NYC Caribbean Day Parade – A Feast for the Senses


We literally just walked in after spending our Labor Day afternoon at the annual WIADP (West Indian American Day Parade) on Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, but to describe what we just witnessed as simply a parade would be akin to saying that scotch bonnet peppers are sometimes a little spicy, i.e. an enormous underestimation. The parade is the largest in New York City with upwards of 2million people flocking to it annually.

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It was an unbelievable assault on the senses – the sights (thousands upon thousands of dancing people all decorated with their national flags and some astonishing costumes), the sounds (hundreds of different sound systems all turned up to 11 and all competing with one another as they slowly rumbled by on floats, accompanied by the ever-present encouragements for the dancers from some very vocal MCs), the smells (a myriad stalls selling Caribbean favorites, some better known that others), and the atmosphere (it is about 90F here today and there were some enormous smokers pumping out clouds of jerk-scented smoke, as well as many other “personal” smokers pumping out clouds of the other kind of smoke Jamaica is famous for).

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Of course, apart from soak up the atmosphere, we did our best to sample the wares from as many of the stalls as possible. Sadly, our eyes were bigger than our bellies, and we frequently had the unfortunate experience of having to walk past many a stall not physically being able to eat anymore. Let’s face it, Caribbean food is not exactly light at the best of times, and on a scorching summer day, goat curry with roti, fish cakes, bake and salt-fish, all smothered in fruity hot pepper sauce, and washed down with spicy ginger beer, then shaken up and down with booming soca and dance-hall, is a recipe for a lot of sweating and the need for shade and a sit-down. Intense. Seriously intense.

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My only touchstone for a carnival like this, is, well, carnival – the Notting Hill Carnival in London to be precise. And, not to offend anyone involved with that fun, enormous, crazy and, occasionally, violent Caribbean festival, the WIADP is a major step-up. The food, the sounds, the people, the culture, it’s all as much as you can take and more. It’s as close to being in a foreign country as I’ve ever experienced in America (note that, for me, America is a foreign country). It’s such a radical departure from what the area around the Brooklyn Art Museum usually looks like and where you usually see white couples jogging along behind three-wheel baby-chariots, that at first it takes you aback. Then, and suddenly, it just sucks you in, but, just as quickly, it spits you out again. It’s a lot to take and we had to retire for some shade and cold water, but we’ll be back. You should check it out next year, for once a year is enough to last you a while. That said, we’ll definitely be exploring more of our local Caribbean restaurants and trying to recreate some of their dishes and the ones we ate today now we’ve got a taste for it.

24 thoughts on “NYC Caribbean Day Parade – A Feast for the Senses

  1. Brooklyn is so fabulous. So many cultures.
    I went to the Brooklyn Flea, and found some great bakers and little cottage industry food vendors.
    You reminded me to get out of the suburbs every weekend and try some international festivals like this one.

  2. Colorful post – in language and photos. Being a former New Yorker, I used to look forward to special feast days like the Puerto Rican Parade on Fifth Avenue. Here in South Florida we have some for different cultures, but the most popular is in March called the “Calle Ocho” street fair which draws a million people for Cuban music and food. I know what you mean about feeling like “you’re in a foreign country” AND that ‘once year is enough’.

  3. I’m envious. This looks like so much fun and what a selection of food.

    If I hadn’t had a chance to eat at my favorite restaurant this weekend, I’d really wish I hadn’t been out of town this weekend. Wowee!

    I’d think if there were that many “personal smokers” perfuming the air, you would definitely have an enhanced appetite. 😉

  4. Oh, sweet, baby Jesus. I don’t know what’s giving me a bigger hard-on: the curried goat on roti, the fish fritters that look like hushpuppies or the ginger beer. Let’s just say it’s pretty huge right now.

  5. thanks all, as always, for your comments. my Trinidadian work-colleague, Gloria, (who long, long-time readers may remember for her weekly Trini lunches), tells me that the WIADP is nothing compared to carnival in Trinidad (timing of which is more or less equivalent to NOrleans’ Mardi Gras) where the party rages with steel and brass bands, DJs and legions of dancers for two full days and nights before heading to the beach on the third day for a “more relaxed” party atmosphere… she suggested we head down to Port of Spain next year to check it out, but I think we might need to build up to that kind of party with at least one more exposure to its incredible, if somewhat poorer, relative in Brooklyn…!

  6. woooooaaaaaaaweeeeee! That is a super FIESTA!!!! The costumes are awesome!!! How could they walk with that? How could they dance? … move?

    Your first sentences describe a bit what a felt many years ago in a Parade I bumped into in San Francisco! You Americans just love the Shows!!! Viva el Espectáculo!

  7. I agree with you co-worker, I’m trinidadian as well and while the parade is nice, it is nothing in comparison to real carnival in TnT

    The pictures you took were awesome, we might have passed each other, I was at the parade as well. 😀

  8. Hey, Caribbean food-

    Can’t tell what the tone of your comment is. Not sure if you think everything looks like shite or good or not like your restaurant in Bristol. Of course it’s not going to be anything like your delicious restaurant in Bristol (I’m assuming it’s delicious) and my husband went to graduate school in Bristol, so maybe we’ll visit next time we’re in the UK. regardless, everything was very delicious and authentic and made and served by various men and women from that Carribean country. It was fabulous – more than edible! Thanks for stopping by.

  9. The Caribbean is beyond amazing with it’s miriad tastes and smells. Your recount of the festival in Brooklyn brought back vivid memories of cruising the islands from Trinidad to the Virgins. Each island has it’s own flavor. We learned to make many of the dishes we tasted. And learned to incorporate new and tasty produce and spices.
    There is a great little book called “Sky Juice and Flying Fish” by Jessica B Harris you might like to check out and try some Caribbean food at home.
    I just discovered your site wile researching a recipe for stuffed boblano peppers with carne asada. The foodie talk and the total irreverance makes the site enticing. But the exceptional writing style and literacy has me hooked. I be back to visit soon.

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