Tag Archive | "Immigration"

Tongue tacos in Manhattan


Walk down a street in any given Mexican city and you will find many taco stands, the good ones before the bad ones.  The aroma of spicy meat and vegetables will guide your feet to the perfect stand.  Most have meat or pork tacos, but every once in a while you might run into one that serves lengua, Spanish for tongue.

While Manhattan doesn’t have the stands on every corner, you can find tongue in Harlem at the brick and mortar hotel, Cinco De Mayo  Restaurant at 1028 Amsterdam Ave. has them.  No such aroma on the sidewalk, but you’ll know to go in by it’s big Red, Green and white canopy on the west side of the street.

They charge $2.95 a taco, which isn’t too bad.  In Northern Mexico they go for about a dollar each.  The tongue isn’t made directly from the meat.  It’s boiled, peeled then sautéed, normally with tomatoes and onions.  Then it’s topped off with cilantro in true Mexican fashion.  And to make it even more authentic, you have to squeeze a little lime on it, preferably from your cold Corona.

It’s most common to eat them with corn tortillas.  You might need two, because the tongue tends to be somewhat watery.   A normal person will probably be satisfied with about six tacos.  The beauty in that is to vary them.  If you’re not feeling bold, have a couple steak tacos, maybe some head-meat tacos.  Once you have tongue, you can graduate to tacos made from head muscles.  And that’s the gateway drug for entering the adventurously delicious world of brain and tripe tacos.

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Traditional cooking, updated

Mavel Vanetes, left and Massiel Soto, right, eat at a hands-on cooking class in BrooklynBy WINNIE ANDREWS

Alicia Baez is making a stuffed avocado dish she learned back in Mexico. But this time she is leaving out the salt and replacing the fresh shrimp with canned tuna. It isn’t the traditional version, but that is intentional.  She is making them with less sodium and more economical ingredients.

The goal is to make what you like, but reduce sodium, sugar, fat and refined grains, and increase the amount of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Baez and several other mothers signed up for a free eight-week nutrition class at the New Life Head Start preschool in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The hands-on class is one of many nutrition courses that encourage making familiar foods in healthier ways.

The thinking here is that people are more likely to eat healthfully if they can stick to a version of foods they are used to.  Nutrition cooking classes like this across the country respond to the needs of populations with high rates of obesity and diabetes.

To make her dish, Baez cuts shining green avocados in half and fills each one with a mound of chopped tomato and tuna. She is making them at the last day of her class when participants can bring in dishes they enjoy, modifying them according to what they have learned.

Sonia Delvalle is teaching the nutrition and cooking class in Bushwick as part of a Cornell University program designed to help low-income families improve their eating habits. The five Hispanic mothers in her afternoon class gather for two hours a week not only to cook and learn nutritional facts but also to share information and try new exercise techniques. Two women have brought their small children, and the babies sleep peacefully in the mothers’ arms while one small boy joins the women as they exercise to Latin music and tries to eat the tacos, stuffed avocados and salad with a fork.

Spanish is the primary language of the class, and Delvalle only switches to English if there is someone who doesn’t speak Spanish in the room. During class, the women share information about foods from their respective countries. They talk about how to make a traditional Dominican drink called “Morir soñando”  (”to die dreaming”) more healthy by replacing evaporated milk with low-fat milk.  One woman brought in rolled tacos she made in Mexico, but this time with low-sodium cheese.

Delvalle stressed that healthy eating doesn’t mean overspending on organic food or drastically changing diet. Nutrition is all around, she said, it’s just a matter of using it in ways you like. She encouraged the mothers to buy fruits and vegetables, either fresh or in a can, and to put them in their favorite dishes. During the course, she handed out a recipe for quesadillas with low sodium cheese and broccoli, and a corn salad. Delvalle also reminded the women to wash the sodium off canned foods, and that juice was a good alternative to soda. “A 12 oz soda can has 10 teaspoons of sugar” she said.

