New York in a Dozen Dishes

Robert Sietsema. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22 (304p) ISBN 978-0-544-45431-6
Sietsema, former restaurant critic for the Village Voice and author of the food fanzine Down the Hatch, takes a personal journey through New York City fare, exploring how ethnic neighborhoods have formed in the city and changed over the last decades. His book reads like a series of magazine articles, covering iconic foods such as Italian-inspired pizza, Manhattan clam chowder (the tomato-based version evolved from the creamy New England soup has all the markings, he notes, of a Mediterranean dish that probably emerged by the 1960s), and pho (pronounced fuh), the signature beef-and-noodle soup of Vietnamese cooking. Sietsema tackles each dish’s provenance: egg foo yong, a peculiar Chinese American hybrid, was “packaged as a one-course meal aimed at American diners accustomed to the same proportions of protein, grease, and starch in what they considered their normal diet.” Pastrami, that pink brisket-cut brined and spiced meat, turns out to be more Central Asian than strictly Jewish, while now-ubiquitous fried chicken might have originated in West Africa via Iberian mariners in the 16th century. Toward the end, Sietsema reaches too far afield and recommends an obscure chile-gravy sandwich called pambazo as the Mexican specialty (though he rarely even manages to find it) and the South America fried little guinea pig called cuy. Funny, thorough, and a good sport, he might have spared the reader before adding the last chapter on scrambled brains—the choice of the secretive diners in the Organ Meat Society. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/04/2015
Release date: 05/19/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 240 pages - 978-0-544-45363-0
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