Follow Me Foodie to New York Street Food!
Forget about the big lights! The streets were inspiring enough! I’m a huge fan of exploring street food in every new place I visit. Sure, some places can be a little more intimidating just due to lack of cleanliness, but for the most part I strongly believe street food can speak a lot about food culture. I do like nice places and white table cloth service, but at the end of the day, those places will only show you part of what the city has to offer. To really get a taste, you have to go across the board and experience high and “low” end dining and everything in between. Given that Follow Me Foodie in New York was just under 2 weeks I could only do and eat so much, but I tried my best to take a big bite out of The Big Apple.
If you’re interested I also have posts for: Street Food in Malaysia, Street food in China and Street food in Korea. I’ve tried more street food than this, but since I started Follow Me Foodie, these are the ones I’ve blogged about.
See! Entertaining! These guys were promoting their training program at their gym. The guy in the back is doing one armed chin ups on the street lights. Anyway, the world of advertising is branching out in new ways, and so is the world of street food and food carts.
Food carts are literally located on every street corner of New York. They’re not necessarily big fancy vendors either, but for the most part they look like the ones you see above. This was probably the most “old school” type of vendor and there was really a dime a dozen. Most of the ones you see above sell the same stuff and are part of the same company too. They serve simple breakfast sandwiches, $1.50 egg on bread, $.99 coffee, teas and assorted pastries.
From old school to new school. New York is one of the key players dominating this food truck “trend” or movement. I actually see it as more of a movement than a trend because I don’t see the idea disappearing any time soon. It’s here to stay and I prefer street food to fast food any day, so I welcome them with open arms. The food carts in Manhattan were generally spread out so I didn’t try too many, and I was more focused on my restaurant itinerary as well. However there were a few things on the list that became a priority like the famous Halal Guys Food Cart on 53rd and 6th, Big Gay Ice Cream and last but not least the most important, which is featured in this post.
No it wasn’t the gyro. It was something else. There was a signature street food I had to try in New York. Can you guess? Don’t worry I’ll get there. But before I do, let’s walk around some more. I’m sure I’m not the only one, but sometimes the smell of food is all the convincing I need. Grilled meats, fried onions and roasted chestnuts can make me weak at the knees, so when I passed by the gyro place I had to get one.
Walking down streets with endless food vendors is always such a gamble, especially as a tourist, because I don’t know my destiny and what lies ahead. Do I stop at the first place I see? No, of course not. But, what if it ends up being the thing I want? Do I walk all the way back? Or what if there’s another guy further down making gyros that smell even better? Yes, these are all questions that go through my foodie head, but this gyro place was really the one that smelled the best. The pitas were really soft and the chicken was very juicy, but the tzatziki was on the watery side. The nose is a powerful tool and as a “foodie” you should use it often. You can usually trust it.
Okay so let me explain the costumes. I was wandering around Times Square following the scent of good food and I ended up in New York City’s “Little Brazil” (Little Brazil Street & 7th Ave). It’s pretty much where most of the Brazilian restaurants are located in Manhattan. I wasn’t even aware there was a Little Brazil, but I’m so glad I fell upon it so randomly. It just so happened to be Brazil Day too (September 2, 2011), hence the costumes, so the outdoor market was full of vendors serving traditional Brazilian food. I don’t know if you can feel my excitement, but I was excited!
Given that my home town (Vancouver) has very limited Brazilian food, and by “limited” I mean we can count them on one hand and have fingers left over, this was a cuisine I was very eager to explore. I didn’t even know where to begin and I wanted to place an order at every station. Everything was relatively new to me. I’ve heard of some of the things like arepas (above) and pastels (almost like an empanada or meat pie), but for the most part this was treading new territory. Being that this was street food, it was likely only a taste of what the cuisine is really like, but I was willing to take anything considering I had tried nothing. And no, a steakhouse doesn’t count as Brazilian food… well I guess it depends on the steakhouse, but for the most part, the cuisine offers much more than grilled meats.
There were so many options and I wanted to try everything, but this ending up catching my attention. This vendor was making acaraje which I’ve never seen before. Another reason was because almost every Brazilian person I passed by was holding one of these. The line up was long and it was busy with local Brazilians and Brazilian tourists. After randomly talking to people in the line up and those eating them, I was convinced that this was the thing to try.
- Black Eyed Pea, Shrimp and Salad Fritters $8
- This was expensive for a baseball sized snack, but it was freaking amazing! It was almost like a spicy Brazilian pizza pocket.
- I have no idea how “authentic” this is since it was my first time trying it, but I loved it!
- This is apparently the comfort food for many Brazilians and it’s typical street food that is popular in Brazil and Nigeria.
