Monday, May 9, 2011

Snacking our Way Through the Lower East Side

How many times have you ventured into an immigrant neighborhood, or even into an immigrant-owned restaurant in your own neighborhood, looking for an authentic taste of a foreign cuisine? Just what are you eating? What makes a dish “immigrant”? What makes it “American”? These are just some of the questions we’ll be asking on the Tenement Museum’s new two-hour food walking tour of the Lower East Side.

Food is elemental. Next to air and water, nothing is more important to a person’s survival. And every civilization has been built on access to plentiful food. To understand a nation’s culture, you must understand its food – what people eat, why they eat it, and how they feel about what they eat.

Nowhere is this dynamic more obvious than here on the Lower East Side. With literally dozens of different nationalities sharing this neighborhood, you can find restaurants, shops, and markets selling foods from all over the world. Here you can find Chinese dumplings, Dominican fried plantains, Jewish pickles, and Italian cured meats all being sold cheek-by-jowl. People from all over the world come here to see the sights and especially eat these foods.

The Tenement Museum hasn’t really looked closely at this topic—until now. Starting in June, we’ll be offering a food-themed walking tour every Saturday and Sunday. We’ll serve you some of the neighborhood’s most popular foods from the past, and in the present day.

We’ll visit the Pickle Guys, the last of the old Jewish pickle merchants on the Lower East Side.

The author introduces the group to the much-loved Pickle Guys

We’ll walk through Essex Street Market, a haven for immigrants from all over the city looking for their favorite hard-to-find fruits and vegetables.

We’ll taste some of the candy from Economy Candy, a legendary, immigrant-owned candy store.

Chocolate covered pretzels from Economy Candy

We’ll compare Asian-fusion treats with traditional Chinese pork dumplings.

Green tea cream puffs from Panade Bakery

Pork dumplings from Vanessa's Dumplings

We’ll wrap up the tour with some traditional bialys, served inside our landmarked 1863 tenement at 97 Orchard Street.

But we’ll do more than snack. Throughout this tour, we’ll talk, as a group, about what food means to us. What’s your favorite childhood food memory? Under what circumstances would you go out to a Chinese restaurant as opposed to a French restaurant? And what’s the difference between a heaping plate of pasta served in an old Italian restaurant and a can of Chef Boyardee served at home (aside from the taste)?

By tour’s end, you’ll be full – but you’ll also have new insights into what food means to immigrants, what food means to Americans, and how seemingly exotic immigrant dishes eventually become part of the regular American diet. You’ll never think about what you eat the same way again.

--Posted by Tenement Museum Education Coordinator Adam Steinberg


  1. How soon can I get my ticket?!?!

  2. I'm as eager as Susan . . . when will the food tours be on the tour calendar?

  3. Offering this to my Travel Club members. I can't wait to schedule this.

  4. Can I purchase tickets for this?


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