In episode 4 of the Edible Potluck podcast we talk about pupusas in Queens, NY, with Salvador Espinoza and Indy Women in Food with Sonja Overhiser.
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Recommended recipe: Chickpea Flour Popovers
Thanks to its diversity, the Queens food scene provides a lens to look beyond restaurants and recipes to important political and policy issues. For example: later this year, “Temporary Protected Status,” a special status granted to people from certain countries, will end for people from El Salvador. There are many causes for concern here, including the way this change will impact small business, especially food business. It’s a shift that threatens the many pupusa spots that have thrived in Queens since Temporary Protected Status was granted to Salvadoran immigrants. Edible Queens contributor Salvador Espinoza covers this story in his article Politics and Pupusas. Espinoza is a writer and photographer born, raised and still based in Long Island City. His work has been published by the New York Times, Mass Appeal, and Frontrunner Magazine, among others. (Above: Armando, the owner of El Izalco in Woodside, worked in restaurant kitchens while dreaming of opening a Salvadoran restaurant. Photo: Salvador Espinoza)
Sonja Overhiser is a writer and recipe developer focused on easy, healthy home cooking. Her cookbook, Pretty Simple Cooking was one of our favorites from last year. You may also know her from the hugely popular food blog, A Couple Cooks. She is a co-founder of Indy Women in Food, an organization that kick-starts collaborations and provides support for women on the Indianapolis Food scene.
Sonja Overhiser A Couple Cooks
Joy Manning: I’m your host Joy Manning and this is Edible Potluck a podcast that gives food lovers a taste of Edible Communities magazines. Today we’re off to Queens, New York for a conversation with photographer and writer Salvador Espinoza about where politics meet pupusas. Then we’re stopping by Indianapolis to talk to blogger Sonja Overhiser about a group she helped start there for women on the food scene. But before we get going I wanted to tell you about a recipe I just tried. It’s for chickpea popovers.
These are gluten free, fast, easy and delicious. I don’t normally go in for a gluten free version of a classic but I am a huge fan of chickpea flour. Chickpea flour is just a flower made by finely grinding dried chickpeas in case you never heard of it. Sometimes it’s labeled garbanzo flour and it’s available pretty much everywhere. It makes delicious savory crepes and pancakes. Anyway it just replaces the usual white flour you find in a popover. But it’s more about the interesting savory flavor than avoiding gluten or something healthy like that, this isn’t health food, there’s plenty of butter. You just blitz a few eggs, milk, the chickpea flour, and salt in the blender and then pour the batter into buttery muffin tins. You start them in a very hot oven and that’s how you get a trademark puffy pop over the rim of the muffin tin. And then you crank it down to finish the baking at a lower temperature. These make a great snack and they would be wonderful as the base for something like sausage and gravy if you ask me. You can find the recipe at ediblecommunities.com. Bake them for yourself and tell me what you think.
Politics and Pupusas with Salvador Espinoza
Joy Manning: I love reading all the edible magazines and I try not to play favorites but I have to admit to being especially excited to get my hands on Edible Queens. For me it’s the many immigrant food communities there that make it such an exciting place to visit or even just read about. Thanks to this diversity the Queens food scene provides a lens to look beyond restaurants and recipes to important political and policy issues. For example later this year temporary protected status, a special status granted to people from certain countries for certain reasons, will end for people from El Salvador. There are many causes for concern here including the way this change will impact small businesses especially food businesses. It’s a shift that threatens the many pupusa spots that have thrived in Queens since temporary protected status was granted to Salvadoran immigrants. Edible Queens contributor Salvador Espinoza covers this story in his article Politics and Pupusas and he’s here to talk to us about it today. Thank you for being with us Salvador.
Salvador Espinoza: Thank you for having me Joy I’m looking forward to speaking with you.
Joy Manning: This is a little bit of a heavy topic but I thought we could start on a lighter note. For those that haven’t had the pleasure of eating a pupusa in their life could you describe one?
