Brooklyn’s culinary history is more or less the story of its largest immigrant populations. The New York City borough was first settled by the Dutch in 1646. Other Europeans followed, and then others after them. By the early 20th century, the first major waves of migration from the Caribbean were in progress. More recently, large groups of immigrants from the Middle East, South Asia, China, and Korea have established strongholds in Brooklyn. Here, we look at the waves of migration that give Brooklyn a reputation for having authentic, quality cuisine from all over the world.
Mid-1800s: Irish Fled Potato Famine
The Great Potato Famine of 1845 to 1852 devastated Ireland and its population. An estimated one million people died of starvation during the famine. Another million or more fled the country, a substantial number of which arrived in New York City. By 1855, Brooklyn’s population was roughly 50% Irish, 25% British, and 25% German. Descendants of these immigrants still live in Brooklyn, and authentic Irish comfort food can be enjoyed at restaurants like Hartley’s, McMahon’s Public House, and The Wicked Monk.
1880s: Northern, Southern, and Eastern European Populations Flee Depressed Economies
The 1880s saw a more diverse group of European immigrants arrive in New York, most of them in search of new economic opportunities. It was during this decade that the ancestors of many Italian-Americans arrived, a movement that had a great impact on not only Brooklyn’s cuisine but all of New York’s. Pizza is ubiquitous, premium homemade pasta easy to find, and authentic cannoli are all over the borough. Other nationalities that moved to Brooklyn in large numbers during this time were Russians, Poles, and Scandinavians. Polish bakeries still abound in the north Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint, and the south Brooklyn neighborhood of Brighton Beach is home to several Russian restaurants. Many Danes, Finns, Norwegians, and Swedes who arrived in New York in the late 19th century used Brooklyn as a jumping off point before heading elsewhere in the country. Perhaps because of this, their culinary influence on the city has not been long-lasting.
Southerners and Puerto Ricans Head North
From 1900 until the Great Depression hit, industry thrived in Brooklyn. Tens of thousands of African Americans from the South made their way to Brooklyn. This was also the period during which Puerto Ricans and elsewhere in the Caribbean first established enclaves in Brooklyn. Today, you can enjoy authentic Puerto Rican cuisine all over Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and Bushwick. West Indian, Jamaican, Dominican, Creole, and other types of Caribbean food is also available in abundance.
1970 – Present: Waves of Migration from Farther Afield
The Great Depression halted the pace of migration to the United States. After the Second World War, things picked up again. The world was becoming more globalized, and its most international city more diverse than ever. Large numbers of Chinese, Korean, Latin American, Middle Eastern, and South Asian
People established dwellings in Brooklyn. They brought with them hot pot, kimchi, empanadas, halal food, curries, and more.
Now you know why New York City’s restaurant scene ranks high on most lists of the world’s best food cities. Brooklyn contributes to that reputation for culinary excellence. If you’re a foodie with plans to stay at the NU Hotel Brooklyn in the near future, you’ve got something to look forward to. Good food from just about everywhere can be found within a mile of the hotel.