The vast expanse of New York City lends itself to the immense variety of cuisine options found in local restaurants, cafes and food trucks. However, few realize that today’s food offerings originated hundreds of years ago.
Development of Ethnic Cuisine
In approximately 1600, the Dutch arrived and established settlements in the area around the NYC harbor. They soon found that oysters, lobsters and other shellfish were prevalent. Harvesting the treasures soon began. The food was wrapped and put on open fires to cook. Many might argue that shellfish became the first street food. At the time, the shellfish was considered poor man’s food. Ironically today, the same foods are considered delicacies.
During the 1800s, German immigrants arrived and brought native cuisine favorites with them. In order to make a living, some packed carts with homemade sausages, rolls and sauerkraut. They traveled up and down the city streets peddling their wares. Pushcarts grew to be an increasingly popular means of vendors selling foods and services. Hot dogs created by a German immigrant became popular options when sold at Coney Island in the 1860s.
At approximately the same time, Jewish people began settling in the city and brought the idea of a delicatessen. Shop owners sold processed, cold meats, bagels and pickled foods. Today, corned beef, pastrami and knish remain popular options in Jewish delis. Spaniards, Cubans and other people of Hispanic or Latin American descent brought their traditional dishes, which remain popular today. Burritos, tacos and other Hispanic foods are found in traditional Mexican and TexMex food establishments.
Five decades later, Chinese families arrived and established Chinatown in Manhattan. They too offered traditional cuisine options via street carts. Asian street food vendors remain popular today for the variety of foods offered and the affordability of the products.
The concept of a restaurant did not materialize until the 1800s. Prior to that time, people were able to enjoy quick meals in local pubs, taverns or coffee shops. In 1837, John and Peter Delmonico arrived from Switzerland and found the first restaurant, which they named Delmonico’s. The facility was fashioned after fancy French restaurants and became popular among the affluent. More fine dining establishments emerged. But, in time, venues emerged that readily accommodated the average citizen.