Salvador Espinoza: Sure so a pupusa is a corn stuffed tortilla with, usually it’s either with pork chicharrones which is fried pork chunks or beans or cheese. And then there are revueltas which the more popular ones that are just stuffed with all three. And now increasingly here in the states people have been experimenting more so you’ll see something like ham and cheese pupusas or chicken pupusas or jalapeno stuffed pupusas.
Salvador Espinoza: So there’s a bit of experimentation going on with them now in the states that it’s being mixed with American food. But traditionally it’s cheese, beans and pork chunks. And it’s pretty savory, pretty, most of it tends to be pretty cheesy and somehow the best ones are crispy and soft at the same time. So it’s something that’s comfort food for Salvadorans. And, yeah, for people getting into Salvadoran cuisine it’s a good entry point.
Joy Manning: It’s not like any of those things are an acquired taste, it’s pretty hard not to like.
Salvador Espinoza: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. They’re pretty similar, I mean, if people are familiar with gorditas which are Mexican food that’s sort of similar. The only difference is gorditas are stuffed after and pupusas area actually mixed in. The cheese and the beans are mixed in when you put the patty on the griddle.
Joy Manning: So, I mean, it’s a pretty delicious thing to worry about losing in a community. So I’m wondering besides your appreciation of the food how did this story come to your attention and what made you want to cover it?
Salvador Espinoza: Being Salvadoran American I grew up frequenting a lot of these Salvadoran restaurants and then also having family and friends, some are under TPS. I wanted to sort of frame the story of TPS and what might happen to people with TPS once it gets revoked and I think food is universal and food is an entry point into other peoples culture. And though you might not know anyone that has TPS or Salvadorans but there are people that do enjoy the cuisine and this might help them better understand what is at stake and what might be lost when hundreds and thousands of people might be forced to leave this country. So that really gave me a desire to kind of put this story out there now being that TPS has been revoked recently and people are in danger of having to be sent back home at the end of 2019.
Joy Manning: So what will basically happen, and I believe it’s September when it will be revoked, will people either chose to leave the country or will they pass from being legal to being undocumented? Is that your sense of it?
Salvador Espinoza: Yeah, right now it’s still in appeals. Recently I believe in October they sent another appeal and as of now it still stands September 2019. But the hope is that it might get pushed back to 2020 or even more and that way people would be able to either apply for residency or any other pathway to be able to stay here. But if it does get revoked there are tons of people that are in danger of being deported. And that’s a large majority of people with TPS have been here for close to 20 years and own homes, businesses, and they might be deported and just have to leave everything that they built in the last 20 years.
Joy Manning: It is a long timeframe that you’re talking about here and you say that back in the 70’s before we saw so much immigration from El Salvador that it was hard to find pupusas in Queens. Can you sort of explain the things that changed? It wasn’t just the temporary protective status, right?
Salvador Espinoza: Right. So in the 70’s there weren’t as many Salvadorans or central Americans on the east coast. And then during the 80’s during the civil war in El Salvador, as well as unrest in nearby places like Nicaragua and Honduras, there was a large migration of Central Americans to the east coast and New York. And along with that came people opening up their own Salvadoran, Central American, restaurants. And that was through the 80’s and 90’s and then you started seeing a large amount of Central Americans in these neighborhoods. And then for the bigger wave of migration in the early 2000’s due to hurricanes and earthquakes that just decimated large parts of the country.
Joy Manning: So do you know exactly when TPS was granted?
Salvador Espinoza: It was in, I believe it was after a hurricane and a couple earthquakes in the, I want to say the mid 2000 late 2000.
Joy Manning: And my understanding is a natural disaster is a common reason why this status is granted to a group of people.
Salvador Espinoza: Right. So TPS right now isn’t just El Salvador but it’s other countries. So Haiti is also under, a lot Haitians are under TPS, Nepal, Yemen, Sudan. So there’s a good, I believe, not sure of the exact number but I believe it’s around nine countries that have TPS status. And it is natural disasters are a huge part of why people are granted TPS. Also if people are in dangerous conditions such as war and et cetera but what’s interesting is that these countries such as El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras they’re still very much under threat of civil unrest and gang violence. So TPS being revoked and them going back puts them in danger as well. And this is why you see people, this caravan of people, coming up because they’re fleeing pretty dangerous conditions there right now.
