Jhal NYC

Mahfuzul Islam

A small woman, who looked like my mother, came up to our stand with her child. The child started playing with the lanterns on our table. She asked us how old we are.

“Everyone is under the age of 24. We’re all cousins.”

“How long do you have him working out here?”, pointing at my youngest cousin.

“Oh, that’s Farhan. He was upset that we were working without him, and we promised him that we would take him with us on a day where he wouldn’t have to go to tutoring. He’s there to look cute, so we get more tips.”

She chuckles. “Do you guys know bangla?”

“Hai, sorry, Gee”

She proceeded to ask us what made us want to sell jhal muri and fuchka.

“Because whenever we eat these things it’s only at home or on the streets back in Bangladesh. Eating these things were always the things that I held most fond in my memories when I went back to Bangladesh. I want people to know these foods exist.”

“Bhalo”, she says and she departs with her child.

jhal-fam

A girl about my age comes up to our stand and starts talking to us at length.

“This is so cool. I feel like the people our age are always running away from the Bengali culture.”

“This is our way of saying yeah you could be cool, and Bengali” I told her.  

She took pictures of the chador, the hand stitched blanket. “Where in Bangladesh are you from?” she asked. 

“I’m from Brahminbaria, my cousins moved here from Bangladesh recently.”

“How’ve they been adjusting?”

“They’ve been doing pretty good. I’ve been helping them with the process of getting into school, their learner’s permits, their library cards. All the things that no one really teaches you to do. They went into the City to Central Park the other day by themselves using the bus and train. They even ended up getting a NYC ID. I’m not even sure how to get one of those.”

“You guys are so coool!” She bought food from us and left a tip that was triple the amount she paid for the food.

“You don’t have to do that” 

“Gotta support the cause” as she walked away.

muri

Then a middle aged man with blond hair came up to our stand with a confused look.

“What are these for?”, pointing at the newspaper cones.

“In the streets of Bangladesh jhal muri is traditionally sold in newspaper cones, it’s a resourceful way to do things.”

“You guys are making this food all on your own?”

“Well actually, it’s our mothers and aunts who do the cooking.”

“Ah, so you guys are trying to take all the credit.”

“I mean we know how to prepare everything that we are selling. This is just a way for our mothers and aunts to be engaged in something that we are working on.”

“Do you pay them at least?”

“For sure. We even took them out to the museum the other day. My mom was telling me that she always saw the museum in passing and never had the courage to go in on her own. A couple of other stay at home mothers found out about what we do and are also involved now. I found out that the mothers have been calling each other and hanging out with each other on their own time. I’ve been talking a lot. You know what, why don’t you try out a fuchka? On the house.”

He ate the fuchka in one bite, as we advised him. “This is delicious. It’s tangy, it’s sweet, it’s crunchy. It’s like a explosion of flavors in my mouth. I’ll come back next week with my wife, shes pregnant and has been having all these sorts of cravings. She’ll love this.”

At the end of the day we broke down our tents and packed up all our materials to put in the car. We recollected all the interactions that we had.

It was a successful day. A community was being built.