Over the past nine years there are many things I have come to appreciate as being singularly New York. I was reminded of this last weekend when, after a concert, my friends and I realised it was already midnight and we were all hungry. Of course, that's not a problem, since there is always a pizzeria open (many until 3 or 4am), ready for the post-theatre, post-concert, post-club crowd.
It didn't hit me how singularly "New York" this is until I went to London last winter. Not only do shops close earlier than they do here, but good luck trying to find a late-night diner. You never have to worry in New York. The whole city seems to have been designed to accommodate the fact that there are people up and about 24 hours a day. Whether you're getting yourself to work at 6am, or coming home at midnight, the subway, no matter how much we complain about its inefficiency, is running almost around the clock.
I have an Abu Dhabi friend visiting me for a week and the one thing we will definitely do is stop by one of those late-night pizzerias in true New York style, the same way we indulge in shawarma and fruit cocktails during summer nights back home. These poky pizzerias found all over the city - more common, even, than Starbucks - have transformed the pizza into something of a New York phenomenon, despite its Italian origin.
Unlike the Chicago deep-dish pizza, with its thick crust, or the California-style pizza with its non-traditional toppings (Mexican pizza topped with carne asada, guacamole and sour cream; Caribbean pizza topped with Jamaican jerk chicken; or breakfast pizza, topped with scrambled eggs), the New York pizza, with its thin crust and more basic toppings, remains the most similar to the original dish brought over to the United States in the 19th century.
Personally, I think there's nothing tastier than the food in Italy, especially the pizza. I fell in love with pizza through my dad, who taught me to appreciate authentic pizza cooked in a traditional brick oven. We often travelled round Italy and when we lived in Paris, he made a point of going once a week to a great Italian pizzeria in St Germain. Through him, I learnt to love "tonno e cipolla" (tuna and onion) pizza, which is popular in Italy but always evokes an "ew, gross" reaction whenever I mention it here. Maybe it's the freshness of the ingredients, or the olive oil with everything, or just the Mediterranean air, but it seems the Italians can do no wrong when it comes to feeding body and soul.
In the same vein, New York pizza is the best thing you could ask for at odd hours. Maybe it's the greasiness of the pizza, or the ridiculous size of the slice, or the fact that there is no way to eat it properly unless you fold it in half and hope that you won't get sauce on your lap; but with all your friends in tow, there's no better way to spend $2.50 (Dh9). The first "official" pizzeria in America is generally believed to have been founded by Gennaro Lombardi in Little Italy, Manhattan. Lombardi's, now run by Gennaro's grandson, is now a tourist attraction, and on most nights there will be a long line of potential customers queueing round the block. I have also waited nearly an hour most times I have trekked out to Brooklyn to eat at the equally renowned Grimaldi's.
That's New York: standing in line and getting your pizza - and then wondering, like most things you do in the city, if it was worth the wait.