Pupusas aren't knife-and-fork food. These stuffed Salvadoran tortillas, even when dressed with hot sauce and the piquant purple slaw called curtido (evidently a homemade batch in a repurposed tub), are easily managed with fingers only. Slicing my just-griddled pupusa ($2.50), however, helped cool the still-bubbling cheese, offered a peek at the companion filling of imported fresh chipilín, and made room for negotiation. Trade you a slice of mine for a slice of your calabaza!
H/T Jeff Orlick (private communication)
Pupusa stand outside Iglesia La Luz del Mundo 37-36 92nd St. (Elmhurst-Roosevelt Aves.), Jackson Heights, Queens 646-643-0027 www.Facebook.com/LLDMqueensNY Friday, 4:00-10:00; Saturday, 10:00-11:00
"Maiz dulce, sweet corn," the vendor called out. Her cart, a liberated supermarket shopping cart, carried a pair of oversized orange thermal tubs. One (not shown) was filled with the obligatory habichuelas con dulce. The other held this equally sweet chacá, as maiz dulce is also known. This version (small cup, $1) was thicker than most.
Dominican sweets cart St. Nicholas Ave. near the southeast corner with 182nd St., Manhattan
"Whatever you call it, I've got it" is the message implicit in this vendor's handwritten sign. As you might gather from the decal at lower right, he's from Colombia, where "raspado" is one common name for his icy confection. Raised among Puerto Ricans, he also knows it well as a "piragua"; when catering to the local Dominican community, he readily identifies his stock in trade as "frio frio".
All of his confections are built on the same granular bed of shaved ice; variations are minor. For example, the "diablito" — note the devil-horns D — is laced with a chile-spiked sauce. My "minuta" could also have taken the enchilado treatment, but the default (shown, $2) is simple: ice, tamarind, lemon.
Shaved-ice cart Van Buren St. near the southeast corner with Ferry St., Newark, New Jersey
Here, a lunchtime food cart has left for the day. While the cart is cleaned and restocked at its commissary, several folding chairs and two wooden platforms remain on the sidewalk, chained to a signpost. The platforms allow the two women who operate the cart to step up and get a better angle on the griddle; one platform has a cutout (not visible in my photo) that serves as a chock to help hold the cart in position.
This appropriation of space is only slightly more intrusive than most, especially given the context of three newspaper boxes (which are permitted under law and seem to be comporting with all local ordinances). A fourth and smaller box, which the platforms lean on, once distributed promotional brochures (and poses a fuzzier legal case). Though the business is still a going concern, this particular box is outmoded, and in recent memory it's done nothing but take up sidewalk space and serve as a trash can with a window. The chairs and platforms, though well-worn, are at least in good working order.
In New York, most vendors of Puerto Rican piraguas and Dominican raspados measure out thin, rainbow-colored pours from bottles capped with narrow spouts. This Mexican vendor, by contrast, employs wide-mouthed jars and a ladle. As a consequence his flavorings can be more syrupy and less easily diluted, even when applied to a heap of hand-shaved ice. Shown: guava (chico, $2).
Raspado vendor Cart on West 26th St. near South Central Park Ave., Chicago (From a June 2016 visit)
On a sultry overcast afternoon, several ambulant Paletas Poncho vendors plied their wares along this same stretch of 26th St., in Chicago's Little Village. Their carts, I'll bet, all came from the same depot; the same would be true of their factory-wrapped Mexican ice pops. Why, then, get my mango leche paleta ($1.50) from this fellow and not the others? His bell-ringing, like Linus's sought-after pumpkin patch, seemed the most sincere.
Paletas Poncho Ambulant cart on West 26th St. near South Pulaski Rd., Chicago (From a June 2016 visit)
The wary vendor sat astride a bicycle. Athwart his handlebars, into what looked like a root pouch for a now-unpotted plant, he had thrust three or four sticks of tanghulu; I'd bet that more were hidden in the bag at his side. His minimalist display might have passed as decorative, rather than sales-minded, except for the way he kept his head on a swivel.
My photo shows the candy-lacquered fruit ($2 per stick) after I had removed the plastic overwrap and peeled away an edible but unphotogenic underlayer of rice paper. Judging by the pips within, roughly the size of apple seeds, I believe that these were haws — that is, fruits of a hawthorn tree.
Though haws are still harvested in the American South, the whole and unprocessed fruits have never crossed my radar in New York. These fruits, perhaps even the finished tanghulu, may have been imported.
Tanghulu vendor Main St., Flushing, Queens Hour and location very irregular