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Garifuna Star -- World's rarest cuisine comes to South Bronx

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Sometime in the early 17th century, a ship transporting captured Africans to a life of slavery foundered off the coast of Central America. That was the Africans' lucky day. They managed to swim to shore. They built villages, intermarried with the local Carib Indians, and eventually evolved a distinctive culture, mostly African but with some native American elements too. Isolated and reclusive, they stayed in their remote coastal villages. Until not so long ago, if you wanted to sample their cuisine, that's where you had to go, hitching a ride on one of the rickety freighters that ply the Mosquito Coast.

At some point, a few of these villagers (now called Garifuni) left their native Honduras and settled in the South Bronx. True to their rebel roots, they got jobs and led the fight to organize trade unions in their fields of work. But until last year, there were no Garifuni restaurants. Now there is one. And so, instead of a freighter like the ones Joseph Conrad sailed on, you can take a subway to eat Garifuni food.

Garifuni Star is a small restaurant, but the whitewashed walls make it seem far larger. On a late Sunday afternoon it was crowded with families eating, and some men who came to drink and watch TV. I ordered something called Machuca. It was $15 and there was a very long wait... not made any easier by my having to hear exclamations such as "this is the best food I ever ate!!" from the happy diners. Finally, the chef herself emerged proudly carrying my meal. It came in three big plates; I had got my money's worth.

The first plate held a whole pan-fried red snapper. The second bowl held a soup with 4 big shrimp at the bottom. The third plate had the machuca. Machuca, I learned, is a pounded paste made out of boiled plaintains. Like fufu, I told the chef. Yes, she agreed. And then I remembered, and told her, that in Uganda they have a very similar dish called with a very similar name, matoke. Coincidence? I don't know. In any event the machuca was pure African.

But the soup was the star of the show. It was rich and golden, and made with coconut and spices. It tasted very much like a Thai curry. It was wonderful. You either ate the soup plain or you took some machuca on a big spoon and then dipped it in the soup. In Africa, I said, they use their hand to make a ball of the machuca. The chef thought that was a bit uncouth. So I used the spoon.

A wonderful meal. True fusion cuisine. If I had sailed for weeks on a steamer, and then got that meal, I wouldn't have been disappointed.

Garifuna Star
640 Prospect Av
Bronx, NY
(note that the correct name is not on awning, they still use the former occupant's awning)
(718) 401-2815
Nearest subway: 149 Street stop of the number 6 train

for more on the Garifuni, see http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/afburns...

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  1. Brian...
    If you are not a Restaurant Reviewer by trade, I think you should seriously consider looking into it. Your comments/opinions are always so carefully detailed and you find and share the most interesting places...
    Thank you for this very colorfully worded and historically informative posting.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Tay

      Thank you so very much.Praise is a writer's best (and often only) reward. I'm glad my Garifuna outing worked out, I've been planning it ever since I learned about this new restaurant ... on this very board!

    2. Brian -- You have made my week! My boyfriend 1) loves anything that has to do with fufu, and 2) hates driving to Manhattan (we live in the Bronx). I now have another weeknight destination to try! Thank you!

      1 Reply
      1. re: merrymc

        I'm really glad. I was going to tell you about Aziza... but I realize that you already know about it. (I got the info from your posts.) There are a lot of restaurants that serve fufu in the Bronx. Also Florence's in Harlem... easy drive from the Bronx... has great Ghanaian food.

      2. A few more points I forgot:

        1) Make sure you take the six train. The 4 and 5 stop is miles away.

        2) The thing the soup reminds me of most is the Brazilian moqueca de camarao. Not surprising, since that dish came from Bahia, where the cooking is heavily influenced by African cuisine.

        3) The Garifuni originally came to shore on St Vincent Island. When the British occupied that island, they fought them for almost 30 years. Defeated, they were deported to what is now Honduras. (60% of them died during that period.)

        4) They speak their own language. I heard a language I couldn't identify at the restaurant, maybe it was that. The friendly service people (one cook, one waitress) are fluent in English, more fluent than they are in Spanish, which they also speak.

        8 Replies
        1. re: Brian S

          I think Garifuna people speak a Creole language. I visited a few Garifuna towns in Guatemala and Honduras, and found that the people speak excellent, native-speaker-level English. Maybe it's because of proximity to Belize? Or because of tourism on the islands off Honduras? Or maybe because runaway slaves from Jamaica or other English-speaking colonies fled there in previous generations? Or perhaps from fighting the Bristish. Interesting.

