Week 34: The South Bronx: the Gentrification-Killer and Israeli Brunch

My old friend and former roommate Josh once described New York City as “it’s kinda like if God threw up everywhere.”

Well put, Josh.

Within this city lurks a driving force; a multi-ethnic whirlwind, swirling together a vast array of cultures and peoples, leaving a trail of kimchi tacos and Irish-Dominican babies in its wake. The neighborhoods epitomize this phenomenon, perhaps the prime reason so many people are so anti-gentrification. The cultural flair, the sense of commonality and culture, is enticing, even if it is contained within just a few city blocks. You can see Chinese families whose American lineage stretches back generations, Russians who have converted regions of Brooklyn into little Moscows. The fear, of course, is that all of these neighborhoods will continue to get pushed out, as yuppie scum (like myself) continue to push in, until everything has been converted into vegan-Thai yoga juice shops.

Since I took the job teaching English in the South Bronx, I no longer have this fear. There are some places that are simply not, as my co-worker put it, “white-friendly.” The South Bronx is maintained by black, Hispanic, and Italian (still white, but you know, like not generic boring white) business and apartment owners, making pushing them out a far greater (and more expensive) feat. Coupled with the surplus of bodegas, barred-up windows, and impossibly long trek to Manhattan, the South Bronx collectively terrifies and bores the vast majority of gentrifiers, and as such, these places are culturally safe-guarded.

But as such destinations carry with them an apprehension to the vanilla-skinned people, I was weary coming in for my preliminary interview. That did not last long. Walking through these supposedly terrifying streets, I experienced a paradigm shift. I saw what the South Bronx actually had: more parks per square foot than any neighborhood I’ve encountered in Manhattan or Brooklyn, a complete lack of traffic and congestion, and legitimate yards with lawns and trees and green and gates. Seriously, this is what the Bronx looks like to all those who are too scared to venture up.

And then there was the woman, who walked up next to me that day and, in an angelic voice, asked me if I was coming in for an interview.

“Yes,” I said. “How did you know?”

“You belong here, honey,” she said. “Don’t worry, you’ll get it.”

The Bronx possesses a character and a zest that I am just beginning to uncover. It’s hard, sure, far harder than any of the other boroughs, but perhaps that’s part of its appeal. It’s a challenge, a new adventure. And I dig.

Sandwich 34: Zizi Limona

My current on-again-off-again roommate is a war photographer. Having traveled most of the globe in search of the world’s most gruesome locales and documenting it in still-frames, he tells stories that would make even the most adventurous of us itchy in our seats. His most recent excursion, which was only slated to be a few weeks, lasted almost three months, as he was held up in both the Ukraine and Gaza for nearly a quarter of the year. He returned safe, unchanged, and craving Israeli Shakshuka.

I constantly give the Jews credit for being able to endure as a culture and a people for so many thousands of years, but also, for making bomb-ass food without the aid of pork or the cheese-meat combo (two of my favorite things). Going to Israeli Zizi Limona last weekend, it turns out their brunch egg sandwich game is seriously on point.

Two sandwiches, both deliciously intoxicating. The ingredients sound basic, their Challah Sandwich is composed of (according to the menu) omelette, charred veggies, and harissa and their Sabih Croissant is potato salad, hardboiled egg, eggplant, and harissa. Neither of these sound particularly complicated, unless if you’re a n00b and didn’t know what harissa is (like myself), but much like another nearby sandwich destination, Saltie, simplicity is divine. The vegetables are perfectly charred, the egg salad contains just a hint of vinegar, and Zizi’s was the first time I had ever consumed a grilled croissant.

And Harissa, for those interested, is hot chili pepper place from Tunisia. And it’s dope. Alongside shakshuka, four dollar beers and five dollar drinks, it’s one of the most reasonably priced brunches will encounter in Williamsburg.