My Love Letter On Immigrant Shops

by Jusleen Sodiwal

Photo credit: Jusleen Sodiwal and all her friends for finishing the food!

Photo credit: Jusleen Sodiwal and all her friends for finishing the food!

Hunan House, Crown of India, China Garden, Saffron Express. I made that last one up, but I bet it sounds familiar. See it's my belief that once you’ve been to one, you’ve been to them all. This is not a dig. This is their most endearing quality.

I’m not talking about the hole in the wall restaurant that blows up, lands in Bon Appétit and gets Instagram famous. This isn’t about the restaurants that Anthony Bourdain gave much deserved love to. I’m talking about the restaurants that get lost in the middle. The ones that you wouldn’t write home about but for some reason, I find myself writing about right now.

The laminated menus, slight disregard for customer service and satisfying food are hallmarks of immigrant cuisine. It’s something I can rely on, no matter where I go. All I need to do is look around for the cobbled together restaurant name, tuck in and enjoy my familiar. The community bulletin board drowning in flyers, the loud conversations from the kitchen and the wait staff that insists on packing me free dessert just because… it’s all my familiar.

The laminated menus, slight disregard for customer service and satisfying food are hallmarks of immigrant cuisine

Being inside these restaurants, I’m reminded that I’m not sitting in someone's passion project but a means to an end. The stories vary, but the themes of struggle, perseverance and gratitude run deep. For that alone, I’m a loyal patron.

The culture is on the up and up. Food, fashion, music — it’s all taking on an identity of its own. We are growing beyond our stereotypes and for that, we are thankful. BUT, I refuse to let my familiar go. Imagine New York without its bodegas or delis. A travesty, right?

It’s because of these restaurants that we’re afforded the opportunity to indulge in our passions, not just make a means to an end. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have Chicken Tikka Poutine or Niki Nakayama being celebrated on Chef’s Table. For the Saffron Gardens of the world, I hope they know their spot in the culinary world is safe. It will always be frequented by some  of us trying to revisit a piece of our past and others looking for an experience unlike their own. For whatever your reasons, don’t forget about these establishments.

What’s your familiar feeling spot? Drop them some love below!

Photo credit: Jusleen Sodiwal at Bombay Spot in Spain

Photo credit: Jusleen Sodiwal at Bombay Spot in Spain

Photo credit: Jusleen Sodiwal at Vik’s Chaat in California

Photo credit: Jusleen Sodiwal at Vik’s Chaat in California