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5.0 out of 5 stars A Veritable Feast for the Senses and the Soul: An Eclectic Culinary History of New York City, 12 May 2011
By 
John Kwok (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
A passionate literary celebration of New York City's smorgasbord of cuisines, "Gastropolis" is worthy of top billing on the bookshelves of anyone interested in reading about New York City's culinary history as told by a most capable group of writers. Edited by the likes of professional chef and food studies professor Jonathan Deutsch and food and nutrition professor Annie Hauck-Lawson, "Gastropolis" is part memoir, part history, and part travelogue amidst global ethnic cuisines that have found a home here in New York City, America's most internationally-oriented city. "Gastropolis" is divided into four parts: "Places", "People", "Trade", and "Symbols", which incorporate everything from culinary history to memoir and iconographic celebrations of New York culinary staples such as bagels.

"Places" traces New York's culinary history from the perspectives of anthropology and memoir. Anne Mendelson traces the roots of that history from the perspective of the region's earliest known inhabitant, the Algonquin Lenapes. Andrew Smith follows with a terse, informative, and intriguing account, noting how New York City cuisine was transformed from its earliest Dutch and British settlers to those of later arrivals, most notably, German Jews, by the middle 19th Century, until, by the time of the creation of greater New York City in 1898, the city had become a culinary metropolis whose tastes reflected that of the entire globe. Nan Rothschild describes archaeological studies of 18th and 19th Century New York, providing a more extensive look at the food that was grown locally and eaten by Manhattan's residents. And then finally, in a unique, quite personal, voice, Annie Hauck-Lawson describes her almost idyllic childhood with her parents, among the first New York City urban dwellers to raise vegetables in their Park Slope brownstone backyard.

"People" explores the astonishingly vast variety of Asian cuisines present in New York, a brief overview of New York City Afro-American cuisine, and the current enthusiasm for avant-garde cuisine. Martin Manalasan takes us on a riveting excursion through Queens following the route of the Flushing "7" subway line, making brief "stops" along the way to discuss Filipino cuisine, pan-East Asian cuisine in Flushing, and Jackson Height's Little India. Jessica Harris offers a heartfelt, quite personal, memoir of her Afro-American culinary youth that is, along with Annie Hauck-Lawson's account, among the finest instances of memoir and self-reflection collected in this volume. Fabio Parasecoli's overview of the current trends in New York City avant-garde cuisine is yet another riveting account, and one more fascinating than what I see all too often in the culinary reviews of some of New York's most notable magazines and news weeklies. Last, but not least, Harley Spiller traces the rise of Chinese cuisine in New York City, especially in Manhattan's historic Chinatown, and in the "satellites" that have taken root in Brooklyn.

In the remaining sections of "Trade" and "Symbols", one of the finest contributions is yet another memoir courtesy of Mark Russ Federman of his family's specialty food store, Russ & Daughters, a Lower East Side legend still notable for its fish. While Federman's account is truly a most memorable valentine to his family's business, Annie Rachelle Lanziletto's own personal recollection of her life-long love of Italian cuisine is by far the most hilarious.

One could find other, more extensive, and most likely, more pedantic culinary histories of the Big Apple. However, "Gastropolis" is a most unique contribution to it, and one that truly excels on every page. Without a doubt, its editors have crafted an enduring example of New York culinary history worthy of remembrance.
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