As a New York native and frequent visitor to NYC, it’s not hard to convince me that it’s the best city on Earth – especially when it comes to their food scene. While New York as a state has brought us so much iconic food, NYC is the real center of food innovation. For all those non-believers, here’s 19 reasons (as if you needed anymore) why you should love New York City simply for its contribution to all food everywhere.
1. General Tso’s Chicken
What many Americans consider to be a Chinese dish is not something found in China. A Hunanses man, Peng Chang-kuei, created the first version of the dish after being relocated to Taiwan following the Chinese Civil War. The original flavors were typical to Hunanese cuisine – heavy, sour, hot and salty.
Not sounding like General Tso’s Chicken? That’s because it was modified when he moved to New York and opened his first restaurant on 44th Street. He added sugar to the recipe to appeal to an American palate, transforming it to the dish found today. It first became popular among United Nations officials who worked in the area. General Tso’s Chicken has definitely has earned its spot as an iconic American-Chinese dish.
2. Bloody Mary
The Bloody Mary is a beautiful thing: a hangover cure, the best drink to order on an airplane and it even comes with its own meal as a garnish. NYC’s 21 Club has two claims to the beverage. One, that it was invented in the 30’s by its bartender Henry Zbikiewicz. The other from a This New York story, attributing the invention to George Jessel of 21 Club. At this time the drink was simple, half tomato juice and half vodka – yum?
This concoction was then turned into the spicy and flavorful drink we love today by Fernand Petiot in Paris. He added salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce and lemon. Feeling inspired? Use this recipe to make your own Bloody Mary for those mornings where you instantly regret your decisions from the night before.
3. Eggs Benedict
Brunch is everyone’s favorite meal, and we all know it wouldn’t be the same without Eggs Benedict. It was invented in NYC, where brunch is an essential part of the weekend. Fittingly, this widely enjoyed hangover cure started with a hungry man suffering from a wicked hangover.
In 1894, a Wall Street broker, Lemuel Benedict, was hungover at the Waldorf Astoria. He ordered, “buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon, and a hooker of hollandaise.” The maître d was so impressed, it was added to the menu subbing in ham and an english muffin.
#SpoonTip National Eggs Benedict Day is April 16. It’s a Saturday this year, so you have no excuse not to go to brunch.
4. English Muffin
A versatile food and integral part of Eggs Benedict, the english muffin, also lends its homage to NYC. In 1874, an English immigrant by the name of Samuel Thomas arrived in New York City and opened his own bakery.
He invented a smaller and spongier version of a crumpet, and called them toaster crumpets. They became a popular alternative to toast eventually appearing in the Webster Dictionary under the name English Muffin in 1902.
5. Baked Alaska
The name Baked Alaska was coined at Delmonico’s in New York City. In 1876, Charles Ranhofer created a cake to honor the newly acquired state of Alaska. It was originally called an Alaska Florida, referencing the extreme climate differences that are mirrored in the ice cream covered with flaming meringue. The name was then changed to Baked Alaska shortly after.
#SpoonTip: Feb. 1 is National Baked Alaska Day so if you are in NYC, stop by Delmonico’s to celebrate in style.
There are so many places, including NYC, that lay claim to this All-American food. As this city’s story goes, in the 1820s many of the sailors along the Husdon River were from Germany, most ships coming in from Hamburg.
To attract these new immigrants, restaurants began offering what they called Hamburg-style steak. At the time, it was served with onions and breadcrumbs in a bowl. Eventually, it was put between two slices of bread and called a hamburger.
7. Spaghetti and Meatballs
No one’s meatballs are better than your grandma’s, but they weren’t always served over spaghetti. While many may think this is a traditional Italian dish, the delicious combination that brought together Lady and Tramp was invented by Italian Immigrants in Little Italy.
“On top of spaghetti, and all covered in cheese” is not how meatballs are served over in Italy. Instead, they come in smaller sizes and are eaten as a meal on their own. It was Italian immigrants who decided to put it on top of spaghetti. They made the meatballs bigger as they were able to afford more meat in America than in Italy.
8. Pasta Primavera
While at the Canadian Summer home of the Italian Baron Carlo Amato, New York City chef Sirio Maccioni invented Pasta Primavera. During the trip, the Baron and his guests wanted something different from the typical fish and game based meals they had been eating.
Maccioni, in response, mixed together butter, cream and cheese. This sauce was then poured over vegetables and pasta. He brought this recipe back to New York and served it at his restaurant, Le Cirque, where it was an instant hit. This easy to make dish is the known as one of the significant developments of the American cuisine in the 1970’s.
9. Hot Dog
While the actual origin of the first hot dog (sans bun and condiments) is not in NYC, the American Hotdog has its origins here. A German immigrant in the 1870s began selling sausages on rolls at Coney Island. In 1916, Nathan Handwerker opened Nathan’s Famous selling hotdogs how they are still eaten today – with relish, mustard and sauerkraut from a cart. Nathan’s popularized this now quintessentially American food and is the reason it’s eaten all over the country.
10. Fried Twinkie
A native of England, Christopher Sell invented the fried Twinkie in Brooklyn. His philosophy that led to this creation is to, “buy a bunch of things and toss them in the deep-fryer until you hit on something that actually tastes good.” Fried Twinkies are still sold at The Chip Shop in Park Slope for only $3 a piece.
