Night markets are popular throughout much of the world, most notably throughout Asia. Over the past few years, they have been popping up in places like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and New York. John Wang, who started the Queens Night Market in 2015, created an ingenious innovation that made it different from other trendy food festivals: a $5 price cap. That not only keeps the market affordable for a wider variety of people, but it keeps away big, investor-backed businesses. The market is one of the most diverse in New York, with vendors representing more than 90 countries. Many are immigrants who run stands with their families. For some, this is a side hustle and a way to celebrate their culture and heritage.
2020 was supposed to be a big year for the Night Market. John Wang and his wife Storm Garner released a cookbook, The World Eats Here: Amazing Food and the Inspiring People Who Make It at New York’s Queens Night Market. And we had planned a big episode, where we would visit the market, try the foods, and talk to the vendors. But, like so much else this year, this plan got derailed. The Night Market never opened. Queens became an early coronavirus hotspot.
So this episode has turned into a story about what’s been lost. And to understand what we’ve lost, we want to share a vivid reminder of what we had. In this episode we hear the stories of Queens Night Market vendors, in their own words. Storm Garner created the Queens Night Market Oral History Project, where she interviewed many of the market’s vendors at length last year.
We hear from Frances Roman, who sells traditional Puerto Rican food at the stall Cocotazo at the Night Market, and now runs the food business Cocotazo Catering. We also hear from Maeda Qureshi, who sold Pakistani food at The Pakistand. She now works full time at the ICU at Elmhurst Hospital. She was using the proceeds from her sales to support two charities: Zindagi Trust and The Citizens Foundation.
This episode contains explicit language.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
"Party Hop" by Jack Ventimiglia
"Star Shooting Light" by Hayley Briasco
"Minimaliminal" by Black Label Productions
"Mouse Song Light" by Ken Brahmstedt
"Narwhal" by Casey Hjelmberg
"Rogue Apples" by Karla Dietmeyer and Olivia Diercks
"Gust of Wind" by Max Greenhalgh
"Dilly Dally" by Hayley Briasco
"Saturn Returns" by Ken Brahmstedt
"Can't Bring Me Down" by Jack Ventimiglia
Photo courtesy of John Taggart.
DAN PASHMAN: This episode contains explicit language.
CLIP (JOHN WANG): The line to get in went through the subway station, to the platform, into the subway. They shut down the subway for a bit and then just started skipping the stop. The highway system shut down. The bus system shut down. Also the next afternoon, I had every city agency on my voicemail. I don't know how they got my number, but they’re like, "If this ever happens again, you’re shut down. How dare you ruin our city?", and I also got death threats. I’d never gotten death threat emails before, but I then got several.
DAN PASHMAN: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies, it's for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. And that voice you just heard is John Wang, founder of New York’s Queens Night Market. As you could tell by that story, about the crowds early on, it was a pretty big hit right away. Night Markets are open-air street markets that kinda feel like a giant block party. There’s often crafts for sale, live music or some entertainment. But the main draw is usually the food. You’ll find people cooking up all kinds of dishes and selling them out of their stalls. John launched the Queens Night Market in 2015.
CLIP (JOHN WANG): The idea of the Night Market itself came from Taiwan. And I used to spend six weeks there every summer as a kid and fell in love with night markets. The feeling is electric, the city feels like it’s all together. There don’t seem to be socioeconomic barriers between folks. People seem to be happy there, have a good time, food is relatively cheap. For kids there’s lots to do. It’s just so much energy.
DAN PASHMAN: Night markets are popular throughout much of the world. John’s visited ones in Hong Kong, Marrakesh, and Vietnam. In the early part of Crazy Rich Asians there’s a great scene at a night market in Singapore. And over the past few years, Night Markets have been popping up in North America: in Philadelphia, Pasadena, Vancouver, Chicago, and Pittsburgh.
DAN PASHMAN: The one in Queens is held every Saturday night from April through October in a park behind the New York Hall of Science. Picture rows and rows of stalls, each with a portable canopy over them. 70 or 80 vendors in all, most of whom sell food. When John first pitched the idea for a night market, locals in Queens were skeptical.
