In what alternate universe would you equate papaya to hotdogs? Nowhere else. Only in New York!
I first heard of this concept in a 90’s romcom called “Fools Rush In” starting Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek. Perry’s character was wild about the hotdogs at Gray’s Papaya, and this was one thing he would never give up New York for. Since then, I had been so curious about it. Until I got to visit New York. I trekked towards Gray’s Papaya’s place at 72nd and Broadway. It was worth the hype. It was unlike any hotdog I’ve ever tasted. I was only oriented to Purefoods Tender Juicy Hotdogs up till this point. So from one of my favorite subway stops, I crossed the street…
And got a hold of this,
We got the recession special which offered a drink and two frankfurters for $4.95. It was a full meal for someone who’s short on cash, and wanted something genuinely New York. You had a choice of sauerkraut and grilled onions to top your dog, and giant tubs of ketchup and mustard along the counters.
Then I asked my aunt about the Papaya battle, and she said she was partial towards Papaya King, located on 86th and 3rd. So I had to get me some of that, so I could choose my personal favorite. I also saw on Anthony Bourdain’s show, The Layover, that this was his personal fave, and a stone’s throw away from his apartment. So he is an Upper East Sider.
The Original Special, as you see above, is worth $5.50, a little more expensive than Gray’s version. Truth is, if there was anything different between the two, I didnt notice at all. If one thing mattered to make me choose between Papaya King and Gray’s Papaya, it would be if I was on the West or East Side. Papaya King set up shop in 1932, and Gray’s in 1973. So in terms of longevity, you know which one is the original.
But it matters not to me, because thanks to Papaya King and Gray’s, New York hotdogs made such a huge mark on me. I will never look at papaya the same way again.