Monday, February 8, 2010

China Y Latina

Before I moved to New York, my friend Vinny was giving me some pointers about the city. And since he was born and raised in the Bronx (family immigrated from Puerto Rico), and he worked in Manhattan, I listened to his advice. One advice was "try to avoid getting shot like me near the subway," but then again he lived in New York during the height of crime. I don't think it phased him much. His other advice was about food. But he didn't eat at Manhattan's fancy schmancy places. His favorite spots were at working-class places. So he told me that I absolutely had to try Cuban food made by Chinese immigrants that immigrated from China to Cuba to New York. My first reaction, was "are you serious?" and my second reaction was "I guess only in New York could I find that." He said they were some of the best chefs and made Cuban food often times better than Cuban-born chefs. Sounded like my kind of food, and we found one such restaurant conveniently located near our apartment called La Nueva Rampa (149 W. 14th St.). Their menu is exhaustively huge and consists of a mix of Chinese and Cuban food. Carne Asada Chow Mein anyone?

La Nueva Rampa is the kind of restaurant that wealthy people might look at as being sketchy. Hell, there were a few times we walked by the place and thought the same, and we normally love hole-in-the-wall places. But we're glad we weren't deterred by the look of the place because the food was damn good, especially for the price, like this Spanish sausage fried rice. I think we paid $6.50 for this and the portion was gigantic.

And this was our favorite - Cuban Tamale ($2.50). It was unlike any tamale we had ever tasted in our lives. If you eat here, eat this tamale. And it's dirt cheap. If you ate the same thing at some fancy Cuban restaurant in the West Village, they'd easily charge at least $15 for this. Sure, the tamale was unique, but what was more fascinating about our experience here was the workers. While we were eating our meal, it didn't occur to us until we turned around that the group of folks speaking Spanish to each other were the Chinese workers. And they weren't speaking Spanish the way people learn it in school as a second language, they spoke it perfectly without any accent. And just as quickly, as soon as a Chinese customer walked in, they would start speaking Chinese to them. They seamlessly moved in and out of speaking Chinese and Spanish to their working-class Chinese and Spanish customers. It was one of those moments in New York that just makes you fall in love with the city all over again.

We unfortunately didn't make it up to the Chinese-Cuban restaurants in Jackson Heights like Vinny told me to, so I can't recommend any there (we'll have to scout that out when we return to New York). In the meantime, another option is La Caridad on Broadway between 77th and 78th Street on the Upper West Side. We weren't able to try the food there, but every time we walked by this place and peeked in, the restaurant was at full capacity.