Discussions about restaurants in the New York Times

The data start in 1880 and run through 2013.  Based on my visual reading of the chart, discussion of Chinese restaurants appears to have peaked in the 1940s (!).  German restaurants are the biggest loser over time, with plunges during each of the two World Wars; French falls more steadily.  American and Japanese go up slowly but consistently.  The big winner: Italian restaurants go up by far the most in discussions, starting in about 1940, and never stop rising.

The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune show broadly similar patterns, though the absolute level of discussion for Mexican is much higher in Los Angeles.  For the Western world at least, Italian cuisine is the major winner from globalization.

It is in the 1890s by the way that restaurants are discussed more often in The New York Tribune/Herald than are saloons.

That is all from Krishnendu Ray, The Ethnic Restaurateur, which is intermittently quite interesting.  Here is the Google Books page.


'which is intermittently quite interesting'

So, the opposite of self-recommending?

And the sort of book that gets this treatment? - 'Tyler Cowen sits with a cranberry juice and a pile of books he no longer intends to read. He's at Harry's Tap Room, near the Air France ticket counter in the main terminal of Dulles International Airport, on his way to São Paulo. Two days ago he e-mailed me his reading list for the trip—27 books—and I vowed to keep up with it. Already, before he boards, he has assembled a pile of discards. "Unger. I'd say I browsed it. I looked at every page," he says. "There's nothing wrong with the book. It's a good book to stir up leftists." Roberto Mangabeira Unger's The Left Alternative falls with a thud to the table.

Cowen, 49, has round features, a hesitant posture, and an unconcerned haircut. He handles each book as he ticks it off his list. "This I discarded. It appeared to get a good review, but there's no framework, just scattered vignettes. I looked at 20, 30 pages." Sarah Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes, thud. Cowen's first rule of reading is as follows: You need not finish. He takes up books with great hope and no mercy, and when he is done—sometimes after five minutes—he abandons them in public, an act he calls a "liberation."' http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2011-05-26/tyler-cowen-americas-hottest-economist

Is there a reason that you hate him?

Jilted academic.

Prior is a teensy bit crazy and obsessed with Mercatus

I don't know why Tyler allows his comments to appear here. Unless he actually knows this person (and it's an inside joke), it's genuinely creepy.

"Italian restaurants go up by far the most in discussions, starting in about 1940, and never stop rising."

The war in Italy 1943-1945 was very good for the popularity of Italian culture in America.

Interestingly, there has been little immigration from Italy since, maybe the 1950s, yet Italian cuisine here has steadily improved.

"Interestingly, there has been little immigration from Italy since, maybe the 1950s, yet Italian cuisine here has steadily improved"

I feel like you're trying to make some deeper point here, I just can't grasp it...

US tourists: they get to know Italian food, then get back home and demand better food at the local Italian restaurant.

It makes me remember Paris, the people behind the bar and in the kitchen are African immigrants. The waiter speaks French with Italian accent and I can´t tell if it's real Italian accent or just pretending to make the restaurant more authentic. In a certain way you don't need ethnic Italians to run an Italian restaurant, just people with knowledge of Italian cuisine and discerning customers to judge.

I think the change from 1950 up today is the rise of knowledgeable customers. It gets harder to put an Italian food sign and stay open for long term without good knowledge of Italian food.

The availability of high quality, authentic foreign food has increased dramatically in the U.S. in recent years. This doesn't seem driven by tourists with knowledge of the associated locale. It is the quality of the food, not "authenticity" that sells it.

Because Italian-American cuisine has long been popular in America, this meant there was a ready audience for more authentic Italian food when this trend began. Less adventurous eaters aren't willing to try food they view as "exotic" like Thai or Sushi. But authentic Italian food does not seem exotic to anyone in America.