CLIP (JOHN WANG): And people were really like, "What are you doing here? You don’t belong here. What is a night market? Even though I don’t know what it is, I don’t think it belongs here, you shouldn’t put it here. You’re invading your neighborhood and our borough." And so it was tough. I mean, it was tough to convince anyone that it was a good idea. [laughs]
DAN PASHMAN: You got to understand Queens is very different from Manhattan. It’s much more residential. Fewer high rises, fewer tourists. The neighborhoods are there for locals. But it’s also home to the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, where they play the US Open, and Citi Field, where the Mets play. So it’s an area that attracts a lot of outsiders, who come in for big, pricey events then leave, often with little benefit for the local economy. Folks in Queens were worried the Night Market would be another one of those.
DAN PASHMAN: But John did something that makes the Queens Night Market different from other big events, and even other night markets across the country. There’s a price cap. No item at the market can cost more than $5. In 2017, John made some exceptions for $6 items, but that’s it. Part of the goal with the price cap is of course to make it affordable for everyone. But John also had another motivation:
CLIP (JOHN WANG): It totally changes and influence the types of vendors that apply. The fact that they are making maybe $1 or $2 profit margin per dish at the night market. So the people that decided to try and vend at the Queens Night Market are automatically not profit maximizing or profit seeking folks, which changes a lot of the dynamic in a good way. Right? There’s not a feeling of competition at the the Queen's Night Market, which is not always true at other events. There’s a camaraderie. The passion for the food is different, because I think most of the vendors there are, at the Queen's Night Market, are there to share their stories, share their food.
Dan Pashman: So unlike a lot of trendy food halls or food festivals, where a doughnut can cost you 5 bucks, the Queens Night Market is different. It doesn’t feature the kinds of chefs who would have investors worried about getting a return. A lot of the vendors are locals. For a lot of them this is a side hustle, and a way for them to share their food and culture. After all, Queens is the most diverse county in the whole country. There are more languages spoken in Queens than anywhere else in the world. John has a policy that on any given Saturday night, he won’t schedule more than two vendors who make the same type of cuisine. So the Queens Night Market is a place where, with a twenty dollar bill in your pocket, you can snack on Bolivian beef hearts and Nigerian Akara, wash it down with a Malaysian Pandan Key Limeade, and still have money left for tips.
DAN PASHMAN: All that being said, the vendors still want to make money. So how do they do that? Volume. In the past few years, on an average Saturday night in the summer, the market has attracted 13,000 people. When the weather’s just right, that number can hit 25,000 in a single night.
CLIP (FRANCES ROMAN): Gates open at 5:00, and it's like, fucking it. POOF!
CLIP (RADU SIRBU): And then when we got there was absolutely crazy.
DAN PASHMAN: Here are Queens Night Market Vendors Frances Roman, Radu Sirbu, Jay Jimenez , and Maeda Quershi
CLIP (MAEDA QUERSHI): And then the second time I was there. it was a heat wave and I fainted.
CLIP (FRANCES ROMAN): Yeah, you either sink or swim then.
CLIP (MAEDA QUERSHI): But then in the third week I was there, that was amazing like I sold out.
CLIP (RADU SIRBU): I love this. This is for me. This is where I’m gonna vend.
CLIP (MAEDA QUERSHI): And then this week my shoulder got dislocated.
CLIP (FRANCES ROMAN): I think everything's a blur. At the end of the night, I took a breath and I was like, "Holy shit. Like, I just did that."
DAN PASHMAN: Jay and Jerrick Jimemez run the Filipino food stand Grilla in Manila. Their specialty? Balut.
CLIP (JIMEREZ): Balut is actually, it’s a 14 day old duck embryo. Open it up, and you start drinking the broth. And there’s this filipino stance to it. When you eat this, once it's all opened up, you lean forward, and then you just go [slurp noise.] I’m so happy to see people will come to us and say, "I was here last week I tried the balut, and guess who I brought with us? My friends. All our friends are here. We’re going to go try it.
