The Bronx is full of diversity and that is visible through the vibrant food, music, language and traditions across our communities. Many families who come from an international background strive to keep the traditions of their homeland alive as they live and work here in our borough. International food markets provide a space for locals to buy spices, food and other products from around the world many of which are rare to find in tradition American supermarkets. Although the accessibility of international foods and ingredients are growing with the surge of larger chains such as Whole Foods and Fairway Market, the Bronx still thrives off of local markets with a global appetite.
Food represents a sense of community and speaks to how families and friends come together, share stories and “break bread.” Food has always been an important part of defining and building culture. The pride that comes with having access and options to food products that will help to make your grandmother’s secret family cuisine, makes the Bronx a richer borough. The Bronx has pockets of tradition all around and stepping in to a local market on Arthur Avenue or Boston Road fills the spirit with delicious aromas, the comfort of familiar language and the vibrancy of colors.
Arthur Avenue’s Teitel Brothers Wholesale and Retail Grocery Company and Boston Road’s Palm Tree Marketplace and S.Y. Grace West Indian Market are examples of neighborhood culinary institutions. Hearing about food shopping “back home” from Bronxites who were born in Jamaica, Haiti or Sicily (to name a few) gives you a sense of how important food is to them. Fresh fish, colorful fruits and veggies and flavorful spices are some of the essentials because traditional American markets are often stocked with processed foods that may lack the variety that can come with foods fed to us by our parents or grandparents.
Tietel Brothers sits on the corner of Arthur Ave and 186th street and has roots in the Bronx’s famous Little Italy neighborhood since 1915. The Tietel Brothers, Jacob and Morris -Jewish Austrian Immigrants, created a business that brought great appreciation to their favorite cuisine, Italian. Emphasizing great quality in food products, the family added to the Bronx food culture and made their market a “must” when it comes to great Italian ingredients. Italian food goes beyond pizza and Tietel Brothers specializes in gourmet Italian foods such as imported cheeses and olive oil, aged vinegar, canned tomatoes, dried and fresh sausages and of course, pasta.
What makes Tietel Brothers a charming part of the Bronx food history is the family that has helped it become a community favorite. Eddie Tietel, one of the three brothers keeping the family tradition going strong and son of owner Gilbert Tietel, greets everyone with a warm and inviting energy. The knowledge that Eddie and his family have about choosing the best Pecorino cheese for “Cacio e Pepe” (Pasta with Cheese and Peppers) or the best ingredients to make soffritto is pure and can turn any of us in to the best chef in our household.
Heading north we find ourselves in the Eastchester section of the Bronx where the streets are filled with the vibes of the Caribbean. The West Indian culture is known for their spices, flavorful meats, fresh fruit and vegetables and fresh fish. Palm Tree Marketplace and S.Y. Grace are equal in size and popularity and both are markets that provide everyone’s favorite items from the Islands. Dried Jamaican Sorrel to make traditional Jamaica’s well-known Sorrel drink for the holidays or Annatto, a spice, to make a robustly aromatic brown stew chicken can be find at these local markets and steps it up when it comes to food and drink.
We sat down with Janine Harwood and spoke with her about her experiences growing up in a household where the traditions of her West Indian background carried over in to her language, her values and most importantly her taste buds!
“Being born in to a family that migrated to the Bronx from Jamaica exposed me to the rich tradition of the Caribbean during my childhood. Going in to local markets with my parents became a weekly routine for us and entering in the doors of Palm Tree and S.Y. Grace felt like a community; all the fragrances and people coming and going throughout the market, brought to life the stories my mother and father told me of their childhood back home. I grew up being able to create meals with ingredients that were authentic and that was in large part due to the presence of my local markets.”
Janine, like so many patrons of Palm Tree Marketplace and S.Y. Grace Market, have been taught about food and food preparation just by being present at market. It’s all about the technique!
“The opportunity to go to these markets definitely built a sense of community and taught me a lot about the skills it takes to pick food the proper way; the way my parents were taught. There is a craft to picking fresh fruits and veggies and I learned this at the markets every week as a child. Yellow yams, often called Ñame, are not easy to pick! I recall as a young child seeing the store-hands cutting the yellow yams for us to ensure the inside was the perfect shade of yellow and determining its quality or ripeness from the number of hairs it had. You can always tell a good cook by the ingredients they include in their meal and how they pick them!”
There is a common thread that every human shares – we all want to belong and feel comfortable in the places we call home. The Bronx is a place that many people from near and far reside and the ability to embrace generational traditions like food and food preparation creates culture and expands our knowledge about people and the world.
Over the past few years, local, family owned, culturally specifically markets have been on the decline largely due to high rents and regulatory restrictions on imported goods. What keeps the Arthur Avenue and Boston Road markets alive is the people and the priority of freshness, quality and variety that has been a consistent part of their business. Local markets help the community expand their palate and provides a richness that can only be achieved through diversity of foods, spices and people.