work, within the city’s borders. Heck, even Pinnacle Foods, the parent company of Birdseye, came from New York.
Of course, there are some frozen food products made in New York that still stay local, because they’re specific to a restaurant or company that keeps its roots deep and close. My favorite out of all of them can’t be found in any grocery story. With a storefront name that’s simple “Fried Dumpling,” down a tiny side street in Chinatown, you know exactly what you’re getting. All throughout my high school years this place sustained me, with their no-nonsense 5 dumplings for a dollar deal. A literal hole in the wall with only 3-4 stools along the wall for dining in, the dumpling store sells that, and only that–the best damn beef and pork dumplings for the price. You may find other, higher-class establishments have tastier, more refined dumplings, but for the price you absolutely cannot beat this place. There are lines around the corner during lunch, and your only question is should you get one order, or fill up on two. They also offer their signature dumplings, thirty per pack, as a frozen take-home selection. I almost feel bad writing about this place–even though it’s been listed in every cheap eats magazine in the city, I still want to keep this amazing gem of a store to myself!
106 Mosco St (between Mulberry St & Mott St)
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Also, for those people who want to enjoy them at any time… you can buy frozen bags to take home for $5 a bag. You always want to have a couple of these sitting in the fridge for a rainy or snowy day. Ridiculously good when you want to add a little protein to a pack of Shin Ramyun. :)”–Joe L.
“It’s not just crappy frozen dumplings either – the hardworking ladies behind the counter are making that dough and stuffing those dumplings themselves! Nice and fresh! They are on the chewy side, which some people have stated as a negative, but I like both chewy AND crispy so I see this as an individual preference rather than a problem.”–S. N.
One of the most famous slices of New York pizza–and that’s a tough feat to accomplish in and of itself!–can also be found in the frozen aisle of supermarkets like Food Emporium. Artichoke Basille’s famous artichoke and spinach pizza has been turned into a specialty frozen food item, so you can still enjoy the creaminess of the artichoke and spinach topping on a big hunk of artisan pizza bread, even when Basille’s is closed for the day. There are two versions of the Basille’s frozen pizzas: the margherita variety and, the one everyone’s looking for in that frozen aisle, the artichoke spinach pizza, which has real slices of artichoke hearts and a flavor that definitely beats DiGiorno any day. You can pick these up at any Food Emporium, Pathmark, or Waldbaums in the area.
Artichoke Basille’s Pizza & Brewery
328 E 14th St (between 2nd Ave & 1st Ave)
“Tearing right into the Artichoke pizza while it was hot, and … hey, this is not bad. In fact, it’s pretty damn good. For a frozen pizza. There are real artichoke hearts at play here, slivers and chunks of them. The sauce is creamy, rich, and buttery. And in the frozen pizza, I think it gets the balance right—there’s just enough for taste and texture but not so much that you’d think your stoner college roommate had gone nuts with the party dip.”–Serious Eats
Finally, one of my favorite treats as a teenager can finally come home to my freezer–and my belly! Most people growing up in Brooklyn know about Tower Isles Patties, their advertisements all over Caribbean restaurants, jerk chicken houses, and beef patty stands. They make, of course, the ubiquitous Jamaican beef patty, with the golden yellow crust and spicy, savory shredded beef filling, but they also make cheese patties, coco bread, and a number of other Caribbean frozen foods. It was always a treat when my dad and I drove to the Junction of Flatbush and Nostrand Avenues to pick up a few patties, and now those nostalgic memories can come back to me whenever I open up my freezer! The Tower Isles factory is still right in Bed Stuy, so everything about this place, and this food, is authentic New York.
Tower Isles Patties
2025 Atlantic Ave (between Ralph Ave & Howard Ave), Bed-Stuy