Harlem Food Tour soul food

Harlem Soul Food | It’s History and Where to Find the Best Restaurants

Soul food dates back to 1492. In the days of slavery, slave masters would give (to the slaves) cuts of meat for which they had no use or desire. These cuts included  pig feet, ham hocks, chicken gizzards, chicken wings, turkey necks, and pork fat.  Little did the slave masters (or the slaves– for that matter)  know that these ‘undesirable’ foods would one day reach the masses worldwide, to be revered, appreciated, and much-desired.

(Free Tours by Foot offers a Harlem Food Tour as well as walking tours, including the Harlem Neighborhood Walking Tour, on which we usually will stop at Sylvia’s Restaurant (see video below) for a sampling of classic soul food dishes).

Also, be sure to check out our full list of free, self-guided tours.


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Named SOUL FOOD because it touches and delights the soul, Soul food dishes include fried chicken, pork/beef ribs, collard greens, potato salad, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, smoked ham hocks and a host of familiar and delightful edibles.

Soul food has humble beginnings in the Southern United States, hailing from the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North/South Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and even below The Dixie Line — going through Georgia and into Florida.

Yet….many soul food influences were developed in major cities like Chicago and New York City. Many freed slaves migrated from Mississippi and Alabama to Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio, hoping to create better socioeconomic advancements for themselves. Freed slaves from the Carolinas, the Virginian states, and Georgia re-located to New York City and other places — Up North — for the same purposes of bettering themselves financially/socially.

Many freed African Americans were ‘greeted’ by rude awakenings in The North. They faced hardship securing jobs and many challenges as they sought higher education. They resorted to cooking/cleaning for ‘white folks’ houses. The cooks were well-received, often called, ‘the help.’

The ‘help’ was always finding a way from ‘no-way.’ And so ….naturally, they did the best with what they had.

Some of our finest offerings in soul food, actually, come from major cities. Many Southerners in The Big Cities were forced to seek governmental assistance, public housing, powdered milk, peanut butter, and cheese.  The ‘government  cheese’ — popular in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s– was the innovative force in a favorite ‘contemporary’ soul food dish, macaroni and cheese. When public assistance programs passed out the cheese (and whew, the lines were long), the ‘recipients’ made macaroni and cheese (affectionately known as Mac-N-Cheese).When 50 lb. bags of potatoes were distributed to the ‘poor and less-fortunate,’ the ‘poor and less-fortunate’ made potato salad. These are just a few examples of how soul food relates to life and survival. When life deals us lemons. we make lemonade. Make the best of it. The makings of soul food is truly a story of survival and has proven to be fortunate and victorious. Who would have ever known that Soul Food would be the result of celebrity chefs, millionaires, and respected entrepreneurs?

Amy Ruth’ s Restaurant
116th Street/Lenox Avenue (Malcolm X Blvd.)

Southern-styled cuisine — Up North —  starts with Amy Ruth’s Restaurant. Do you want Soul Food? Amy Ruth’s Restaurant responds. We will have some samples from legendary Amy Ruth’s. Don’t forget to grab a menu, which lists hours of operation and location. After sampling a popular daily special: The Chicken and Waffles dish, returning to Amy Ruth’s will become your wish!

Sylvia’s Restaurant
127th Street & Lenox Avenue

Often identified as ‘The House of Soul Food,’ you will want to stop by Sylvia’s and stay for a while. Sylvia’s Restaurant has been ‘souling it up’ for over 50 years. Crowned,’The Queen of Soul Food,’ Sylvia Woods brought a brand-new bag of SOUL from Hemingway, South Carolina and kept it coming for years. Ironically, Sylvia took the title of Queen of Soul Food, while the late- great James Brown, (also born in South Carolina) was named The Godfather of Soul Food. Is that what it means to be from South Carolina? Or simply stated, ‘We know they had SOUL!’

Sylvia Woods died on July 19, 2012 and the family remains the manager of this fabulous home of SOUL FOOD.

