The New York City Sub Culinary Map

The New York City Sub Culinary Map

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September 2003: I was on an A train headed downtown. I was absentmindedly staring at the subway map and thinking about lunch, when all the station names on the map suddenly rearranged themselves in my mind to become food-related names. “That’s interesting,” I thought. “What if I redid the subway map to make it a food map?”

It seemed a daunting prospect; so many places to rename! So I went to Maira Kalman, my brilliant partner in wordplay and funny names. “I love it but I don’t know if it’s doable,” I told her. Maira knocked the doubt right out of my head with characteristic subtlety: “You’re an idiot!” She told me. “It’s brilliant! We’re doing it, Mister, and we’re doing it right away.”

And so we began. In the months that followed, we went to ethnic food stores all over the city. We made lists of funny foods we found. We ate in every type of restaurant we could find; taking copious notes on the strange dishes we ordered and sometimes ate. We consulted cookbooks and food encyclopedias. I compiled our research into a list of over a thousand names.

We spent months doing nothing but choosing the funniest names and moving them around a pencil sketch of the map. We renamed all 468 stations and added sixteen for the Second Avenue line, which may never even be built. We renamed all the neighborhoods, parks, cemeteries and waterways – 650 names in all.

I painted a full-sized subway map with all the lines in place. Maira and I did food-related illustrations to add dimension and make the map more than just a list of names. We worked with designers to set type and help us put it all together in Adobe Illustrator.

In September, 2004, a full year after the genesis of the idea, a cropped version of the New York City Sub-Culinary Map ran in the New Yorker. The full map has been produced as a gorgeous poster, and is now available to order.