Sunday, November 8, 2015
Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-New York, New York
This is the first time I have been able to pinpoint a specific neighborhood in the city I was featuring on this blog, but with a city the size of New York, you have the luxury to be able to do this. I am very excited about this! New York is so big that it seems to have regions within it. They are known as "boroughs". Think of it like this, if New York City itself was a state, the borough would be the county in which you live. From there, the smaller neighborhoods would be like your individual city or town in which you lived. For my mind, New York City is so big, the population is so unfathomably large, that it's easier for me to think of it this way. To try and write up the history of the entire city would be ridiculous to even attempt, so I am going to keep it focused on the neighborhood I am featuring.
Little Pakistan is part of Coney Island, which is in the borough of Brooklyn. Coney Island, prior to the European invasion, was home to the Lenape Native American tribe. They referred to the island as "Narrioch," which translates to one of several things: "Land without shadows", "Always in light", "Point", or "Corner of land". The first Europeans to settle in the area were the Dutch, who named it, "Niew Amsterdam," in the early 1600's. Nobody knows for sure how it came to be called Coney Island. There are about five possible theories, though the first time a name akin to "Coney" was recorded, is on a map dating back to 1690. The island was originally unattached to the mainland, a true island, but was connected by a landfill in the 1950's.
Over the years, since the 1840's, when Coney Island was being developed, there have been issues and arguments about how much of the land should be developed and how much should be preserved for wildlife, and of the amusement side of the island, how much should be residential use and how much should be used for entertainment and amusement purposes. The amusement side of Coney Island has changed ownership many times over the years, including Donald Trump's father Fred, who wanted to demolish it all and build luxury apartments. That idea ultimately failed, but it was enough time and pressure that it lowered attendance at the parks significantly for a time. Popularity of the parks has ebbed and flowed over the years as well. Hurricane Sandy caused a lot of damage to the amusement side of the island in 2012, but it has largely been rebuilt since then.
On the other side of Coney Island, is a residential area. Little Pakistan is an ethnic enclave in this area. It resides between Beverly Road and Avenue H, and is home to about the large community of Pakistani Americans in NYC. Pakistani immigrants are one of the fastest growing immigrant groups in New York City. The neighborhood had once been home to a Jewish community, but during the 1990's, the Pakistani community grew ever larger in the area. Between 1990 and 2000, the Pakistani population doubled, and thrived in their new home. But then came 9/11 in 2001, and everything changed. This event would end up devastating Little Pakistan, as they fell under government scrutiny. In the aftermath of 9/11, the FBI swept through the neighborhood, questioning the residents. In 2002, the Department of Homeland Security created a registration program that mandated males 16 and older from 25 mostly Muslim African and Asian countries had to register with the immigration department. From there, about 500 men were rounded up by the department for various issues. Because many of them weren't yet permanent residents, they faced deportation and had to engage in legal proceedings. During this time, 20,000 residents of various South Asian communities in Brooklyn left the city altogether. Some returned to Pakistan, others moved to Australia, and some to Canada. Most never returned. 9/11 and it's consequences forced Little Pakistan to become politically active as a neighborhood. Organizations were formed to help provide legal aid to citizens, as well as helping them learn English and learn how to adapt to American culture. This has helped the community regroup and rebuild, and as of 2011, Little Pakistan now boasts a community of about 50,000 people.
I don't know about you, but I had never heard about what these groups of people were subjected to in the aftermath of 9/11. It's something the media, at least in Seattle, never really focused on. I cannot help but be reminded of what happened to the Japanese American population after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Though the residents of these neighborhoods were not forced from their homes and jobs en masse, I hardly find that a justification for what was done to them. I am very glad to have been educated about, what I feel is an injustice, and though I try to keep this blog relatively light and politics-free, I felt I needed to share this with others. Though I am a foodie, I am also a history major, and I feel I need to stand as a witness to what happens in this country, and share it with others, so that we don't forget. And hopefully, if we remember, we won't let it happen again.
The Food: Poori and Chicken Jalfrezi
Pakistani food is something I have never had before. It was a bit of a last-minute change of plans for this city. Originally I had planned on doing Chanukah for NYC, but I have actually explored the foods of Chanukah a lot over the years, and as I had featured Jewish cuisine for Passover earlier this year, I decided to look around and see what else was out there in the city that I had never tried. I figured that if any place in this country could provide me with an unexplored cuisine, it would be NYC. And it did not disappoint! Pakistani Americans are one of the fastest growing populations in the city. I was really excited to try out the food. I was a bit nervous too, though, because I am not the world's largest fan of Indian food. India, of course, is their neighbor, and I assumed the cuisines would be very similar. But, Pakistan, is in a unique position, geographically, in that while it is next to India on one side, is it next to the Middle East on the other side, so it's influenced by both cultures in their cuisine. And I just happen to love Middle Eastern food! I chose two recipes that I thought would be good for a beginner to the world of Pakistani food, and they were awesome!
