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Is life in Queens normal yet? Well, it seems to be looking that way. Or as close to normal as it can get before the stay at home order, officially called “New York State on PAUSE,” is lifted. Lines at supermarkets are getting shorter, and restaurants are slowly reopening, although often with shortened hours and a reduced menu, and still only for delivery or takeaway.

The vendors at the weekly Jackson Heights Greenmarket are working under the new normal. You point at the vegetables and fruits you want, and they bag them for you. A different person charges you. I can grab a cup of coffee at any of my local bakeries, making it almost feel like the pre-pandemic days. But masks, and even sometimes gloves, are now required attire to enter any business. My local supermarket provides them at the door if you don’t come with them.

The Asian supermarkets in Flushing are a bit stricter. In addition to shields around the cashiers, their staff have full PPEs and face shields. A staff member checks temperatures when people come in, after which they must disinfect their hands and shoes before being allowed entry. Those supermarkets closed until they got gear in for everyone and are taking the coronavirus very seriously. Another person disinfects shopping carts before the customer can take one. Most of the bakeries in that area remain closed. So there’s less of a feeling of normalcy around Flushing and even the Chinatown in Elmhurst.

I have settled into a rhythm: the Greenmarket for local fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, cheese, milk and even wine. For things like Mexican tortillas, I head to La Espiga, which is now back with almost a full schedule, or Tortilleria Nixtamal. I haven’t been able to get my favorite arepas since the quarantine started, but second best will do. I “see” friends: We meet, keeping a healthy distance; exchange food by leaving bags hanging on each other’s doors; and send recipes via text. My family has succumbed to virtual meetings, but we’re used to making do since we’re spread out across eight cities, four countries and three continents.

The streets are getting more crowded, and car traffic is coming back. Spring is beautiful. But there is also a heaviness in the air left by so many people who have been affected by this crisis. We talk about which places might not reopen. And what is worse is the large number of restaurant workers, from all levels of the food industry, who have passed away. Central Queens, where I live and lead our walks, is a very working-class area. Many of the people who live here are the engine of this city – dishwashers, cooks, chefs, street vendors and more from a myriad of countries and cultural backgrounds. Most of the businesses here are independent and family-owned. But, as we documented in this short video, we are adapting and reopening. We will come back stronger and with a wonderful food scene like we’ve always had.

  • Best Bites 2018December 24, 2018 Best Bites 2018 (1)
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  • Harvest WeekOctober 26, 2018 Harvest Week (0)
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  • Best Bites 2017December 21, 2017 Best Bites 2017 (0)
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Esneider Arevalo and Katherine Salguero and Susana Jaramillo

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