When you spot bins of hand-labeled goods set out on the sidewalk, often you'll also find an equally inviting display at the point of purchase.
Sidling past the produce, at the cashier's counter I saw an assortment of pitha (Pit-uh), Bangladeshi and Bengali cakes that may be savory or sweet, fried, baked, or steamed. I had my eyes on one pitha, which the counterman confirmed was sweet, until he steered me to another — a fresh batch had just been bundled in from a home kitchen. Vapa pita (also spelled bhapa, but pronounced more like Pa-pa, four for $3) are steamed cakes of rice flour that feature palm sugar and grated coconut, though less plentifully, in my experience, than the similar Singaporean putu piring. Vapa pitha are best, as you'd expect, when exceedingly fresh; sitting even a short while tends to dry them out. Rewarming somewhat redeems them.
The woman who brought these to the shop, just as I was looking over the display, had appeared nearly silently at one side of the counter; she was draped in a hijab, including a niqab that covered most of her face. Making my purchase from the cashier, I thought to acknowledge her as well; I bowed ever so slightly, held hand to heart, and made sure to enunciate my "thank you." "You're welcome," she said, in plainspoken English, with a smile I could see from her eyes alone.
73-12 37th Ave. (73rd-74th Sts.), Jackson Heights, Queens