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

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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:
http://www.gothamcityinsider.com/2007...

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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  1. 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. 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

        ^^ 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. 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

          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

            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. 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

              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

                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

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

                  1. re: NewYorkDave

                    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

                      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.

                      http://twin-x.com/groupdiy/albums/use...

                      1. re: NewYorkDave

                        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!