Stuffed avocado from the healthy eating cooking class at Head Start preschool, in Bushwick Brooklyn

Compared to white Americans, African-American populations have a 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity and Hispanics a 21 percent higher prevalence, according to a recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. These two demographic groups are at a higher genetic risk for adult onset diabetes as well; 11.8 percent of African-Americans and 10.4 percent of Hispanics over the age of 20 are diagnosed with diabetes compared with 6.6 percent of white Americans, according to 2004-2006 national survey data compiled by the CDC.

Obesity puts an individual at a higher risk for diabetes, and diabetes is further exacerbated by unhealthy eating. People with excess body fat around their waist — especially those who have an apple shaped body outline rather than a pear shape – can become insulin resistant. Diabetes prevents insulin from efficiently converting sugar in the blood into energy. This is particularly a problem for foods that raise the sugar level in the blood quickly, such as white bread and sugary sweets. Over time, diabetes results in damaged blood vessels and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure also increases the risk for these same cardiovascular complications, so high sodium intake is also discouraged for those with diabetes.

Bringing people from similar cultural groups together over food can help them feel supported and share information. Dr.Carol Horowitz, a physician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in East Harlem, developed Help Educate to Eliminate Diabetes (HEED), community workshops that help people with pre-diabetes reduce their weight.

“Rather than us stereotyping a culture, we let people speak for themselves, creating a safe environment to tackle their biggest challenges,” said Dr. Horowitz through an e-mail. People lost weight and kept it off in HEED’s pilot workshops said Kasey Coyne, a research assistant at Mount Sinai Medical Center. The program teaches moderation rather than focusing on avoiding certain foods.

Dr. Catherine Vigran, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente, in Sacramento, Calif. said healthy eating “doesn’t have to be a message of self-denial. It’s about showing people that there is some possibility for change.” Dr. Vigran helped develop a Family Cooking Club in 2008 when she realized there was a need for nutrition classes for the Spanish-speaking parents of her patients.

Sonia Delvalle, center, teaches exercises at a healthy eating class at Head Start

The Noelli Center, a patient education program in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, held its first healthy soul food cooking class in October. The workshop, called Heart and Soul, targeted people looking to lose weight, with early diabetes and high blood pressure. Participants talked about nutrition and ate traditional soul foods such as collard greens, cabbage, and fried fish, prepared with less sodium, fat and cholesterol. They were also given recipes on how to make the dishes at home.

Dr. Asha Isable, who opened the Noelli Center this fall, takes the proactive approach when it comes to obesity and diabetes in her patients. “Most disease is preventable, so that is what needs to be addressed,” she said. The center focuses on providing health education for young professionals and college students of color, a demographic that Isable said is often overlooked by other nutrition programs that target low-income groups.

Dr. Isable said teaching people in their 20s and 30s nutrition is important because that is when they develop the eating and lifestyle habits they will carry with them through life and pass on to their children. She created the soul food nutrition events as a way for young professionals to socialize while learning to improve their diets.

Others are finding new ways to cook soul food as well. Evalina Irish Spencer is the training specialist for the nutrition branch of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension in Manhattan. She suggested substituting some of the white flour in cornbread for whole flour. And for dishes like collard greens, “try not to cook the greens until they look like a lump,” she said, “try to cook them so they remain crisp and green.” In many health recipes, collard greens are cooked with turkey neck or olive oil rather than fat back from a pig to reduce the sodium and fat content.

Especially inventive recipes are able to turn infamous dishes like fried chicken into a nutritious meal. Lindsey Williams, author of “Neo-Soul, Taking Soul Food to a Whole ‘Notha Level,” suggests coating chicken in yoghurt and then rolling it in Rice Crispies and oregano to give it a crunch before popping it in the oven. It’s like fried chicken without the grease, he said.

Another alternative suggested by many nutritionists is replacing salt with fresh herbs. This reduces sodium and increases flavor. Gina Puzzanghera suggests this to the students in her cooking classes in East Harlem, where 62 percent of the population is overweight or obese. The area also has the densest concentration of diabetes of any area in New York City.