DAN PASHMAN: Radu Sirbu sells Twister Cakes at the Night Market:
CLIP (RADU SIRBU): I grew up in Romania, and learned a lot from my grandmother. She used to make these chimney cakes, twister cakes. So the dough is Sugar flour, oil butter, little bit of salt, little bit of vanilla, and then you roll the dough around the custom made wood cylinders. And then we top them with sugar, and put then we put it over the charcoal. Listen, this is from my grandmother, this is how she was doing it and the people love that. Tell them a story, which is real!
DAN PASHMAN: From the time Queens Night Market opened in 2015, it just kept growing. They moved to a bigger space. Coming into 2020, John Wang was thinking big.
CLIP (JOHN WANG): 2019 had been our busiest year in terms of average attendance, we were always at vendor capacity. We couldn’t include anymore. It was the year after the year I broke even, there’s all sorts of rosy signs, and I was excited about it for sure, um, and then March came.
DAN PASHMAN: This was supposed to be the Queens Night Market’s summer. Instead, it never opened. The area around the Night Market was one of the hardest hit by coronavirus. Cases are lower now, but even though the market is held outside, it gets so crowded. John did have designers look at ways to rework the space, but the changes would make it much more restrictive. Plus, it wouldn’t allow for as many people to attend, which would make it hard for vendors to make money. John says it just wouldn’t have the same spirit. So they probably won’t open at all this year.
DAN PASHMAN: Meanwhile some of the vendors who also worked at restaurants have faced layoffs, the ones who own brick and mortar stores have lost 80 or 90 percent of their revenue. A few of the vendors have gotten coronavirus, and lost people in their families. Back in February, before COVID, we here at The Sporkful, heard that John and his wife Storm Garner were publishing a cookbook called The World Eats Here: Amazing Food and the Inspiring People Who Make It at New York’s Queens Night Market. So we planned a whole episode on the book and the vendors and the market. This is that episode, but it’s very different from what we originally had in mind.
DAN PASHMAN: It's now about some of what's been lost: the jobs and small businesses, and the simple act of coming together around food. To understand what we’ve lost, we want to share a vivid reminder of what we had. So now we turn to the Queens Night Market Vendor Oral History Project, started by Storm, who’s an oral historian. She recorded interviews last year, and has shared some of them with us. It’s a chance to hear the vendors’ stories, in their own words.
DAN PASHMAN: First up, Frances Roman. She makes traditional Puerto Rican dishes like Arroz Con Pollo, potato croquettes, and pasteles, which are similar to tamales. Her stand is called Cocotazo.
CLIP (FRANCIS ROMAN): My logo kind of explains the name. It's a little kid leaning over a pot with his mother above him, kind of knocking him in the head with a wooden spoon. That's kind of what my mom used to do to us. Before the food was ready, we tried to sneak it. If we got caught, she'd give us a cocotazo. My mom's Puerto Rican. My mom came here in the 60s and to kinda support themselves, they sold what I sell today at the market, on the street in the 60s.
CLIP (FRANCIS ROMAN): I’ve been cooking forever. Spanish homes, you gotta to learn young. You definitely start with the sofrito. The sofrito is the base of everything that we make. Onions, your peppers, herbs. Then, you know, you learn the rice. And you go to school, right after you come home from school, you gotta to make a pot of rice, and you better make it right. Once you perfect the rice, then you get to use that sofrito that you perfected to then make the beans, to go with the rice. It’s all in steps.
CLIP (FRANCIS ROMAN): My grandmother recently passed in March and all of my recipes are my grandma's recipes. There were no teaspoons, no cups. They just measured by eye, and they hand down these recipes just like that. And my mom says, "My mother didn't leave me life insurance, but she left me recipes worth millions." So we honor her every Saturday at the night market. Yeah, so prior to graduating, I came out the closet and my mom didn't take it too well. She rejected me. She kicked me out at fifteen. So I got kicked out at 15 and was kind of just living around.
DAN PASHMAN: Despite not having a real home to go to, Frances graduated high school. She moved down to Florida, did a bit of college, and spent a lot of time cooking. Then, she came back to New York, determined to prove herself to her mother
CLIP (FRANCIS ROMAN): I just kind of wanted her to see that whatever idea she had of lesbians is fucking fake.
