Immigrants of Greenmarket Speak Out

The connection between immigrants and food has been a recurring theme in Voices of NY, whether it’s Haitian men stepping into the kitchen, an Indian dishwasher who became a Presidential chef, a Taiwanese vendor selling dumplings amidst a plethora of halal carts or Latinas breaking into male-dominated restaurant kitchens. And today we ran a food-themed roundup from the ethnic press.

Feet in 2 Worlds added two articles to the collection recently — one that introduced us to immigrant vendors at the Union Square Greenmarket and another that took us to Crown Heights, where a “Trinidad Chinese style” restaurant thrives in the heart of the local West Indian community.

Reporter and Feet in 2 Worlds workshop participant Nina Agrawal interview a food vendor in Union Square. (Photo by Jocelyn Gonzales/Feet in 2 Worlds)

Seven immigrant reporters and writers descended on the Union Square Greenmarket to profile and record immigrants who work there. Feet in 2 Worlds tied the stories together into a 15-minute audio podcast, including some of the tidbits on immigrant communities listed below:

  • Before customers arrive, many Tibetan immigrants work on setting up the market, some of them singing Tibetan songs as they work.
  • A Serbian flower vendor discusses the purchasing habits of different communities. Those from the Balkans, for example, go for figs and carnations.
  • A French wine seller wants to educate Americans about wine, an interest that he said has “escalated” in the past 40 years since he arrived in the United States.

You can also view a Storify collage of photos and full interviews with the vendors at Feet in 2 Worlds.

Aaron Leaf of Feet in 2 Worlds also took us to Nostrand Avenue in Crown Heights, and to Trinidad Golden Place, where lines that snake out the door for the restaurant’s Trinidad-style Chinese food, as well as its pastries and bread.

Popular restaurant Trinidad Golden Place on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn takes its customers back home to Trinidad through its food and authentic seasonings. (Photo by Aaron Leaf)

On a recent afternoon, patrons were foregoing the Lo Mein for order-after-order of Trinidadian-style roti. These scalding packages contain large portions of curried goat, chicken, shrimp, chickpeas or potato wrapped in a chewy flat-bread. The other big seller on the menu is what owner and chef Wazo, calls his specialty: the currant role. This popular Trinidadian treat contains handfuls of tart currants sitting between buttery layers of hot pastry.

Trinidad Golden Place’s owner and chef Wazo notes that, “The whole area was much more Caribbean before” with families being displaced by transplants from Manhattan.

Despite the restaurant’s description as “Trinidad Chinese style,” Wazo said his food is not strictly Chinese.

Trinidad Golden Place features, “home-made Trinidadian style food and all natural ingredients.” All the seasonings, Wazo insists, come from Trinidad. The spices for the curries and and stir-fries he gets from importers, but that’s not enough. Every two months he either goes to Trinidad himself to shop for ingredients or has someone do it for him.

Despite the sign on the awning advertising “Trinidad Chinese food,” Wazo says it’s a misconception to say his food is Chinese. Trinidadian cooking, he says, is a combination of Chinese, Indian and Creole—which itself a mix of European and African influences—and because Trinidad is such a diverse community, people eat it all.

Visit Feet in 2 Worlds for a recipe for Trinidadian doubles, a popular snack from Trinidad and Tobago’s capital, Port of Spain.

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