When you think of New York street vendors, you might think only of hot dogs, hamburgers, and other “fast food.” But, given that New York City is an ethnic melting pot, that really doesn’t make sense.
Many different nationalities live together, sometimes in areas where congestion and busy streets are a way of life. Consequently, street vendors are also from many different nationalities. So, it doesn’t make sense for all these ethnic groups to be selling hotdogs and hamburgers. Let’s take a look at what the street vendor has to tell us about creating a picnic:
The Street Vendor Glorified
There is actually an annual competition called the Vendy Awards. This event commands a healthy ticket price for an all-you-can-eat-and-drink day of tasty fun. Street vendors get a chance to showcase their foods and compete for the title of “the best food on the streets.” These humble street vendors are humble no more.
Many big cities sponsor summer festivals where street vendors congregate to offer their best creations. Judging from the long lines at some of these events, this food is a welcome treat from the ordinary fare.
Finding a good street vendor means having a delicious picnic. Many city dwellers grab a bite from their favorite street vendor, then head to a local park, public square, or other outdoor seating area. Relaxing with a tasty picnic lunch is especially nice when the dishes are so varied that you’d never have to eat the same thing twice, unless, of course, you wanted to.
How can you replicate this “citified” picnic? By replicating the food, of course.
Eating Your Way Across Cultural Lines
As we discovered, hotdogs are not the only ticket in town. Because of the wide ethic reaches of a big city like New York, you will find food from around the globe. Lucky for us, each culture has held onto its legacy of food and flavors.
Start your journey at a Turkish vendor serving doner kebab, a lamb dish served with a variety of sauces, either on a platter or in a sandwich. Lamb is also a favorite in Greek dishes, most often seen in gyros, which are pitas filled with lamb and an assortment of vegetables with a nice creamy tzatziki sauce. Another favorite at the Greek street vendors is moussaka, a dish made with lamb, eggplant, cheese, and tomatoes. Very tasty either hot or room temperature, making it perfect for a picnic.
You can’t miss the German street vendors with the pungent aromas of frying sausages. The classic German bratwurst is a favorite of many picnic goers who like their hotdogs and sausages, but like them with a bit more flavor, texture, and “oomph!” You may also want to try schnitzel which is basically a piece of meat, pounded thin with a mallet, then coated in breadcrumbs and fried. It’s simplicity makes it perfect picnic food – easy to eat either as is or in a sandwich.
Homemade tamales are a favorite, as well. These are basically the Mexican version of a sandwich. Easily transported and very tasty, they make the perfect food to carry to your picnic spot to enjoy. They are normally cooked in a leaf wrapping which is discarded before eating. The filling is varied depending on the cook. Staying authentic to the food means cooking what’s available, so you will find chicken or beef depending on the price. In larger cities near the sea, you will find more fish and shrimp. Replicating tamales at your picnic is easy to do because they grill very easily.
Visit a Middle Eastern street vendor to enjoy a nice falafel dish, either just as a snack or as a full sandwich in pita bread topped with crunchy vegetables with a tahini sauce and a dash of hot pepper sauce if desired. Falafel is a full-meal deal because they are made with chickpeas which is a protein as well as a vegetable. Again, an easy to eat picnic dish that you can recreate at home.
You don’t have to wander too far if you’re looking for halal foods, the group of foods permitted by Islamic law to be eaten by faithful Muslims. Because Islamic law requires animals be treated with respect, and only certain types of meats are eaten, the dishes prepared are very specific. Even if you are not Muslim, the consistent quality and healthy aspects of halal food is appealing to many people. You’ll find ample servings of fruits, vegetables, grains, fish, nuts, and legumes at a street vendor who sells halal food. Your diet with thank you.
The plain truth is, urban picnics can be a lot of fun with all the choices available right there on the street. Whether you’re in New York City or other city or town, you can find plenty of food and lots of ideas for hosting your own Street Vendor Picnic right in your own backyard or neighborhood park. Enjoy a variety of dishes from all over the globe at your next picnic.