Booty Shaking and Barbecue: The West Indian Labor Day Parade

For 43 straight years, this annual carnivale has imbued Eastern Parkway with the scents of eats from the islands.

It can be painful to ponder summer’s end, but at least the close of the season brings one of the borough’s best bashes. For 43 straight years on Labor Day, the annual West Indian American Day Carnivale has imbued Eastern Parkway with the sound of steel drums and the scents of eats from the islands.

All day long, from Rochester Avenue to Grand Army Plaza, the Parkway becomes a crush of stories-high floats blasting the bass of reggae, of dancers (barely) dressed in masquerade style with spangles and bangles and feathers and fringe in the colors of Trinidad and Tobago, of Jamaica, Barbados, The Cayman Islands, Haiti and Grenada.

Brooklyn’s West Indian population is second only to that in the Caribbean itself, and for one delicious day the sidewalks are crowded with stalls sporting deep fryers, kettle smokers and the flavors of home. Diners line up 20 deep for fried whiting and cod fritters; for jerk chicken, oxtail, beef patties, collards and callaloo; for rice and pigeon peas and plantains; for the chickpea-stuffed sandwich snacks called “doubles” and the curry-stuffed flatbreads called “roti”; for little bags of barbecue shrimp with heads and tails intact; and for coconut water, mango-lemonades and sweet, cold pink drinks made with red hibiscus flower known in the West Indies as “sorrel.” As summer sets, you eat it all on the side of the street—or better still, out of hand as you dance to the beat.

Photo credit:  Mira Zaki.




Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.