Can I say “shithole” on here? Truth be told, I’m not sure. If the president sets precedent, then all bets are off—and all attempts at decorum and decency are just twisting in the wind. Well, never mind. I’m not here to talk about the president (or even his choice of food, which would make for a particularly insightful piece about the Modern American Diet). But ahead of the midterm elections, and in light of Mr. Trump’s derisive language toward Haiti and, like, all of Africa earlier this year, it’s worth taking a look at what these countries export to America. I’m not talking about labor or merchandise; I’m talking about food.
In this fact-absent world, let’s be clear: cross-cultural cuisine can be dazzling, inspiring, flirtatious, funny, fun. It can change minds. It can wake us in the middle of the night, harken us back to a moment in childhood, a vacation snaking the Vietnamese coast. The food of immigrants—and all food, really—can be transportive. It can move us. It can compel us to search Expedia for discount plane tickets to that next great adventure. Knowing this, knowing the power that what we eat has over who we are, we embrace the challenge of new cuisines, the adventure inherent in eating outside of the familiar. After all, your shithole may just be my paradise. And so: Read on for the best “shithole” food on Long Island.
Gingerbites is the closest I’ve found to Haitian “fusion,” an attempt to reconfigure the island nation’s ingredients in an American context. On their expansive menu, you’ll find sweet plantain waffles with coconut milk, Haitian paté (pastries filled with various types of protein), and soursop ice cream, along with other, more traditional menu items, like griot, tasso, and stewed conch. Food is innovative, yes, but it’s also authentic, offering a bona fide taste of Haiti.
Gingerbites Haitian Caribbean Cuisine, 730 East Jericho Turnpike, Huntington Station, 631.427.2483, open Tuesday through Saturday 12 to 10 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.
This hole-in-the-wall takeout joint offers a taste of home to Haitian immigrants in middle Long Island. Fried goat, fried plantains, and rice and beans are all island classics, as are the many fish dishes prepared in-house. Lemonade is squeezed fresh to order, so you can envision yourself on a Caribbean island somewhere, even if you’ve only made it as far as Hempstead.
Taste the Island Bakery, 460 Peninsula Boulevard, Hempstead, 516.489.5925, open Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
If North African food is more your style, look no further than French-African fusion La Baraka, which opened its Long Island doors over 40 years ago. Standouts include the Tunisian merguez sausage (made with lamb and beef) and the bestel, a streudel studded with meat, eggs, and mashed potatoes—like an elevated shepherd’s pie. Semolina cous cous, peppered with fresh vegetables and cumin-seasoned chickpeas, accompany most of the meat and seafood entrées.
25509 Northern Boulevard, Little Neck, 718.428.1461, open daily 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. with a break between lunch and dinner service.
And now, back to Haiti. New Taste serves up Haitian classics for the hungry people of Wyandanch. It’s more of a take-out place than anything else, and it’s often bustling, so prepare to take your food home with you. Specialties include fried pork, akra (malanga fritters), pickliz (a condiment of hot peppers and onions), and, of course, the de rigueur fried plantains.
New Taste, 1527 Straight Path, Wyandanch, 631.920.5492, open Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Sunday 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.