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What happened to the good ol' NYC street pretzel? [moved from Manhattan board]

NewYorkDave Feb 19, 2008 05:40 AM

In the '70s and '80s, I used to grab a pretzel or two every time I came into the city; I remember them being very good back then. But sometime during the Giuliani era, the quality began to decline and now I can't bear to eat the stale, insipid, doughy hulks that the pushcarts are... umm, pushing.

I'm certainly not the only one who's noticed... For example, there's:

Luckily for me, after some trial and error, I've been able to produce pretzels at home that come close to the taste and texture I remember. But I can't help but wonder: what happened?

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    elecsheep9 RE: NewYorkDave Feb 19, 2008 07:25 AM

    I notice this at about the same time that you mentioned -- the 90s. As a kid, I used to LOVE the street cart pretzels, but by the 90s, every time I ate them they were either stale like they'd been sitting for days, or hard as a rock.

    Its never even an option for me anymore.

    I wonder what happened?

    1. BluPlateSpec RE: NewYorkDave Feb 19, 2008 07:51 AM

      Pretzels are not even a minor player in the world of NYC street food. To get good street pretzels you have to go to Philadelphia. They have independent vendors who just sell pretzels with mustard. They appear to get fresh deliveries daily from the bakers. At rush hour they stand in the median strips around town and you can get one from you car. "Forgetabout" NYC pretzels, they only exist as a memory.

      1 Reply
      1. re: BluPlateSpec
        missfunkysoul RE: BluPlateSpec Feb 20, 2008 06:44 AM

        ^^ exactly. There's a whole pretzel thing going on down here. I had no idea until I moved to Philly.

        Sometimes you can find a guy grilling the fresh pretzels on an old bbq... now THAT is some good stuff.

      2. c
        cimui RE: NewYorkDave Feb 19, 2008 08:15 AM

        Funny -- I always thought pretzels tasted better back in the day only because I was a teenager with no tastebuds (and generally inebriated when I got them).

        2 Replies
        1. re: cimui
          idia RE: cimui Feb 19, 2008 08:30 AM

          BluePlateSpec is right on the money!
          You want great soft pretzels? Get 'em in Philly.
          You want a great cheesesteak? Get 'em in Philly.
          You want great hoagies? Get 'em in Philly.

          1. re: cimui
            idia RE: cimui Feb 19, 2008 09:17 AM

            cimui: I got a good laugh from your post. But probably closer to the tuth is that we kids, as teenagers, had more sophisticated palates for those Philly soft pretzels than we have as adults today for restaurants. We were experts and that's why we are appalled at what passes for a superb soft pretzel today.

          2. steinpilz RE: NewYorkDave Feb 19, 2008 05:21 PM

            Yeah, I have great memories of NYC pretzels, with that distinct coal flavour. Sad to think it's no more (hope your wrong :-)).

            6 Replies
            1. re: steinpilz
              dolores RE: steinpilz Feb 20, 2008 06:55 AM

              How sad. I guess the roasted chestnuts are gone too, or dimished in quality/taste?

              My fondest memory of working in the Wall Street area was the coffee and HUGE crueller I got for a dollar -- a dollar! -- from a pushcart vendor.

              1. re: dolores
                NewYorkDave RE: dolores Feb 20, 2008 12:42 PM

                I think the roasted chestnuts are no more--or at least I haven't seen them in years, anyway. I used to LOVE to walk around during Christmastime and smell that inviting aroma from the pushcarts. I always meant to buy some but never did, and now I regret passing up the chance.

                To Steinpilz: yes, indeed, the pretzels did used to have that distinct flavor that comes from baking over a coal fire. But the NYC street pretzels of today just taste like a whole lot of nothing, in my experience.

                Don't even get me started on knishes!

                1. re: NewYorkDave
                  cimui RE: NewYorkDave Feb 20, 2008 01:31 PM

                  The chestnuts are still around. They're all over midtown, though mostly around Christmas time.

                  1. re: NewYorkDave
                    DanaB RE: NewYorkDave Feb 20, 2008 03:50 PM

                    Yes, I was in NYC this holiday season, and there were definitely a number of roasted chestnut vendors around midtown, near Rockefeller Center and Central Park.

                    1. re: DanaB
                      NewYorkDave RE: DanaB Feb 22, 2008 02:22 PM

                      I guess I'm mistaken about the chestnuts. I guess I wasn't looking hard enough. I do remember that they used to be for sale all over midtown, though, not just at a couple of locations.

                      On the original topic, here's my recipe for home-made soft pretzels for anyone who wants to try it. I've been very pleased with the results.


                      1. re: NewYorkDave
                        y2ksrvivr RE: NewYorkDave Feb 23, 2008 06:01 PM

                        TY so much NYD!!

                        I love pretzels and your step-by-step description is easy enough for even a bad cook like myself to give it a go. Wonderful job!

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