A bite of Brook­lyn

An en­tic­ing food tour un­cov­ers a mul­ti­tude of flavours in New York

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - MICHELLE ROWE

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

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