Street Vendor Food: Yay or Nay? This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

December 14, 2012
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Globally known as the “city that never sleeps”, New York truly is an incredible metropolis of constant hustle and bustle. And when it comes to a city diet, in keeping with the “on-the-go lifestyle”, native New Yorkers and tourists alike often turn to food that can be both swiftly prepared and quickly devoured. Thousands of people have found these criteria met by ‘Hawker Stations’, more commonly known as Street Vendors—and, of course, their corresponding carts.

Street vending from pushcarts began in the nineteenth century as a way for new immigrants to settle in their new home and make lives for themselves. The earliest vendors sold seafood—however, as more immigrants poured in from all corners of Europe, the types of food that hawkers sold evolved. By the middle of the century it was commonplace to purchase hot corn and knishes from street corners, and a hundred years later even these eatables were replaced by the exotic Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods that monopolize the vendor carts of the city today.

Having explored New York for the first time this summer, I was completely enraptured by the city’s vivacity, vividity, and diversity. After much reconnaissance, I came to the supposition that the street vendors’ carts are the very essence of these descriptions—and the essence of the city as well. I was especially captivated by the variety as well as the enticingly low prices of the foods, and wondered whether they could potentially rival more lavish restaurants in quality and taste. Being quite the foodie, I rose to the occasion and let my taste buds do the deliberating.

I decided to push the Columbia cafeteria food to the curb in favor of Alan’s Falafel last week—and I didn’t look back! The pita-encased bundle of Mediterranean flavors cost a mere four dollars, and it was money well spent. The vendor’s creation incorporated lovely soft bread, lettuce, caramelized onions, falafel dumplings, tahini sauce and tomatoes. My only complaint was that there wasn’t enough salt, and the dumplings were slightly bitter. Yet, at four dollars, the falafel wrap made for a surprisingly delicious, wallet-friendly meal. When compared to the significantly costlier falafel wrap from a higher-end restaurant in Livingston NJ, (Thavma) it didn’t quite match up in terms quality—but it sure did put up a good fight! I shall certainly be returning to Alan’s to enjoy more savory, flavorful goodness.

While there were many vegetarian vendor items to try, there were an equal number of meat-based options available as well. However, being a vegetarian, I was unable to try them. The battle between my ethics and curiosity was resolved when a friend of mine offered to try the Lamb Gyro that was being served at the vendor’s cart (at the corner of 116 and Broadway) on my behalf.

The seasoned owner of the ten-year-old Halal cart greeted my friend and I with a cheery smile. He took our order, and had a fresh lamb gyro prepared in under five minutes. Better yet, he sold it to us for an excellent price of three dollars after minimal bartering—the dish usually vended for five dollars.

While the lamb gyro did a decent job combining lettuce, lamb, tomato, carrots, hot sauce and pita bread to create a tasty wrap, it unfortunately did not live up to the standards set by Nadim’s Mediterranean Restaurant in East Longmeadow, MA. The wrap was very fragile, the meat consistency wasn’t the most desirable, and my friend came down with the most unfortunate case of the hiccups upon finishing it. In this case, we did get what we paid for, but not in the greatest sense. However, I encourage you try a lamb gyro yourself to form your own opinion; perhaps your experience will be different from ours!

After the lamb gyro, my endeavors in street-food tasting lead me to the most famous NYC vendor food of all—the freshly baked pretzel! I purchased my very first city pretzel from a kind-faced vendor near the Path station by the World Trade Center. The two-dollar snack was soft—but greasy and incredibly salty as well! While these pretzels certainly didn’t rival the Auntie Anne’s pastries that I had occasionally procured during visits to the mall, they were worth their price and succeeded in satisfying my appetite. Despite any flaws that I noticed, I would without hesitation encourage avid tourists to purchase a twisted pasty that they could easily carry with them on-the-go while admiring NYC’s multi-faceted beauty.

The street food of New York helps give the city its unique character, while continually filling the air with the scent of delicious reminders of the history and growth of our country. It may not be gourmet, but it represents the hard work of generations of immigrants throughout the city and is tasty nonetheless! Yay or nay? My vote goes to yay, for sure.

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Thathi said...
Dec. 30, 2012 at 12:45 am
Wonderful write-up! I feel like going to NY to taste the delicacies described so well! Look forward to reading more articles by this author.
skaleidoscope replied...
Jan. 23, 2013 at 10:07 pm
Thank you, Thathi! :) Glad you enjoyed the article!
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