New York City Food Heritage

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In a photo from 1945, Broadway and 42nd Street in Manhattan in front of the Horn & Hardart Automat. Credit Andreas Feininger/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

This Travel section interview–Best Eating in New York? A Food Historian Has Some Advice By JOHN L. DORMAN–in the New York Times catches our attention:

9780199397020 When the food writer Andrew F. Smith had an idea for a new book on New York City, he went for an intriguing angle. “We preserve the homes of people who were born here and later became famous, and we preserve all sorts of artwork,” he said, “but people don’t think about preserving a city’s food heritage, which was something that was missing in New York.”

His idea resulted in the book “Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover’s Companion to New York City,” which he edited. The topics range from the culinary history of the Lower East Side to the emergence of Automats,where food was dispensed to patrons through small vending windows.

Below are edited excerpts from an interview with Mr. Smith.

Q. “Savoring Gotham” is an ambitious delve into the city’s food and history. What led you to edit such a book?

A. I really became interested in New York City food in 1991, with the closure of the Horn & Hardart [Automat]. To me, this was something that was symbolic of New York City food, so when it closed it seemed as though something was lost. Over the course of 20 years, I collected a lot of material about the history and culture of the city’s food system. I previously wrote “New York City: A Food Biography,” which was published in 2013, but that contained just small a fraction of the material that I collected, so I went to the publisher and said that we really need an encyclopedia of New York City. They’d never done anything like that before, and it took about a year to convince them that it was something that merited their attention.

With the proliferation of chain stores and higher operating costs in the city, what is the challenge of restaurants opening in the future?

I live in Brooklyn and it’s great. There are many new start-ups here. This is the place to come if you want good food. When I moved to New York, much of Manhattan was decaying. It was relatively easy to open up mom-and-pop shops. Today, every inch of real estate in Manhattan is going sky-high with condo construction, so it is not going to be easy for smaller operations.

What New York neighborhoods have impressed you with their food offerings?

From Park Slope, Brooklyn, west to Manhattan, there must be at least 300 or 400 new places that have opened up recently, and many of them are excellent…

Read the whole interview here.

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