          Anyway, thanks for reporting on this great restaurant find. I'll have to check it out.

          1. re: nerdgoggles

            Ive met someGarifuna Belizeans at my church in Brooklyn - they speak english and spanish, in addition to their garifuna language.- havent yet seen really distinct dishes from those the other belizeans cook, however.
            Language is arawak, not creole http://www.cariblanguage.org/garifuna...

            1. re: jen kalb

              Yes, my father lives in a Garifuna village in Belize, and the food in the village isn't any different than the other Belizean food (stew chicken, stew fish). There's a definite African feeling in some other respects but I didn't see it in this one. I wonder if different communities evolved food differently? Or different families?

              1. re: mary shaposhnik

                I've read of a Belizean stew called seré that has coconut milk and is similar to a Garifuna dish. But they could have got it from the Garifuna!. That whole Atlantic coast is full of African influence, including culinary. I think a lot of Belizean food is not like that... it's ordinary stews, rice and beans etc.

                1. re: mary shaposhnik

                  I'll ask my lady friends if they make any of these dishes. Maybe they make them and just dont bring them to church (stuff like taro pudding or tamales are more practical and inexpensive than fish or conch soup) There is so much mixing and sharing of food ideas around the caribbean basin (and mostly common ingredients, so its often hard to see where the ideas come from.

                  Putting coconut milk or oil into dishes for example. Its not always done, and I suspect there are "plain" and "fancy" versions of things like rice and peas. One of my friends, recently back from Jamaica, made callaloo, as she always dones, for a monthly event - this time it was stellar - she had made it with coconut oil purchased from a coconut board down thee.
                  Where does your father live? The people I know best come from Dangriga, which they describe lovingly.

              2. re: nerdgoggles

                Creole? oh my god, of course not. 100, 000 of the garifuna people speak garifuna, their own language, which derives from the inyeri language. they are also fluent in english and the speak some spanish. but garifuna does not qualify as a creole language, no way!

                1. re: nerdgoggles

                  English influence is much older there. The eastern coast of much of Central America provided hideouts for (British and Dutch) buccaneers centuries ago. Eastern Nicaragua and part of the coast of southern Honduras was from the mid-17th to mid-19th centuries a British protectorate — the Miskito Coast (named for the majority Miskito Indians). People from that area of Nicaragua also speak more English than Spanish, and the towns have names like Bluefields.

                2. re: Brian S

                  The Jackson Ave stop is not that far away. The 2 and 5 stop there. Note that during rush hours, the 5 train run express in peak direction and skip Jackson Ave.

                3. Wow. This one goes to the top of my queue.

                  1. Brian, how do you know everything? How did you even find out about this place?

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: janethepain

                      Sometime around 1992, I started exploring different neighborhoods. I made some friends in the South Bronx and used to hang out there. It was quite pleasant in those days, some of the little shops used to hire bands to play outside on weekends. One day, walking near St Mary's park, I saw a festival with food stands with incredible food Someone told me the people were Garifuna. I looked it up in the library. So I learned about Garifuna but I never could find that food again... until two weeks ago someone wrote on this board that there was a stand selling enchiladas on the same block as the Garifuna social club. I love Garifuna food, I replied, is there a Garifuna social club? Yes, and there's even a Garifuni restaurant, the poster answered, though he hadn't tried it yet. So I rushed to try it..

                      So, short answer, I learned about the restaurant on this board!

                      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/42641...

                      1. re: janethepain

                        Brian knows pretty much everything about pretty much every type of food...
                        It's a tad scary but waaaay cool that one person knows so much about so many different trpes of cuisine. :-}

                        1. re: Tay

                          I think he knows everything about everything.

                          1. re: janethepain

                            Don't be too surprised when Brian starts a thread entitled
                            "The Best of the 6 Train". Heck, he's already done 149th St. Most people wouldn't set foot in some of those neighborhoods, but not Brian.
                            He's Chowhounds man of armor with a cast iron stomach. Kudos !!!

                            1. re: Cheese Boy

                              Your praise made my day. If I did a guide to 149 street, it would start wtih Glackens Bar... a South Bronx holdout run by the grandkids of Irish immigrant Mike Glackens, who founded the bar 70 years ago. All sorts of people go there.

                              As you hint, I wouldn't go to Garifuna Star's neighborhood late at night. I went in the late afternoon.

                              1. re: Brian S

                                brian nice review -- i often work around there and have seen the place, but not gone in.

                                next visit you might like to try LA ORQUIDIA too, a hounduran restuarant on 149th/brook near the hub, where we get lunch sometimes.