Puzzanghera opened Nourishing Kitchen, a small nutritionally based soup kitchen, in 2007 and currently teaches people of all ages healthy cooking.  As she oversaw the preparation of jerk chicken for the week’s free hot meal, Puzzanghera explained that she never uses white flour or white sugar in her recipes. “It’s great to give people food that won’t give people a diabetic seizure,” she said.

Irish-Spencer, the nutritionist from Cornell, said that food plays an important factor in feeling connected to a culture. Cuisine can also play a role in understanding other cultures, she said. Irish-Spencer is particularly excited about cooking classes with people from mixed cultural backgrounds. She points to the love of mangos in Caribbean cultures, and how it’s fun for people to realize that mangos actually come from China. “We think we are so different,” Irish Spencer said, “but we can share and enjoy other people’s foods.” The Hispanic women at the Head Start class in Brooklyn all had the same favorite dish: healthy Chinese fried rice.

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Day of the Dead starts at the bakery


Mexican bakeries all over New York City are preparing pan de muerto, Spanish for bread of the dead, for the Day of the Dead celebration on Nov. 1. But Panaderia Caotzingo on 76-11 Roosevelt Avenue in Queens is anything but dead during the week before the holiday as customers bustle in and load trays with pan de muerto fresh from the oven. Baker Sergio Rodriguez, 22, makes 270 pieces of dome-shaped ‘’dead bread’’ each day, sized as small as the palm of a hand for $1.50, or bigger than a grown man’s face for $12. The sweet, cinnamon-infused bread is decorated with bits of cooked dough shaped like bones.

Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos) has been celebrated by Mexican Indians for centuries. To them, it is the day the dead come back to visit the living–friends, relatives, and loved ones. Often, Catholic families make offerings at the graves of their loved ones, leaving them their favorite food, or even their favorite vice, be it cigarettes or alcohol. But they always leave pan de muerto, says bakery worker Yessica Rodriguez, 23, who is originally from the 300-person Southern Mexican town of San Jose Chilipa.. Rodriquez’s grandmother on her mother’s side died six years ago; each year, her family back home takes the 25-minute walk to the local cemetery.

When they arrive at the cemetery, located between mango trees and a cornfield, they make a velvet shrine and lay offerings of bean and chicken tamales, chocolates and purple flowers—any kind, as long as they’re purple. Her late grandfather gets a single Marlboro Red cigarette. When Rodriguez dies, she says she would like to have an offering of bean and chicken tamales, just like her grandmother. But she’s too busy to think about death right now—she must finish a sale to Cristian Moran, 26, from Guerrero, another state in Southern Mexico.

Moran has lived in the United States for six years. His grandfather died one month ago, but instead of going to Mexico, he sent $200 to relatives back home. He said people don’t celebrate Day of the Dead in New York City as much as they did in his hometown.

Bakery manager Sergio Najera, 54, agrees. Most Mexicans who die in New York City have their remains sent home, he says, so there is little reason to celebrate in local cemeteries. Adults tend to honor the dead privately, and children have another tradition to enjoy: Halloween.

Zeltzin Rosendo, 10, is excited for the 31st of October.

“They give you candy on Halloween and you get to get dressed up,” she says, standing next to the window displays that shows off piles of pan de muerto to people who walk past. She is not a fan of putting food on graves.

“That kind of creeps me out a bit,” she says.

Her brother died in the womb this past year, and this will be the first time they lay an offering to him. They will leave him pan de muerto.

Some people prefer neither Halloween nor a Day of the Dead in America. Queens resident Enrique Jimenez remembers his childhood experience with pan de muerto as he makes a quick visit to the bakery.

“I would buy the bread when I was little, or my mom baked it, but not too much anymore,” he says.

This year he will gather with his cousins and his brother, who is bringing pan de muerto from Mexico.

“This bread has a different flavor,” he says. “The original flavor is from Mexico.”

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A Korean Thanksgiving at the Fulton Fish Market


Seafood buyers and sellers enjoy traditional dishes prepared for the Korean Thanksgiving at the Fulton Fish Market.

