Navigate through the crafts-and-rummage main level — you can return later, especially to the shelves and tables crowded with Scandinavian packaged foods and home-baked seasonal specialties — to the downstairs gallery and a selection of smørbrødene, drinks, and sweets.
(Slideshow updated with new photos.) The United Nations African Mothers Association (UNAMA) has held this annual fundraiser since the mid-1980s. Proceeds, which in one recent year benefited Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, generally "support programs for women and children in Africa."
The variety of food, prepared offsite by wives of U.N. delegates and served buffet-style, is overwhelming. At my first UNAMA event I noted the names of 16 African nations along the serving line, though many labels were handwritten, some of them on the spur of the moment; it's very possible that the true count was higher. Likewise, the buffet's identification of dishes was not rock-solid, and though some were close cousins to items I've come across in the five boroughs, others were less familiar. A working knowledge of culinary French and Portuguese would have clarified a few ingredients. To be sure, most everyone spoke English, too. The atmosphere was low-key, and the company, consistently welcoming and gracious.
For more photos from multiple fundraisers, see my slideshow.
One of the most enticing snacks on the menu of this Midtown truck, gizdodo ($5) is a peppery combo of chewy gizzard and soft, sweet dodo, or ripe plantain. It's easy to divvy up, our merry band discovered, even in the absence of convenient seating. (Many regular customers probably return to their offices at the Nigerian consulate; the truck's regular parking place is just outside.) The back-and-forth of textures and flavors is a big part of the appeal, so share with care — don't get stuck holding a container that's all giz and no dodo.
In Turkey, the classic simit resembles a heavily encrusted sesame bagel, with proportions that suggest a game of ring toss. Though a simit loaf loses traditional appeal, it gains in versatility: It more easily accepts fillings like olive ($4.25), and, when need be, more securely holds a sandwich.
Simit Sarayi 435 Fifth Ave. (38th-39th Sts.), Manhattan 646-922-7876 (First U.S. location of this Turkey-based worldwide chain) www.SimitSarayi.com/en_US
Though the dining room can be snug, good spirits carry the day. This sampler from a bazaar past (the menu, like the $20 price, seems unchanged with the years) was accompanied by baskets of crisp bread with butter and cheese plus pitchers of lingonberry drink. Shown, clockwise from front: gravlax, Swedish meatballs, lingonberry preserves, beet salad, ham, the fish stew called Jansson's temptation, and half a hardboiled egg topped with "Swedish caviar," or creamed, smoked cod roe paste.
Like that plate meal, the cream-filled drömtårta ("dream cake," $10) is even richer and more filling than it looks. While most of the homemade baked goods are clustered on a display table, these rolled cakes are hidden away in a nearby freezer, but only because the chill helps the sponge cake hold its form when sliced. One slice at a time will do you just fine.
The namesake ad agency was this building's prime tenant from its construction in 1926 until early 2013, when Young & Rubicam moved to Columbus Circle. It's unclear whether Y&R inspired the dozens of whimsical figures carved into the masonry near street level. Many depict traditional occupations; many others, like these, illustrate pastimes. Just possibly the connection with the ad agency is the embrace of minds at play. Shown: bagpipe playing, trail blazing, slingshot shooting, and what seems to be sweets eating.
Young & Rubicam Building (also known as the Murray Hill Building) William Rouse and Lafayette Goldstone, 1926; carvings attributed to Arthur Seale 285 Madison Ave. (at East 40th St.), Manhattan