Before the Starbucks and bars, my Dominican mother and Puerto Rican father would take us to La Marketa along the L train to buy bacalao and chat with the vendors, or to La Isla Cuchifrito in Bushwick for the greasy deep-fried alcapurrias.
Despite being born and raised in Queens County, much of my cultural identity comes from spending a lot of time at those spots in Bushwick and Williamsburg.
One of the most memorable places we’d eat was at George’s along Graham. We’d always go there to get rotisserie chicken, hot chicken sandwiches to help us warm up and yucca with vinegary onions. This was right after attending Three Kings’ Day festivities in the area and stopping by the music stores to listen to salsa and merengue. It was the last hurrah of the holiday season, right after Christmas and New Year’s, the last time we’d get to eat and hang out like that again. I think it was my parents’ way of trying to extend the season for us, since the holidays lasted longer for them when they were kids in the Caribbean.
After we’d wave to the horses, camels, people in robes and to Los Tres Reyes Magos with their glittery crowns on their way to see El Niño Jesús, we would walk down Graham Avenue to the corner of Broadway. We’d line the counter and order a carrot juice or a morir soñando. It’s a mixture of orange juice and condensed milk that’s served in the Dominican Republic. It tastes like a melted orange creamsicle and weirdly enough its name translates to “to die dreaming.” And even though my mom grew up with it, one of the few times my siblings and I were allowed to drink large cups of it was after the parade.
Back when I used to eat beef and pork, I’d have toasted Cuban sandwiches, pernil and share a piece of chuleta with my siblings. Now I usually just opt for the chicken or for yucca and one of the fresh carrot juices whenever I go to George’s. Going there reminds me of when I could go to that part of Brooklyn and feel at home. Just smelling the chicken and the yams when I happen to walk by feels like being in elementary school again. It makes me almost cave and go inside to buy a crunchy beef-filled alcapurria. I did once two years ago, and even though I felt bad about eating a cow, it was kind of nice to have some of my childhood back.
I think I’ll be going back to celebrate the Three Kings’ Day festivities again this year. It may be with fewer family members now that my siblings don’t live in New York anymore, and I can’t eat as much of the menu as I used to, but it’ll be worth the train ride to the restaurant. Getting to be a part of those celebrations and having my favorite foods afterwards reminds me why I used to love the holiday season so much.