                                also, just north of GARIFUNA STAR on prospect just below westchester (prospect 2/5 stop) is my fav jamaican restaurant KAYLAH'S HUT where i'm a regular for lunch. if you see the grill barrel going out front, you know what to order!

                                1. re: mrnyc

                                  Mrnyc, any other good eats around there ?

                                  Tried any of these at all ---> http://www.urbanspoon.com/nr/3/31397/...

                                  1. re: mrnyc

                                    Thanks for these tips! I have heard of .La Orquídea but have never managed to go there. I never heard of Kaylah's Hut... have to check it out! Near Garifuna Star on 149 is Venice, if you are in the area and crave Italian red sauce.

                                    -----
                                    Garifuna Star
                                    640 Prospect Ave, Bronx, NY 10455

                        2. One of the garifuna specialties is sopa de caracol.........conch soup made with coconut milk. Another is gífete.......a rum-based drink that is laced with about 25 herbs........supposed to be a health tonic if you can stand the smell.........it is sold by the shot-glass during fútbol (soccer games) on the north coast of Honduras. I've had a bottle in the pantry for about 15 years........no brave drinkers around here! Gífete is just about the only garifuna concotion that I don't like. Lucky you having a source so close.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: diobahn

                            Wow - sounds like mamajuana from the DR. (I've had good, and I've had bad. I've not had the one with dried sea turtle penis, though I surmise that that would fall into the latter category.)

                          2. My husband and I travelled to Belize for our honeymoon, and one of the resorts we visited was located near a Garifuna village. One night, we ate something called a 'seafood sere', which was a seafood soup with coconut milk and maybe lime? They served it with rice on the side to mix in as you pleased. I've been searching for the recipe ever since, because it was the most delicious thing I have ever tasted. If anyone can point the way, it would be much appreciated!

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: keslacye

                              This sounds a lot like what I had at Garifuna Star! I think the Garifuna call it hudut, and seré is the Belize name. You can get the recipe here:
                              http://www.toucantrail.com/index2.php...

                              1. re: Brian S

                                yea i agree wit brian garifuna food and people are great my husband is garifuna and his gooking is great they also have a dish called hudut which is great and they make boil up made with coconut milk and fish and plantain and green banana you just have to try it you should also travel to Brooklyn every Sunday the sell belizean cuisine and play the garifuna drums the location is linden and Pennsylvania ave also try the pastries tart and milk cake

                                1. re: shawnna22

                                  Do you know what hours they're there? I've heard this before but haven't made it out there yet. Hopefully they have some Mama Sharp's.

                            2. Brian,
                              I'm doing Tour de Bronx this Sunday, and was wondering how feasible was it to plan a meal at Garifuna Star afterwards. I will probably order a takeout, since leaving bikes outside even locked in NYC is not the wisest idea. Do you remember what was approximate wait for your food to be ready? Also do you recall any other dishes your saw on their menu? TIA!

                              1. Brian S., thanks for another great South Bronx review! Between this and the Honduran place you recently recommended, I've got some great new lunch options!

                                1. I'm fast beginning to love you. What are the prices like?

                                  1. As of October 4, Garifuna Star was closed:

                                    http://www.chow.com/places/8719

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: DaveCook

                                      bummer. Thanks for a heads up, Dave!

                                      1. re: welle

                                        What a shame! I was just going online, menu in hand, to answer your bike race questions. You can always try La Orquidea, the great Honduran place I wrote about at 500 E 149.

                                        1. re: Brian S

                                          Thanks for the menu and your tip on La Orquidea, I may check it out though I was drawn to more african flare of Garifuna star. And :) thanks for upgrading my leisurely 25-mile tour into a race!

                                    2. that's exactly what i'm trying to do, has anyone eaten here?

                                      1. For those interested in Garifuna food/culture the Belize Fest will be July 18th in Brooklyn at Boys + Girls High School 1700 Fulton Street.

                                        Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras will be represented.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: JohnnyCT

                                          Was thinking about going to the Belize Summer Fest this Saturday, but the promoter/production co.'s flyer on Myspace says there's a $15 cover. Not sure if this is just to see the music acts, though. Anybody know?
                                          Here's the page:
                                          http://www.myspace.com/skmpromotions

                                          1. re: Puppimus

                                            Might be worth it for the music. Garifuni music is incredible, the modern bands fuse African and Latin rock rhythms. Here's one example: http://music.myspace.com/Modules/Musi...