137th/Lenox Avenue

If you’ve been wondering over Spoonbread, you will now know all there is to know. Spoonbread is actually a corn-meal based dish that resembles corn-meal soufle. Think Yorkshire pudding. Delicious indeed. Norma Darden has been ‘making it delicious and soulful’ for years at our next stop, Spoonbread. You will certainly want to keep some of that bread on your spoon!

Make My Cake Bakery
139th Street & Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. (7th Avenue)

And…LAST BUT NOT LEAST….Every good SOUL FOOD meal should end with some ICING ON THE CAKE! At Make My Cake, they don’t just put icing on the cake; they make the cakes from ‘scratch’! You will want some of that cake.

That’s how we do Harlem SOUL FOOD. Be sure to stop on by again. And…make it real soon!

Art in NYC Subway

NYC Subway Art: Life Underground

Of all the MTA-Art for Transit’s artworks visited during The NYC Subway Art Tour consistently the most popular one among attendees is Tom Otterness’ Life Underground installed in 2001.

Fare EvaderTaking 10 years to complete, 130 eye-catching bronze figures are scattered throughout the immense 14th Street station. Many are in plain sight and many have to be looked for.

“The impossibility of understanding life in New York,” is the theme according to the artist who was inspired by the rampant political corruption during the construction of the NYC subway in the late 19th century.

“I’m surprised that the government allowed him to put all that in!” Expresses a widely shared interpretation that it’s a mischievous depiction of the capitalist system. Several of the tableau could be seen to depict the clash of economic classes and others are simply funny.

The picture above is one the most photographed scenes on the tour and captures the humor, poignancy and provocativeness of Life Underground.

Below is a video of Darryl Riley’s New York Subway Art Tour, which Darryl offers once a week as a pay-what-you-like tour with us.  Otherwise, he offers this tour two times each day for $25.  Check out the HuffPost’s article on Subway Art for even more photos and videos.

The New York City Subway Art Tour from Darryl Reilly on Vimeo.


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New York Stadtführungen; New York walking tours

Moving to New York City

Over 200,000 people move to NYC each year and moving to a city this diverse and large can be overwhelming. Where should I live? Or more importantly, where should I NOT live? Where can I find full time employment or a part time job? Where’s the best place to eat out, make friends, do laundry, go grocery shopping?

But moving to New York City doesn’t have to be hard. Think of it as chance to explore! Our NYC tours are guided by local residents who share their own neighborhoods with guests. NYC tours are a great and affordable way to experience New York’s different neighborhoods as our guides are great resources about life in these neighborhoods.

While most of our tours focus on history (or food!) of various parts of New York City, even just meandering down the sidewalks can give you a local feel of the area. Our guides can point out the historic homes and stories of years past, but we also talk about what life is like today in Brooklyn Heights, Harlem, Greenwich Village and more!

What our guides can’t do is help you find an apartment (though who knows, maybe we know someone renting out a room?), a job (of course, we’re always hiring!), making friends (or maybe we can – have you tried our East Village Pub Crawl?) – but if you want guaranteed assistance, check out Moving to New York Guide as a resource for moving to NYC.

Moving To New York Guide has original articles as well as links to the best resources around the web for people who are planning their move that focuses specifically on topics that people who are relocating need to know, such as: finding employment, finding an apartment, making new friends and planning a move.

Need help with moving companies? They have recommendations! Brought too much stuff for a tiny studio apartment, there are links to storage companies in NYC. Can you really afford that $2500 month studio apartment anyways? From finding roommates to a home on your own, setting up cable and internet to how not to go broke, Moving to New York Guide has the resources to help you move to NYC.

And when you’re all set up as a NYC local with an air mattress for guests visiting, don’t forget to send them our way to start the process of helping others fall in love with the Big Apple all over again!


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Finding a Public Restroom in New York City

This post provides some advice on where to find public bathrooms in New York. We include specific places in various neighborhoods you will likely visit when in NYC. We even list a website with a great map of where to go when you have to go!



And don’t forget, we always provide you with a free bathroom spot before the start of any of our free walking tours.

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