The Flatbush Zombies Talk About How Gentrification is Taking the Seasoning Out of Brooklyn
"That’s why I like local spots. You don’t even have to say the sandwich you want, they know the sandwich you want."
Photo by Jessica Lehrman
Oddly—and, considering the name of this site, ironically—I forgot to ask them about the munchies.
Given the Flatbush Zombies’s highly-reputed love of ganja and food, it's almost too obvious a question. Like, of course I’d ask them about the munchies—their tips and tricks, favorite improvisations, best laced pastries, all that. This is the pysch-hip-hop trio who blew up with their 2012 banger-ode to “sour diesel," “Thug Waffle,” which features frontmen Meechy Darko and Zombie Juice rhyming over Erick “The Architect” Elliott’s beats and sitting behind a veritable bushel of nugs, all while housing delightfully crunchy-squishy towers of Eggos.
Instead, I chatted with the trio—who had just returned from touring in Europe behind their sophomore LP, the trippy and insightful Vacation In Hell—about the “foodie” label, the best Indian food in London, and how gentrification is changing the food culture in deep Brooklyn.
MUNCHIES: Y’all are just getting back from London. Any good places to eat out there?
Meechy Darko: I ate at a place called Dishoom for the first time. Probably the best Indian food I’ve had. Maybe it’s just because I was really stoned at the time. Good timing. Still, probably the best Indian food I’ve had in my life. I don’t really care too too much about reviews on the internet, I prefer word of mouth from locals and stuff.
MUNCHIES: What are your go-to post-show eats?
Erick Elliott: Soup or something hearty and warm. You burn a lot of calories. But we play a lot of places that aren’t New York, so we don’t have the luxury of eating what we want to eat. Sometimes the venues close at 11 PM, and you’re in the middle of Phoenix, Arizona and nothing’s open.
MD: Grilled chicken and some rice. Something light after all that work. I’m not trying to feel like a tortoise moving slow. Some nice, clean food. Most of the time we try to eat as healthy as possible, but it’s so hard sometimes. Sometimes it’s 11 PM and if you didn’t make the wise decision to order food while on stage or some weird shit like that, you’re gonna be fucked. You’re gonna end up with McDonald's, or eating a bunch of chips.
MUNCHIES: I heard that you guys got a list of the best Thai restaurants from the Thai food ambassador...
Zombie Juice: That was a few years ago. I don’t have a map for that. What I had was recommendations. But I don’t really remember what happened last month so…
MUNCHIES: I saw that episode you did with Marvel.com where you made the Thai “Venom” noodles.
ZJ: That was my inspiration. Seeing how you could make it, so that was my inspiration to trying it.
MUNCHIES: Would you call yourself foodies?
ZJ: Don’t even know what the term means.
MD: I argue about this all the time. Like, I just like to eat food that tastes good and has great sustenance. I have friends where their day is ruined if they eat a meal and it doesn't taste how they want it to taste. You know like, someone orders some food and they take one bite and they just quit on the meal. So are they a foodie? Is it just picky? Is it someone who needs to eat particular kinds of food? I don’t know the definition of that word. I just know that we like to eat good quality.
MUNCHIES: Sure, but what pops into your mind when someone says that word?
EE: I guess someone who’s always trying to find the best kind of food, presentation-wise, taste-wise, reviews[-wise]. They might want to try it because it’s good, but also because it’s popular.
MD: It could be someone who’s looking for a lot of different foods, but maybe just tastes. Cause I don’t think a lot of people dig into the quality. They want that rainbow bagel; they don’t care what it takes to make the bagel, they just want to taste it. I think a lot of people just have crazy palates. I think if you have diverse tastes you’re going to become labeled a foodie because you’re willing to try a bunch of different kind of foods.
EE: Food involves using the five senses to create all of your experience. Your sense of taste is actually a lot slower, and so is your sense of smell. Both are a lot slower than your ability to see and hear and touch. That’s why people have a diverse palate. Some people like things I like to eat, some people do not. Some people like funky cheese. That message takes a while to get from your mouth to your brain, not everybody’s path is the same.
MUNCHIES: What was the Flatbush food scene when you guys were growing up? Were there a lot of restaurants? What kind of restaurants? Do you have any specific memories or associations with food from growing up?
DM: A lot of Caribbean food, that’s what I grew up on, Jamaican food to be particular. Every other block there was a Jamaican spot or beef patty place. Some blocks had multiple. And it’s New York City, so you know there’s going to be the bulletproof Chinese spots and the Kennedy’s Fried Chicken.
