by Eileen Guo
New York City is a foodie’s paradise, and in the summers, there is no better place to enjoy the diversity of its cuisines than Smorgasburg, the weekly open-air market on Saturdays and Sundays that has become a cultural institution since its opening in 2011.
Applesauce spoke to three of this year’s most popular newcomers to “Smorg”, who are emblematic of the melting pot that is New York.
Rose Michel, Haitian Food at Belmere Catering
The summer of 2015 was a big one for Rose Michele, the head chef and founder of Belmere Catering. “I was living in a domestic violence shelter and starting my catering company.”
For Rose, a Haitian-American – “I was in my mother’s stomach when we came over” – home cook who credits her time in the kitchen as saving her from domestic violence, it was a dream to go full-time with her passion – and to take part in Smorg. At the encouragement of the shelter, however, she went for it, and can now be found sharing her food – and stories, personal and historic alike – at Smorg every Saturday and Sunday.
Take the “Freedom Soup”, a rich and spicy soup with a pumpkin puree base. According to Rose, pumpkin was only available to the French during Haiti’s colonial past, and so, “When Haiti became independent, one of the first things we did was cook with pumpkin.”
Try: (Vegetarian) freedom soup, a concoction of carrots, potatoes, celery, and pasta in a spicy pumpkin puree, or fried pork belly, covered in her special homemade marinade.
Chakriya Un, Authentic Cambodian at Kreung Cambodian
When Chakriya Un started Kreung Cambodia, she had just returned from visiting relatives in Cambodia. Struck by their poverty, she decided to raise $80,000 to buy them a tractor. A lover of cooking, she turned to food as a conduit for both her fundraising efforts, as well as to connect to her Cambodian roots and the wider community – including her parents, survivors of the bloody Khmer Rouge regime that resulted in the death of 1.5 million.
In cooking with her mother, Chakriya found a way for the two to have difficult conversations about that period. Some of the dishes that Chakriya and her mother prepare include prahok, a fermented fish paste, which they prepare in bulk: 150 gallons over a time-consuming 3 days to make. But Chakriya relishes in this time together: “I get to cook the food of my culture and record information that would have otherwise been lost.”
Smorgasburg has been game-changing for her business, but just as rewarding has been the social impact: Kreung has convened a community of Cambodians around Cambodian food. “The authenticity of the food sparks conversations…among displaced Cambodians within my generation and in my broader community.”
Try the Tuk Prahok D’tiss: a dish of ground pork cooked in coconut milk and kreung, a blend of kaffir lime leaves, turmeric, galangal, and lemongrass, and prahok, fermented fish paste (made by Chakriya and her mother), all served with vegetables and a side of rice; or the yucca fries with salty coconut milk and chives.
Tristan Chin-Fatt, Fusion at Destination Dumplings
Tristan Chin-Fatt and Andrew Steinberg, the multi-ethnic restauranteurs behind Destination Dumplings, have several things in common: they both grew up in Queens, worked their way up New York City’s restaurant industry, and married Chinese women from Fujian province, where a type of flat dumpling called the bian rou is popular.
It was these similarities that led to the creation of Destination Dumplings. Looking to create a food that would represent the many different parts of their own backgrounds, they were excited by the dumpling’s universality. “Every culture has a form of dumpling,” said Chin-Fatt.
The basic structure of the dumpling also lends itself particularly well to experimentation. So, while Destination Dumplings serve familiar tastes like the classic pork and chive dumpling, their most popular item, they also serve flavors such as peking duck, Jamaican jerk chicken, and edamame, all wrapped up in a layer of dough. “We draw influence from our borough,” Chin-Fatt concluded. “[Queens] is really just a melting pot…it’s the most culturally diverse place in the world.”
Try: the revolving “secret menu” which was, most recently, the “gyreza”, part gyro and part gyoza, made with a ground lamb filling with house-made tzatziki sauce and fresh dill.