Seafood buyers and sellers enjoy the Korean Thanksgiving at the Fulton Fish Market.

Trays of Korean food lay steaming against the refrigerated air of the Fulton Fish Market. There were thin slices of beef sautéed with soy sauce and garlic (bulgogi), glass noodles stir-fried with beef and carrots (japche), and sweet crescent-shaped dumplings filled with sesame seeds and honey. The table stood beside boxes of whole trout, sea bass and blue crab, and about fifteen men, ending a hard day’s work at 7 a.m. on a Friday in October, waited in line to scoop the hot food onto their plates. For some, it looked familiar; for others, colorful and interesting.

This celebration of the Korean harvest festival—also informally called the Korean Thanksgiving—marked a small victory for Dong Joo Park, 57, president of the Korean Seafood Association of New York, who had organized the event. “This is the first party for Korean people at this market,” he said in accented English.

And it is a culmination of a long history of immigrant politics, corruption and solidarity in the briny underbelly of New York City’s seafood business.

Since the 1970s, Korean seafood workers have been slowly gaining clout in the Italian-dominated Fulton Fish Market. Last Friday marked the first Korean cultural celebration on the floor of the first Korean wholesaler in what is now the largest seafood market in the country.

The Korean Seafood Association started in 1977 following an influx of Korean immigrants in the 1960s and 70’s. Though many headed towards produce, a small but growing network of Korean immigrants became seafood retailers and purveyors—the middlemen between the retailers and wholesalers—and they bought seafood from the wholesalers at the Fulton Fish Market.

At the time, the Genovese mafia family, following waves of Italian emigration in the 19th century, controlled the Fulton Fish Market, which was then operating beside the docks of South Street in Manhattan. “People could not complain. If you complained, you got beaten. One person per year was killed,” Park said. Scale readings were also miscalculated; prices were arbitrarily determined; cheap fish were switched for expensive fish: and the Koreans received the brunt of the discrimination. Afraid to alert the police, they quietly went about their business.

A couple of changes started taking place in parallel in the 1980s: a sweeping anti-mob crusade led by then U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani and a surge in Korean immigration to New York. In 1987, Giuliani filed a racketeering suit against the Fulton Fish Market, effectively leading to the successful federal prosecution of mafia bosses through the 1990s and the eventual diminution of organized crime in New York.

Tony Lee, the first Korean wholesaler at the market, stands in his office above his lot.

Tony Lee, the first Korean wholesaler at the market, stands in his office above the ground floor where Captain Blue sells seafood to retailers and purveyors.

In 1986, Tony Lee, a nuclear power plant engineer, left South Korea and became a seafood purveyor, supplying retail shops and restaurants in New York City. “I liked my [former] job, but I came for my family. My mother wanted me here.”

Shortly after his arrival, he met Il Yeon Kwon, 53, Chairman and CEO of the Korean supermarket conglomerate H-Mart, which was recently highlighted in Forbes. Lee explained that, at the time of their encounter, there were only two H-Marts in Flushing, Queens, a haven for Korean immigrants then and now. As Lee supplied the H-Marts with seafood, the number of Korean immigrants kept growing and fueling a greater demand for Korean food, which in turn, grew Lee’s business more and more. H-Mart now has 33 stores from New York to California, according to the company Web site, and Lee is their sole seafood supplier.

In 2005, as part of the ongoing cleanup, the city moved the Fulton Fish Market’s 38 wholesalers and 600 employees—mostly Italian—to a new $85 million facility in Hunts Point, Bronx. “Before this market moved from downtown Manhattan, all the mafia people controlled this market. Since Giuliani cleaned up all the mafia people, the situation is very different than before,” Park said. Now it is “very clean. No crime. No nothing here. Now, Koreans can buy fish without problems. They can negotiate prices, complain.”

In 2008, with new market conditions and financial strength backed by Korean immigration, Tony Lee opened Captain Blue, the first Korean wholesaler in the 187-year history of the Fulton Fish Market. “Since I started in seafood, I always wanted to be a wholesaler here,” he said. After nearly 25 years in seafood, he now runs a multi-ethnic 19-person company selling fish and shellfish from all over the world. According to his long-standing business partner and salesperson, Paul or “Paulie” Muzzio, 38, “he could sell you a bag of rocks if he could.”

