Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sunday on Staten Island and Sri Lankan Curry

Marianne and I took the 2/3 subway from Brooklyn to Wall Street and walked to the Staten Island Ferry.

The ferry started out costing a nickel way back. The price climbed to fifty cents before New York said screw it and made it free. It’s probably the best free tourist attraction in New York, with views of Manhattan, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty.

Staten Island was home to people for thousands of years, but recorded history started around 1661 with the Dutch, followed by the British in the early 1700s, and the Americans in the late 1700s. The settlement was initially an agricultural endeavor and today is home for mostly commuters in houses dating from the mid 1800s, through the 1960s, and a growing number of high-rise apartment buildings.

Like the rest of New York, Staten Island’s 475,000 residents come from nearly every country in the world. The island county (Richmond) became part of New York City in the 1898 consolidation of the five boroughs. The secession movement on Staten Island, which is closer to New Jersey than Manhattan, is similar in seriousness to similar crusades elsewhere in the country.
Our goal on the island was a New York Municipal Arts Society walking tour of the St. George neighborhood near the ferry terminal. Staten Islander Georgia led us on a mile and a half walk and showed us the un-New York-like late nineteenth century commercial buildings and houses, which remain beautiful and stately. The Staten Island Museum has the world’s largest collection of preserved cicadae. Really. That’s a good thing. As well as displays on the history of Staten Island. We didn't have time to stop in on the tour.

Following the tour we walked along Bay Street and turned southwest on Victory Boulevard. A trek of another mile brought us through a Spanish-speaking neighborhood to the Sri Lankan district and the New Asha Restaurant.
New Asha, 322 Victory Blvd, Staten Island

Sri Lanka, the island nation at the southern tip of India, has a written history of three thousand years, compared to New York’s four hundred. Its diverse ethnic population gained independence from Britain in 1948 and the name was eventually changed from Ceylon. Immigration into the U.S. was spurred by the 1990s civil war, and today there are over 25,000 Sri Lankan Americans, 5,000 of them on Staten Island. We met one.
Sri Lanka is known as The Pearl of the Indian Ocean and also the Nation of Smiling People. Viji Devadas, the owner of the New Asha, confirmed that. She was all smiles and friendliness behind her counter from the moment we walked into the informal eatery in the Tompkinsville neighborhood for a late lunch.
Viji Devadas, owner New Asha restaurant

After an unhurried exchange of where-are-you from and what-are-you-doing-on-Staten Island, she told us about Sri Lanka and its food and invited us to take one of her three small tables. Our love of Indian curry had brought us to sample the Sri Lankan varieties, and she promised to make us plates that would delight us.

We started with a lentil biscuit and vegetables wrapped in roti bread. There is no beer license but she invited us to go to the store next door and bring one back. We opted for water. Viji arrived with two plates of wonderful looking Sri Lankan food. There was a ginger and onion salad that was sweetish and a nice contrast to the spicy curry. A mild leek and potato mixture made a nice side dish. Two curries, the black eggplant and the mutton curry, both with rice, were well and complexly spiced, not too hot. Mutton, while good, is not as tender as lamb.

Add some fried flat bread and then a sweet from a bakery on our walk back to the ferry, and we were full and happy.
There are a number of Sri Lankan restaurants in the vicinity, from the formal, white-table cloth type to the tiny, informal, counter-café sort like New Asha. The eatery is at 322 Victory Blvd on Staten Island. We gave the food four stars and the experience and meeting the owner five enthusiastic stars. If you call Viji Devadas at 718-420-0649, you will likely be able to detect her smile over the phone, and don’t be surprised if she talks you into going to her restaurant.
Manhattan from Staten Island

Staten Island is not on the beaten path of tourist attractions in New York, but there is plenty to see within walking distance of the ferry terminal if you don’t want to get right back on the ferry for the return. We are definitely going back to explore and try more restaurants. And we want to see the World’s Largest Collection of Cicadae for sure.

Thanks for reading. நான் மீண்டும் பார்க்க நம்புகிறேன்.

1 comment:

  1. Just had the chance to review your post on the Thai place you mentioned in our former banter, somewhere:? Seems you were right, it's a heck of a lot shorter than rowing to Sri Lanka for curry.. Turning the row boat around, may be awhile do to sharks and a missing oar. Plenty o' whiskey though, short on tea and biscuit. Isn't life grand Friend ?!! b. :-)