                                            Years ago lots of Garifuni people would hang out in St Mary's Park and listen to Garifuni music, and there'd be lots of great Garifuni food stalls set up around that area, just about every summer Saturday. I don't know if they still do this.

                                            1. re: Brian S

                                              Garifuna Food Expo will be September 5 @ South Bronx Center 955 Tinton Avenue ($10 to get in, doors open 4:00pm). Traditional dance and music as well as food.

                                              Honduran Independence Parade will be September 13th in Crotona Park. Food and music all day.

                                              1. re: JohnnyCT

                                                Here's a website with only slightly more info about both festivals:

                                                http://www.garifunacoalition.org/events

                                                Last year I arrived at the Honduran Independence Festival after the parade had concluded and the food stands had already drawn crowds...

                                                http://www.eatingintranslation.com/20...

                                                ...so I suggest that chowhounds arrive before noon. As I was leaving, a fellow told me that festivities were also under way on the streets outside "the center" (the Tinton Ave. address, I gathered), but I didn't manage to make it.

                                              2. re: Brian S

                                                Walked through St. Mary's Park today, a near-perfect summer Saturday, low 80s, a little breeze. Plenty of BBQ and picnic action; crowds were predominantly African-American and Puerto Rican. One Mexican birthday party, too. No sign of any Garifuna presence. Found a half-dozen Mexican and Dominican street-food vendors on 138th St., a number of blocks south, but no food stalls of any sort near the park.

                                          2. I want to eat that soup.

                                            1. I was captivated by this review. Thank you.

                                              1. I know this is old but I'm trying to get a Bronx Flavor post going and I saw the episode done on this restaurant. This is the link to the episode done on this restaurant. If anyone is interested in learning about the food the Baron covers it well.

                                                http://www.bronxflavor.com/#k-691eab3...

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: clareandromeda

                                                  Brian S come back to us! I miss his posts when I was first getting started on here...

                                                  At any rate, good effort in digging this one up. The Bronx definitely needs more attention as it's one big undiscovered restaurant at this point.

                                                2. I just started a photo series on the Garifuna, was lucky enough to spend some time in a village in Belize. Here are the first few pictures.

                                                  http://www.flickr.com/photos/arnade/5...
                                                  http://www.flickr.com/photos/arnade/5...

                                                  A few folks in the village had mentioned a Garifuna place in Brooklyn, as most had a few relatives of relatives who lived in NY. I have not found anything.

                                                  In Belize the "Fufu" is called Hudut.

                                                  Look forward to trying this place out as part of my series will include the Garifuna of the Bronx.

                                                  9 Replies
                                                  1. re: driggs

                                                    The women still cook the bread outside on a fire. Its so great. Dont think you can do that in NY
                                                    http://www.flickr.com/photos/arnade/5...

                                                    1. re: driggs

                                                      You'd be surprised what you can do in the South Bronx.

                                                    2. re: driggs

                                                      Garifuna Star closed years ago. Maybe there's a new place open there, it's a pretty large community. You might find info here: http://garifunacoalition.org

                                                      1. re: Brian S

                                                        Thanks brian; I actually made some contacts in Seine bight who have relatives in Bronx. I am going to there house for home cook Garifuna meal!

                                                        1. re: driggs

                                                          Where's the "like" button? I've been away too long. Yes, that's the best way. Also sometimes on weekends Garifuna have a party at the southeast end of St. Mary's Park, complete with food vendors.

                                                          1. re: Brian S

                                                            The outer borough board misses you

                                                            1. re: wew

                                                              I'll second that. Please come back. And bring E Eto back with you.

                                                            2. re: Brian S

                                                              I know this post is from long ago, and Garifuna star is gone. Still, there is a very active Garifuna community in the Bronx, although no official restaurant exists, during the summers you can get food at Rainey Park (two blocks from the 2 & 5 stop at Prospect Av in South Bronx).

                                                              The Garifuna community gathers there almost every day, but its the summers when food carts come out. During the winter most everyone there is still happy to talk to you about the culture and the food.

                                                              I have been lucky enough to get a home cooked Garifuna meal in the Bronx, but that was a result of my photo trip to Belize.

                                                              Here are two teens at the park yesterday: http://www.flickr.com/photos/arnade/6...

                                                              And here is some pictures I took of the Garifuna community in Belize
                                                              http://www.flickr.com/photos/arnade/s...

                                                              For those curious about one of the more unique cultures that thrives in New York a trip to the park during a summer weekend is worth the trip.....

                                                              1. re: driggs

                                                                What food does one find at these carts, in summer?