That's probably correct. I noticed last year that multiple Los Angeles "Italian" restaurants offered a variation of sea urchin pasta with some type of bread crumb. Then, earlier this year, San Francisco restaurants seemed to follow the same trend. And I just came back from Austin, where the dish was again offered in three of the five restaurants I visited. It's more likely that the "authenticity" advantage was partly due to the use of time-tested recipes, rather than an authenticity premium.

I'm not sure italian joints that serve pizza really serve what most italians would consider pizza. And americans expect a lot more tomato sauces then butter sauces then I noticed in italy.

From the very good Reinhart pizza book, I'd say that Italy has a number of styles, and authentic (usually Neapolitan) pizza is easier to find in the US than it used to be.

Here in California you can get wood fired Pizza Margherita or any number of fusion things, some very good.

Of course, as with anything "artisan" pizza can be merchandised and robbed of quality.

High-end pizza in America can be quite authentic these days.

Of course the traditional style of pizza served in America is not authentic Italian. But it is authentic Italian-American.

It's tough to get buffalo mozzarella in most places in the US.

Except Italian-Americans going to visit where they came from, very few people visit the parts of Italy where Italian-American food originated. The food in Rome, much less Venice, is a whole different story.

In my experience, the food in Venice (at least the ancient, tourist infested parts that I have infested) provide generic italian food no better than can be found in any other country in the world .

If you are eating red sauce Italian-American food in Venice, you are doing it very very wrong.

German food has suffered like no other, not just because of two wars and germanophobia, but because it is the secret ancestor of midwestern American food and thus completely and boringly familiar and the enemy of all nutritional orthodoxy. Even in Germany it is viewed with shame, yet while it is seen as heavy and dull, it has never been regarded as truly awful like English or Dutch food, thus it doesn't even gain a proper revival

It is only appealing to those who genuinely enjoy hot dish and sauerbraten, meat and starch. It is alien to Southerners and Texans, the chief sophisticates of the unhealthy diet in America, even though ancestral to much of their food, and not just the chicken fried steak, thus it fails to even benefit from comfort food status

Strangely it seems to thrive only in the Pacific Northwest, especially Oregon, probably because it is in its soul the "whitest" place on earth, but also because it is secretly the greatest mushroom using cuisine on earth. So next time you are in Portland and you are filled up on Russian cold salads and pelmini, take a look around and find yourself a jaegerschnitzel or marrow in mushroom sauce.

Aren't a lot of Texans German?

Yes, there has been a large German population in Texas for generations, particularly in south Texas.
At one time you could head to Luckenbach in the Hill Country to hang with Waylon, Willie and the boys.

A lot of Texans are German, a lot of Texas food has clear German antecedents, but there is almost no good actual German food in Texas. I have been to a wedding partly conducted in German and partly in Sorbian in a amazing rural Lutheran church with a carved wooden organ and then we retired to a fantastic meal of Central Texas barbecue, potato salad, and beer.

It was exceedingly German in spirit but no one was really thinking we were eating German food. It was Texas food with German influence, like Tejano music isn't German music but German influenced music.

That is the problem for German food in America it is in the uncanny valley of too familiar to be so different and too much like what most people into eating non American food don't like about American food.

'Even in Germany it is viewed with shame'

You really don't know anyone from Baden, do you?

A lot of people here poo-poo German cuisine, and then completely manage to mischaracterize it as sausages, beer, and (poorly made) sauerkraut alone. Germans do plenty more with salads than Americans, for example (step 1: no more lettuce).

pooh-pooh. At the risk of sounding scatological, there is a world of difference between pooh-poohing something and what you said.