DAN PASHMAN: She started an Instagram called “Food Adventures with Frances”. She was just posting pics of what she was cooking for herself at home. And everything looked so good, people started messaging her saying they wanted to buy her food. So when she made herself dinner, she started making extra plates, and selling them.
CLIP (FRANCIS ROMAN): I had one person hit me up, like, your pastels are so great. There's a competition in Harlem you should join. I was like, I don't really know. And then I was just like, fuck it, let's do it. And I did that. It was like, "yo, you got pasteles?" And I'm like, yeah. The next, you know it. I sold 60 dozen.
CLIP (FRANCIS ROMAN): It took her forever to acknowledge my partners. But she does. She acknowledges my wife as my wife. She was at my wedding. So it just kind of slowly changing that. Showing her that two women can, in fact, raise a normal fucking kid. Like there's nothing wrong with my daughter. But my mom just kind of didn't see how any of that worked, because that was just not her normal. So she's more accepting now and more willing to, to be a part of my life. And she's super excited to be a part of this journey. Took her forever to get here.
CLIP (FRANCIS ROMAN): It's crazy because now we're like, fucking BFF’s. You come to the market. My mother's there, like this same lady’s there. My mom is like she's a beast. So having her, is like having three people. If we're making the pasteles, it's it's it's like a 4-step process. So, like, while she's doing two steps, I'm doing two. We kind of combine and that's just kind of how we work. It's just me and her like in unison, so to speak.
CLIP (FRANCIS ROMAN): I made the most fucking money in June because the queer population at the night market was fucking ridiculuous. Every night I had lines of just queer people. And it's even crazier as they come back looking for my mother. And I'm like, Huh? They love my mom. I had my daughter. I have her learning the rice...
CLIP (FRANCIS ROMAN): And the beans and the meat in steps. Besides, I got all these recipes I got to give somebody. She's the only one.
DAN PASHMAN: That’s Frances Roman, her stand at the Queens Night Market is called Cocotazo. And her recipes for arroz con pollo and potato croquettes are in the night market cookbook. She is currently doing private catering. And you can see more of her cooking at her Instagram @CocotazoCateringLLC. We’ll also have a link to her website at Sporkful.com.
DAN PASHMAN: Coming up, we hear from Maeda Qureshi. On Saturday Nights last year, she ran the popular Night Market Stall, The Pakistand. During the week, she worked at Elmhurst Hospital, just a couple of miles away. This year, Elmhurst became a coronavirus hotspot. We’ll hear Maeda’s story. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
DAN PASHMAN: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman, and I have a very exciting announcement! In just two weeks, we will be celebrating The Sporkful’s 10 year anniversary. You voted on social media and picked your three all time favorite Sporkful stories that you want to hear updates on. That’s what we’re doing. We’ll be re-airing those three shows, each with a brand new update. And they will be: The story of chef Kwame Onwuachi, Katie’s Year in Recovery, about one woman’s battle with an eating disorder, and the #1 vote getter, Searching For The Aleppo Sandwich. Is the sandwich shop still there? Is Shadi still smuggling medical supplies into Syria? And is Fadia still making her knafeh? We’ll tell you, the week of September 21st. For reminders and updates, make sure you’re following me on Instagram @TheSporkful.
DAN PASHMAN: OK, back to the show. Today we’re bringing you stories of vendors from the Queens Night Market, in their own words. And while the vendors aren’t usually trendy, well-financed chefs looking to test a new concept, some of them do come from culinary backgrounds. Like the woman behind a stall called The Pakistand. Her name is Maeda Qureshi.
CLIP (MAEDA QURESHI): So the story behind my name is that, when I was born, my parents couldn't figure out what to name me. So I think my dad went around different mosques in Brooklyn where I was born, asking guys like, "What should I name my daughter?" And someone said, "what about, you know, Maeda from sural maeda." Sural means chapter. It's a chapter in the Koran. So he said it means like, feast, like an abundance of food. And so my dad was like in love with that name.
