From the pastrami sandwich to TV comedy and Santa’s reindeer, a compendium of New York’s countless contributions to world culture.
If it didn’t happen in the five boroughs, it didn’t happen. That is to say, to trust the editors of New York, “even figuring out what belonged in this book made us realize what an innovation engine New York City has been.” Their enthusiasm sometimes leads them into the land of the spurious—they attribute the bagel, or “beigel,” to a baker by that name when it comes from the Yiddish word for stirrup, though they allow that the former attribution “is questionable.” Still, given the richness of New York inventions, the mass-distributed bagel among them, one can forgive the rare slip made in the name of exuberance. Take pastrami, for example, a Turkish way of cooking meat that found its way to New York in an immigrant’s repertoire and was then presented to a grateful municipality, a cheap cut of beef brisket corned, “then dry rubbed with spices, then wood smoked, and then eaten, enthusiastically.” Who was that immigrant? No one knows, and just which deli began to sell pastrami is a matter of controversy—and now, write the editors, “the Jewish deli is an increasingly rare bird in New York City owing to high rents, changing demographics, and a sense that using rendered chicken fat as liberally as others deploy ketchup may not be the best thing for a person.” More certain is pizza, imported from southern Italy and first sold on Spring Street in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi, and General Tso’s chicken, an import from Taiwan by way of New York’s Hunanese restaurants. Not all is food: The editors convincingly argue that everything from abstract expressionism and the auteur theory to punk rock, Q-Tips, the teddy bear, toilet paper (and the urinal), and zoning regulations owes its origins to the five boroughs.
Fans of the Big Apple will delight in this well-written, abundant and justly prideful collection.
Pub Date: yesterday
Page Count: 368
Publisher: Avid Reader Press
Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020