You probably knew that the Cronut was created here in NYC, but you might be surprised to learn about a few edible inventions that hail from Gotham well before the age of social media–induced food frenzies. And, because we know that just reading about food will make you hungry, we’ve included the best places to find each one. From Italian restaurants’ classics to staples of the best brunch in NYC to the universally beloved best desserts, these foods are the products of different influences but never fail to bring people together. And knowing the backstories will help you appreciate the foods invented here in NYC that now and forever taste like home.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to best restaurants in NYC
Foods you didn’t know were invented in NYC
Spaghetti is Italian, and meatballs are Italian, but spaghetti and meatballs? That’s 100 percent American. When Italian Americans came to the States between 1880 and 1920, meat was actually cheaper than it was in Italy, so meatballs grew in size. Tomato sauce became popular because canned tomatoes were readily available in American supermarkets, as was spaghetti. A dish that was filling and cheap, the pasta became a centerpiece instead of a side dish like it was back home. And voila! A star is born. For a taste of the classic comfort food done right, head to Le Zie 2000.
General Tso’s chicken
The most famous Chinese dish that you can’t find in China, this lightly battered, sweet-and-sour chicken was cooked up in the 1950s by the late great Taiwanese chef Peng Chang-kuei at his eponymous restaurant in the East 40s.
English muffins are actually (surprise!) not English. Instead, like General Tso’s chicken, they are the invention of an immigrant, in this case Samuel Bath Thomas, who came to the U.S. in 1874 and opened a bakery. Not actually muffins, they were originally called “toaster crumpets” and later became a crucial ingredient in another NYC food invention—eggs Benedict. We’re willing to bet you’ve only had store-bought English muffins, but you can try delicious sandwiches from the GoGo Grill food truck made on English muffins they actually bake themselves. 10-30 Canyon of Heroes, (646-425-1905, thegogogrill.com)
In addition to eggs Benedict and of course the Waldorf salad, the Waldorf Astoria is also responsible for red velvet cake, formerly known as the Waldorf cake. Legend has it that a woman visiting from the West Coast was so taken with the cake that once she got back home, she wrote to the chef asking for the recipe. He obliged and also sent along a surprise bill for $350, the price of his intellectual property. Enraged, the woman disseminated the recipe to get revenge. Of course, the more people learned of it, the more popular it became. Today, at Two Little Red Hens, you can taste fluffy red velvet cake beneath a layer of perfectly thick cream cheese frosting.
Despite the name, there’s no egg in this drinkable dessert. Believed to have been developed by candymaker Louis Auster in the late 1800s, the recipe calls for just three ingredients: chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer.
The tricolor cookies (or rainbow cookies or Napoleon cookies) that you find in every Italian bakery are neither Italian nor really a cookie. They were invented from scratch by the Italian-American community in the 1900s as a tribute to the motherland. Thin layers of dark chocolate sandwich a dense almond-paste cake dyed in the colors of the Italian flag, each color separated by a layer of jam. La Bella Ferrara has the perfect, not-too-dense rainbow cookie, along with other delicious, authentic Italian pastries and cookies. 108 Mulberry St (212-966-7867)
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Veronica
Want to learn more about NYC?
Ramen Zamurai - Park Slope
This festive ramen spot in the heart of Park Slope makes an ideal choice for locals and visitors alike. Consider it a safe space you can take your parents, in-laws or friends. Run by chef Takatsugu Kishikawa, the Park Slope branch serves ramen that's just as good as its sister location in Williamsburg. First things first: You must order the sake. Try the "dance of the demon," or Tengumai Junmai Yamahai sake ($48). This traditional sake is best served cold, so it makes the perfect complement to any hot bowl of ramen. Start the meal with an appetizer of pork buns ($4 each). The steamed buns are filled with pulled pork, hard-boiled eggs, onions, tomatoes, lettuce and special mayo. This quick and easy appetizer is a fan favorite and pairs well with anything on the menu. If you prefer dumplings, try the wasabi shumai ($6.50). This appetizer comes with five shumai, steamed to spicy, pork perfection. For your entree, you must try the spicy miso ramen ($13). True to its name, the ultra-spicy dish comes with flavored pork stock soup topped with chashu pork, hard-boiled eggs, scallions, corn and bamboo shoots. Subpar ramen joints often over season their broths with spicy to mask their mediocrity—not so at Ramen Zamurai, where the flavor comes from the rich, meaty broth. If you can't handle the heat, try the samurai shoyu ramen ($12). Soy sauce adds savor to chicken and pork stock topped with more chashu pork, nori, hard-boiled eggs, scallions and bamboo shoots. This alternative mat
Venue says: “Celebrate Happy Hour weekdays from 12pm-7pm: $3 Sapporo drafts, Shirakabe Gura, glass of red or white wine!”