We was going to the Jamaican spots all the time. There was a time when me and Juice would wake up early to this one spot to get patties first. There was a time when me and Erick would go to—what was its name, does it even exist?—the Dominican spot where we’d get chicken and rice?
EE: La Cabana.
DM: Just Caribbean food all around.
MUNCHIES: Has that changed, as gentrification pushes things out? Is there more diversity in the food? Are you seeing newer, hipper, more expensive restaurants opening up?
EE: We grew up in Flatbush, but what I’ve noticed is the change in Crown Heights. I have a friend who lived on Franklin Ave. four years ago. I go through it and there’s the same Jamaican restaurants, but there’s also the new. And like, I’m all for eating good, but there are the restaurants that definitely weren’t there when I was growing up. And they look good, but for me, the design of it throws the block off. Cause you have the people who are there, and have their business there, but you now also have this fresh, new, vegan smoothie—
DM: The glass you can see through.
EE: If that building with the business in it, you take it down and open up a cool, new, hospital-looking [place], it doesn’t really fit into the aesthetic of Brooklyn to me. But it’s also what’s causing what’s happening to all these neighborhoods. People can’t afford to live there, so that’ll affect the culture of the food they’re eating, too. Cause if they have to move or go to other neighborhoods to eat, who do they know?
DM: It’s also funny to me, because like the Rastas, they make the same kind of clean food, and someone will walk right past that restaurant, and go to this new shit. These people provide the same food, you don’t have to go to this new spot here.
There are places that used to be mad spicy that aren’t that spicy anymore. I know why they’re not spicy anymore. [They’re not] catering to our taste buds, but to other taste buds.
MUNCHIES: So do you think that these new restaurants that pop up are leading the push towards a neighborhood gentrifying?
DM: I think it’s just the people coming into the neighborhood. Like I looked at this review one time for fun of this Trini spot that we go to on Fulton, rotis and stuff like that. So I said, “Let me just see.” Because the culture of the people that come here, they don’t write reviews. Old Trinidadian people, they’re not going on Yelp. So I wanted to look up a review, and this lady was DESTROYING the place—and there’s nothing wrong with the place—she just doesn’t understand the meals and the culture. She pretty much bought all starch, and five of the same thing, because she doesn’t know the names of anything. It’s like if I went into a restaurant, and ordered five different dishes and they were all rice: black, brown, yellow. And it was just funny to see someone who moved to this neighborhood, and who wrote a review about how terrible this well-renowned place of twenty years was, because they don’t understand the culture. So I think when more people like that come here, they start to get those places flushed out because they don’t go there anymore. It’s not the restaurants, it’s the people coming in trying to change shit. “I don’t like this. It’s too spicy.” There are places that used to be mad spicy that aren’t that spicy anymore. I know why they’re not spicy anymore. [They’re not] catering to our tastebuds, but to other tastebuds.
EE: When you go to these spots in these gentrifying places, and more of the incoming population goes there, the restaurant has to order more food, so the portions get smaller and the prices go up. So that’s why you notice that yeah this place used to be better and have bigger food, and now it’s smaller [portions]. Well yeah, because more people go there now.
DM: There’s a restaurant that I used to go to—I’m not going to say their name—but that’s exactly what happened to them. They got very popular, and now their line is so long they can’t manage it. They charging more money, because they got more people coming, but it exists in this weird purgatory place. I think what’s important about local restaurants is like, even at my bodega, they know I’m the guy buying patties there, the know my face. If I forget my card, they know. They’ll give me these beef patties. That doesn’t happen at these other restaurants. They don’t care. They’ll be in this neighborhood, because they see the money, and they don’t care about the customers, they care about the money. That’s why I like local spots. You don’t even have to say the sandwich you want, they know the sandwich you want.
MUNCHIES: Meech, you have some pretty strong views on Chipotle. When did you get sick on that?
MD: That was years ago. I haven’t eaten it since. That was Irving Plaza, Better Off Dead Tour. I ate some rice and beans and just threw up. I was like this is it. Didn’t they have the E. coli? I think that was before the E. coli thing; I knew that place just wasn’t right. I have erased that franchise out of my mind. Be careful when you’re eating at those places that have that buffet style shit.
Like Juice said, cook your own food. Today I’m gonna go to this butcher shop that I found that has really really good quality meat, and I’m gonna make my shit on the grill. Try my best to make my own food. So I can understand food a little bit more, and not always put it in somebody else’s hands. Try to focus on the quality of what you’re getting; do your research.