There are many food critics in the digital era. Among them is the group called Righteous Eats, which introduces food spots that aren’t too popular using social media. There’s a sense of identity when Righteous Eats talks about their recommended eats. Jaeki Cho brings attention to small eateries in his short videos with backup commentary pronouncing the food names correctly and shares the story of the individual’s eatery. Righteous Eats’ mission statement is to, “Support small businesses that weren’t receiving press coverage or government assistance during the pandemic. Our mission is to highlight diversity and subcultures through food, and the people behind the dishes.” Their work is as poetic as it sounds; showcasing food as an art form of identity.
One of the many places Righteous Eats highlights is Queens, from eateries of Trinciti Roti Shop in South Ozone Park to Eim Khao Mun Kai in Elmhurst, and even street vendors like Chalupas Poblanas El Tlecuile in Jackson Heights — Righteous Eats explores it all.
In one of the videos, Jaeki Cho starts off by saying, “I’m in Jackson Heights to try a Bangladeshi street food known as fuchka, prepared for a man wearing Gucci shades. Naeem may not be who you’d expect to see working as a street vendor. But traveling in his early 20s, he became frustrated that Bangladeshi food wasn’t well known or understood. So in 2017, he made it his mission to correct the lack of representation by opening up Tong. Once you try this, you know Naeem’s bet has paid off.”
Giving this context into the person behind the grill humanizes street vendors and informs the audience of the importance of the heritage involved. Cho continues by explaining the fuchka and its ingredients, as well as other food items Naeem sells. Righteous Eats introduces the story behind each food item they showcase through a cultural lens. The importance of talking about identity through food highlights Righteous Eats’ goal of bringing diversity to their platform.
All the way back in August of 2022, Righteous Eats hosted its first ever meet-up with their followers, encouraging them to come try vendor dishes around Queens. It was completely free, and I had the pleasure of going. Righteous Eats hosted the event, letting fans meet Cho and the crew, try dishes sampled in their street vendor series, and learn about Street Vendor Street. I was able to try new foods I have never tasted; from sweet tamales, to mango con chile, to aguas frescas, and much more. It was not only a delicious event but an educational one as well. I learned about the importance of giving back and advocating for the Street Vendor Project which supports many small businesses and families in my community.
In an Instagram video, Jaeki Cho talks about the event, “To bring everyone together in-person has always been our goal for Righteous Eats. Bolivian salteñas, Mangos with chamoy, Tacos Dorados, Bangladeshi fuckha, Tamales, and Aguas Frescas. We took a piece of Roosevelt Ave to the Meatpacking District. So let’s continue to build together. Peace and blessings. Bong!”
Food is an individual’s art piece and it’s important to appreciate their talent and culture. Next time you try a certain food, look beyond the food and appreciate its history and culture behind it!