New York City is unquestionably one of the world’s great centers of cuisine, offering diners almost infinite variety. Like the city itself, the edible delights of NYC are a rich melting pot, including tastes and cultures from around the globe.
But with so many choices, what are must-try NYC specialties? Well, for a taste of “real” New York, here are some quintessential New York City food treats.
Bagel: This bread ring resembles a doughnut. Bagels are traditionally boiled before they’re baked to create a crusty exterior and soft, chewy center. In New York, adding a “schmear” of cream cheese to your bagel is customary. (There are usually a variety of flavors and blends from which to choose). Lox (smoked salmon) is another a popular filling. Or you can simply order your bagel spread with butter. Bagel sandwiches have become quite popular, stuffing a bagel with meats, cheese, salads like tuna or egg, and veggies. Any time of day is the right time for a bagel.
Hot dog: Since the 1860s, when sausages served in a bun were first sold at Coney Island, hot dogs have been essential New York fare. They’re perfect inexpensive, “on-the-go” food for those in a rush (and who in New York isn’t rushing?). Popular toppings include mustard, ketchup, relish (minced pickle) and sauerkraut. Hot dog carts serving boiled wieners abound on Manhattan’s streets and in the city’s parks.
Pastrami or Corned Beef Sandwich on Rye: These bulging sandwiches stuffed with cured meat used to be standard in New York (especially on the Lower East Side), served at hundreds of authentic Jewish delicatessens. A popular condiment for your sandwich is mustard (and, of course, sour pickles on the side). Though NYC delis are disappearing, a few remain creating these classic, hearty specialties.
Pizza: New York pizza, usually made on a thin crust and baked in a brick or pizza oven, is justifiably renowned. It’s the ultimate fast food, and “grabbing a slice” is a particular favorite for New Yorkers. Pizzerias are found almost everywhere in the city, from narrow “stand-up” joints to white-tablecloth gourmet pizza restaurants. The most popular and famous NYC pizzerias can feature long lines or be difficult to secure a table…but it’s well worth the trouble to indulge in a classic New York pizza.
Matzo ball soup: Another Jewish specialty found in delis and diners throughout the city. A steamy bowl of chicken broth with a large ball (or a few) made of doughy matzo is particularly satisfying on a chilly NYC day.
Knishes: These dumplings, made of dough stuffed with potato, cheese, or meat and then fried or baked, are a staple of Jewish New York fare. Once sold from street carts (like hot dogs and pretzels), today they’re mostly found at delis. Yonah Schimmel on the Lower East Side has been offering fresh-baked knishes since 1910, and it’s still the best place to taste the real thing.
Latkes: While traditionally eaten by Jews during Hanukkah, you can find latkes year-round at New York’s authentic delis and some restaurants. Like a small pancake made of hash browns, they’re served hot, crispy, and usually topped with applesauce.
Cheesecake: This creamy, rich pie has been a favorite New York City dessert for almost a century. While many varieties of cheesecake are popular throughout the world, aficionados seek authentic New York-style cheesecake. Great pies (cakes?) can be found at Juniors, Carnegie Deli, and Ellen’s Special Cheesecake.
Black and white cookies: These soft, cake-like cookies are dipped half in vanilla icing, half in chocolate. It’s a classic New York sweet treat.
Babka: A rich, loaf cake with origins in Eastern Europe, babka is filled with ribbons of chocolate or cinnamon. Found at traditional Jewish bakeries, particularly on the Lower East Side or Upper West Side. Remember the episode of “Seinfeld” about the quest for a babka? To die for!
Rugelach: This sweet, crescent-shaped dough rolled around a filling—which may include raisins, walnuts, or chocolate, among other options—is the perfect accompaniment to a cup of strong New York coffee. (I love Zabars and William Greenberg Dessert for New York pastries like rugelach).
Egg cream: While difficult to find, egg creams were the staple of New York soda fountains in the early 20th century. Egg creams are made of milk, soda water, and vanilla or chocolate syrup whipped into a frothy drink. Today you can find great egg creams at Caffe Roma in Little Italy and Ray’s Candy Store in the East Village.
These are a few of the essential treats for an authentic New York nosh.