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Steinway Street's Middle Eastern blocks

About this listing

Cluster of Middle Eastern markets, cafes, and more

Place Details

Borough : Queens
Neighborhood : Astoria
Roadway/ Sidewalk, Great Places to Shop, Middle Eastern/ American, Shopping

Place Matters Profile

By Makale Faber

Turn right outside the subway, towards the signs for LaGuardia International Airport. Cut across Columbus “Park” (a triangle of asphalt with a statue of Christopher Columbus in the center that splits six-lanes feeding into the BQE and Grand Central Parkway) and walk six blocks and make a right on Steinway Street.

Squeezing the wooden top of a long, ruby velvet Egyptian water pipe hose, Ali El-Sayed, exhales a small cloud of fruity sweet tobacco smoke into Steinway Street. He is taking an afternoon break from prepping dinner at his restaurant (and an underground NYC favorite) The Kebab House, at 25-12 Steinway. Brianna, Joe, and Joanna, three elementary school neighbors, stop by to chat with him about their summer vacation while they wait for their aunt to finish their hair dressing appointment two shops down. He interrupts their cell phone ringer demonstration to ask passersby Ricardo and Anna...

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Dahlia Elsayed

There’s a certain kind of feeling that you get from a city that you love. It is intangible and vague and not easily described, it’s when all your senses get inspired at once, a feeling that you associate with that specific place forever. Sometimes you get a flashback of that feeling even when you’re very far away.

This happens to me on Steinway Street in Queens. It’s hard to say what it is exactly that transports me back to Cairo when I’m there -- maybe the smell at lunchtime or the tinny beat of Arab-Pop out of car stereos or the store displays crammed with call to prayer alarm clocks or tissue box covers decorated with the picture of the Ka’aba, or the slow waves of people walking to the mosque on Friday afternoons. Steinway Street became a sort of surrogate Cairo, a place for me to connect to that indescribable feeling I get when I’m over on the other side of the world.

The place where it crystallizes the most is the Egyptian Coffee Shop (25-09 Steinway), where opening the door is like entering some portal into a narrow street in an old neighborhood of Cairo. The smell of the apple flavored tobacco overwhelms you, an old man brings a pipe to your white plastic chair, sucking it on the way to get the coals good and hot, a young boy brings you tea, around you are men smoking, spitting sunflower seeds, reading Al-Ahram under the fluorescent lights and posters of Egyptian Soccer clubs, or talking over the Arab satellite TV news, blaring from the corner.

It’s become a ritual for me to stop and have a shisha every time I go near the neighborhood, stealing away a small block of time to be transported out of a too busy New York life. The odd thing is that, if I really was in Egypt, going in alone & female to a shisha café would be impossible to do --most are still men only establishments, and in the ones that do allow women, you never see a girl alone. (August 2004)

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