The history of Italian food in New York is an intriguing tale that dates back to the 19th century. Immigrants from Italy brought with them their culinary customs, introducing Americans to the delights of Italian cuisine. Nowadays, it is impossible to escape the omnipresence of Italian food in New York City, and it is something like a genetic code embedded in us since we were born. We all know that New Yorkers love Italian food and have become experts in pizza, sometimes by default. The United States is a melting pot of cultures, with cuisines introduced by immigrants from all over the world.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a considerable number of Italian immigrants arrived in the United States in search of work and a better life. Along with them, they brought culinary traditions from many different regions of Italy. Since the first Italian immigrants couldn't get high-quality olive oil and other ingredients essential for good Italian cuisine, they got creative by creating traditional recipes using the available ingredients. Mariani, food and wine correspondent for Esquire magazine, is the author of How Italian Food Conquered the World, a social history of the world's most popular cuisine. As a Roman who became a New Yorker, Parasecoli has witnessed how New York emerged over the past decade and a half as a mecca for the best (and most accessible) ingredients in Italian cuisine.
Southern Italian staples include dry pasta, tomato sauce, and olive oil, while northern Italian staples include foods such as risotto, white sauce, and polenta. The muffuletta originated from Italian immigrants in New Orleans, who prepared a delicious sandwich on a round Sicilian sesame bun. The local popularity of pizza as a street food of strictly Neapolitan origin made the arrival in 1889 of the new queen of Italy a reason to promote the city's native foods. Mariani, food and travel correspondent for Esquire, “going to Little Italy became urban fun, like going to Chinatown. This elegant Northern Italian dining offering, which encompasses parts of Union Square, declined when millions of Italians from the South began arriving in New York Harbor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, completely transforming the experience of eating Italian in New York.
The emphasis on regionality is applicable in New York, where Italians brought very different (regional) food and, in doing so, contributed to the identity of Italian food in New York. Italian-American food has been shaped throughout history by several waves of immigrants and their descendants, called Italian-Americans. Perhaps the most famous Italian influence on a Southern dish is the muffuletta from New Orleans, Louisiana. One of the first ice cream shops in New York to open its doors, in the 1820s, was the remarkable Palmo's Garden, whose immigrant owner Ferdinand Palmo equipped it with golden columns, huge mirrors and an Italian band. To understand why there is so much Italian food in New York City today requires looking at four perspectives from authorities on Italian cuisine. It is mainly based on the culinary traditions of immigrants from southern Italy, although a significant number of immigrants from Northern Italy also arrived in the United States and also influenced this style of cooking in some way. In the mid-19th century, there were exclusive Northern Italian restaurants in lower Manhattan, and food was considered “exotic” to native Yankees.
Now we can see how this cuisine has become an integral part of New York City's culture and identity.