Joy Manning: I think it’s part of the American spirit to welcome people from places that are really in hard conditions like war and natural disasters. It just doesn’t seem like the type of thing that Americans would want this status being denied. And I actually learned about it through your article so I’m very grateful for that because now I’m aware of it. And I think that maybe other people who are reading food magazines perhaps more than the news will have the same experience I did learning about it. In the article you say that pupusa shops are more than just restaurants they’re places where a community is built, they’re community hubs. Can you give us some examples of how they build that community?
Salvador Espinoza: Sure, they’re a big way for people to get into the restaurant business or finding their first job when they get here is through these restaurants. They might know a family member or friends that have worked there before or they might know the owners and this is how they start off starting to get into the business. Starting to work here. There’s also a place where you don’t know anyone and you might know someone in the neighborhood and you might just go up the restaurant it might be the only area that they speak your language, they know where you’re from and they start building a community around it.
Salvador Espinoza: So you can go there and get information. And once people are settled here it becomes a familiar place to go eat. So after they’ve been here awhile, as such is with my family, we’d go to these places to celebrate a birthday or sometimes in not so happy circumstances. Someone passes away we go out at eat at these restaurants.
Salvador Espinoza: And there’s also from one of the restaurants that I covered, she told me a great story about this lifelong patron that was there and pretty much became family to them. I think he was there since the beginning and a couple years ago he passed away and he pretty much passed away without any money but the covered his expenses and they pretty much covered everything for him and were able to send him back to El Salvador. And they covered that for him as well. So this is kind of the community that gets built around these restaurants.
Joy Manning: That’s really incredible.
Salvador Espinoza: Yeah, so it’s not just a place to eat, but you can find a familiar face, people that speak a familiar language and taste food from back home. Sometimes it’s the only place people feel at home at when they get here.
Joy Manning: Now you write that this decision, just the news that this is gonna happen, is already affecting small businesses, these food businesses like the pupusa shops and restaurants. Can you explain how they’re being affected now and why in advance of it even happening that’s impacting them?
Salvador Espinoza: Yeah, so when I spoke to a couple of these restaurants I asked them about, have they seen any changes? And they said definitely. I mean even before it got put into effect and then there was these talks of it happening people were terrified. One, because they’re not sure how this would be put into place. Were they just gonna be rounded up and were they just gonna go into these places where Salvadorans and Central Americans are known to frequent and just get taken away?
Salvador Espinoza: And then the other fear was they needed to save as much money as they could because they’re not sure what their future holds. So they saw a sharp decline, in some cases from 25 to 40% of people stopping frequenting these places. So they’ve seen a large a number of their business go down a bit. Now I think it’s settled down a bit and people are not as scared and are kind of feeling it out and business is coming back slowly. But once those rumors and those, everything hit the news, they definitely saw that sharp decline.
Joy Manning: Do you expect some of these restaurants might have to close?
Salvador Espinoza: I don’t think so. I think these restaurants, particularly these three that are in my article, they’ve been here for 30 years in most cases. Newer ones might have a harder time staying open but the particular three that are covered they’ve been through a lot and they’ve been fighting to stay open for a while. So I think they’re okay but it’s still touch and go. But we’ll see I mean hopefully, they’ve been through a lot before and as one said, “You know we went through struggles before. Not just the restaurant but as people but we’ll be here.” And that’s just the way that they gotta march on.
Joy Manning: We talked a little bit about the other communities that this will be affecting and as someone who covers food in Queens, do you expect similar things to happen in other parts of the food scene? Have you heard anything about that?
Salvador Espinoza: I haven’t but I can imagine there is a big community in the last few years of Nepali people that are over in Sunnyside and Woodside and there are pockets of restaurants around there as well. So they might be affected and also the other Central American restaurants in the area since you have Nicaraguans and Hondurans also affected by TPS. And you’re also looking at Haitian are under TPS so you might see some of that affected. But I think Nepali having a real concentrated area in Queens that might be a place that might be effected and that’s it.