CLIP (MAEDA QURESHI): So our neighbors were all from Pakistan, too. It was great. Ramadan was amazing because we used to share whatever we made and give it to our neighbors. So there was always this floating plate that everyone had, like a signature plate, like my mom had her signature plate. She made Biryani. Right? So she would put biryani on that plate, cover it with paper towel. And then she's like, "OK go give it to them." And then that plate would come back with other food that they had made just to return that plate. You know? You can't give it plate empty handed back.
CLIP (MAEDA QURESHI): I made my first dish when I was five years old, which is biryani. It was when my mom was in the hospital with carpal tunnel surgery. So we had a halal meat store right around the corner and I sent my brother, who was four at the time. So he came back and I made the biryani, standing on a chair. Because, biryani you can't make a small pot. It's always big quantity, like three, four cups of rice. And so my mom was shocked. She was like, "What did you do?" And I said, "I made this. Isn’t this so cool?"
CLIP (MAEDA QURESHI): But she never said, "You know, OK. You're not going to cook from now on." She never said that to me. So I used to make stuff all the time, whatever I used to watch. Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence, Sarah Moulten, like these were the people. Not the celebrities that are famous now but in the olden days. And I used to just experiment.
CLIP (MAEDA QURESHI): In the back of my mind, I always had that that I always wanted to become a chef. I never confronted my parents because I was scared. And they would always say, oh, she's gonna become a doctor. She's gonna become a teacher. So because of the expectations they had, I was scared to say what I would really want to do, until the college application process came. I looked at Culinary Institute of America and my parents were like, "Why?" And then when I got in and I said, "I want to go." That's when they were like, pretty mad. And we didn't speak for like a couple weeks because they were disappointed.
DAN PASHMAN: Maeda says the first month at the culinary institute was classroom learning. The basics about different foods, food safety. Finally, they went into the kitchen and spent three weeks on knife cuts. Eventually, she got an externship at an upscale Mexican restaurant in New York called Centrico. She picked up some Spanish, and loved learning about other cultures and foods. But Maeda realized that the restaurant life wasn’t for her.
CLIP (MAEDA QURESHI): I kept on, like, thinking about what I wanted in life. I started thinking about nutrition and started working at Harlem Children's Zone, which is an NGO in Harlem. And it's basically, helps kids off the street after school. So that's when I started the cooking program. I just started teaching them how to cook and that really got them engaged. And then I had to do my own research and see what they liked. So they like to talk about basketball. So then I started watching basketball. And then when they would come from school, be like, "Oh, hey, did you watch the game? Do you see this?" And then that's when they started opening up to me. They loved the cooking part of it. They wanted to chop stuff, make food, they would go home and make it. And those three years were like, amazing.
CLIP (MAEDA QURESHI): And while doing that, then I was, you know, going to college for my master's in nutrition and public health. And then I started looking for jobs and I applied to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. And so it was May, and it was like Ramadan. And I brought food for my coworkers and they were just like, "Oh, my God, you're such a good cook." And I was like, "Yeah, I know I am." I miss that life of cooking. But I was like, I don't know what to do.
CLIP (MAEDA QURESHI): And so just one thing led to another. I just started Googling: How to create a business and an LLC and what that you know, what that entails. And then I had a concept because I wanted to merge my cultural upbringing. And what I learned from all these experiences from like different cultures, from school, from the people that I work with. So the current menu that I have, it's a mix of like French and Mexican mostly, and then the Pakistani flavors. So one of the menu item I have is a masala potato croquette. So we used to make ham croquettes, I remember in culinary school. So the masala potatoes, typically filling that you would put in the samosa, and I just stuffed them with cheese and corn. And then I roll them in breadcrumbs and I fry them. And then I have something called the Beef nahari Tacos. So nahari is a typical Beef stew. And it's cooked with a lot of spices and it's very rich, like brothy. So what I do is I kind of shred the meat and put a little bit of sauce and I put them in tacos. And then the last one is, you know, just simple tandori chicken quesadilla that I serve with the tomatillo salsa.