Northern Italian cuisine has to be distinguished from southern Italian cuisine, the former the choice of Cowen and his friends who can afford it. My sunbelt city has a large Italian population (and Spanish and Greek and Cuban), and lots of very good Italian restaurants, including northern Italian. The best of the latter was (it closed several years ago when the owner retired) my favorite. For a time the restaurant was located on the ground floor of a high rise office building. My partner represented the owner of the building. The restaurant was a problem tenant because they were always way behind in rent; indeed, the restaurant rarely paid any rent. The owner's explanation was that he had financial responsibility for the chefs, waiters, etc. he brought from Italy to work in his restaurant. Our client was sympathetic, both because of the owner's explanation and the benefit of having such a fine restaurant as a tenant. My wife became friends with the wife of one of the Italians who worked in the restaurant, and we went to their modest home where he made a fantastic Italian dinner. During dinner, he apologized for the modest home, his explanation being that the owner of the restaurant was paying all that rent and couldn't afford to pay the staff.

I'm amazed there are reviews of Japanese restaurants before 1910, I'll have to check the NYT archive for some!

I'd like to read some of the older bad reviews. They are by far the most entertaining NYTimes restaurant reviews.

I think there may be some conflation here of "Italian" cuisine with "New Jersey" cuisine, which makes it seem a bigger winner than it is. Many places who purport to be Italian actually serve the ethnic food of the Jersey Shore.

Are you measuring the attributes of the audience (NYT readers) and not the market (restaurants or restaurant reviews)

For example, how do Yelp or TripAdvisor reviews, or local arts and entertainment newspapers, match up to the NYT reviews.

The NYT is not the universe or the market of reviews. It is a narrowcast reviewer attempting to reach and satisfy a narrow audience. One unlike to go to Harlem, except for the Red Rooster.

There's a war effect for Germany, arguably, but you can question why it doesn't hit the Italians as well.

I'd say, also, German and French food are very assimilable into the "Modern European" ategory.

After a few generations you may be more likely to get a "Modern European" restaurant with some nods to high quality rye bread, rieslings, kirsch, sour pickles, white asparagus and cheesecake a la Central Europa than a specifically German one.

I predict that Japanese and Chinese will likely probably lose some ground over time to pan-East Asian cuisine. We're talking a long time scale for that, though.

Although obviously ethnic change also. And the Italian name *does* have more cachet. French has even more cachet, but also says "Expensive, fussy and difficult to prepare".

A while ago, I did this for fun:


You need to control for the number of immigrants in a given place vs how many restaurants there are or how many people are talking about them.

Regarding Italian cuisine in the US, it is not true that immigration from there stopped after the 1950s. If one looks at foreign-born people in the US, Italy is 24th in the US. While the immigration flow is not all that high, several thousand a year, it continues, with most of those from the south and many ending up working in Italian restaurants. In certain larger US cities one can find "authentic" Italian restaurants at least partly staffed or run by fairly recent immigrants.

Of course certain items of Italian cuisine have essentially entered standard American cuisine in their localized versions, especially pizza, macaroni, and spaghetti.

As for German cuisine, parts of it entered into standard American cuisine even more profoundly. Why has nobody said a word about hamburgers or hot dogs yet? How American can you get? (well, corn on the cob). But certainly German in origin.

OK, now, somebody might say, "But hot dogs were invented at Nathan's in New York!" I quote a friend who quotes the late Fritz Machlup who supposedly said, "Vaht in America is called a hot dog in Frankfurt is called a wiener, and in Vienna is called a frankfurter." So there.

"If one looks at foreign-born people in the US, Italy is 24th in the US."

In other words, only a tiny level of immigration is necessary to sustain tremendous progress in a cuisine.

I realize that you are mostly being humorous, although given your super focus on immigration issues, I do not know. However, on the matter of Italian immigration in the US and Italian cuisine in the US, the flow does support what I said, the presence of a non-trivial number of Italian restaurants in certain large US cities that are heavily staffed by recent arrivals.

However, if one is going to talk about "tremendous progress" in Italian cuisine in the US, this does not refer to these still-available authentic southern Italian restaurants, most of which are not very expensive. In many discussions that would focus on the more northern Italian-influenced high end restaurants, also mostly in major US cities. However, many of these are run by non-Italians who have studied the cuisine and learned to do it, or a variation of it, quite well.

Comments for this post are closed