Joy Manning: So this is a good time to support your favorite immigrant owned restaurants in Queens if you’ve never tried or if you want to keep them I business. It seems extra important to support the cause.
Salvador Espinoza: Definitely, definitely right now at this moment. And I think not just now but always these restaurants are a reflection of the American dream. A lot of these owners came her without pretty much anything, started working in kitchens either as bar backs, bus boys, or line cooks and gradually learned the business and came to own their business.
Salvador Espinoza: And the woman that owns Salvatoria Bar is the daughter of a woman that owned a restaurant in Jackson Heights. So you see different generations of Salvadorans. So this is a reflection of the American dream, of what is ideal. You start working, you put your work in and you’re able to own the business and have your kids also progress along and have them own their own businesses. So yeah it’s definitely it’s time to support but always keep in mind that this is what keeps America going and, yeah.
Joy Manning: In addition to writing this article you also photographed it and I think the photos especially the portraits when we’re seeing people’s faces really show your connection to this story and that you understand it and what’s at stake here. I was wondering do you consider yourself mostly a writer or mostly a photographer and how does one inform the other as you work?
Salvador Espinoza: I’m definitely more of a photographer and only more recently started writing more. I think through photographing stories like this it inspires me to write more. I think I can only do so much with photography and I want to get deeper into the story and deeper into the lives of people and this writing is a way to connect on a deeper level with the audience and give them more information and give them more of the story. But definitely I consider myself a photographer first but it is pretty exciting to start to write. It’s a whole nother avenue to learn and it’s a whole way that I can express myself and get these stories out there more, so.
Joy Manning: Well I really enjoyed the story and thank you so much for writing it and thank you for talking to me today.
Salvador Espinoza: Yeah, thank you so much Joy.
Joy Manning: That was Salvador Espinoza a photographer and writer born, raised and still based in Long Island City, Queens. His work has been published in The New York Times, Mass Appeal and Front Runner Magazine among others. We’ll have a link to his article in the show notes for this episode.
Indy Women in Food with Sonja Overhiser
Joy Manning: Sonja Overhiser is a writer and recipe developer focused on easy healthy home cooking. Her cookbook, Pretty Simple Cooking, was one of our favorites from last year. You might also know her from her hugely popular food blog, A Couple Cooks. Today she’s here to talk about Indy Women in Food. An organization she co-founded to kick start collaborations and provide support for women on the Indianapolis food scene. Welcome Sonja, thank you for joining us.
Sonja Overhiser: Thank you so much for having me Joy.
Joy Manning: I read about your group in Edible Indy and I was totally intrigued partially because we’re seeing groups like this pop up around the country. We even have one in Philadelphia, so I have a special interest in the story. And I was hoping you could start just by telling me how Indy Women in Food came to exist as a group.
Sonja Overhiser: Sure, so it was kind of an accident it was not something that my co-founder Ashley or I were really planning but we had an even here in Indianapolis a couple of years ago now. Kerry Diamond from Cherry Bombe came and moderated a panel of women working in food in Indianapolis. And I was one of the panelists and that panel discussion there was just a great attendance and there was just this energy in the room of women who were really excited about hearing about other women working in the food industry and people were saying, “We’ve never gotten together like this before. There should be a way that we can continue these connections.” And so afterward Ashley Brooks and I both had this idea of what if we started something? But we didn’t know each other and a friend of our connected us and said, “You guys are both thinking of the same thing right now.” So we had a coffee date and decided, hey let’s start a network that can connect these women working in the food industry in Indianapolis so that we can help each other, we can champion each other’s causes.
Joy Manning: Now your background is as a food writer and a blogger and a cookbook author. Can you tell us a little bit more about Ashley?
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Sonja Overhiser: Sure, she’s in the restaurant industry. She helped to co-found a really famous Indy restaurant, now it’s called Milktooth. And she also started a farmers market and she’s very much from the side of restaurants and going and producing food and then I’m kind of in the food media sector. So that was helpful for us that we have very different context and we wanted to have a place where it didn’t matter what type of way that you were working in food, be it restaurants or food media or any type of food photography, farming, urban farming. Any career that touched food that we could have a place that we could all join together.
