When I moved to New York, four months ago I convinced myself that I had to live in the vicinity of a West African community. I had planned on moving near Little Senegal, 116th Street in Harlem, but found that the rents were too expensive. I was staying with a friend in Bed-Stuy and he suggested that I check out the neighborhood around Fulton and Bedford as there were a collection of African restaurants around there.
On the corner of Bedford and Fulton sits the Masjid At-Taqwa. From what I can see, the building is a large part of the identity of the neighborhood. Muslims of all backgrounds have congregated in the area, and you can see people from West Africa, South Asia, and The Middle East all going about their business. I wonder how the settlement pattern happened. Were immigrants attracted to the area because of low rents and the Muslim community brought the Mosque there? Or did the community develop around the Mosque? The block surrounding the Mosque is filled with restaurants that exist to cater to the crowd coming to worship. Halal food signs dominate the block with various ethnic food themes: Chinese to Arabic to African. The names of the restaurants entertain me as most of the restaurants manage to work the words “Halal” and “American” into their often long and strung out names. Signs promoting healthy or more conscious lifestyle choices such as, “Don’t eat junk” and “No Pork” line the street.
Al Pasha restaurant, next to Masjid At-Taqwa isn’t the best restaurant in the neighborhood, but it’s clientele seems to be one of the most diverse. I sat late last night with a diverse collection of men eating, and women either working or studying and watched the events in Egypt unfold on Al-Jazeera. Most of the restaurants I’ve been to have flat screen TV’s with satellite connections to news in the local language about events back “home”. My favorite restaurant, “Halal African Cuisine African and American Food” down the street serves home cooked West African food and depending on the time of day will show a range of shows, from French language news, to soap operas.
What I like about the restaurants in the neighborhood is that you can eat well for cheap, and no matter the targeted crowd, you can find a diverse clientele. Some of my favorite people watching happens at the Dominican run, “Spanish and American food” restaurant, where Black Americans talk in broken Spanish to prescribe an alternative to the Dominican version of rice and chicken. The ordering habits differ by cultural familiarity.
I hypothesize that there are two main groups that frequent these restaurants. One is the ethnic or religious community that is targeted by creating familiar home-style dishes, and the other is a local low income clientele that is attracted to the decent food at affordable prices. This study will be focus on socio-economic and cultural motivations for frequenting the food establishments in the area.