June is National Soul Food Month, but any month is a great time to head to one of Queens’ beloved restaurants or try your hand at some kitchen wizardry.
Soul Food is the tradition of African-American cooking that originated when the cultures of Africa encountered the meager ingredients available to them as slaves in the United States.
The dishes tend to feature simple, humble food items like grits, fried chicken, black-eyed peas, collard greens, less-desirable parts of the pig, and anything else that wasn’t claimed by wealthier people. However, it has also adopted certain other American favorites, like macaroni and cheese.
Soul food originated in the South, but it came to New York when large numbers of African-Americans sought factory work in major northern cities during the early 20th century. The most famous purveyor of soul food in the city is currently Sylvia's restaurant, in Harlem.
Andrew Jackson, executive director of Queens Library at Langston Hughes, says soul food is a time-honored African-American cooking tradition that celebrates the best in human creativity and resourcefulness.
Jackson’s family migrated from Mississippi to New York City around WWII and brought their soul food traditions with them. But Jackson is quick to dispel any misconceptions about food and African-American culture.
“Spaghetti is not necessarily a soul food dish, but my family loves spaghetti,” he says. “Everybody does not eat chitlins [chitterlings, a dish of boiled, baked or fried pig’s intestines]. Chitlins is a specialty. I tried it once, didn’t like it, haven’t eaten it since.”
Jackson also points out that families don’t necessarily make all the dishes at the same time — often this only occurs on holidays, large family gatherings, or church events.
Jackson says that when he has the chance to eat it, he doesn’t have a particular favorite soul food dish.
“I’ll try everything. There’s a blending taste with all of them that you get that you can’t get all the time,” he says. “It’s almost like paying respect to the ancestors for providing this tradition to me.”
A Plate of Soul
110-46 Merrick Blvd., Jamaica
153-35 Hillside Ave., Jamaica
Maxine’s on the Boulevard
11333 Farmers Blvd, St. Albans
Poor Freddie’s Rib Shack
157-06 Linden Blvd., Jamaica
Rockaway Fish House
141-22 Rockaway Blvd., Jamaica
Seamorhen Fish & Chicken
118-29 Guy R Brewer Blvd., South Jamaica
Southern Flair Restaurant
169-77 137 Ave., Rochdale
Southern Girls Soul Food
219-17 Merrick Blvd, Springfield Gardens