Today's guest post comes from Laura Siciliano-Rosen, co-founder of the excellent food site, Eat Your World. She's made me completely homesick with a rundown on the top foods you must try on a trip to my favourite city, New York.
Even after 12 years of calling New York City home, I never tire of its traditional foods—you know, the pizza, the bagels, the egg creams. Some of them I crave regularly; others I’ll eat maybe once in a blue moon, but I’ll enjoy the heck out of them. Like other regional foods, these aren’t just tasty morsels; they’re foods that tell a story about New York City’s history—about who’s settled here in the past and who lives here now, about what the landscape of the city used to be and what stories were told. They’re foods with meaning, inextricably tied to this place.
As is evident from all the uninspired iterations of “New York-style pizza” and “New York cheesecake” around the world, these foods are meant to be eaten in New York. So whether you’re a city newbie or one of those locals who’s never been to Katz’s for pastrami, it’s time to dig in to these five must-eats in NYC.
In New York, there’s your coal-fired brick-oven pizzas, which you have to buy whole—the Napoli-meets-New-York pie introduced to the U.S. by Lombardi’s Pizzeria in 1905—and there’s your classic New York slice, cut from a large, round tomato-sauce-and-shredded-mozzarella pie with a thin, crisp, supple crust. A great slice has just the right ratio of sweetish sauce to bubbling cheese to chewy dough to glistening oil—and you can eat it standing up, with the crust folded, like a real New Yorker. Scarfing down a slice is truly one of the most quintessential New York things you can do.
It’s essential to frequent a slice joint that does brisk business, as these gas-oven-cooked pizzas are best fresh and hot. Joe’s Pizza (7 Carmine St.), a West Village stalwart, is one of my favorites.
Pastrami reached New York’s shores in the late 19th century, following a wave of Eastern European Jewish immigrants (who are, of course, responsible for more than a few of New York’s iconic eats). Then and now, it’s a Jewish-delicatessen specialty: brisket that’s cured in brine, well seasoned, smoked, and steamed, then sliced and piled between two pieces of rye, typically with mustard.
Katz’s Delicatessen (205 E. Houston St.), established in 1888 on the Lower East Side, is the most classic of places for this most classic of NYC dishes. Eating a peppery, melt-in-your-mouth hand-carved pastrami on rye there is a nonnegotiable must.
People who don’t know what egg creams are tend to be scared off by the name, but fear not: There’s no egg nor cream in these light, frothy drinks. Egg creams are simple soda-fountain creations made of cold milk, pressurized seltzer, and a particular brand of chocolate syrup called Fox’s U-Bet syrup. Origins are murky—one claim says they were invented by a Jewish candy-store owner in Brooklyn in the late 19th century—but somehow these drinks have joined the ranks of old-school New York icons. They’re delicious, instant mood-lifters.
The long counter at Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop (174 Fifth Ave.), in the Flatiron district, is a great place to try a traditional egg cream in suitably old-fashioned environs.
Bagel with smoked fish
Of course, New York inherited its smoked-fish tradition from Europe, but once here, it quickly became the domain of Jewish “appetizing” shops, or stores that essentially sell cold appetizers (“appetizings”). Russ & Daughters (179 E. Houston St.), which started a hundred years ago as a pushcart on the Lower East Side, is one of the few appetizing specialists left in New York City. It’s hugely popular among locals and tourists alike, and for good reason. You can taste what you like, but you won’t go wrong with a traditional, silky cold-smoked salmon like Gaspe Nova. For the full New York experience, get it on a locally baked bagel with plain cream cheese.
Also pictured is the incredible Super Heebster sandwich, which combines delicious whitefish and baked salmon salad with horseradish dill cream cheese and wasabi-infused flying-fish roe. (Trust me, it works!)
“Street meat,” a.k.a. lamb/chicken over rice
What likely started as cheap-and-filling late-night fuel for the city’s cabbies has grown into one of the most ubiquitous street foods in New York City today, thanks to the more recent influx of Arab immigrants (since the 1960s). Alternatively called “street meat” or “halal food,” referring to its compliance with Islamic law, this dish consists of long-grain basmati or yellow rice served with chopped chicken and/or sliced lamb gyro, plus fiery hot sauce, white sauce, lettuce, tomato, and a bit of pita bread. It’s a huge, spicy, delicious plate of food that never costs more than $6. Not all street meat is created equal, of course; a reliably good vendor is Famous Halal Guys, which has four stands in midtown, including at 53rd St. and 6th Ave.
Bio: Laura Siciliano-Rosen is the co-founder of Eat Your World, an original guide to regional foods and drinks around the globe (including lots more quintessential New York City eats). Follow on Twitter @eat_your_world.