BOBBY MAGILL

Journalist • Photographer

Bobby Magill is a senior science writer for Climate Central in New York and a journalist who has covered fracking and the environment in Colorado and New Mexico since 2001. 

Exploring NYC Through 52 Cuisines in 52 Weeks: Bangladeshi Food in the Bronx

There are many ways to explore the city. Some choose stick to their own neighborhood and daily route to work. Others stray far and wide, exploring the subway system or specific neighborhoods as they look for architectural wonders or obscure artifacts of history. 

In 2016, my goal is to explore New York City and its neighborhoods through its food, mainly ethnic cuisine. Where else can you find Egyptian, French and Greek restaurants on the same block? 

So long as we live in New York City this year, I plan to visit at least one new international restaurant each week — or 52 cuisines in 52 weeks. It could be the Dominican bakery around the corner from my apartment in Marble Hill, a unique Halal food stand in Midtown, a quick workday lunch at a Caribbean place I just learned about on Houston Street or a Georgian restaurant in a distant Brooklyn neighborhood.

We kicked this project off today with a long hike through the Bronx. 

Week 1: Bangladeshi Food in Parkchester and Pastries in the Bronx's Little Italy

Our one-way hike from Marble Hill to Neerob in Parkchester. 

Our one-way hike from Marble Hill to Neerob in Parkchester. 

The goal for today was Neerob, a Bangladeshi restaurant in Parkchester praised in the New York Times in 2011 for being one of the only places in the city where true Bangladeshi food is served. We decided to walk from Marble Hill to Parkchester in the east Bronx through the Bronx's Little Italy, hiking along Kingsbridge Road, Fordham Road, Arthur Avenue, and eventually below the Bronx Zoo and over to Unionport Road and Starling Ave. — a 5.2 mile hike. 

Gino's Pastry Shop om 187th St. in the Bronx's Little Italy. 

Gino's Pastry Shop om 187th St. in the Bronx's Little Italy. 

The first stop was the less famous but much larger Little Italy along Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, one of the largest Italian neighborhoods in the city with one of the region's highest concentrations of Italian meat markets, bakeries and shops. 

That's where we found Gino's Pastry Shop, where I ate a pastry called sfogliatella, or "lobster tail," a pastry with resembling a lobster tail made with thin leaves of pastry. 

Sfogliatella at Gino's. 

Sfogliatella at Gino's. 

Pastries in the case at Gino's. 

Pastries in the case at Gino's. 

Delicious. Jacob ate a cannoli, and soon we found ourselves wandering through the bustling Arthur Ave. Market, which is replete with vendors hawking olive oil, fresh vegetables, pizza and  "This is the Bronx" hats and T-shirts, each of which is probably aimed at tourists. 

From there, we wandered through the central Bronx and over to Parkchester, a planned development of uniform housing towers built by Met Life just before World War II. Neerob is in a Bangladeshi district just a couple of blocks away from the housing towers.

Neerob on Starling Ave. in the eastern Bronx. The food is good enough to ignore the B rating from the health department. 

Neerob on Starling Ave. in the eastern Bronx. The food is good enough to ignore the B rating from the health department. 

As we walked into the restaurant, there were cases of mostly unlabeled food on the right, and seating in an adjacent room on the left. Is there table service? Do we order at the counter? And what exactly were they serving? Except for the clearly-labeled biryanis, or rice dishes, in the case, we couldn't tell for sure. That's what stands out about this place: You're supposed to know what the food in the display case is, and you shouldn't need labels or a menu to help you identify it. Its deliciousness is supposed to be self evident. 

And it was. We were seated, and we ordered from a takeout menu, and when we got our food, the flavor was as bursting as we'd expected. 

Chicken biryani in the case near the entrance at Neerob. 

Chicken biryani in the case near the entrance at Neerob. 

Jacob ordered goat curry, and I had channa dal and chicken korma with garlic naan and mango lassi, an Indian yogurt drink. 

Each dish was rich and spicy, and totally unlike any korma or dal I've had at any Indian restaurant in town. Most customers in the restaurant ate with their hands, but as the only obvious Westerners in the restaurant, we were given utensils. 

Delicious. Of course. Some of the best South Asian food I've had in NYC so far. 

Chana dal on the right, naan on the left. 

Chana dal on the right, naan on the left. 

Goat curry on the right, chicken korma on the left. 

Goat curry on the right, chicken korma on the left. 

The menu. 

The real treat, aside from the food, was visiting this part of the Bronx, which is so far removed from the typical tourist track that you'll be unlikely to ever see one here, a trait it shares with Marble Hill and much of far Uptown Manhattan. 

A Bangladeshi newspaper for sale outside Neerob. 

A Bangladeshi clothing store on Starling Ave. down the street from Neerob. 

The Bangla Bazaar is a stretch of several blocks of Starling Ave., a strip of Bangladeshi-owned businesses. 

The Bangla Bazaar is a stretch of several blocks of Starling Ave., a strip of Bangladeshi-owned businesses.