Arepa to Zeppole

Mashapaug Pond Foodways

Walking down Resevoir Avenue today, the sweet fragrance of Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits mixes with the aroma of traffic. Strolling through Reservoir Triangle and the surrounding neighborhoods, the scent of Cambodian and Spanish food wafts out of kitchen windows. Buckets filled with garden soil, sprouting chili peppers, lemongrass, cucumbers, and squash serve as makeshift gardens of fresh produce.

Every community has its own food culture, history, and traditions – its own foodways. Over the past half-century, the foodways in the neighborhoods surrounding Mashapaug Pond have changed dramatically, reflecting the community’s shifting demographics and the influx of new ethnic groups. Nonetheless, foodways continue to be an important part of life in these close-knit neighborhoods.

In the 1950s, the Hide-Away Diner occupied the site where Popeye’s now stands near the southeast corner of the pond. Built from an old Pullman railroad car, the twenty-four hour diner was a popular local haunt. As the noontime sun sparkled off of Mashapaug Pond, workers at the Gorham Manufacturing Company slipped out to spend their lunch breaks at the diner. Sounds of sizzling hamburgers, clanging pinball machines and chatting workers filled the cozy restaurant. Nearby, children beamed over mountains of ice cream swirling with flavored syrups, seltzer, strawberries, and bananas – the signature “Bumper” dish of the The Hut, a popular ice cream parlor.

But on the opposite side of the pond, in the neighborhood of West Elmwood – now the Huntington Expressway Industrial Park – paved streets gave way to dirt roads. Backyards bustled with chickens, cows, goats and ducks. Neighbors walked door-to-door selling surplus garden vegetables. Vendors sold fish and crabs out of trucks. Kids collected turtles and crawfish from bubbling brooks, picked huckleberries and wild strawberries to make rich jams and jellies, and pilfered ripe peaches, apples, and plums from neighborhood trees. Chewing on sassafras roots dug from the shores of Mashapaug Pond, the taste of root beer filled their mouths.

Demolition crews have long since torn down Reservoir Triangle’s diners and ice cream shops. The fruit trees and lush gardens of West Elmwood have been flattened to make way for the industrial park. Today, area residents have different shopping and dining haunts.

At Sunny’s Market on the pond’s southeast shore, for example, residents and visitors can find food products from countries around the world, reflecting the neighborhood’s growing immigrant population. Delicacies favored in neighborhood homes range from Cambodian style fish poached in coconut milk to Arepa, a Dominican cornmeal cake served as a dessert.

“Walking down the street, I can smell Asian food, Cambodian food, Spanish food…I love the smell of food,” said Sokeo Ros, a Cambodian resident of the Reservoir Triangle neighborhood. Ros appreciates the rich diversity of foodways shared by his neighbors today.

Discussion Questions
In the 1950s, how were the foodways of people living on the northwest shore of the pond in the West Elmwood neighborhood different from the foodways of people living on the southeast shore of the pond? How might you explain these differences?

How are the foodways of today different than in the 1950s? What else do you think changed between then and today? How might foodways reflect other characteristics of our society – our values and beliefs?

How might development have impacted Mashapaug foodways? How might immigration have impacted Mashapaug foodways? Pollution?

Images

Audio

Sokeo Ros
Sokeo Ros talks about fishing, gardening, and the smells of cooking around the Reservoir Triangle neighborhood. ~ Source: Mashapaug Pond and Reservoir Triangle Collection, Brown Digital Repository, Brown University Library
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June Simmons-McRae
June Simmons-McRae describes how clambakes used to bring her community together, in the neighborhood that is now the Huntington Industrial Park. ~ Source: Mashapaug Pond and Reservoir Triangle Collection, Brown Digital Repository, Brown University...
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Map

79 Reservoir Ave Providence, RI 02907