The mysterious origins of the famous New York Egg Cream

Posted On Tue, January 31, 2017 By

Posted On Tue, January 31, 2017 By In History, Lower East Side

From Brooklyn Blackout Cake to Eggs Benedict, New York City is filled with gastronomic firsts. But while we have a clear origin for most of our foodie favorites, the New York Egg Cream is not one of them. This frothy sweet beverage is made from Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup, seltzer water, and a splash of milk, which makes its story even more confusing since the beloved drink contains neither eggs nor cream. There are a few theories currently in circulation about the name and origin of the Egg Cream, each varying in time and circumstance, but most confirming that the drink originated on the Lower East Side among Eastern European Jewish immigrants.


Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop via Google Maps

One theory as to how the name came about was that grade “A” milk was typically used to make the drink and the name “chocolate A cream” eventually became “egg cream.” Another supposed origin is a bit more simple – the name “Egg Cream” is an Americanization of “echt keem,” which is Yiddish for “pure sweetness.” A third possibility stars a Yiddish theater pioneer from the 1880s named Boris Thomashefsky, who apparently asked a New York soda jerk to make for him the Parisian drink “chocolate et creme,” and the correct pronunciation of the word was lost in translation.

There are also various stories explaining the creation of the actual drink. Historian Andrew Smith points to the popular drink in the 1880s made from chocolate syrup, cream, and raw eggs mixed into soda water. According to his timeline, the egg cream that we know today was the version of that beverage served and consumed in poorer neighborhoods.

The more widely believed theory, however, attributes the creation of the egg cream to Louis Auster, a man who owned a popular candy shop on the Lower East Side. As the story goes, he concocted the first egg cream by accident. The drink used the family’s store-made syrup, and it become so popular that it’s said he sold thousands a day. According to a 1964 New York Tribune article, “The Egg Cream Mystique,” Auster’s son Emmanuel stated, “We are in business since 1892. We started in at Stanton-Lewis Streets on the lower East Side. About 1900, my father originated egg cream chocolate. We made all our syrups.”

The mystery of of how this old school New York drink came to be only adds to its allure. If you’re looking to try the delicious treat, the two most famous spots for scoring an authentic egg cream are Gem Spa newsstand in Manhattan’s East Village or Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop on Fifth Avenue and 22nd Street.

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Neighborhoods : Lower East Side

  • Bruce Cooper

    Sometime back in the late 1960’s my cousin Bob and I walked into a Woolworths in Big Springs Texas and asked for a chocolate egg cream. The young lady behind the counter looked perplexed.
    We explained, step by step, how to make one (Chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer. Stir while pouring seltzer etc.), which she did. From that time on, they know how to make chocolate egg cream’s in Big Springs Texas.

    • Anne Marie Whittaker

      I am from Queens, NYC, and when I was six, was perplexed they didn’t know what an egg cream was in rural Virginia, during the early 1960’s. The relatives I was visiting were totally embarrassed when I told the lady at the luncheon counter in the drug store, how to make it.

  • Blowtorch

    I always subscribed to the Auster theory, but recently saw a forgotten Fatty Arbuckle movie down in Cuba, where they still have prints of a lot of old movies. In that movie Fatty played a soda jerk who made one with an egg. That would have been pre 1918, so who knows?

    • skaizun

      There are lots of Arbuckle films from that era, and many are on YouTube, et al.
      Can you look through this Wikipedia filmography of his and find the name of the egg cream film?
      Thanks!
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roscoe_Arbuckle#Filmography

      • Blowtorch

        Unfortunately I did not catch the title, the films were playing on a loop at a place where we had dinner. I watched a few of those just now and recognized Coney Island and the Garage, although it wasn’t one of those. Buster Keaton may also have been in the one with the egg cream.
        Good luck

  • Anne Marie Whittaker

    I just visited a On Rye fast food in DC’s Chinatown. I saw the Ubet on the shelves and wanted an egg cream, so badly! I remember all the Jewish corner candy stores and luncheonettes that made them. Unfortunately, those at On Rye did not know how to make one properly; they put the chocolate syrup in first! Inconceivable! That would only make it a chocolate soda. One needs to put the milk in first, and stir violently while mixing the milk with the seltzer (not club soda) spritzing in, to produce the white froth. The U-bet should go in last and one then blends-in the syrup, without disturbing the frothy head. There should only be a ‘beauty mark’ (chocolate dot) on the top of the froth, where the U-bet that was pumped in. The three ingredients should be so well blended, no one ingredient overwhelms another. The white, frothy head, reminds us of meringue, hence the name, ‘Egg Cream’ – at least that is what my Jewish step-father told me when I was young. Making a good egg cream is just as much an art form as it is to make a good Hollandaise.

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