Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sunday in the Lower East Side

Lynda has plans for a Harlem tour this afternoon, and I have an interview to do with ABC Radio National's James Pattison, so we decided to walk to Orchard Street in the Lower East Side to check out some Jewish cuisine and see the Avenue of the Immigrants and the Tenement Museum. We went via 4th Avenue, which goes through Cooper Place and then becomes the famous Bowery.

That part of town was turned from middle class single homes to crowded tenements from the 1840s - first the Germans, then the Irish, then in succession every other wave of immigrants crowded into tiny airless rooms. Some of the tenements still stand, others never reopened after slum clearance laws required them to be upgraded with toilets, windows and skylights.

The area is still an aspirational immigrant destination and jumping-off point. It was the "melting pot" where migrants became Americans, with schools to teach the young immigrants English and the American values. There are still some Jewish corners, some Italian corners and a drift towards an expanded Chinatown after the US reopened migration to Chinese in the mid-1960s.

The Tenement Museum is a resource centre referencing 97 Orchard Street - the home of thousands of successive waves of migrants from many nations in their turn. The poverty and hardship is obvious, but one of the lessons is that those migrants are now American ancestors and no longer "the other". Current xenophobia about immigrants in this country and mine needs to be dispelled by the simple truth that migrants are the best new citizens, full of energy and ambition and determined to build a life for their families.

We went to the Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery for an authentic k-nish. It's a wonderful, unrenovated store still run by the family; offering a range of potato-mash bakes called knishes and some other traditional Jewish fare like potato pancakes. I had mine with a "Vanilla Egg Cream", very like a spider.

There are photos of celebrities on the wall, including Woody Allen.

On the way back home I stopped at a drug store for some hair shampoo (unavailable in a grocery store, due to feudal demarcations) and some American chocolates for my daughter. I wasn't able to get more of Hybird's excellent truffled egg dumplings as they were sold out, but instead was able to buy some truffle ravioli from Rana, the Italian Pastificio and Cucina in Chelsea Markets.

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