Immigrant Foodways: Off-the-Beaten-NYC-Path

by Louise, Community Manager

We were blessed with a beautiful Indian Summer this past weekend in NYC. The sky was clear and the temperatures were in the 70’s. It was the perfect day to explore a new part of New York City!

Even though I live in and love Brooklyn, I almost never go to Williamsburg. It’s just not very convenient to where I live. So when I heard of a new tour of East Williamsburg (even less frequented than the Western section which is the hip and trendy section of the area) from the folks at Urban Oyster, I knew I had to check it out. And I’m so glad I did.

I managed to take a photo before I scarfed it down!

Our tour kicked off with a stop at Las Isla Cuchifritos. Cuchifritos are a type of traditional Puerto Rican street food, often made with pork and usually fried. The windows of Las Isla are stacked temptingly with delicious fried morsels and I wanted to eat all of them, despite not knowing what they were. We went inside and sampled steamed yuca, young plantains, and morcilla (Puerto Rican blood sausage, similar to Irish black pudding or Cajun/French Boudin Noir). I asked our guide, Cindy, if she ever had guests who were reluctant to sample the morcilla but she said it is actually very popular, and with good reason – it’s delicious! A lovely soft texture gives way to tender, hearty, decadent filling with just the right amount of spice. A few pickled red onions on top gave it crunch and acidity. We also tasted amazingly fresh passion fruit and coconut juices, and the owner

You'd better believe I ate that one on top!

gave us a special treat of fried fresh pork rinds. These are not the rinds you see Homer Simpson munching on in front of the TV, these are freshly fried with no additives or preservatives, and they are ethereal. I remarked to my companion that I could have stayed at Las Isla all day, but of course it was only the first stop.

A little before-and-after shot of Graham Avenue

Throughout the tour it became clear how much time our guides Cindy and Princess had spent preparing before they started offering this tour to the public. They interviewed local immigrants, gathered historical photographs, and read everything they could about the area. They were well prepared with tidbits and stories and often paused to show us pictures of what the various blocks used to look like in the early 1900’s. I’ve more than once encountered tour guides who aren’t well-versed in their subject matter, and the passion and commitment Urban Oyster puts into preparing their tours is nothing short of outstanding.

We stopped at the local Farmer’s Market, primarily staffed by Amish farmers, and took a look at some of the excellent local produce. It is squash season now, so there were many pumpkins available for sale, but we also saw some more unique offerings like fresh membrillo (quince), which is desirable for many of the families in the area for their traditional Mexican cooking.

The mural depicts a traditional Quinceañera

After checking out a gorgeous mural that local teenage girls painted to celebrate the cultural heritage of the area, we headed Anibal Meats Market, a local butcher shop. I think it’s woeful how disconnected we have become from butchers (mostly buying meat pre-packaged at the supermarket) so I always love to see a traditional butcher shop, especially one with every part of the animal available. We got a good look at the large commercial oven and met the owners of the business,

Just a few of the offerings at Anibal Meats Market

Marcial and Angelo, who gave us even more delicious snacks, including alcapurrias (a traditional Puerto Rican or Dominican snack of a shell made of tubers stuffed with ground meat and spices – sort of a cross between a taco and an egg roll) and pork roasted with their signature rub. Despite already having tasted plenty of pork, I couldn’t get enough of it!

The entrance to Moore Street Market

From Anibal it is a short walk to the Moore Street Market, which was originally created as a new location for the push cart owners who used to flood the neighborhood. The stalls are offered at affordable prices to give local entrepreneurs a leg up to starting their business. It’s a fascinating market, and we tasted deliciously sweet and piping-hot traditional sorullos (corn fritters) from the stand known as American Coffee Shop, although it specializes in Puerto Rican and Dominican foods. We also stopped at a new juice bar, Cafeteria La Esperanza, where we sampled morir soňando, a delightful treat that tasted just like drinking a melted orange creamsicle (i.e. awesome) and avena,

The menu at Cafeteria La Esperanza

strained oatmeal with lemon or lime to taste (sounds weird but it was super tasty!). Cindy brought over fried clams from Junior’s Fish Market while we checked out La Botanica Esperanza, a stall specializing in religious artifacts, perfumes and incenses believed to help with various ailments and problems and then we went to meet Isabel Escamilla, who owns Las Gemelas and sells traditional herbal remedies. We each got a sample of a nerve-calming herbal mixture that I’m looking forward to trying next time I’m stressed out!

My buddy Will checking out the impressive tuber selection at the Moore Street Market

Our tour concluded with a primer from Princess on how to cook with some of the available produce including yuca, taro, plantains, and aloe leaf while we enjoyed Sancocho (a traditional Latin American stew featuring many tubers and, you guessed it, pork).

I’m so glad I took this tour and would recommend it to anyone who wants to see NYC off the beaten path. You’ll taste things you might never taste otherwise because you might be unsure of which establishments to visit or what to order, and all the while you’ll learn new facts and stories about the history of New York City. I highly recommend this tour for anyone who loves history, food, and especially pork! E-mail me at lgeller@newyorkguest.com, check out the tour online, or read about our NYC Foodie Weekend package if you’re ready to experience a new part of New York City.

Note: Moore Street Retail Market is especially magical during the holidays! The market is beautiful decorated and there are special foods and music throughout the season. Urban Oyster does a special tour during the holidays, so if you’re looking for a unique holiday activity, definitely let us know!

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Filed under New York Restaurants, New York Sightseeing, Out on the Town

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