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New York City: A Food Biography (Big City Food Biographies) Hardcover – 26 Nov 2013

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New York City, without question America's food capital, has reveled in consumption from the outset. Beginning in the eighteenth century, citizens observed holidays with feasting and "drinking excessive amounts of liquor." The Erie Canal brought midwestern grain and meat to city dwellers, whose numbers began to swell with immigrant hordes who adapted American bounty to their native lands' culinary traditions. Germans taught Irish maids to cook more widely, and then Italians and Chinese introduced their own highly sophisticated kitchen techniques. Swelling merchant and manufacturing classes demanded French sophistication and elegant restaurant dining. Flocks of Eastern European Jews gave the city's boroughs the sort of delicatessen fare celebrated in literature, theater, and movies. New York's newspapers, broadcasters, and publishers further spread the city's culinary influence across the nation. Today, tens of thousands of restaurants, groceries, bakeries, and street-food stands continue to feed an ever-changing culinary landscape. Booklist Prolific writer/food historian Smith pens this entry into the 'Big City Food Biography' series with skill and intimacy. From bacteria to bagels and beyond, the book deftly navigates through centuries of cultural nuances brought about by swarms of immigrants and their traditions. Exploring food types, vending methods and restaurants, cooking techniques, historic menus, and even recipes, Smith touches upon a wide range of subjects, which could easily receive books of their own. Add politics, scientific discoveries, and chance to the work, and it quickly becomes evident that tracing the food history of any area, let alone New York, amounts to academic acrobatics...[R]eaders gain insights not only regarding food, but the social history inherent in lost establishments such as speed eateries, cafeterias, and banquet halls. In fact, by studying New York food history, one can view how the culture of New York itself was 'raised' in an anthropological sense. Summing Up: Recommended. All undergraduate or culinary school students; general audiences. CHOICE New York City: A Food Biography joins others in the 'Big City Food Biographies' series and is a recommendation for any college-level culinary collection strong in food studies, and for any surveying New York City in particular. This is the first food biography to trace the history of the city's innovations and influences, covering how its cuisine developed and expanded to cities around the world. It's a fine food history that covers everything from markets and fine dining to drinking establishments, and pairs vintage black and white photos with colorful descriptions of New York City's culinary evolution. A 'must' for any serious food history or New York City aficionado. Midwest Book Review Andrew Smith serves up a tantalizing smorgasbord of New York City history through the lens of food. His encyclopedic knowledge of food history, coupled with his ability to identify the geography, ethnicities, politics, businesses, and technologies that have made New York such a unique and fascinating venue for eating over the past 400 years, makes for delicious reading. -- Cathy Kaufman, chair, Culinary Historians of New York Smith's biography of the Big Apple is a revelation: an exquisitely researched and finely told tale of a city central to the culinary culture and economy of the United States if not the world. New York, New York, we hardly knew you. -- Michael Krondl, chef, food writer, and author of Around the American Table Andrew Smith does it again. Each time he takes on the challenge of a subject too big for any one author or any one book, he finds a way to square the circle. In New York City: A Food Biography, he both maps one of the world's most sprawling culinary terrains and points the way for future explorers. -- Doug Duda, former president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals

About the Author

Andrew F. Smith teaches food studies and professional food writing at the New School University in New York City. He is the author or editor of twenty-one books, including Eating History: Thirty Turning Points in the Making of American Cuisine (2009), and serves as the editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia on Food and Drink in America. He has written and lectured extensively about New York City food history.

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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
New York food was fresher before the refrigerator! 17 Mar. 2014
By B. Wolinsky - Published on
Format: Hardcover
My father’s stories of 1970’s New York aren’t about food. According to him, you couldn’t find anywhere near the kind of restaurants you have now. Back then you had Italian places, Chinese, delis, diners, some fancy ones like Le Cirque, hole-in-the-wall cafes, but none of the exotic stuff that New Yorkers are used to. Watch any movie about pre-90’s NY and you’ll see what I mean. Read Box Office Poison, and it’s the same thing; they eat in diners or Italian restaurants. Ethnic foods like Indian, Arab, or Japanese cooking were a rarity. So what was the food like here 200 years ago?

The trendiest restaurants like to advertise “fresh ingredients” that obviously come from out of the city. But in the early days, the fresh ingredients could be found only a few miles away. Street carts served clams and oysters from New York’s waterways, and the roasted chestnuts were picked from native trees that grew all over the east coast. If you ate rabbit, pheasant, or venison, it was killed locally. Then pollution killed the local clams, and a fungus killed all the native chestnut trees in the late 1800’s.

If you look at photos of old New York, you’ll see that the menu signs are very basic. The average café served steak, potatoes, eggs and bacon, toast and coffee, ham sandwiches, chops, sausages, etc. 1950’s New Yorkers weren’t exotic eaters, but according to this book, as lot if it has to do with economics. Since 1990, younger New Yorkers have been more keen to try exotic foods, leading to the popularity of Indian, Thai, Arab, and Korean restaurants. When the economy went sour after 2008, entrepreneurs flooded the market, and food trucks proliferated.

The book could use some photos or illustrations to go with the text. I would also have liked to see more first person accounts of the city’s eating habits, and there are plenty of longtime residents who’d be happy to tell their stories. There is also an archive of old restaurant menus at SUNY’s New Paltz campus, which were collected by Oscar Tchirky, the maitre’d at the old Waldorf hotel. I would love to see what those pre-1920 menus had to offer, given the tastes of the time.

Soho had a growth in gourmet food stores in the early 1980’s,which are heavily discussed in Relish by Lucy Knisley. Some information on early restaurants, like Sloppy Louie’s would be welcome too.
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