Joy Manning: I’m a little surprised to hear you weren’t friends first and that you met because you both had this same idea. What was that first coffee date like? Did you have friend chemistry?
Sonja Overhiser: We did, we hit it off right away and the cool this is is that we both really have complementary skill sets. So, where one of us might be needing kind of a boost in one area we can really compliment each other. So it worked out perfectly luckily.
Joy Manning: So why do you both think this was something that you needed in the Indy food scene?
Sonja Overhiser: Yeah I think the Indy food scene was pretty disconnected back then and there are still disconnects in lots of different areas. But we just felt we needed a stronger community that could really collaborate together and that’s why we started the group. It just started out as a Facebook group actually and it was a place where women could come and say, “Hey I’m having this challenge. Could someone help connect me to someone?” And in that group we really saw a spirit of collaboration blossom where people would say, “Hey I have these plant starts, these herb starts that I’m growing where can I sell them?” And someone would chime in and say, “Hey I have this perfect place where you can sell them.” So we’ve seen that happen time and time again of being able to connect and collaborate and create a better food world her in Indianapolis by just being able to talk to each other in a common space.
Joy Manning: How long has the group been in existence?
Sonja Overhiser: So we founded Indy Women in Food in June of 2017. So it’s a pretty short time that we’ve been around.
Joy Manning: Yeah ours is new too in Philly we are definitely less than a year old. You mentioned that the kind of things that were happening in the Facebook group was someone would come with the plant starters, here to sell them. Do you have any other examples of collaborations that have come out of that conversation?
Sonja Overhiser: Sure, well actually I can mention that we have also started doing some events around town. So we’ve really tried to grow as our network grows organically and try to understand what women are looking for and we had a few women in our group that had a passion about talking, having a conversation about diversity in food, and the food scene here in Indianapolis. And so we decided to have a panel discussion and we just one week ago had this discussion, less than a week ago had an even, panel event, to discuss diverse women working in the food industry and Indianapolis.
Sonja Overhiser: It was an incredible event and we had some industry leader men chefs in the audience who were listening to what these women had to say. And right after that event we had several of them reach out and ask if we had any women in our group that were looking for jobs in the restaurant industry. And so it was just really a cool thing to see the community kind of rallying around us. And then having the already established male chefs in Indy to really be listening to that message and coming to us.
Joy Manning: That’s so interesting we recently through Edible Philly and our own sort of Philly Women in Food group had an event that was focused on women in food and we thought about making it just for women but we didn’t we opened it up for everyone. And there were a few men there and when it came to questions and answers and sort of talking from the group we were surprised to see the men do a lot of talking. So we were wondering if maybe next time we should invite men but ask them to let the women speak. So I’m wondering what was your event like? Did the men talk during the event or were they mostly listening?
Sonja Overhiser: No the men were mostly listening and it was really, really cool to see. We said the event was open for all and it was just, it was so gratifying to see men there and hear them listening and then have them respond afterwards. And they just, it was a forum for women to just have their voices heard.
Joy Manning: And that happened organically, you didn’t put anything in place?
Sonja Overhiser: Yeah, yeah.
Joy Manning: Bravo to those Indy chefs, that’s pretty cool. So you have this Facebook group and now you’re also doing these in-person events. What kind of networking happens in real life versus online? How does that connection differ?
Sonja Overhiser: Yeah, we love having in-person events and we’ve done some potlucks with our Indy Women in Food group, core group, of women. The event that I was talking about was open to the public. That was our first really public facing event. But we do have some internal potluck events and oh my goodness, being able to meet up in person, several of us with some of our kind of rockstar women chef idols is such a beautiful experience. And being able to really share life and talk in person about our passions and our dreams for the Indy food scene. The in person meetups are really where it happens.
Joy Manning: Whoa are those rockstar idols that you’re mentioning if you feel like you can tell us who they are?