Pakistani food relies more heavily on meat than Indian cuisine, and it is Halal, which is the Muslim version of Kosher, if you will. So, you will not find any pork products in their cuisine, and not being Hindu, have a lot more beef in their dishes. Since I don't eat beef or lamb, and they don't eat pork, that basically left me with chicken, and the recipe I found was really good. Both of the recipes come from the internet and the formatting isn't conducive to cutting and pasting, so I will describe the recipes here, but provide the links in the source section at the end of this post.
This is a flat bread that was ridiculously easy to make. A half cup each of white flour and whole wheat flour, a half teaspoon of salt, a half Tablespoon of oil. The recipe didn't specify how much salt to use, so I used a half teaspoon as my best guess of what would be a proper amount. It was just about right, but I could probably have gotten away with a quarter of a teaspoon as well. Depending on your taste buds, I'd recommend between 1/4 and 1/2 teaspoon. Mix it in a bowl and then add water slowly until it all comes together in a dough. I used my hands to mix it. Cover it and let it rest for twenty minutes to relax the glutens in the flour. After that, cut it into ten pieces and roll them into small rounds. Or shapes that cannot quite be named, but are sort of blobs, but are at least flat.
Pan fry them in oil on both sides and let them drain on paper towels. I was really unsure about this one. How can something with so few ingredients, prepared so simply, taste any good? Well, it was amazing! It was a bit crunchy, but the flavor was fantastic! I gobbled them up and still have some for tonight. I hope they will be good the next day and not rock hard. You could probably use all white flour if you wanted something a bit lighter in texture, but I would not recommend using all whole wheat flour. It would be too tough. The photograph in the link for the recipe is much lighter in color than mine. I think that is what it would look like if you used only white flour. I don't think it's because I did something wrong...!
I chose this one because the ingredients were all ones I was familiar with and either had on hand, or could easily procure. When trying out a new cuisine, I think it's good to start with familiar ingredients that are put together in ways you're not used to. It's a good foot in the door. This was such a dish. This called for chicken thighs, which I love, but I suppose you could use boneless skinless chicken breasts if you really wanted to. It might take a bit longer for them to cook, though. The dish was surprisingly simple to make. Chopped onions and garlic in a pot, fry them in some oil, then add tumeric, salt, and chili powder. Then goes in the chicken to cook for a while, mixed with the onions. To that goes a ton of chopped tomatoes and their juices. Cover and cook for a while, though I took the lid off to let the liquid begin to evaporate. My tomatoes had a lot of liquid in them, and the idea of this sauce is to be sort of thick, so you need to let it evaporate as much as possible. To this goes the ginger, cilantro, cumin, and coriander. Mix it all well and continue to cook to let all the seasonings blend together. And that's it.
The flavor was really good! I think if I make this again, though, I will cut the amount of ginger at least in half. Fresh ginger is delicious, but in large quantities, it's actually quite hot and spicy. In small doses, it's good for soothing upset stomachs. In large quantities, it can give you heartburn...! I served this with the poori, but it would also be fabulous with rice pilaf.
As you can see, it's a bit monochromatic. If I'd had parsley, that would be a good garnish, or if you like cilantro, more of that sprinkled over it would be very pretty. The flavors, however, were anything but single-toned. The bread was crunchy and salty and the chicken was filled with delicious spices. I was really impressed with all of it. I definitely want to explore the cuisine more now! This is what I love about this blog project, and what I love about this country. All of these different countries are represented in our nation. Each country adds a patch to the quilt that is American cuisine. I don't like the idea of a "melting pot" as American food is often thought of. Though most cuisines do become Americanized, each one is still entirely distinct, and traceable back to its country of origin. I love exploring it all, and I continue to feel lucky to live in a country where it is all right at my fingertips. I can go anywhere in the world, and I never have to leave my kitchen to do it!
Rebuilding Little Pakistan-1
Rebuilding Little Pakistan-2
Rebuilding Little Pakistan-3
Rebuilding Little Pakistan-4
Chicken Jalfrezi Recipe