- The Black Eyed Pea fritter was pretty much a deep fried donut and it’s supposed to be authentically deep fried in palm oil.
- The Black Eyes Peas are all mashed up and it’s comparable to deep fried corn bread (Hush Puppies) or a Johnny Cake, but it’s not sweet.
- The donut is typically cut in half and stuffed with a saucy and spicy shrimp and tomato filling and topped with a rich and creamy cashew and/or coconut milk sauce.
- The shrimps were sauteed in tomatoes and onions and it had a bit of heat and it tasted like a sweet and spicy red pepper hot sauce.
- The Vatapá (yellow sauce) tasted like sweet melted cream of corn meets a thick, rich and creamy bechamel sauce.
- There was an excellent sweet and savoury balance, creamy and crispy textures from the donut, and the whole thing was saucy and moist.
- Although it was very small in size, the thing was really filling and hearty.
I know this isn’t Brazilian, but I just really like Cubanos so I got one. I think this was only $4 and it was one of the best Cubanos I’ve had so far. The one from Cafe Habana was also excellent, but for half the price this one was a bang for your buck. I also tried a gourmet one from The Spotted Pig, but this one did the job. It was the right type of thin and crispy Cuban bread, no mayo, traditional mustard, nicely roasted and juicy pork, pickles, Swiss cheese and ham.
So after a satisfying gyro, an extremely satisfying Acaraje and a very satisfying Cubano, I still didn’t try the thing I was originally set out to find. I came specifically for one New York street food staple and I wasn’t going to leave without trying it. I wanted it to be from somewhere good too so I had to work the nose overtime. But what was this one item?
No. That would have been anti-climatic. It wasn’t the New York pretzel, although I ordered one just to try. Most of them are hard and nothing worth raving about (in my opinion), but I don’t doubt there are some carts making killer pretzels. I just didn’t experience one. So if it wasn’t the pretzel what was it?
Bingo! Did you guess? I wasn’t going to leave New York without a New York style hot dog! Everyone always talks about the New York hot dog and if there is one street food that screams New York, I would say this is it. This was no doubt the best smelling hot dog stand I walked by in Times Square. I didn’t go beyond Times Square to look for a New York hot dog, so it could get better, but if this was my one New York hot dog experience, then I would be satisfied.
This was actually the first hot dog stand I saw and I ended up walking all the way back just to try the hot dog here. It was right by the square in Times Square so I questioned its “authenticity” because I find prime locations usually the “tourist trap”, and then the ones hidden in smaller streets the local sweet spots. It didn’t help that the guy kept shouting “Hot Dogs! Sausages! Come get your hot dogs! Get the best hot dog in New York! Best sausages right here!”; but honestly his sausages really looked the best. (Mind out of the gutter please). This might not hold much weight coming from a tourist, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a local and tourist favourite.
There are many other beloved New York hot dogs being served at casual restaurants, but apparently the sausage is all being sourced from the same company. Gray’s Papaya is a casual hot dog shop most famous for the New York style hot dog and they supply several of the food carts too. So besides the condiments and maybe the bun, there’s nothing really unique about the majority of hot dog places in New York. That’s why I wanted to try them here. The sausages actually looked home made and different than most. Just look at the size of the sausage ring! These aren’t any ol’ sausages. The stand didn’t even have an official name, but look for the guys that look like bouncers… and possibly ride Harleys.
- $8 (?)
- These were pretty fatty and coarsely ground meaty sausages and I think it was a mix of beef, veal and pork.
- The sausage was super juicy with a snappy casing and it tasted very fresh.
- The meat was tender and it was full of whole spices like fennel seeds and there was even a bit of spice and heat to follow, but I wouldn’t say it was spicy.
- It was piled generously with sauteed sweet onions and bell peppers and it didn’t need any other condiments or sauces.
- The hot dog bun was flat (as it should be) and I wouldn’t mind it toasted more, but it was a legit New York style hot dog bun.
- It could have been made with potato flour and it was soft, fresh and not dry.
- Although it was a fatty sausage, it actually wasn’t as oily as I expected.
- The hot dog was stellar and the sausage was more impressive than the bun, but no real complaints and I would recommend it.
- **Make sure you order it from the guy in my photos. The stand is by Times Square near the Broadway tickets line up. Follow your nose.
And of course I had to have dessert. I just stopped at the next dessert food truck I saw which was a frozen yogurt truck. There are tons of frozen yogurt food trucks in New York. This one was from “Original Tart Frozen Yogurt” and it was quite standard. One of my favourite frozen dessert trucks I tried was Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream. Ice cream, frozen yogurt, gelato… pending it’s good quality, I can almost have one any time of day at any time of year.