Queens residents know that the borough’s people and food are one of a kind. But on Sunday, the entire country will be in on the secret, too.
Television host, author and chef Anthony Bourdain will eat his way through Queens and chat with interesting people who call the borough home in his latest episode of “Parts Unknown,” set to air on May 21 at 9 p.m. on CNN.
The host showcases several neighborhoods throughout his journey and illustrates how easy it is to explore a variety of different cultures with just a quick train ride.
Food writer Laurie Woolver, who is Bourdain’s personal assistant and cookbook co-author, has lived in Jackson Heights for nine years and knew that the borough deserved its own episode.
“I’m always kind of slipping in a reminder of just how great Queens is,” she said. “I would just kind of mention, ‘I ate at this great place’ or ‘this taco cart’ or ‘I went to Flushing,’ subtly sort of reminding [Bourdain] of this place across the river he had to take a look at.”
In the episode, he eats from a food cart serving Ecuadorian food in Corona and discusses the sometimes difficult permit process vendors must navigate with Sean Basinski, director of the Street Vendor Project. We’re also introduced to Evelia Coyotzi, a Mexican immigrant who lost her job after 9/11, but was able to carve out a living by selling delicious tamales from a food cart in Jackson Heights.
He also stops in Flushing at Yu Garden Dumpling House on Kissena Boulevard to feast on dumplings with Heems, a Queens born-and-bred rapper who is one-half of the rap duo Swet Shop Boys. Spicy beef and tripes and boiled pig tongue marinated in ginger and soy and served with chili oil are also on the menu.
The 7 train is featured prominently in the episode and viewers can see just how drastically each neighborhood along the line can differ. In addition to showcasing restaurants, viewers are also treated to a dance by Korean senior citizens at Korean Community Services.
The historic Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven makes an appearance and Bourdain recounts the bar’s early beginnings as a tavern for gamblers visiting a local race track in the 1820s. The Blue Pump Room, The Old Abbey and the Union Course Tavern were just some of its previous names.
He speaks to the owner Loycent Gordon, a Jamaican-born FDNY firefighter, about the bar’s history and his own background as an immigrant whose mother was able to provide him a better life by moving to the borough. The bar was only three days away from closing before Gordon saved it.
“I think it’s pretty much the similar story of immigrants that come to the United States,” Gordon said. “They come to work hard because it’s the land of opportunity and they find a way to kind of make it out of the rut.”
Viewers also learn about the borough’s ever-changing demographics. Though Jackson Heights still contains a large Hispanic and south Asian population, an influx of Tibetans now call the neighborhood home. Lhasa Fast Food, sandwiched between cellphone stores and jewelry shops in Jackson Heights, introduces Queens to Tibetan cuisine like a dish called Thantuk, which consists of hand-torn noodle soup with chilies and ginger.
Bourdain also visits the Rockaways to discuss the struggles residents faced after Superstorm Sandy and the city’s historic lack of investment in the neighborhood. He stops in South Ozone Park at the Aqueduct Race Track with Woolver to bet on horse number 2 and makes a pit stop in Jamaica to dine at Africana Restaurant on Liberty Avenue.
“Despite living here, spending my time here…I’m constantly amazed by what’s going on, the range of things that are happening, the restaurants I’ve never heard of,” Woolver said. “You’ll never really learn everything about it and it’s always evolving.”
Though the food is a main attraction in this episode, viewers will also take away how incredible it is that people who may have grown up thousands of miles away from the United States can proudly call Queens home.
“If the American Dream is alive, it’s alive in places like Queens,” Heems said in the episode. “There still are people coming here with nothing and making something out of it.”