11. Chicken and Waffles
Surprisingly not an invention of the South, this oddly delicious combination hails from NYC’s home to fried chicken: Harlem. Revolutionizing brunch everywhere, chicken and waffles originated at Wells Supper Club, a popular late night eatery for jazz musicians.
After gigs, it was too late for dinner but to early for breakfast, so chicken and waffles became the delicious compromise. Wells soon attracted famous people like Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat King Cole (who loved it so much, he held his wedding ceremony at Wells).
12. Jewish Delis
While technically not food, Jewish delis are a quintessential part of the New York food scene, and too important to leave out. Let’s be real, popularizing the bagel is pretty important and for that, we have Jewish delis to thank. They got their start in New York City in the 1880s from the Eastern European Jewish communities.
Each community contributed something different to the modern day deli. The Russians brought the knish, the German brought sauerkraut, and the Romanian Jews brought pastrami. Famous NYC delis include Katz Delicatessen, 2nd Avenue Deli and Zabars. Next time you’re in Manhattan they are a must stop for a pastrami on rye or some matzo ball soup.
Created at Reuben’s Deli by Arnold Reuben in 1914, this monster sandwich trumps all others. It was late one evening when a leading lady of Charlie Chaplin came into the deli and said, “Reuben, make me a sandwich, make it a combination, I’m so hungry I could eat a brick.”
The result: Corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing, grilled between slices of rye bread – who could ask for anything more? The actress loved it so much, she asked for it to be named after her. Instead, he chose to name it after himself.
If you want to feel like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, look no further than the Reuben at Katz Delicatessen. This could be you:
In typical fashion, all your friends will follow suit:
14. Red Velvet Cake
The beloved dessert was created at the Waldorf Astoria. It all started with a woman who loved the Waldorf Astoria Cake – now known as red velvet cake. She asked for the recipe, and they obliged. Later she found out that they charged her $100 and she was pissed (turns out there were sneaky charges even in 1959).
To get her revenge, she chain-mailed the recipe to hundreds of people, exposing it to the rest of the world. This spurred a demand for, and love of, red velvet cake nationwide.
15. Waldorf Salad
Also created at the Waldorf Astoria, their namesake salad was invented by maître d, Oscar Tschirky. This salad of apples, celery and walnuts on a bed of lettuce topped with mayonnaise dressing is still one of the most popular items on the menu.
Something Blair Waldorf would eat – with the dressing on the side, of course – it is perfect for a light lunch or snack. Over the years, it has been modified several times to include various meat, fruits and veggies.
16. Napoleon Cookies
Affectionately referred to by many as “rainbow cookies,” these mini almond sponge cakes with raspberry jam are sold at Italian bakeries all over the country. Invented in the 1900’s by Italian immigrants, they were created to pay homage to their home country, and the colors meant to represent the Italian Flag.
These desserts are heavy and dense; full of so much flavor in such a small bite. They are sold by the pound because they’re just that good. If they don’t sell them at a bakery near you, try to make them at home. Trust me, it’s worth it.
17. Lobster Newburg
One of the most interesting stories is the invention of Lobster Newburg. A sea captain named Ben Wenburg was a regular at Delmonico’s in NYC. He was a very wealthy man in the business of fruit trade between Cuba and New York. He came back from one of his trips with a new way to prepare lobster.
Wenburg prepared it for Delmonico who loved it so much, it was added to the menu as Lobster a la Wenburg. Must be pretty cool to have a dish named after you. Until they rename it, that is.
Delmonico and Wenburg got into an argument resulting the the dish being taken off the menu. This didn’t stop people from asking for it, and you have to give the people what they want (especially if they’re hangry). Delmonico decided to add it back to the menu, but reversed the first three letters of Wenburg; calling it Lobster Newburg.
SpoonTip: You can celebrate National Lobster Newburg Day on March 25th at Delmonico’s.
18. Steak Delmonico
Clearly very influential in the NYC food scene, Delmonico’s is the home to yet another famous dish: Steak Delmonico. This refers to the method of prepping certain cuts of beef. The exact cut used when the method was created is unknown, since it was 1840 and cuts of beef were very different then they are now.
Regardless, Steak Delmonico comes from the rib or short loin section. It is always tender and cooked quickly using the dry heat methods of grilling and broiling. The cut of steak used on the Delmonico menu is a boneless ribeye, but what is considered a Delmonico steak varies across regions.
19. Tom Collins
I saved the best story (or at least my personal favorite) for last. A Tom Collins is a cocktail made from gin, lemon juice, sugar, and carbonated water. This delicious and simple drink was born from a really lame practical joke.
In 1874, New York City was filled with saloons. A guy decided to play a practical joke one his friends. He asked his friend if he had seen Tom Collins (a made up person) because Tom had just been in the bar talking sh*t about him. His friend then went looking for Tom Collins to give him a piece of his mind. The joke progressed and people were constantly talking about this “Tom Collins” who always seemed to be talking sh*t and at the bar down the street.
It was so popular that it spread to Pennsylvania, and then St. Louis. It was even dubbed The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874. Newspapers printed false articles about sightings of the infamous Tom. This eventually led one bartender in NYC to invent the cocktail. When people walked into a bar looking for Tom Collins they unknowingly ordered a gin drink. Clearly he was a smart business man.