A bite of Brooklyn
An enticing food tour uncovers a multitude of flavours in New York
WALKING four blocks or so along Graham Avenue in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, feels like stepping back in time. The sights and smells of residents past and present — from the eastern European Jews who were the lifeblood of the area in the early 1900s to the Caribbean and Latin American communities that followed — are tangible in this thriving neighbourhood of small, family-run shops and cafes, butchers and cake stores. It’s a contrast to the dazzling skyscrapers, designer digs and Michelinstarred restaurants of Manhattan, across the East River.
There’s little recorded history of this melting pot of cultures that have rubbed together over the years, but one small outfit is doing its best to rectify that. By taking oral histories from East Williamsburg’s long-time residents and business owners, and delving into archives and photo libraries, Urban Oyster, a tour company co-founded by locals Cindy VandenBosch and David Naczycz, is giving visitors an insider’s view of multilayered East Williamsburg through its cuisine.
VandenBosch, a chatty and clever anthropologist, clutches a folder as she leads us on a two-hour journey of discovery in northwest Brooklyn along Graham Avenue (also known as Avenue of Puerto Rico) between Broadway and Moore Street, stopping regularly to show us old newspaper clippings and historical photographs, pointing out the likes of Katz Drugs, a landmark since the 1950s, and bustling Moore Street, scene of the infamous meat riots in the early 1900s, when local women poured kerosene on meat in protest against increased prices.
VandenBosch’s Immigrant Foodways Tour (run by Urban Oyster spin-off Turnstile Tours) is a rapid-fire immersion in the history of this fascinating, now largely Spanish-speaking neighbourhood, interspersed with stops at food purveyors for tastings.
Our first port of call is La Isla Cuchifritos, one of the few remaining Cuban businesses in the area. This workmanlike cafe has been open for 30 years and Rogino Carreras, who serves us a bracing ‘‘breakfast’’ of boiled plantain and onions, hot crisp pork rind and a sliver or two of fried pig’s ear, washed down with tamarind and coconut juice, has been here for much of that time.
We stop, too, at the Princesa Restaurant and Bakery, once run by Cubans but now owned by a Mexican family. It has a selection of sweets and savouries, from tacos, quesadillas and tostadas to Caribbean desserts, such as the delicious tembleque, or coconut pudding, that we try.
At Anibal Meat Market, Angelo Santiago, who offers us a taste of his house speciality, slow-roasted pork with a serve of fried sweet potato, has watched the neighbourhood evolve. ‘‘I was born and raised in the same block,’’ he
Tour guide Cindy VandenBosch