Sonja Overhiser: Sure, sure. So Regina Mehallick of R. Bistro, it’s now closed, but R. Bistro was one of the first really flagship farm to table restaurants here in Indianapolis. I started learning about food going to R. Bistro about 10 years ago and that was where I really discovered how amazing farm to table food could be. So the head chef of that restaurant is in our group. Another chef Becky Hostetter of the restaurant Duos and incredible vegetarian chef. She’s the best of her league here in Indianapolis. So it’s been so fun for me to have admired these women from afar and then have them as part of this group.
Joy Manning: When you say there’s a core group about how many are in the potluck core group?
Sonja Overhiser: Well our Indy Women in Food group, if we’re judging by the Facebook group which is our kind of the only place we have membership right now, we have about 160 women. But not all of them are at the potluck. So everyone is involved in a different way right now.
Joy Manning: So the core group is pretty small? Can gather around a table?
Sonja Overhiser: It just depends, it really depends on kind of the timing and the time of the year. We’ve had one potluck with maybe 50 women and then we’ve had others with maybe 20. So it just depends.
Joy Manning: I think that’s a big potluck.
Sonja Overhiser: Yeah, yeah we’ve had some really large ones.
Joy Manning: So you have yourself in media and I’m sure there are other people in the food media in your group, chefs that we talked about, what other types of occupations in the food world are represented in Indy Women in Food?
Sonja Overhiser: Yeah, so we have food bloggers, we have reporters, we have radio show hosts, we have urban farmers, we have people working for the city more as a community planner type people. We have all sorts of people who fit into the traditional food categories and then some who are a little more tangentially related maybe on the board of a local charity, that kind of thing but are really just passionate about food.
Joy Manning: Are you planning anything at the moment that you’re excited about and can talk about?
Sonja Overhiser: Our diversity potluck went so well and so many people were saying, “When is the next one?” That I think we’re gonna really have to decide how we’re gonna continue the momentum from that one. We did have a request about examining diverse women in food from the grower and seller perspectives. So farming and grocery store and I think that would be fabulous. We had already been thinking about doing something about women in farming for 2019. So I think that will be on the docket.
Joy Manning: That sounds really interesting I almost wish that Indianapolis were closer so I could drive there and come to a potluck.
Sonja Overhiser: I know I was gonna say we would love to have you. So if you ever are in the Indianapolis area we would love to invite you to an event.
Joy Manning: Barring that though what advice do you have for me or others who want to start a Women in Food group in their own city?
Sonja Overhiser: I think it’s not as hard as you would imagine. We just kind of started and said, “We’re gonna start really small. We’re gonna start as a Facebook group.” And you can do it using any technology that provides an online forum for people to chat and share ideas. So it doesn’t have to be Facebook but it was pretty simple to start that part and just kind of we started gauging and listening, “What are these women wanting and needing?” And most people just really want a connection and a space where they could connect to these other women. So I would say start small and then really listen to your community and decide what it needs. We’ve kind of toyed with, “Okay what do we want for the future with this group?” We’ve even asked, “Do you want to become a nonprofit?” And there are so many different things that we could do but we really want to grow organically and listen to what the community needs and not create it into something that isn’t helpful and serving the needs of our community.
Joy Manning: Well I think that’s very inspiring whether you work in food or you’re trying to build a community in any other aspect of your life. I think there’s a lot that we can learn from looking at groups like yours. Well thanks again for being with us today Sonja, it was really great to talk to you.
Sonja Overhiser: Absolutely, so happy to be here.
Joy Manning: That was Sonja Overhiser. You can read more about the Indy Women in Food group in Edible Indy and we’ll link to that article in the show notes for this episode. If you want to hear more from Sonja check out her new podcast, Small Bites. You can also keep up with her on Instagram @acouplecooks. Thank you for joining us today on Edible Potluck. Our podcast producer is David Wolf. If you like this episode please subscribe on Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcasts. Please take a moment to leave us a rating or a review, you know it helps other listeners find the podcast. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of your own local Edible Magazine. If you don’t know where to get one fine out at ediblecommunities.com. You can find links to everything we talked about today in the show notes for this episode at ediblecommunities.com/podcast. Until next time remember, eat local.