The Lower East Side Tenement Museum launched “Taste of the Lower East Side,” its first food walking tour, this past Friday, June 24th. I took part in the inaugural excursion for the public.
What really is “American food”? Is it hot dogs? Those can be traced to German immigrants. Cookies? Coleslaw? Well, the roots of those words come from the Dutch. Every group of people who landed on the shores of the New World brought with them the memories of the dishes they were used to eating in their homelands, usually places they would never see again.
As we walked around the neighborhood, Adam asked us to keep that last thought in mind. We would be sampling layer upon layer of the cultures that had lived in the area, each of which had left its mark on the diet that we now consider the typical “American” one.
Among the items we tasted were those from a Jewish bakery, an Asian restaurant, an Italian shop, and even a fusion place that is combining aspects of several cultures to create some delicious, non-typical treats.
We also heard about how some of the cooking and preserving methods that 19th and early 20th century immigrants to New York used to keep themselves fed while trying to survive in an unfamiliar land were not considered to be sanitary or beneficial. This was in accordance with the prevailing dietary sentiment of the day, whose roots were founded in a more bland, English-influenced cuisine. Many items were considered to be too spicy or unhealthy, even that pickle now usually served alongside a hamburger or deli sandwich was suspect.
At the same time, there have always been people who wanted to broaden their palates by trying the flavors that the immigrants brought over with them. These adventurous eaters, among others, assist with the transmission of the tastes and aromas from the newly-arrived to the native-born and aid in their incorporation into the more mainstream culture.
Adjustments have often been made along the way to account for locally available ingredients, thus creating a new tradition. This is what our culinary heritage has always been about, too, as Adam pointed out, adapting these foreign dishes to fit with their new surroundings, thereby creating a new, “American” cuisine.
“Taste of the Lower East Side”
The tour will be offered on Fridays and Saturdays at 1 p.m.
$45 for the general public and $22 for museum members
Tickets may also be purchased on line at The Lower East Side Tenement Museum
The Experimental Gourmand is the story of a blogger, food writer, and experimental home cook. She enjoys exploring the local food event scene and finding fresh ingredients with which to make great meals at her farmers markets.