In Bensonhurst, one question: What’s Italian for ‘Chinese’?

In Bensonhurst, one question: What’s Italian for ‘Chinese’?
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

When the Sicilian bakery Vilabate Alba Pasticceria opened 40 years ago on 18th Avenue, workers would buy their lunch and do grocery shopping at a salumeria down the block. But now the family-run bakery is surrounded by Asian noodle houses, hot pot restaurants and seafood markets, so the workers’ shopping and eating habits have changed.

“The meat store closed about five years ago,” said Angela Peralta, whose family, the Alaimos, opened the bakery in 1970. “But now we buy fish from the Chinese market and take-out from Jade Star Kitchen across the street.”

Statistics confirm what Peralta has noticed about Bensonhurst and adjacent neighborhoods, including Gravesend: the latest Census data show that Asians make up about a third of the residents, about an 18-percent increase from the last decennial count.

In some areas, such as along W. Sixth Street between Avenues P and U in Bensonhurst, Asians are almost half the population. And recent arrivals from China and other Asian countries have opened businesses, turning was known as Brooklyn’s Little Italy into the borough’s newest Chinatown.

Yoketing Eng, president of the neighborhood’s community education council, has embraced the new food and shopping trends in the mirror. Eng, a first-generation Chinese-American, said he moved to Bensonhurst five years ago from Brighton Beach for one reason: the food.

“I noticed that the neighborhood was getting a lot of new Chinese restaurants, so that drew me here,” Eng said. “There are also Chinese grocery stores with my favorite vegetables.”

As the Asian population has risen, there are about a fifth fewer white people in Bensonhurst and Gravesend.

Old-timers suggest that they are nostalgic for the neighborhood’s Italian culinary traditions, but younger, non-Asians like Dave Sheridan, 37, are excited by the new offerings.

“As much as I lament the loss of some Italian delis, change is good because I love Asian food,” Sheridan said. “I go to a great Sichuan restaurant on 18th Avenue and shop in the groceries there for Thai peppers so that I can cook Thai food at home.”