Q&A: Angely Mercado on Dominican and Puerto Rican comfort foods, how coronavirus is affecting immigrant communities, and her adorable new cat
She even shares her favorite hot sauces
This week’s special edition is an interview with Angely Mercado. We worked together back in 2018 and I’ve always been so impressed with her work. Angely is a fellow Queens native and freelance writer. Her quarantine has been tough so far, including a job loss, a medical scare, and loss. She’s relying on community and lots of Puerto Rican and Dominican food to get through it.
What has your quarantine experience been like so far?
Quarantine and social distancing began with me being laid off, having to move back in with family, and dealing with a painful medical emergency. I don’t know if I’ll get unemployment despite qualifying and I don’t know when I’ll get a stimulus check so I’m nervous about money.
It’s been a challenge, but writing and my freelance assignments has given me the mental space I need to tackle all of the other things I have going on. I live in Queens so though it takes a while to get inside of a store due to lines, I’ve been able to get ahold of things that I need like cleansing products and food for myself and my family, and there are parks nearby where I can safely exercise in the early mornings or a night without risking my health or anyone else’s. Having things I need nearby has made the challenging parts easier to deal with and I’m grateful that so much of my family lives with me and nearby (we see each other if someone needs something and we stay more than 6 ft away).
What are the foods you’re turning to most frequently?
I’m turning to a lot of the Puerto Rican and Dominican comfort food that I grew up with and a lot of non-dairy ice cream. I especially love asopao and sancocho. I wrote a quick explainer about those soups and where to find it for Brooklyn Based earlier this year. Having parents from both cultures means that I grew up with a lot of flavorful and aromatic flavors like sofrito and adobo Goya on my food, a lot of stews, and a lot of root plants (yucca, batata, yautia) that we call viveres. Whenever I’m stressed or in pain, I want something sweet or I really crave soup, and my family has given in to a lot of those cravings now that we have a slow cooker that can make rice and soup for us.
Where are you based and how is your community doing?
I’m based out of Ridgewood, I’ve always lived here and despite the gentrification in the last decade or so, there are still a lot of immigrants and working-class people in this area. Those are the people I’m the most worried about. So many of them don’t have an income anymore and either send money back to their family in different countries like Ecuador, Poland, or the Dominican Republic. There are still a lot of small businesses that are open and I do my best to support them whenever I get paid for a freelance assignment, especially if it’s run by a woman or an immigrant family. But Ridgewood is in Queens, the NYC epicenter of all this and I hear a lot of sirens. It’s one of the constant noises outside now.
Your work often focuses on immigrant communities—what do you see happening that more people should know about?
So many immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, cannot apply for government assistance despite paying taxes with a PIN number. Undocumented people contribute BILLIONS of dollars to the US economy and do not qualify for stimulus checks. So many of them lived on the margins of inequality before this pandemic, so life is a lot harder for them now. So many Black and Latino communities are disproportionately affected by this pandemic. I understand that people mean well when they say that the virus doesn’t discriminate, but societal systems do. Immigrant communities and communities of color are dying from this at higher rates. There’s less access to testing, there’s less access to healthcare, and now there may be less access to food for many families. I’m currently working on an article about how immigrant food vendors are being affected by all this and I worry about my sources. I’m glad there are nonprofits that can help them, but without a policy that includes assistance for immigrants as well…more families are going to be pushed even further into the margins.
My mom is a naturalized immigrant from the Dominican Republic and so are many of her friends. She owns a small daycare and has had to shut it down during all of this. She’s worried about her income and so many of her friends are nannies or run small businesses that will not be getting loans or help from the government, meanwhile, large corporations have. I hope that people support small immigrant-run businesses as much as they can through the rest of quarantine, it’ll mean a lot to the business owners, it’ll help them feed themselves and their families.
What are some things that have brought you joy in recent weeks?
Food! That’s always a big one. I’ve also blogged on Medium, especially ranting on my little blog Cheap AF. I also adopted a yard cat, named him Lalo (his government name is Milagros Thicc Boi Mercado) and he is the collective son of this household. He sleeps for hours on end and I freaking adore him and baby talk him in Spanglish.
I also started using my coloring books again, re-reading books that I loved from college like Native Speaker by Chang-Rae Lee. I also re-watch videos from my grandfather’s 98th birthday this past February. I was able to travel down to my mom’s hometown in the Dominican Republic and celebrate with so many relatives. I had a blast and I got to be outside, I drank my weight’s worth in Brugal and Don Q rums and no one could lowkey verbally abuse me on Slack when I was away. It was so warm there and I ate and drank anything with passionfruit in it. I usually have family in Puerto Rico mail me fruits from their yards or farms whenever quenepa or parcha are in season so I have that to hopefully look forward to this year.
What food or recipe should everyone add to their grocery list?
Asopao!! It’s versatile and easy to make into a very meaty or a vegan dish depending on what someone’s diet consists of. It’s also great to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack, post over the phone breakup… asopao will NEVER betray you.
I’d also argue trying tostones de pana or breadfruit fritters. My family in Puerto Rico sends us boxes of frozen breadfruit that we cut into slices and fry, salt, and eat alongside sancocho or asopao. Despite being called breadfruit in English, pana is a starch and it can be boiled, steamed, mashed, and fried like so many other starchy plants. It’s really good and can be surprisingly aromatic. It has a mild flavor so if you see breadfruit in your supermarket…give it a try. I also ate half a container of cookie butter the other day, so that’s always a good addition to any supermarket basket.
If you could go to a restaurant now, where would you go and what would you order?
I’d go to Baohaus for the tofu baos and lemonade, and Superiority Burger because I have craved their food for months now and I’m so upset that I can’t go. I’d also go to Calabrije’s in Bushwick because their tacos are amazing and fresh. I would also hit up Bodegita for their amazing cocktails. There are also a few places in my area that I desperately miss, like Joel’s Bakery for the guava pastries, Cachapas y Mas for their arepas and empanadas, La Isla Cuchifrito for bacalaitos and jugo de tamarindo, all of the Ecuadorian food carts, all of the piragua carts, and Jorge’s for the yucca con cebolla.
The last one isn’t a restaurant, but Gong Cha has great passion fruit bubble tea and I love their coconut jelly. I miss getting a weekly drink there to calm my nerves and I haven’t found one that will deliver to Ridgewood.
What’s your favorite hot sauce and what do you put it on?
I have a few faves. Sriracha, Valentina, Tapatio, and garlic-ey chili sauces. I didn’t grow up eating spicy food (Puerto Rican and Dominican food is NOT spicy) so I learned to love eating spice on homemade Mexican food like tacos or mole, on eggs, and on seared or oven-roasted veggies. I especially love it when it’s cooked into a soup or a Thai curry. Once I stopped associating hot sauces with pain, I began to enjoy them so much and I love how versatile it is and how I’ve learned to put in on so many different dishes.
I’m waiting on a sample of hot sauce from Pisqueya, so I’ll have to report back on what it tastes like and what I paired it with. It’ll probably be asopao though.
You can follow on Angely on Instagram, Twitter, and Medium and sign up for her newsletter, where she covers media and interviews freelancers, including yours truly. Today is Angely’s birthday so make sure to wish her well!
I’ll see you all on Monday and hope you have a great weekend!