Posts Tagged ‘New York Street Food’

Everyone in 19th century New York loved oysters

January 5, 2017

oysters1900mcnyx2010-11-10037Oysters in the booming 19th century city were kind of like pizza today: sold in exclusive restaurants and lowly dives, prepared in countless styles, and devoured by rich and poor alike.

“Oysters were the great leveler,” wrote William Grimes in his book Appetite City. “At market stands, the New Yorker with a couple of nickels rubbed shoulders with the gay blades known as ‘howling swells.'”

“In humble cellars and lavish oyster palaces all over the city, oysters were consumed voraciously for as long as the oyster beds held out.”

oystersfultonmarket1870nypl

Oyster saloons popped up near theaters. Fisherman sold them off boats on the rivers. Fancy oyster houses fed the wealthy. Vendors at curbside stands sold them on the cheap, often adhering to what was called the “Canal Street plan”:

oystersmcdonaldsbowerynypl1907“All the oysters you could eat for six cents, usually sprinkled with vinegar and lemon juice, or perhaps just a little salt,” wrote Grimes. “By the 1880s, ketchup and horseradish were standard as well.”

As the ultimate democratizing food, oysters were enjoyed on Fifth Avenue the same as they were in Five Points (see illustration below).

Even Charles Dickens was amazed by their abundance and popularity at cheap Bowery dives during his visit to New York in 1842, which he famously chronicled.

“Again across Broadway, and so—passing from the many-coloured crowd and glittering shops—into another long main street, the Bowery. . . .” he wrote in American Notes.

oysters5pointsnypl1873

“These signs which are so plentiful, in shape like river buoys, or small balloons, hoisted by cords to poles, and dangling there announce, as you may see by looking up, ‘oysters in every style.’

“They tempt the hungry most at night, for then dull candles glimmer inside, illuminating these dainty words, and make the mouths of idlers water, as they read and linger.'”

[Top image: MCNY, 1900, x2010.11.10037; second image: NYPL, 1870; third image: NYPL menu collection; fourth image: NYPL, 1873]

The ices vendor setting up on East 110th Street

July 14, 2014

The ices offered by this street vendor are probably not artisanal or organic. But I bet they hit the spot on a hot summer day.

Icemanoneast110thst

Photographer John Albok captured the cones and syrups of one man’s cart in East Harlem in 1938, a neighborhood of Italians at the time with a small but growing influx of Hispanics.

The link from the Museum of the City of New York describes them as piraguas—the Puerto Rican treat sold by many vendors today.

[Photo: MCNY Collections Portal]

When Essex Street was the city’s Pickle District

June 11, 2012

Everyone’s heard of the Garment District and the Financial District. But the Pickle District?

This was the name for the Lower East Side blocks centered on Essex Street, once home to 80 pickle merchants.

Some sold the briny street food from shops. Others worked out of pushcarts.

All mostly got their start in the years just before and after the turn of the 20th century, when Jewish immigrants packed the area and began selling a snack already beloved in the city.

“By 1659, Dutch farmers in New York grew cucumbers all over the area that is now known as Brooklyn,” states the New York Food Museum.

“These cucumbers were sold to dealers who cured them in barrels filled with varying flavored brines the pickles were sold in market stalls on Washington, Canal and Fulton Streets.”

Pickles are still popular, of course, but they’ve long available in supermarkets in jars. Today, only one merchant remains on Essex Street.

But the pickle gets a yearly shout-out on the Lower East Side during International Pickle Day every October.

Middle photo: Martha Cooper/Municipal Arts Society; bottom photo: NYPL Digital Collection