By Alexis Agliano Sanborn
A decidedly autumnal day in early October, I made my way up Sugar Hill at 145th from the A Train, heading west. My destination was Chopped Parsley, a relative newcomer to the uptown Japanese scene. This small cafe is quickly becoming a neighborhood staple, and, I imagine, won’t be a secret to Harlemites for much longer. Already, their front door proudly blazes that hallmark – “People Love Us On Yelp.”
I chanced upon this restaurant one cold February night, its warm lights and cozy wooden interior beckoning me in from the frosty streets. Not having much appetite, I ordered houjicha – roasted green tea, great for the stomach and a comforting pick-me-up. That was only a few months after the cafe had opened in November 2015. Although life eventually got busy in spring and summer, I kept thinking about this little Japanese restaurant located in the heart of Hamilton Heights. I knew that there was something special to this small, authentic alcove.
At last, I returned. The restaurant had grown even more homey and welcoming, if that was possible. Newly made wooden tables – rustic and hand-constructed firmly anchored the seating arrangement, where there once there had been only small tables. I was happy to see seasonal specials too (salmon skin donburi). Things were going well. I was eager to learn the story of the owner, who somehow, I got a sneaking suspicion, was not your typical restaurateur.
I was right.
Yumika Parsley, as she goes by, is the New York story for so many. Driven by her artistic passion for music, she left Japan to persue her craft in the States. Coming to New York in the mid-nineties, she worked in the music industry for decades. Singer, songwriter, and music producer, her life has been intertwined with the sounds of the city. She came for the hip-hop and R&B scene, which was flourishing then. “Japan has no soul for that type of music,” she said. Parsley wanted to come where people created something new, not just copied trends and styles.
Growing up in Hakodate, Parsley knew she wasn’t your average student. She taught herself “real” English watching Spike Lee films and listening to R&B. You can almost hear that, in the way she talks. Even her name, Parsley, has a unique story: It’s a stage name that she has carried for decades. Born from the Sapporo independent music scene where it was vogue to have food-themed artist names, she chose Parsley. It does have a nice ring. When it came time to start a restaurant – even though Japanese food does not traditionally carry this leafy ingredient – she couldn’t help but pay homage to her musical past. “This is my restaurant. So, there’s a piece of me in the name.” Chopped Parsley it is.
Over the years, Parsley’s worked in the restaurant industry – coming to know the ins-and-outs of what it takes to make a successful venture. Two years ago, she decided to begin a new venture in food. There were some hiccups along the way – from delays in construction to negligent contractors. Still, with ingenuity and grit Parsley has made her mark.
Chopped Parsley is located in Harlem because that’s where Parsley has lived for decades. It’s her home. When she first moved to the neighborhood, “There weren’t any white people here. Or Asian, for that matter.” That was fine with her. She had moved to New York to embrace the afro-soul musical roots. Her familiarity with the neighborhood served her well, allowing the opportunity to see possibility like a local. Unlike the smattering of ramen shops that have appeared uptown, Chopped Parsley offers something a little different – soul food with more of a homemade shokudo feel. This ambiance is an eclectic intermixing of cultures, sights, and sounds. With the neighborhood’s continued support, this cafe is well on its way to being a bastion of Japanese food.
Sitting down with Parsley in the fading light of an October day, I could feel her heart poured into this store. There is a quiet pride. Through determination and ingenuity, she is able to offer a little piece of herself – not only through food, but through the soulful and unique atmosphere she has created here. It’s unabashedly a mix of East and West, full of uptown funk and determination. Go uptown and taste for yourself.
500 West 146th Street
NY, NY, 10031
Alexis Agliano Sanborn is one of The Gohan Society’s super volunteers. She has lived in Nagoya, Tokyo, and rural Shimane Prefecture as a student, intern, and working professional. She received her Bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies and Japanese from UC Santa Barbara and her Master’s degree from Harvard University in Regional Studies of East Asia.
She is working on a proposal for a school lunch-themed cookbook, school lunch website (japaneseschoollunch.com), as well as illustration and stationery designs. Find out more at www.alexisaglianosanborn.com.