In honor of Queens-born rapper/actress Awkwafina’s recent Golden Globe win and the upcoming premiere of her Comedy Central show “Nora from Queens,” I re-read “Awkwafina’s NYC”. Awkwafina, aka Nora Lum, released this NYC travel guide book in 2015, a time when she was best known for the bangers “My Vag” and “NYC Bitche$”. I wouldn’t have predicted that she would then publish a travel guide, but this is actually the kind of book the city sorely needed.
NYC travel guides have a thing or two to learn from “Awkwafina’s NYC”. Unlike in any major guide book you’ll find, Awkwafina’s guide gives proper respect to all five boroughs. Heck, she even starts her tours in Staten Island of all places, and her take of it is far from the token “board the Staten Island Ferry for a cheap view of the Statue of Liberty” line that guidebooks reduce Staten Island to 99 percent of the time. Instead, she goes in depth about the Conference House, Egger’s Ice Cream Parlor, and Tottenville’s Main Street. That’s not something you’ll find in a Fodor’s guide. You probably also won’t find your typical guide skipping Coney Island for Brighton Beach, sidestepping Williamsburg for Greenpoint, and basically blowing off all of Manhattan for Washington Heights and Koreatown. And, of course, Awkwafina lavished love on Queens, with a tour of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and the neighborhoods of Flushing and Corona.
You know what doesn’t get a lot of love/attention in this guidebook? Any of the usual Manhattan tourist traps. There is a brief tour through Central Park near the end of the book, but the park mainly serves as the setting for Awkwafina’s embarrassing series of dares she invites you to subject yourself and the poor unsuspecting public to. Belting out the lyrics to “Don’t Stop Believin’” underneath Bethesda Terrace isn’t my cup of tea but you’ve got to admit that it breathes new life into your typical trip to Central Park.
Some other features of “Awkwafina’s NYC” that the book could have done without: the end-of-chapter mad libs, some of the unrelatable extreme jokes (ex: “For me personally, any place with imported meats and not one but THREE salad bars basically spells pants-less eat-weeping in a dimly lit kitchen surrounded by tattered morsels of imported meats while eating an entire cake out of my bare hand and yelling things at my cat”), and the overuse of the word “ratchet”. Seven times is seven too many.
But overall, this was a refreshing departure from the cliche of tourist traps to which the major guide books have reduced New York City. This guide’s sight recommendations are memorable, the food recs are mouth-watering, and Awkwafina comes across as your eccentric, knowledgeable friend whose sanity you’re slightly worried about. I’d love to see what she’d include in an updated version.