It is, perhaps, the most magical time to be in New York City.
No, I’m not talking about the Christmas season. While I do shamelessly enjoy seasonal department store windows, the holidays are the worst possible time for getting around this place, particularly when you work in Midtown, in prime tourist territory. I’m speaking, instead, of hot nut season. Now is the time when the streets stop smelling of garbage and urine and, briefly, transform into an olfactory wonderland wrought by the carts proclaiming themselves and you, the potential customer, Nuts 4 Nuts. I am indeed Nuts 4 Nuts!
These carts of course stand in a long tradition of street food. In early 19th century New York, for instance, you might stop off at an oyster cart; more recently, hot dogs were the iconic street food, and now you can also opt for halal or one of the innumerable foodie options that has sprung up in more recent years. In the grand sweep of this history, the Nuts 4 Nuts carts aren’t that old. A 2002 New York Times piece on their rise claimed there were competing versions of their origin story, depending on whether you asked a vendor from Argentina or Chile; the consensus seems to be that the business originated with South American immigrants in the mid 1980s. Before that, apparently, it was French. According to a piece in Taste:
According to Rad, garrapiñada maní were inspired by the French, who emigrated in large numbers to Argentina throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The French-Argentines, used to making honey-roasted pralines with almonds, began to adapt their recipe for peanuts, which were plentiful in their new country. It also makes for a perfect pushcart food: The recipe is simple, requiring few ingredients, and the smell of them cooking acts as its own marketing.
They quickly rose to iconic status because they are cheap, warm for winter, good smelling, and delicious.
The nuts in question are covered in sugar, roasted, and served hot in little paper bags. Originally, it was just peanuts, but the lineup has expanded in recent years. They even have coconut—big meaty chunks of the stuff—and I occasionally see chestnuts offered, thereby completing the perfect seasonality of this small treat. They are just so cozy, a perfect little snack for the walk between work and your train, a nice companion to window-shopping en route. Hot nuts forever!