Traveling almost all over the world through food is possible in Queens. This county of New York , final destination during the last century of thousands of immigrants, is today an unavoidable gastronomy route for residents and tourists of the Big Apple.
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Located on the other side of the East River, in front of Manhattan, it has become, thanks to immigration, one of the most diverse districts from the country.
“Of the five boroughs (that make up New York), Queens has the most diverse population in the country, with more than 100 ethnicities” and at least a hundred kitchens, explains Robert Sietsema, food critic for the digital magazine Eater.com. Although no one knows for sure, because immigrants continue to arrive, he specifies.
“Tibetans and Nepalis, for example, have recently arrived in Jackson Heights”, one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in this county of almost 2.5 million inhabitants. All you have to do is take subway line 7 from Manhattan, which runs through it, to immerse yourself in this festival of flavours, aromas, textures and exotic products.
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Despite the covid-19 pandemic, which hit it particularly hard, the offer continues to expand . Four new restaurants were added to the extensive list in February: one Turkish, one Hong Kong, one Singaporean and one Italian, according to Eater.com.
There is no still photo in Queens. Neighborhoods and culinary offerings move to the rhythm of the arrival or movement, sometimes up the social ladder, of immigrants. Southeast Asian, Egyptian or Yemeni flavors compete with the ubiquitous Mexican cuisine, Colombian arepas, Spanish paella, Uruguayan or Argentine entrails, Brazilian feijoada, Greek moussaka or Lebanese hummus.
Although the restaurant guides in Queens are plentiful, lovers of surprises can simply indulge their sense of smell to quell their hunger.
But if you’re looking to “travel” through the countries and territories represented by your food, it’s best to have a roadmap, like instagramer Andrew Doro, 39, founder of the account everycountryfoodnyc.com.
In 2015 he set out to travel the world through his kitchens throughout New York City. He “stuck at 145,” he confesses. “Although they can also be places like Hong Kong or Macao or places that not everyone considers a country, like Tibet, and places like that,” he justifies. “It was easy up until 100-110. Now, I have to keep an eye out for one,” he says with a laugh.
Doro shows some of his favorite places on the snowy streets of Queens. The route begins at the Plaza de la Diversidad, in the heart of Jackson Heights. Now “it is home to more and more middle-class whites, attracted by diversity”, although it is also “a kind of epicenter of many South Asian and Himalayan countries”, such as Bhutan and Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India or Burma. Also from Colombians and Mexicans.
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The first stop is a tiny place, at the entrance to the subway, the Café Yun of the Burmese Yun Naing, 25 years, recently arrived. She offers specialties from her country such as salads and soups and sells the essential ingredients to make them.
“Our cafe is known for serving authentic Burmese food and that’s why we prefer to import the products that make it special,” thanks to a “blend of bitter, spicy and salty flavours,” she says.
Not far away, the cold invites you to have a hot soup based on yak cheese, a Himalayan bovid, and a tea with salted butter in a Nepalese restaurant Bhanchha Ghar.
Arepas, an institution
On 37th Street , the nerve center of Jackson Heights gastronomy, Arepa Lady is a classic of this Colombian specialty, created by María Cano, who fled her native Medellín due to drug violence during the Pablo Escobar years.
From selling arepas out of a cart, she has gone on to open two restaurants. Queens’ variety contributes to the success of its restaurants, says Brandon Klinger, the manager, even though “business has really slowed down” with Covid.
Further east, Flushing, the Chinatown that according to the locals has surpassed the legendary Manhattan in size, is a hive of places where you can taste the specialty of some region of China or Korea, or buy the ingredients to make it at home.
Astoria, facing Manhattan, once a destination for European Greek and Jewish immigrants and now converted into a residential neighborhood for New Yorkers escaping the stratospheric prices of the Big Apple, is home to communities such as the Egyptian or Brazilian; in Woodside there is the Filipino community and in Ridgewood Balkan, Irish and Puerto Rican immigrants.
In Elmhurst Thais mix with Colombians and increasingly Mexicans, as well as Ecuadorians, Peruvians and Uruguayans. And in Steinway, Greek Cypriots live with Brazilians and Koreans, in a melting pot of cultures and coexistence oblivious to the tensions that many of their countries of origin experience.