Monday, September 7, 2009

On Love For Rastafarianism

When I first moved to Flatbush, my first thought was, "Dear God. I will never make it here." The reason? I was overwhelmed by bakeries and shops advertising Jerk Chicken, Beef Patties, Curry Goat, and Oxtail Soup. It's a Caribbean/Jamaican neighborhood, and I quickly doubted if I would ever take part in their culture in any way, at least from a culinary standpoint. It was sad, because I really wanted to get myself mixed into the culture, learn about the music and the traditions (actually, as I write this entry the West Indian Day Parade is happening around and about the neighborhood, celebrating heritage and culture in a bold, boisterous, and colorful way. Check out the beautiful costumes!)

Then I read about a place called Strictly Vegetarian on a great blog I stumbled upon, Flatbush Vegan. And I discovered my culinary niche in this neighborhood: Rastafarianism!

Now, I don't entirely understand the religious backdrop to the Rastafari movement, but according to Wikipedia they believe the last Emperor of Ethiopia was an incarnation of God. Anyway, whatever the deal is, the ones in my neighborhood are fierce vegetarians, and follow an Ital diet, which is pretty exciting, given all the deep fried chicken shops around here:

Though there are different interpretations of ital regarding specific foods, the general principle is that food should be natural, or pure, and from the earth; Rastas therefore often avoid food which is chemically modified or contains artificial additives (e.g. color, flavorings, and preservatives.) Some also avoid added salt in foods, especially salt with the artificial addition of iodine, while pure sea or kosher salt is eaten by some. In strict interpretations, foods that have been produced using chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizer are not considered ital.


So, here are my reviews of the three Ital stops in the area I've eaten at.

Four Seasons: Four Seasons is probably my favorite Ital stop. From the outside it looks like a big Rasta clothing store, but don't be fooled; they have a full juice bar, baked goods, hot foods, bulk foods, and frozen fake meat products to cook with at home. I am a big fan of their dried mango. The small mixed plate of hot food is $7, and it's more than enough for two people. Menu changes all the time; when I ate there we had soy meat, lomein, some sort of chopped greens, rice, beans, etc. They just layer it all, one thing on top of the other, which is a little strange at first, but since all the food is mild it works fine; we asked for a paper plate and scooped things onto that to make more sense of the mountain of food. It's healthy, filling, and delicious.

Strictly Vegetarian: The guy that runs this place is really nice. It's right across the street from Four Seasons, and has a limited bakery and a nice hot bar. Same deal as Four Seasons, except $6. We liked the variety at Four Seasons a little more, but both places are great. Not so keen on pictures of half naked women on the walls, but if you can handle the atmosphere, it's a great place to stop in for a cheap, hugely portioned meal.

Scoops: Scoops is actually in Lefferts Gardens, but its totally worth the trip. Isn't open on Mondays. Like Strictly Vegetarian, it always seems to be the same Rasta guy in there running the shop. The food was great, $7 for a small mixed plate, portions slightly smaller, but the quality on par or even a little better. We had beans, rice, noodles, really great mango flavored hot sauce, and this amazing stuff they called "soy chunks" that was covered in some sort of barbeque sauce. The unique thing about scoops is the ice cream; they offer half a dozen flavors of Non-Dairy tofutti. I recently had the chocolate and thought it was very good, although the cone was a little stale, so you might go for a cup. Tiny, but there is a little bit of seating in there. Altogether, really great place.

So there you have it! Thank you Brooklyn Rastas, for bringing vegetarian culture to Flatbush!

Scoops is on 624 Flatbush Avenue, right near Fenimore Street, down from the Q-B Prospect Park stop or up from the Q Parkside stop.

Strictly Vegetarian is on 2268 Church Avenue, between Flatbush and Bedford, across from the post office.

Four Seasons is on 2281 Church Avenue, across from Strictly Vegetarian, next to the post office.

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