From Washington Street to Atlantic Avenue: Food Stories from New York's Little Syria

Courtesy of Congress, Prints, and Photography Division [LC-USZ62-37780] George Grantham Bain Collection

Courtesy of Congress, Prints, and Photography Division [LC-USZ62-37780] George Grantham Bain Collection

Join us as we discover the rich culinary history of Syrian communities in New York City. Beginning in the 1880s, Syrian immigrants settled in lower Manhattan, setting up food shops, restaurants, and grocery stores. We'll taste fermented milk at Arta's Restaurant, reviewed by the New York Times in 1899. We'll listen to opera at Kalil's, a Syrian-owned restaurant which boasted seating for 1,000 at a time! We'll speak to Linda K. Jacobs, a descendant of New York's Syrian Colony and author of Strangers in the West as she helps us to explore the history of this vibrant community. But you can't mention Syrian food in New York without mentioning the James Beard award-winning Sahadi's grocery store, now over a hundred years old! We'll trace the history of the Sahadi family from their arrival in New York to their iconic grocery store in Little Syria, located on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. We'll walk in cookbook author Tracey Ceurvels' footsteps as she prepares a delicious recipe using ingredients from the numerous locally owned Middle-Eastern shops in this neighborhood, the heart of the Syrian and Lebanese New York community today. 

Written and Produced by Laura Carlson

Technical Direction by Mike Portt

Editorial Help from Lynne Provencher

Special Guests include:

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Linda K. Jacobs holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Archaeology/Anthropology and spent many years working on archaeological excavations and economic development projects in the Middle East. Dr. Jacobs is committed to promoting Middle Eastern culture and knowledge in the United States, founding KalimahPress in 2011 and sitting on the board of several Middle Eastern organizations, including the Near East Foundation and the Moise Khayrallah Center. All four of her grandparents were members of the New York Syrian Colony.

Linda is the author of Strangers in the West: The Syrian Colony of New York City 1880-1900 and Digging In, published by Kalimah Press. 

 
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Tracey Ceurvels is a food and travel journalist and the creator of popular cooking and lifestyle blog, The NYC Kitchen. She has been published in the Boston Globe, the New York Times, the New York Daily NewsRelish, and Time Out, among other places. Tracey lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her daughter, Sabrina.

Visit her at http://newyorkcity.kitchen.

Her new cookbook, The NYC Kitchen Cookbook is available now! 

Episode Soundtrack

Jahzzar, "Solitude" (licensed under a Attribution-ShareAlike License)

Andy G. Cohen, "A Perceptible Shift" and "Piscoid" (licensed under a Attribution License.)

Enrique Caruso, "Santa Lucia" (available in the Public Domain) 

Interior of Sahadi's Grocery Store, Courtesy of the New York Times, 1899

Interior of Sahadi's Grocery Store, Courtesy of the New York Times, 1899

A souvenir postcard from Kalil's Park Place Restaurant dating from the early 20th century, featuring photographs of its famous 1000-seat dining room. 

A souvenir postcard from Kalil's Park Place Restaurant dating from the early 20th century, featuring photographs of its famous 1000-seat dining room. 

Sample Menu from Kalil's Restaurant, dated 1907. Courtesy of the New York Public Library. Notice the "American" focus to the dishes

Sample Menu from Kalil's Restaurant, dated 1907. Courtesy of the New York Public Library. Notice the "American" focus to the dishes

Image by Pavel Antonov and provided courtesy of PlayCo

Image by Pavel Antonov and provided courtesy of PlayCo

Oh My Sweet Land

Written & Directed by Amir Nizar Zuabi

A brief description of the play, courtesy of The Play Company

Step into the kitchen. The onions are cooking on the stove and meat is on the cutting board waiting to be chopped. Our host is preparing kubah, a traditional Syrian dish. While she cooks, she tells us the story of meeting Ashraf, a Syrian exile, and falling in love with him as he desperately tries to help those he was forced to leave behind. When he vanishes, she impulsively trails him to her homeland—one she has never known, now consumed by war. As the meal comes together and then falls apart, we learn the stories of brutality, grace, and humanity of the Syrian refugees she meets along the way.

In its U.S premiere, writer and director AMIR NIZAR ZUABI and PLAYCO will present OH MY SWEET LAND for the first time in home kitchens and community spaces creating a theatrical experience that will be close, personal and lift what’s happening in Syria out of the news cycle and into a simple human interaction that allows us to hear and feel in a different way. 

Oh My Sweet Land was created by Amir and the actress Corinne Jaber from their experiences traveling amongst Syrian refugee camps in Amman, Jordan. In his forward to the published script, Amir writes:

We met people in the harshest moments of their life, yet still they were generous, full of grace, hope and even humour. This piece is inspired by their stories but more than anything it is inspired by their spirit – that elastic rubber-like ability humans have to adapt and to weather the storm. 

Oh My Sweet Land had its world premiere in Lausanne, Switzerland and has been seen in London at The Young Vic, Dublin at the Abbey Theater, in Amsterdam, Abu Dhabi, Mumbai, and Toronto. The script is published by Bloomsbury.

Learn more about the play & NY showtimes here


Tracey Ceurvels' Chicken Tagine

featured in The New York City Kitchen Cookbook

Serves 4–6

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I love how my kitchen smells while a tagine is roasting in the oven. All those exotic spices swirling around are so intoxicating that I make this dish at least once a month. Get yourself an actual tagine dish, for optimal cooking, like the one pictured from Emile Henry, or use a Dutch oven or other large pan with a cover. Part of the fun of this dish is mixing the spices; you don’t have to adhere to what I mixed together—feel free to improvise!

2 tablespoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 tablespoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon cardamom 

2 teaspoons allspice

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 pounds chicken pieces (breast and/or thigh)

coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 large red or yellow onion, sliced into circles

2 medium-sized potatoes, sliced into circles

3 tomatoes, chopped (I recommend Roma)

3/4 cup olives (I recommend green Castelvetrano)

Zest of 1 lemon

1 cup of water

Preheat oven to 325°F. In a small bowl, combine spices and set aside. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Brown chicken for about 5 minutes on each side. Remove from pan and set aside. In a tagine, arrange onion slices so they cover the bottom of the dish. Add potato slices in the same manner. Arrange chicken on top of the potatoes. Toss tomatoes and olives around the dish. Sprinkle with lemon zest and spice mixture. Add water to the bottom of the tagine. Cook in the oven for about 75 minutes. After 45 minutes, check to see if the dish needs more water.