(Updated, once again, with prospective IDs and more photos.) Not long after my latest visit to Singapore, I began to search New York's various Chinatowns for creditable renditions of my favorite Singaporean dishes.
Many workers at my local 24/7 supermarket are Mexico-born. The ones with the best English-language skills man the salad bar (but not the registers, which are staffed almost exclusively by women, many from West Africa), the one neighborhood bar that still calls me a regular. Given the right counterman, I can ask for "the usual."
For the workers, however, "the usual" often means the menu item of the day that's dispensed, beginning in late morning, by a Oaxacan home chef from her shopping cart. Often, except in wintry weather, a "table" of three or four will take their lunch break beside the curb, on the uppermost of several stacked produce boxes. The Oaxaqueña herself doesn't seem to be deterred by cold, only by impassable sidewalks covered in snow or ice. She pushes her heavily laden shopping cart to this one stop along a hilly stretch of Broadway — from exactly where I don't know, but a mile and a half each way seems about right.
Today's lunch: enchiladas de pollo (six for $10), whose humdrum whitemeat chicken was redeemed by thick spicy sauce.
Oaxacan lunch cart Outside the West Side Market, 2840 Broadway (at 110th St.), Manhattan Late morning to early afternoon, most days
Leche cortada, the vendor called it. This was his shorthand for a walkup clientele who knew what's what, and who could see that almost all his wares, whether served in a cup or in cookie-like form, clearly fell into the category of "dulces" — "sweets." He didn't need to trouble with the full name, "dulce de leche cortada" — a "sweet of curdled milk."
The dulce de leche I once bought from a nearby bakery was, in retrospect, a more caramelized version that perhaps also relied more heavily on brown sugar. Raisins are typical; common flavorings include vanilla extract, lime peel (removed before serving), and cinnamon-like sticks of canella (one rested at the bottom of my cup). Invariably the recipes specify that as the milk cooks down, the resulting curds mustn't be broken up too finely; leche cortada should have a fudgy richness, but it ought to have some texture, too.
Dominican sweets table Broadway near the southeast corner with 160th St., Manhattan Hours very irregular
The working day of any itinerant vendor is a tough one. It's especially bleak in Willets Point, the auto-repair district near Citi Field, where the poorly maintained public roadways lack sewerage and become swamped after even moderate rainfall. Conditions are little better in summer.
At least three pushcart vendors — all women, all apparently Mexican — were doing their best to stay high and dry this morning. In the first photo below, at the far right, one hugs the edge of the road. The food and drink was basic stuff: here an empanada, there a hot cup of avena (pequeña, $1), a thin sweetened oatmeal drink with little bits of oats at the bottom. Two other vendors offered slightly more extensive bills of fare from the hatchbacks of their parked cars. At some remove, four workmen clustered around a small fire of scrap wood — purely for their own warmth and not, it seemed, for the sake of a hot lunch.
Shown at bottom: a half-dozen pigeons.
Roaming hot-drinks vendor Willets Point Blvd., Willets Point, Queens
This husband-and-wife team does business one day a week, with only two items, beef tripe soup and this beef-based black pudding. Many varieties of blood sausages, as they are also known, are prepared throughout the Caribbean. The texture of this Antiguan version, stuffed with chile-and-scallion-inflected rice, was reminiscent of a just-boiled Cajun boudin.
Since mine had been withdrawn from the pot immediately before serving, the contents could be squeezed from the casing with only light pressure from my fingers — no utensils needed. One link, scored for easy tearing and sharing, will set you back $5; the extra piece in the center was the proprietors' lagniappe.
Antiguan vendors Inside Cholo & Sons Bakery, 3825 White Plains Rd. (at 220th St.), Olinville, Bronx Saturday only
The all-beef Sabrett's dogs are the smallish sort, perhaps 10 or 12 to the pound; they're boiled, but probably not kept on a full simmer; and the cheese echoes the startling yellow of the truck. This so-called belly buster ($2.35) is also dressed with kraut, hot onions, and a particularly hot chili — hot enough that you'll snap to and take notice, whatever the hour.
JJ's Hot Dogs Truck parked on Bloomfield Ave. near Lake St., Newark, New Jersey Open every day, except on major holidays, till late www.JJsHotDogs.com
My first Italian knish, earlier this month at Ferragosto, traced its origins to Brownsville, Brooklyn. Back in the day, when "Brownsville was a veritable melting pot of many ethnicities," a neighbor's shared knish recipe was modified with Italian fillings. I've since learned of at least one current New York pizzeria that does much the same.
For this street-food version, a standard knish is sliced open, then dressed with griddled onions and peppers ($3) and an optional segment of sausage, hot or sweet ($2 more). In other words, here the knish itself stays the same; a familiar Italian sandwich is transformed by dispensing with the bread.