CLIP (MAEDA QURESHI): I'm still learning at my hospital. I want to become like a certified nutrition support dietician, which means that especially in ICU patients. In terms of my side business, it's more, you know, just finding out more venues testing more recipes, adding more stuff to the menu. And then you see where it goes from there.
DAN PASHMAN: Since that interview last year, Maeda has become a clinical dietitian at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. In March and April, the Elmhurst area became a coronavirus hotspot, and Elmhurst Hospital was inundated with patients. So we checked back in with Maeda a few weeks ago, to see how she’s doing. Before we talked about her work at the hospital, we talked about the Night Market. Last year was her first year vending there, and she’d been offered a spot to return. She came into 2020 looking for ways to get better.
MAEDA QUERSHI: I knew I needed to up my game on social media I was going to do more of it than I did last year. And I was more confident going into 2020, like I had learned my lessons. I think one of the great thing was my relationship with other vendors that grew. Last year, I didn't know many people and as the season went on we built so many close friendships and just connections. And so those are people that I was going to for tips and advices.
DAN PASHMAN: So coronavirus starts in March. And you're working at Elmhurst Hospital as your Day Job. What was that time like at the hospital?
MAEDA QUERSHI: I think if it was the last week of February, kind of started hearing rumors but nothing was definite. It was just like, "Oh, there's one patient in the ICU unit. We're not allowed to go see him. He might be positive or not." And then within like a few days, it just hit us like one day after another. The cases increased and things were changing drastically, so quickly that we were not even prepared. People just didn't know what to expect. And so from a nutrition standpoint, as dietitians, we were not allowed to go see patients. We just had to rely on the doctor's notes, nurse's notes to assess the patients Like all the patients here were going to be COVID. All the empty floors were being converted, so we increased capacity by 50 percent. And it was a learning moment because we're teaching ourselves as we're going because we've never heard of this, but also scary at the same time because you don't want to recommend something that's not scientifically proven, but you wanted to get better as well.
DAN PASHMAN: Is there one specific moment from the the worst period that sticks out to you as kind of like one of the most difficult or intense things that happened?
MAEDA QUERSHI: We were calling families on the phone because we needed some information, like does a patient have food allergies, and things like that And it was difficult because they were asking us, "How's our how's her dad doing? How’s our mom doing?" And there's not much information that we can give because we're not seeing them. You know? Only the doctors are. It's one thing to have a relative in a hospital and you can go see them. These people haven't seen their family members in days, sometimes weeks. And just that feeling, so gut wrenching. And then I think the last thing which was so heartbreaking was you didn't know that there was sometimes multiple family members that already passed away. One scenario, my colleague had called a patient to ask if his father had any food allergies and the wife picked up and she said, "Oh, my husband passed away last night from COVID and my father-in-law's in the hospital. And she was like, oh. at that point, what do you say?
DAN PASHMAN: Maeda says things have gotten better at Elmhurst Hospital in the last few months. Cases across New York have dropped dramatically. But like with just about everywhere else, things are still far from normal. I asked Maeda what she’s been cooking during this time...
MAEDA QUERSHI: Well, we had Ramadan in May. Normally we, you know, go to friends and families houses to open the fast. And this year we didn't do that. So everything was home with my immediate family. So a lot of fried food. Samosas. There's a ghram flower, like a fritter kind of thing, called Pakora. Those are also very popular. In the morning, it's usually Paratha with some sort of curry. This is like in the morning, like four, three a.m.
DAN PASHMAN: Right.
MAEDA QUERSHI: You have to kind of like, shove that in your mouth.
DAN PASHMAN: What's the secret to making a great paratha?
MAEDA QUERSHI: It's a layering of butter in the dough ball. So you have to kind of make it into a log and then you take, like, soften butter and you massaged it all throughout. And then you twirl it in the palm of your hand. Yeah. And then you mash together again and then you roll it out. So you're creating those layers of butteriness.
DAN PASHMAN: What's your what's your personal favorite paratha?
MAEDA QUERSHI: My favorite is the aloo paratha.
DAN PASHMAN: Yes.
MAEDA QUERSHI: Which is the one with the potato spiced potatoes in the middle.
DAN PASHMAN: Yes. Yes. Aloo paratha That's my jam right there.
