Jamaican jerk chicken, Chinese stewed beef pulled noodles, Ukrainian borscht – a trip along the BQ and N subway lines in Brooklyn is an international culinary adventure. Nicknamed the “Brooklyn Horseshoe,” the subway lines traverse a chain of neighborhoods with extremely high immigrant concentration and diversity.
About half the borough’s foreign-born population lives in the neighborhoods along the Horseshoe, according to the most recent immigration report from the NYC Department of City Planning. They also form almost half of the population of these neighborhoods. The term “Brooklyn Horseshoe,” comes from The Newest New Yorkers, an immigration report from the Department of City Planning, describing “a diverse chain of high immigrant neighborhoods, forming a horseshoe pattern along the B-Q and N subway lines.”
Starting at the northwest tip of the Horseshoe, the neighborhoods of Sunset Park, Bensonhurst and Gravesend comprise a large Chinese population. Moving south, towards Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay, Russian and Ukrainian immigrants dominate. U-turning up back north, the Horseshoe traverses Flatbush and Prospect Lefferts Gardens, where the majority of the foreign-born are Haitian and Jamaican, respectively.
As of 2013, Queens remained the borough with the highest number of foreign-born at 1.09 million immigrants. But Brooklyn trails closely behind with almost 950,000 immigrants, according to the report.
The diverse populations engender culinary offerings that are just as varied – and make a great summer day’s worth of eating.
Shanghai Dumpling House, Sunset Park
Shanghai Dumpling House owner Kenny Yie
In Sunset Park, with the Chinese making up 43 percent of immigrants, pulled noodles, roast duck and dumplings are common. Shanghai Dumpling House is tucked in a corner of the unassuming Fei Long Market. Its specialty, Shanghainese pork soup dumplings, is served six apiece in a bamboo basket, and is best eaten piping hot and dipped in vinegar. Kenny Yie, the owner of Shanghai Dumpling House, has lived in the U.S. for 30 years. He worked as a cook in various restaurants prior to setting up his own business in 2011.
Shanghainese soup dumplings
Address: 6301 8th Avenue
Hand Pull Noodle and Dumpling House, Bensonhurst
Hand pulled noodles
The Chinese also comprise 40 percent of the foreign-born population of Bensonhurst, numbering almost 32,000. Those in the know head to Hand Pull Noodle and Dumpling House, a no-frills establishment that serves up steaming bowls of chewy hand-pulled noodles with slow-stewed beef in flavorful broth. Each bowl comes dressed up in pickled cabbage and bok choy. Owner Jenny Zheng from Fujian moved into the neighborhood 8 years ago. “We like Bensonhurst because there are good schools for my daughter, and good business,” she says.
Shop owner Jenny Zheng
Address: 7201 18th Avenue
Café Skovorodka, Brighton Beach
Skovorodka cherry varenikis
Almost 30 percent of Brighton Beach’s immigrant population is Ukrainian, while Sheepshead Bay is about 18 percent Russian. Here, along with signboards in Cyrillic and the sibilance of overheard Russian, restaurants serve Soviet staples like borscht, varenikis (a type of Russian dumpling) and stuffed cabbage.
At Café Skovorodka, cherry varenikis come with dollops of fresh cream. Owner Boris Bogomolny, from Odessa, came to the U.S. in 1979. Though he lives in Staten Island, he enjoys working in Brighton Beach. “Though there are still many Russians and Ukrainians here, I see more tourists on the weekends,” he says.
Skovorodka owner Boris Bogomolny
Address: 615 Brighton Beach Avenue
Slavyanskiy Bazar, Sheepshead Bay
Diana Bortnikova, who moved to the U.S. from Ukraine, owns Slavyanskiy Bazar, which has been open for seven years. She says the menu draws from many different cuisines, including Ukranian, Russian and Moldovan. Her Ukrainian borscht, a warm beet soup, is served with savory fried donuts called pompushkins.
Slavyanskiy Bazar owner Diana Bortnikova
Address: 2013 Coney Island Avenue
Fisherman’s Cove, Flatbush
Jerk chicken and stewed oxtail
Further north in East Flatbush, 24 percent of its immigrant population hails from Jamaica. Here, jerk chicken rules the roost. Veronica Callow, who is from Jamaica, works at Fisherman’s Cove in Newkirk Plaza. She started working at the Church Avenue location when the restaurant first opened 14 years ago. A popular dish here is the very filling platter of jerk chicken and stewed oxtail with fried plantains, rice and beans.
Veronica Callow preparing an order
Address: 4 Newkirk Plaza
Venus Restaurant, Prospect Lefferts Gardens
Lambi and fried plantains
Prospect Lefferts Gardens, which is predominantly Jamaican and Haitian, marks the end of the Horseshoe. Its Haitian population makes up 17 percent of the neighborhood’s immigrants, and enjoys traditional food like lambi (stewed conch meat from a conch shell) and griot (fried pork). At Venus Restaurant, Oldine Saint-Hilaire carries on her father’s business, which opened 14 years ago. She serves customers with headphones on and a smile on her face while doling out lambi with fried plantains, pasta and salad.
Venus Restaurant owner Oldine Saint-Hilaire
Address: 670 Rogers Avenue
Next, check out one of NYC’s Micro Neighborhoods: Little Poland in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. This piece was written by both Samantha Lee and Alyssa Pagano, both contributors for Untapped Cities.