Along with the Statue of Liberty, yellow cabs and skyscrapers, food is a quintessential component of New York City. The city’s status as a cultural melting pot means you can eat your way across the globe within the confines of one city, taking in some rather iconic dishes along the way.
Don’t leave New York without trying…
Hot dogs are as ubiquitous to New York as yellow taxis. Traditionally made of ground pork, beef or both, these frankfurter-style sausages are flavoured with garlic, mustard and nutmeg before being encased, cured, smoked and cooked. Trek to Brooklyn to visit Original Nathan’s Famous Frankfurters, opened in 1915 by German-born Charles Feltman who conceived of the hot dog while pushing a pie cart along Coney Island’s boardwalk. Or, stop by the street carts on city corners for garlicky hot dogs with grainy mustard and tangy sauerkraut.
Chicken and waffles
Fried chicken served atop breakfast waffles is a combination that mystifies – until you take a bite. The earliest chicken and waffle meet-up appears in Pennsylvania, but a Southern food-inspired take on the dish splashed onto the scene at the Wells Supper Club in Harlem in the mid-1900s. Though the restaurant’s doors are now shuttered, the salty-meets-sweet dish lives on in New York’s best soul food joints.
Thinly-sliced pastrami piled mile-high and served hot on toasted caraway-flaked rye bread is more than worthy of your NY culinary bucket-list. Originally brought to New York from Romania as goose pastrami, today’s best Jewish delis, like Katz, opt for pastrami made of beef brisket that is cured in brine then seasoned with garlic, coriander and loads of black pepper. Enjoy it with a side of classic dill pickles for a perfect New York lunch.
New York pizza boasts a thin crust topped with sweet marinara sauce flecked with heaps of oregano and a heavy-hand of mozzarella. Pizza spots dot the city’s streets, perfect for picking up “a slice,” as locals do, at any time of day or late into the night. Neapolitan immigrants landing in NY in the late 1800s are credited for bringing pizza to the city and it was Gennaro Lombardi, who opened the city’s first pizzeria in 1897. Lombardi’s on Spring Street still stands today.
New York cheesecake is known for its simplicity: cream cheese, cream, eggs and sugar are all that go into a local batch. Diners throughout the city dish out towering ivory slices, though the most iconic is found at Junior’s Cheesecake in Brooklyn. Opened in 1950, Junior’s has used the same recipe for three generations and is a cult favourite, well worth the journey to the boroughs.
These half-black, half-white iced cookies are more of a sponge cake than a proper biscuit. Hailing from upstate New York in the early 20th century, the biscuits were the result of left over cake butter, mixed with a touch of extra flour to hold their shape. Skip the plastic shrink-wrapped variety and opt for those freshly made at local bakeries, with a vanilla cake base and fudge icing on one side, vanilla on the other.
A great New York bagel will bring locals to tears. A long-rise yeast bread with a ring shape, bagels are boiled before baked, creating a shiny exterior that yields to a doughy centre (legend credits local water for the unique NY bagel taste). It was Eastern European Jewish immigrants that brought bagels to New York in the late 1800s. Today, step into most delis or bagel shops – or make a trip to Ross & Daughters – for a sesame bagel sandwiching smoked salmon lox and copious cream cheese.
Derived from the Yiddish word for dumpling, a knish is thick, dense dough that is baked, grilled or deep-fried. Potato knishes with spicy brown mustard are a NY classic, though mushroom, spinach and other vegetables often find their way into its doughy centre. Another Eastern European gift from the 1900s, knishes are commonly sold at diners, Jewish delis, butcher shops and street vendors from Brooklyn to the Bronx.
Wash down your pizza with a scoop of cold, colourful spumoni. A cross between an Italian ice and an ice cream, spumoni originated in Naples as the ancestor to the Napoleon ice cream. Spumoni, like its descendent, is a trio of flavours, typically chocolate, pistachio and cherry, though vanilla, cannoli or cremelata often make an appearance in place of the cherry.
General Tso’s Chicken
New Yorkers love to dip chopsticks into those iconic white boxes, slurping out General Tso’s Chicken. Made of chopped, dark meat chicken that is battered, deep-fried and coated in a sugary-sweet, rich garlic hoisin sauce, speckled with hot chilli peppers and sesame, General Tso’s epitomises Chinese-American cuisine. Though the General did exist, Chinese-born Peng Chang-kuei is credited with inventing the dish, which was introduced to NY and subsequently Americanised during the 1970s Hunan craze in the city. A mainstay in Chinese-American takeout, General Tso’s is best chased with a fortune cookie baked in Brooklyn.