MAEDA QUERSHI: Yeah. That's the best one
DAN PASHMAN: It’s so good.
MAEDA QUERSHI: Because what happens is like it gets crispy in the middle, like there's like holes. The potato can look kind of like sneak out.
DAN PASHMAN: Yeah.
MAEDA QUERSHI: It crisps up on the the—the pan calls the Satawa pan.
DAN PASHMAN: And then you get the creamy potato filling. You get that contrast.
MAEDA QUERSHI: Right. Absolutely.
DAN PASHMAN: And as for Maeda’s parents, they eventually came around to her passion for cooking. Her mom has even come and helped work the stand at the Night Market.
DAN PASHMAN: After you went to culinary school, did you how did you start giving some cooking tips to your mom? And how did she take those?
MAEDA QUERSHI: No, I did not. We still have our differences. Like, she does not use a cutting board to like slice onions. She just uses our paring knife and her hands. And her onions places are like on point. So I leave like the Pakistani cooking to her. And I do like the other, you know, international cuisines to myself.
DAN PASHMAN: What has the Queens night market meant to you?
MAEDA QUERSHI: To me, food is not just something that you satisfy your hunger. It's so much more. So it's always been a very important part of my life to incorporate other cultures and be respectful of them. And that's exactly what the Queens Night Market does. And it's just amazing to go from one table to the next to listen to people's stories, how they eat, what ingredients they use, where they come from. We had this tradition, there were a couple of us, at the end of the night whatever food I had leftover—you know, let's say the kati roll and chutley kabob—I would take it to the vendors that I was close with and we would just exchange food. And they would give me..the Tibetan Momos. He would give me momos. And then dosa are people from India. They would give me their dosa and I would give them to the kati roll. So it was just this exchange of food and learning from each other like, "Hey, what did you put in there? This is so good." Or, you know, "What is this?" And I think that's what food is. You're learning from each other. And it's a way to share stories. And I think that's the one thing that unites us all.
DAN PASHMAN: Yeah, I agree, I think that was beautifully said. But it also makes me wince because I fee like it's something that's we're all really missing, right now.
MAEDA QUERSHI: Mm-hmm. Right. That's true.
DAN PASHMAN: But someday that beautiful picture you just painted will happen again, someday.
MAEDA QUERSHI: It will. It will. Yeah. Things will get better.
DAN PASHMAN: And will you be there, Maeda, when it happens?
MAEDA QUERSHI: Yeah, of course. I can't wait. I'm like missing food so much.
DAN PASHMAN: Yeah, I know. I'm so tried of my own cooking.
MAEDA QUERSHI: Yeah.
DAN PASHMAN: I'm coming to the Queens Night Market to eat some of those Paratheas. It might be next year, or the year after. I don't when, but it's gonna happen.
MAEDA QUERSHI: Okay, great. I'll be waiting. Don't worry, I'll save you a portion.
DAN PASHMAN: That’s Maeda Qureshi, her stall at the Queens Night Market is The Pakistand. And you can find her recipes for kati Rolls and Beef Chapli Kebab in the new cookbook, The World Eats Here: Amazing Food and the Inspiring People Who Make It at New York's Queens Night Market. It’s available now wherever books are sold.
DAN PASHMAN: Last year at the Night Market, she used the money she made vending to support two charities that promote children’s education in Pakistan, Zindagi Trust and The Citizen’s Foundation. She was not able to donate as much this year because the Night Market wasn’t running. But we have put links to both charities on our website, in case you want to learn more or make a donation. Finally, special thanks to John Wang and Storm Garner. If you want to learn more about the Queens Night Market Vendor Oral History Project, we’ll put a link at Sporkful.com.
DAN PASHMAN: Remember to get psyched for our 10th Anniversary celebration, kicking off in two weeks! Make sure you follow me on Instagram or other social media to get all the details, I’m @TheSporkful. While you wait for that, check out last week’s episode, a collaboration with the podcast Science Diction. Learn about the history of the word ketchup, and the science of why the name Rocky Road actually makes the ice cream taste better. That’s up now.