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Of Course: It’s the Tail

April 12, 2010

Walking home from the subway along Foster Avenue one night last week, something miraculous happened. Well, miraculous at least by my rubric.

I was passing by what New Yorkers call a “deli,” but not what people in other parts of the country think of as a New York deli. Rather, “deli” as in a small corner store with lots of Vitamin Water and cigarettes and some highly processed meat of the “luncheon” variety. Salted, shaped, and preserved, I cannot imagine a less healthy, or beguiling, eating alternative.

I was crossing the street near a deli notable for the bumpy Indian bitter gourds hanging around in wooden boxes outside of it when a large man trudged by me carrying a huge portion of recently butchered meat on his shoulder. It was the opposite of processed. There was a long white spikey object bouncing along off of the top of the meat. The man carrying the meat struggled up the steps and into the store.

I must have turned and stared without realizing it. I was wondering whether it was a skinned lamb, and trying to reconcile the white bouncing part into that scenario when a man dress in a Kurta pajama and a pillbox hat beckoned to me. He was standing at the back of a panel van.

Due to the few things I know about abductions, I have a grand terror of panel vans, to the degree that I cannot take out the trash at night if one is parked in front of our house. Since we live on an aspirational block with many contractors, it’s rare that a panel van is not parked in front of our house. It’s rare that I take out the trash.

However I do not, like many Americans, have a fear of men in Kurta pajamas and pillbox hats. In our area of Brooklyn, you don’t stand out if you are dressed as such: you fit in.

I found myself eager to begin my conversation with Kurta-pj’ed man, and despite the fact that he was luring me over to the back of a panel van whose doors were open, I cheerfully joined him.

He gestured to the inside of the van, which, I noted, was covered with blood and body parts. I reconsidered for a moment as he asked,

“Do you know what that is miss?

(I only wish you could hear my Indian accent for the duration of the blog post. You’ll have to imagine it: something between Indian like Homer Simpson would do, with a little bit of Leprechaun as well as some splashes of Transylvanian. This is, by the way, the trajectory of all of my accents. This guy was Bangladeshi, by the way.)

“Um, some beef?”

Exactly miss! That is part of the side of cow. And do you know what is that white part?

“The . . . tail? Why would the tail be attached? Oh, because of oxtail?”

Miss, are you a food critic? You  . . . you do not have trouble with spicy miss, do you? You can try the oxtail at the Village restaurant on Coney Island Avenue. And this? do you know what this is? gesturing to a uniformly maroon and slimy flat organ.

“Looks like — a liver?”

Indeed miss! Have you ever seen a cow heart?

I don’t think so but I can tell it won’t be long now . . .

And he pulled one out of a box to show me.

There is a new trend in our part of Brooklyn of delis carrying Halal meat. Again, these are stores that cater to people living on or around the block that they are on. If you go to the back of the store, there’s the butcher case. And apparently, what I’d been thinking of as an ice-cream and paper towels deli had turned into the sort dealing Halal meat.

This is great, so far as I am concerned, because I’ve been told that this meat is sourced more locally, farmed in a better way, and distributed via fresher channels than most meat in the grocery store.

I think that if I were reading this, I would not be sure what the intention was. In other words, does the person behind the story think it’s gross and weird to be stopped by a Bangladeshi man next to a bloody van?

No. Rather, delightful. Delightful and in fact, important. I frequently lament the fact that we live among so many people of different cultures, but that we don’t actually interact. We certainly don’t sit down together and talk things out, or schedule playdates together, and in the case of men wearing traditional Middle Eastern or South Asian dress, we almost never even acknowledge one another with a hello.

Whereas this guy offered to let me tour his Halal slaughterhouse in Paterson, New Jersey.

I could not have had a bigger grin on as I arrived home that night.

Mom, don’t worry, I won’t go alone.

Thanks to ToastyKen on Flickr for use of the globe!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Krista permalink
    April 12, 2010 8:57 pm

    I embrace other cultures when given the chance. I remember the day, maybe 3 1/2 years ago, that I went to Price Rite for some odds and ends. I had to find some limes for a recipe.(I was in a very glazed over state due to Ian’s recent diagnosis.) I picked up a lime and this older, Hispanic woman starts shouting, “No,no, no, not that one, this one!” I tried not to pay attention because she was scaring me. She took the lime from my hand and said “Can you feel the difference?” “This lime has more juice in it.” “Why would you want to buy a lime with thick skin and less juice?!” I never thought about it. She told me about the quantity of Vit. C they had versus oranges and the such. I learned so much about limes that day. I thanked her graciously.

  2. Michelle permalink
    April 13, 2010 4:16 am

    Can’t wait for your slaughterhouse post. Maybe they’ll give you some free meat at the end – like the free whiskey at the Jack Daniel’s distillery tour.

    Doesn’t food bring us together.

  3. Miranda Sunshine permalink
    April 13, 2010 9:03 am

    Way back when I lived along 8th Avenue and 59th Street in Brooklyn, I regularly dodged edible landmines on my way to the subway station. Fresh fish, dried fish, whole skinned lambs being carried into the Halal market, all kinds of fruits and vegetables that I couldn’t identify. I wish that I had been adventurous when I lived there… so many things went untasted. Now I live vicariously through you!

  4. April 14, 2010 9:30 am

    so excited about your encounter with the meat truck man!

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