Editor's Note: From ethnic mega stores to tiny bodegas, New York has an incredible array of markets and specialty shops for the curious, adventurous, and hungry. Please welcome Clara Inés Schuhmacher as she introduces us to a special grocery in Bushwick with Latin American ingredients you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
It would be a mistake to write off The Angel's Fruit Market as another Goya-saturated corner stand, as one might given its Bushwick locale and the loud, Spanish-language TV station chatter that greets you when you walk in. The Angel's is really an impressive little spot that masquerades as a modest grocery store. The aisles are treasure troves of hard to find, esoteric ingredients from Central and South America and from much of Mediterranean Europe. Take a look around, spend a few moments chatting with the staff, and you'll get inspired. That dish you're planning to cook will take on new meaning.
As I entered the man at the counter was chatting in Italian with a dark haired customer. He turned next to greet an elderly woman in the Spanish one hears on Bushwick sidewalks. The shelves behind him are stacked with yellow and green packets of yerba mate and hefty jars of dulce de leche, two ubiquitous-to-South-America products that are more difficult to find in a New York that tends towards Central American ingredients. This is not just another Bushwick bodega.
The man of many languages is the man behind the products: Carmelo Bruno, the proprietor of The Angel's Fruit Market and a longtime Bushwick resident. He smiles, and slips into the accent we find we both share. ¿Que querés saber? He asks. "What do you want to know?"*
* Note: quotes here translated from the Spanish by the author.
Bruno arrived in Bushwick (he's Uruguayan by way of Calabria) in the 1970s, when Bushwick was the Bushwick of tall tales and grim police reports. He got a job at a small fruit & vegetable stand on Knickerbocker. Then he bought it. It's been his for some 30 odd years, and he lovingly stocks his store to reflect the diversity of people that have cropped up around him in that time. As he says it, he doesn't think he'll end up anywhere else.
The goal, he explains, is to source ingredients one would otherwise be hard-pressed to find in the city. "I try to bring things that you can't find elsewhere," he says, "things that we grew up with, that are far away, that my neighbors here will appreciate." For Bruno, "things that we grew up with" are ingredients from Mediterranean Europe and all of the Americas, and you can be sure that if he doesn't have what you're looking for, he can likely find it. If not, he likely has a suitable substitution. That intimidating Oaxacan mole recipe in your Diana Kennedy cookbook? Bruno has you covered. Plotting a nouveau salad of dandelion leaves with an Italian antipasto? He's your man. Craving the sweets you ate on your trip through Argentina, or finding that the pozole you've been making from canned hominy just isn't as good as the dish you had in Mexico? Hop the L and go to The Angel's.
Most impressive among the colorful offerings is the diversity and quantity of dried and fresh chilies—unmatched even in a Bushwick—and critical to most cuisines anywhere south of New York. Best of all, they come with notes and explanations.
Nestled among the apples are treats for the Europeans who still live in Bushwick. Not just the bottles of good olive oil, tinned sardines, and dried soppressata you've come to expect from the specialty stores in Manhattan, but also: sour oranges, a small tray of sweet moscato grapes, and an even smaller tray of prickly cactus pears ("the Italians love these," confides Bruno). In the refrigerator there are mushrooms and sun dried tomatoes, all casero: marinated and prepared in house.
The produce case boasts greens that will make even the novice an authentic Central American cook. There's epazote and pipicha, leafy greens that are similar to cilantro but serve their own distinct purposes, milpero, the tomatillo's more flavorful cousin, and a generous pile of cilantro macho. There are two kinds of calabacitas, skinny ones and round, and two kinds, too, of chayote, the bald kind you normally find, and a prickly "Mexican" version that draws a spot of blood. There are supple cactus leaves, or nopales, the multi-talented chilacayote, and fresh garbanzo beans (I'm embarrassed to admit I'm surprised that they're green.) In the back, alongside the yucca and the platanos (both green and ripe), there are some new-to-me roots: yautia blanca (white), yautia lila (purple), sweet jicama, and malanga.
Even the requisite Goya display is anything but standard. Beyond the obvious, there's a wealth of exotic beans and grains, as well as some interesting flours: purple corn, harina de habes (bean flour), and harina de platano (plantain flour).
Before Bruno left for one of his shopping expeditions, a 6 PM-to-10 AM affair he conducts three times a week, I asked him what his favorite product is. He clapped his hands and reached for the guayabas, small, rounded, light green fruits I'd mistaken for quince.
He stepped behind the counter to wash one off for me and emerged with a hard, dark green thing the size of a baseball. "Cherimoyas," he noted, a twinkle in his eye. "I just got these in from Chile. You won't find them anywhere." Luckily for us, though, Bruno's just off the L.
Check out the slideshow to see some products at the market »
The Angel's Fruit Market
272 Knickerbocker Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11237 (map)