It’s easy to forget that New York City is home to not one island, but two. Staten Island is a historic and lively borough; once the seat of important immigrant settlements colorful communities still have a prominent presence. A short ride on the legendary Staten Island Ferry (it’s the only borough not connected to the subway system) and one feels as if they’ve traveled a world away.
I think it could be safe to say that more tourists visit Staten Island than locals on any given day. The ferry between Manhattan and the oft neglected borough is a prominent NYC attraction. The celebrated journey offers iconic views of the Manhattan Skyline as well as panorama of our Lady Liberty.
While the ferry ride is an attraction in its’ own right, most tourists turn right back around and ride back to Manhattan. It’s unfortunate because Staten Island itself is worth a visit. The borough filled with quirky suburban enclaves is home to streets where Old Timers mingle with teenagers passing down customs from the homeland. One of the traditions passed down to new generations is the world of culinary knowledge from foreign lands like Sri Lanka and Mexico.
The Sri Lankan community in Staten Island is actually the third largest outside of Sri Lanka and the borough has become the go-to spot for veritable Sri Lankan cuisine. Restaurants ranging from tiny store fronts to formal sit down establishments line the area around Victory Blvd. and provide a space for the community to get a taste of home. Of the many places to get Sri Lankan food in Staten Island, New Asha is arguably the locals favorite. Tiny and unassuming, New Asha’s owner Viji serves up some seriously good Sri Lankan grub.
If by the time you’ve left New Asha you aren’t stuffed to the gills, a local market just up the block sells goods imported straight from Sri Lanka so locals can get their staples from home. One of the most popular treats available are the famous Maliban Biscuits, a lemon cream puff cookie that hails from the Maliban Hotel in Colombo and is a tradition dating back to 1935.
The Sri Lankan community in Staten Island is prominent but they aren’t the only immigrant group to call the borough home. A sizable Mexican citizenry is increasing in population daily and bringing along with them a food culture from south of the border. Along side the rotis of Victory boulevard one can now find tacos and tortillas among other authentic Mexican treats.
Cinderella’s Restaurant is a good choice for those looking to extend their culinary adventure to another continent. All the food is made from scratch in the traditional way, reminding the locals of what they left back home. Two of the most popular dishes are the flautas and tamales which can be filled with either chicken or pork and are always made fresh.
It’s a shame that more visitors don’t venture into the ethnic enclaves of the island instead of the usual 360° tourist turnabout. Staten Island is far more than a sleepy bedroom borough- come enjoy the smells and spices and feel like you’ve traveled far further than the five miles across the river.
New Asha Sri Lanka Restaurant, 322 Victory Blvd., Staten Island, 718 420 0649, Mon-Sun 10 AM- 10 PM
Cinderella’s Restaurant, 108 Victory Blvd., Staten Island, 718 285 4333, Mon-Sun 9 AM- 11 PM
Thanks again Meredith and Nom and the City Food Tours for putting together a great culinary itinerary through one of the city’s most fascinating neighborhoods!