(This venue is closed. Several other vendors still do business in the immediate vicinity; they sell the same items, in the same cups, at the same low prices. Recently I revisited the vendor on Nena La Rubia's old corner.) Though the proprietors may speak little English, "It's our pleasure to serve you" say the cups, and the smiles.
From the vendor's place of business, I imagined that she's from Mali but didn't press; my focus was on identifying the porridges within several pint-sized tubs. A fellow customer, fluent in English and less shy, confirmed that this one was millet, its closest companion, corn, and both, sweet. Millet-and-yogurt thiakry was available, too. That customer also offered the name "moni" (spelling mine) before rejoining an impromptu klatch of open-air fashion consultants.
Unlidded, the porridge revealed itself as a millet couscous with dark flecks that presaged a gingery kick. Good, but probably better rewarmed, if I could have waited. Later I realized that the variety featuring corn, which I've tried in a similar setting, was likewise called moni. It might be that "moni" simply means "porridge" in Bambara, Mali's most widely spoken vernacular language (and the nation's lingua franca, if you set aside French). More investigation to follow.
Sidewalk table at the Timbuktu Islamic Center 103 West 144th St. (Lenox Ave.-Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.), Manhattan Friday only, roughly midday till midafternoon
"Uno?" The lady sized me up quickly; echoing my order, she furrowed her brow. Upshot: dos beef empanadas ($1 each). Her oversized insulated tub, transported by shopping cart, holds chicken and cheese empanadas, too.
Empanada vendor Southeast corner of Broadway and 110th St., Manhattan Lunchtime, most days
This fellow keeps long hours, so my all-starch breakfast, batata asada (roasted sweet potato, $3 per pound), might as easily have been lunch or dinner. Unlike Flushing's potato vendors, he does business during shorts weather, too, when his roasted corn, and his skewers of beef, pork, and chicken, may be bigger sellers. A chill in the air adds appeal to his potatoes, but unless you're traveling as part of a pack, get the smallest one possible — or be willing to tote around a spud-shaped hand-warmer.
The photo at bottom, taken late last winter, before scaffolding cast shadows on this vendor's usual corner, shows a pair of empty boxes off to one side of the cart. Only afterward did I recognize the brand of sweet potatoes, a well-known sight in Upper Manhattan.
Batata asada vendor Sherman St. at Dyckman St., Manhattan
One of the most enticing snacks on the menu of this Midtown truck, gizdodo ($5) is a peppery combo of chewy gizzard and soft, sweet dodo, or ripe plantain. It's easy to divvy up, our merry band discovered, even in the absence of convenient seating. (Many regular customers probably return to their offices at the Nigerian consulate; the truck's regular parking place is just outside.) The back-and-forth of textures and flavors is a big part of the appeal, so share with care — don't get stuck holding a container that's all giz and no dodo.