At Flatbush, Little Caribbean Food Tours Helps Preserve Caribbean Culture
“Hope you are wearing your walking shoes,” Shelley Worrell said enthusiastically over her shoulder on a frosty Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn. Worrell drove a dozen people along Nostrand Avenue, stopping at restaurants, wine shops, record stores and bakeries to sample samples of local Caribbean specialties. This is the “Little Caribbean” Food Tour, celebrating Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Lucia and other islands represented in restaurants, shops and bars of Flatbush owned by people of Caribbean descent. Some tour participants have come from other boroughs, some are visiting New York for the first time, and some are from overseas. Some come from the West Indies themselves, while others hope to learn more. During the three-hour tour, they will try gooseberry rolls from the famous Allan’s bakery, which specializes in Caribbean pastries; fish nuggets, tamarind sauce and perfectly ripe dragon fruit from the Labay market; rums from Saint Lucia and Haiti at the Little Mo Wine Shop; and much more along a route that winds through Flatbush.
On the surface, the Little Caribbean tour is a fun way to spend an afternoon with live music and food and drink samples from some of the neighborhoods. Caribbean restaurants, but it has a more subversive purpose. In the face of the increasing gentrification and erasure of Caribbean culture, the food tour is a step backwards, putting Caribbean businesses at the forefront of the culture discussion in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
Worrell is also the founder of CaribBeing, a mobile art installation and cultural organization that promotes Caribbean culture in New York City. Her parents immigrated to Brooklyn from Trinidad in the 1960s and 1970s. She created the tour two years ago after hearing about Jane’s Walk, which uses guided walking tours run by citizens around the world to encourage conversations in communities from Melbourne to Mexico City. She wanted to bring the same concept to Flatbush to showcase the businesses she frequented growing up. “I was born and raised in Flatbush and wanted to share my passion for the neighborhood and introduce people to it.” Little Caribbean Food Tours are a different way to immerse people in the unique and diverse Caribbean community of Flatbush.
The tour begins in front of a chain of clothing stores at the intersection of Flatbush and Tilden avenues with a Trinidadian corn soup from a food trolley and heads to Nostrand Avenue with stops at places like the Yoruba Book Center to listen to artists like Yasa / Masa and Arry Creed, Haitian konpa legends, on vinyl and talk about the history of music across the African diaspora.
The first tour in 2016 drew eight people and Worrell quickly realized that tourists were really curious about Caribbean food and culture. “People were like, ‘Where do you get the best jerk and double?’ Worrell recalls. Through word of mouth, Worrell’s tour groups reached up to forty people, and he was asked to create similar tours showcasing Caribbean communities in other boroughs. “I’m always surprised at the scope of these tours and the interest they generate,” she says.
“People tend not to know so much about Caribbean cuisine, so it’s good that she takes this tour,” says Gina McCarthy, owner of Island Express, a Guyanese restaurant and bakery known for its pies. tasty meat and curries. “Being here is really like being in the Caribbean, and I love people to experience it.” During the tours, McCarthy tells the story of his family who moved to the United States from Guyana and opened their business. “I thank Shelley for adding me to the tour and I hope she grows up,” she says. “I am delighted that she chose me and my restaurant; it makes me feel special.
This summer, Little Caribbean is traveling both Nostrand Avenue and Flatbush Avenue, each route featuring six to ten local businesses with samples at each stop. Worrell also plans to add specialty tours focused on curry, vegan food and rum, all of which have strong ties to the Caribbean community. “It’s important to me that these tours are really meaningful,” she says.
“People called me an activist, but I don’t know,” she says. “This is cultural activism and it is important to showcase, preserve and protect Caribbean culture in New York City.” Little Caribbean Food Tours help ensure that when people think of Flatbush, they think of the Caribbean families and immigrants who have inhabited the area for decades. “This culture cannot be moved,” she says.