Street Food Interview with Perry of New York Street Food

Street Food By Julia Burgi

Thanks for letting me share my passion for mobile food vending with you! It's been great getting the word out and hearing reactions to the world of mobile food vending, its history in New York City, the challenges vendors face, why they're an asset to our cities, helping do vendor outreach, and a breakdown of the dining options in multiple cities. 

A great resource for me in writing these articles and my thesis project has been the New York Street Food blog. Reviews and news of mobile food vendors in New York City and the occasional outside location are posted on the regular for those interested. The man behind New York Street Food, Perry, is a wealth of street food knowledge. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about street food to share with readers. Check out his answers below!

Do you recall your first experience with street food? What and where was it?

Reading about the Schnitzel & Things Truck in the summer of 2009, and then trying it, is what started me on this new path in life that I am still happily traveling down. The schnitzel was awesome, so I started looking for other gourmet food trucks. The second one I found and tried was the Wafels & Dinges Truck. After trying these two great trucks I was hooked, and thought about starting a website, which I had never done before.

What is your favorite city outside of New York for street food in the US? Internationally?

L.A. has a great variety of food trucks, but I was in Austin last month for the South by South West festivals, and it was phenomenal. I would have needed at least another month there to do the place justice. One night I stumbled across a new trailer that had only been open for 5 days called Ms P's Electric Cock that served amazing fried chicken, fried mac & cheese with truffle oil, and was coming out with Cock's Ben-e-dict for brunch that weekend after I had to leave that looked crazy good!

Internationally, I haven't been to Southeast Asia, which has some of the best street food cities in the world (Bangkok, Hanoi, Singapore, etc). That area is definitely on my to-do list. I have been to Vienna, though, where I loved the wurst stands. They take a long bread roll, cut off the end, stick the bun on a long, warm spike, stick in one of several types of wurst, squeeze on some mustard, and hand it to you. Can't beat it for neatness... and did I mention how much I love wurst?

What inspired the transition from casual eater of street food to blogger extraordinaire?

Going to Schnitzel & Things, and then Wafels & Dinges started my engine, and then I read about the 2009 Vendy Awards, which were in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, by the site of the 1964 World's Fair with the Unisphere. I went and loved it -- the vendors were very friendly and accessible and I saw how electric the atmosphere was. I could just tell street food was seriously on the upswing and that this was a great opportunity to get in on the ground floor. My first post for New York Street Food was a review of the 2009 Vendy Awards and I've been going full steam ahead ever since.

My initial idea was to cover only food trucks, but the Vendys made me realize there were great street carts in NYC too. For example, the Biryani Cart won the People's Choice Award and the Jamaican Dutchy cart was another Vendy finalist in 2009, so I expanded my reach to encompass all street food.

Do you have a favorite vendor or dish? If not, what are some highlights from your experiences?

I don't like to say one favorite because there are a lot of consistently excellent vendors. Schnitzel & Things, Bistro Truck, Biryani Cart, Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, Taim Mobile, Souvlaki GR, and Mexicue are all amazing, and there are many others too numerous to list.

The special events have been some of the best experiences. My first Vendy Awards in 2009 was great, but the 2010 Vendy Awards on Governors Island on a gorgeous day was even more exciting because New York Street Food was a silver level sponsor. I was an insider at that point, and knew all the vendors. It was great watching Souvlaki GR Truck win the Rookie of the Year Vendy because I was the first one to find them, tried to tell everyone how great their food was, and then my opinion was vindicated, first with their Vendy nomination less than a month after they came out - and then they won! I've since become very friendly with them, and they just opened a restaurant on the Lower East Side that's like a small slice of Mykonos in NYC.

Other special events that were great were the Asian Night Market in 2010 and Choice Eats last month at the Park Ave Armory. There's nothing like tasting from over 50 amazing vendors at each of these events even though it's impossible to taste each one in a go.

What can you tell people who are hesitant to eat food from a mobile vendor? Why take the plunge?

At this point, street food is popular enough that the food turns over fast enough at the good vendors. In other words, it doesn't go bad. For people who are not familiar with street food but want to try it, do a little research first on New York Street Food or other websites. Most good places will have lines, so if there is no line, you might want to think twice about choosing that vendor. If the food looks old or the cart looks dirty, walk away. There are plenty of other vendors in this city. I have eaten street food for lunch every weekday since Jan 4, 2010, and haven't had any problems.

There are some amazing vendors out there who could easily have their own restaurants, and in fact, several have opened restaurants after starting with food trucks.

If you really want to learn about street food and try a bunch of different vendors, I would suggest taking the New York Street Food Walking Tour. It runs every Friday afternoon from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and for $40, you get to try 5 or 6 different vendors, as well as learn about many others great vendors for future reference. I will be personally giving each tour, and will be sharing my extensive knowledge of the NY street food scene with everyone taking the tour! Since this is the first year we are doing the tour and are still getting the word out, we would like to offer Marcus Samuelsson readers a discount of $10 for the tour. If you put the code MARCUS in the notes when ordering you tickets, you will receive a $10 rebate within a week or ordering, for a net cost of $30. This is good for as many tickets as you would like to buy.