Lee admits his main challenge as a new entrant is acquiring new customers who have been using the same vendors for years. “A lot of companies got more than one hundred years of business. It’s generational.” Currently, H-Mart represents 60% of Captain Blue’s sales, and Muzzio, who has been a seafood salesperson for 23 years, has brought his own customer following to Captain Blue. But they want to grow the business.

Lee said, “It’s very hard right now,” but “a lot of Korean people try to help me by buying from me.” Park has also been supporting Lee’s business by strategically placing the Korean festival on the floor of Captain Blue.

Outfitted in his glossy blue Members-Only jacket, Park said, “We are right in front of Captain Blue wholesalers. It is run by Korean people. It is owned by Korean people. It’s a big operation. It was not easy.”

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Happy Thanksgiving, eh!

Pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving staple for Americans and Canadians. (Photo: Megan Gibson)

Pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving staple for Americans and Canadians. (Photo: Megan Gibson)


This year, Thanksgiving fell on Oct. 12.

Oh, to clarify — Canadian Thanksgiving was on Oct. 12 (although Canadians just say Thanksgiving).

Along with the metric system, universal health care and a penchant for the word toque, celebrating Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October is just another example of the subtle differences between the United States and Canada.

For Zachary Sniderman, 22, a Canadian who has been living in the U.S. since 2005, Thanksgiving marks a particularly pertinent time in which American/Canadian differences are highlighted. He has found the emphasis on the feast to be more significant in the U.S., noting Americans’ affinity for large-scale celebrations. “It’s huge, it’s much more of a holiday.”

Despite fascination with their own holiday, Sniderman says Americans often demonstrate a general unawareness about the Canadian version. “When you tell Americans that you’re celebrating Thanksgiving they look at you like you got it wrong,” he said. However, being questioned about the earlier date over the years has forced Sniderman to examine the meaning of his holiday.

Thanksgiving traditionally celebrates the end of harvest, and is held earlier in Canada because being farther north, colder temperatures mean that crops must be gathered sooner.

The American holiday is believed to have begun at Plymouth Colony in 1621 when English pilgrims feasted with Native Americans. But the Canadian holiday has two contenders for its origins. In 1578, Martin Frobisher, an English explorer , settled in Newfoundland and celebrated his explorations and long journeys with a feast. Similarly, French explorer Samuel de Champlain was also known to have eaten celebratory feasts in the region that is now Quebec, in the early 1600s.

The October date of the contemporary celebration was fixed by Parliament in 1957 (Parliament—another difference from the U.S.). But the modern holiday celebration is largely the same in both countries. Traditionally, a turkey is roasted (not a Canada goose), dessert is pumpkin pie (no traces of maple syrup), and there is football to be watched (in addition to NFL and U.S. college games, the Canadian Football League always has the Thanksgiving Day Classic).

But the difference in dates does pose a problem for those Canadians living in America but accustomed to celebrating in October. Erika Berntson, 22, came to the U.S. five months ago to start her graduate program at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and soon suffered culture shock. “I was really surprised when it happened because I was not expecting it,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Since the Canadian holiday isn’t recognized with time off in her American curriculum, Bernston will not be celebrating with her family this year. However, she does confess to maintaining one tradition: “I’m going to make pies here, though.”

Some Canadians don’t feel particularly disconnected from the holiday when in the U.S.  Ryan Taylor, 19, has been living in New York for work and this is the first year he hasn’t celebrated with his family, who are in Toronto. Taylor said that Americans are aware of the difference in holiday. “Most people know that we have it on a different day. They just forget.”

Taylor said his family usually celebrated the holiday by leaving home and heading north to their cottage. This year will be no exception for his family, despite Taylor’s absence. Although he says he’s envious of his family’s celebration, it’s not all bad in the U.S. “I got invited to go to Washington so it’s just as good.”

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