New York’s Famous Street Food

Greeks were once the ubiquitous owners of the carts with which they sold food and refreshments on the streets of Manhattan.

Greek music played on the radios and the aroma of the meat on the skewers, and other food, tickled your nose.

They had their carts parked on busy street corners in Manhattan, near the city’s museums, in parks –  everywhere.

Many times they argued with each other over where they parked their carts.

There were some big fights.

Most of them did magnificent jobs.

They rushed to serve the people, who mainly formed long queues for lunch, but were in a hurry to return to work.

And of course, everything was paid for in cash.

Some of them made large fortunes. It was a very lucrative job.

I remember an acquaintance of mine who chose to continue his father's job, to take over his cart, instead of going to college, to Queens College, with the rest of us.

I doubt he ever regretted his decision – financially, I mean.

Over time, the number of Greek cart owners decreased significantly. The immigrants of the 1960s and 1970s grew older. They could not stand the harsh climatic conditions of New York, with winter frosts and summer heat waves.

The younger immigrants who arrived in the following years pursued other jobs.

The authorities also started harassing them, giving them fines, making their lives difficult.

The baton was passed to the new batches of immigrants in the city, mainly from Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc. who filled the streets with their carts and new aromas.

They improved them. They elevated their presentation. They decorated them and made them look like small restaurants.

Our people, those who remained, developed them even more. For example, the Souvlaki King, at 31st Street and 31st Avenue, in Astoria. Queues of people wait in front of the specially designed truck to buy their delicious souvlaki. A friend of mine (and my children) come from Long Island to buy it.

For me, these people are also ambassadors of Greek cuisine. Think about how many people see and taste their products every day.

Now, according to the Wall Street Journal, New York City will give far more licenses for carts.

The city is expected to approve 4,000 licenses over a 10-year period or 400 new ones a year.

There are currently only 2,900 licenses in the city.

Licenses to operate will cost $200 for 2 years, plus $50 per year for the cart license itself.

I do not know if there are expatriates who will be interested in the carts again. Most likely there will be some.

And yet the city's decision is correct: it legitimizes an industry whose services are in high demand.


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