It’s easy to forget that New York City is home to not one island, but two. Staten Island is an historic and lively borough. Once the hub of important immigrant settlements, colorful ethnic communities still enjoy a prominent presence. A short ride on the legendary Staten Island Ferry (it’s the only borough not connected to the subway system) and it feels like a world away.
The borough, filled with quirky suburban enclaves, is home to streets where old timers mingle with teenagers and pass along the customs of their respective homelands. One of the most revered traditions to be handed down is the knowledge of cuisines from faraway lands. On behalf of other culinary adventurers like me who don’t often have the resources to pick up and fly halfway around the world to indulge a craving, I say, “thank you.”
Staten Island has become the go-to spot for one of the most complex cuisines of South Asia – Sri Lankan. The Sri Lankan community in Staten Island is actually the third largest outside of Sri Lanka itself. Restaurants ranging from tiny storefront eateries to formal dining establishments line the area around Victory Blvd. offering the local immigrant community a taste of home.
At New Asha, owner Viji serves up some seriously delicious, authentic cuisine. This tiny and unassuming hole-in-the-wall is far and away the favorite of the local Siri Lankan community.
Everyday Viji rotates a selection of Sri Lankan favorites, often under the watchful eye of her tiny helper.
Made from stoneground whole meal flour, Roti–both veggie filled and plain–are staples of South Asian food and favorites at New Asha. Homesick diners also enjoy a savory range of curries, from mild to fiery, served alongside an ample amount of rice.
The food at New Asha is tasty and fresh. But don’t take my word for it. Head to Staten Island on the earlier side: Viji cooks in the morning and once she runs out, which she easily does by early noon, New Asha closes for the day.
If you’ve traveled all the way to Staten Island and miss the chance to sample Viji’s cuisine, worry not. Small shops lining the block sell imported goods straight from markets of Sri Lanka.
One of the most popular treats available are Maliban Biscuit, signature lemon cream puff cookies from Colombo’s Maliban Hotel and a Sri Lankan tradition that dates back to the 1930’s.
Delightfully airy with just enough candied lemon to satisfy your sweet tooth, Maliban Biscuits are the perfect treat to start or end your Sri Lankan culinary adventure in Staten Island.
Featured image courtesy of New York Natives, Photographer: Sarita Dan