A Love Letter to Fay Da Bakery

The same way some people learn to ride a bike, when I was thirteen I learned to ride the subway. I started on the training wheels equivalent of the subway, traveling with my dad. He would insist that I do all the directions – “Which way is back home?” I’d reply uptown. That was an easy one, because I grew up by one stop on the A train line. My dad would take me to Greenwich Village for the Independent Film Center to see the Studio Ghibli movies we both enjoyed. It was outside the IFC, on the stretch of 6th Avenue full of everything from sushi bistros to BDSM shops, that I saw the green awning that would stay with me for the next five years of my life.

I remember I walked into Fay Da, the bright green storefront you pass by right as you get out of the West 4th Street station, and I realized I could afford probably six-to-ten items in that store with just the spare change I had in my bag as a thirteen year old. I remember distinctly that I got a hot pork bun and ate it in the movie theatre. What made Fay Da special was that unlike most of New York, its prices never changed and it never moved. Growing up on the border of Washington Heights and Inwood, the two neighborhoods that up the make far northern tip of Manhattan and are usually cut off of maps of the island entirely, I was used to seeing change in what’s often considered the last un-gentrified part of Manhattan. Businesses came and went, people got evicted or deported or couldn’t pay rent or just moved away to the Bronx. My childhood diner turned into an upscale restaurant that served avocado toast, and while I certainly like avocado toast as much as the next person, I missed the feeling of familiarity. 

The first stretch of Greenwich Village I knew, home to Fay Da and the IFC. 

Being from what Lin-Manuel Miranda calls “the Heights,” I also didn’t know New York was cool. Exploring Greenwich Village by myself as a teenager gave me a different picture of New York, one where artists and college students hang out. Greenwich Village consistently became the first place I learned to go by myself. I wandered through Washington Square Park and Union Square, and marveled at how free and independent everyone seemed. I was armed with the instructions from my dad to make sure I got on the L going toward Brooklyn and not back to Eighth Avenue if I was going to The Strand. The first time I went on a date was in Washington Square Park, and I can still remember which bench I sat on with my head on the shoulder of a boy who eventually told me in the NYU bookstore that he just wanted to be friends. I went to the McDonalds next door and cried, walked to West Fourth Street, and bought myself a red bean bun from Fay Da for $1.65. I think I may have had a ten dollar bill that day because my date had paid for our lunch on MacDougal Street, so I splurged and bought myself milk tea too for $1.25.

That Chinese bakery on 6th Avenue stayed with me through late middle school, into high school, and now into college. The thing about it is that it’s always been there for me at my most vulnerable, and there has never been a time when I’ve went in and haven’t been able to afford anything. As a New School student, I’ve hunted through the bottom of my bag for six quarters to buy a sesame ball for $1.45 on the days when I’ve felt my lowest, brokest, and most miserable. My favorite snack of all time is that sesame ball, which in my freshman year of college I’ve probably eaten four or five times every week. I now proudly fill out every survey that asks me what my favorite food is with the moniker of the Fay Da sesame ball, and I make sure to add that it’s $1.45. In a way, Fay Da has always proved to me that no matter how little I have, I’ll always be able to enjoy something I love. And it reminds me that I go to college in one of the first places I learned to go by myself, a place that I’m blessed to be able to learn and grow in.

My favorite food of all time. You have to get there before 3 in the afternoon to get them, though. 

Fay Da sits on 321 6th Avenue, open from 7 AM to 8 PM. Whether you’re from NYU, The New School, Cooper Union, or out of town, forget your differences and be a New Yorker.  We all live in a city that's constantly changing, but Fay Da reminds us that the things that matter will always be there.