Food Fight   7 comments

Have you heard about the latest war? No, it’s not being fought in Afghanistan. No, not Syria either. North Korea? Iraq? No and no. The latest war is being fought on the streets of NY. And the combatants are trucks, food trucks. Lest you think I mean some sort of Battle of the Monster Trucks, let me explain.

Food trucks are a big thing in Manhattan,“gourmet” trucks that draw lunchtime crowds in midtown and lower Manhattan.

one truck

They are owned independently and each specializes in its own particular genre. Whether you’re in the mood for a  taco, vegetarian or vegan, Jamaican  jerk chicken, Vietnamese spring rolls , Korean barbecue, or an exorbitantly overpriced grilled cheese sandwich there’s a truck parked somewhere offering just that.

Gourmet Food Trucks

I stood on line to get a taco once in Soho but changed my mind after I looked around and asked myself “Where am I going to eat it? Sitting on a doorstep? On-the-go? There have been times I’ve walked along munching on a hot dog or a bagel or wrap. But a burrito? I even make a mess eating a burrito while sitting at a table.

But back to the war. Truck owners have to go through various permitting processes – health permit, business license, parking permit, etc. I believe that somewhere in all this, there is a way of determining who gets to park where and on which days.

line of t rucks

Unfortunately, as in all business arenas, not everyone is as scrupulous as they should be.  So when one truck moves in on another’s territory sparks fly. CSI NY had an episode where a murder was committed and it was found to have centered around a food truck feud.

I have to laugh with all this talk of food trucks. They’re nothing new. Way back in ancient times, also known as my childhood in the Fifties, trucks showed up on the streets of Manhattan every day, and the faithful flocked to get the best of what they offered.  These trucks didn’t line the streets for periods of time like the trendy ones do. They came and went, and the housewives who depended on them had to be on the lookout for their arrival since they stayed only as long as there were customers before moving on to the next street.

Back when I was very young, before I’d started school I’d have a ringside seat each morning. Our dining room looked out on 149 St and  there I was, stuck at the table until I finished my cereal, or forever, whichever came first. I’d sit, spoon in hand, arranging and re-arranging clumps of used-to-be-hot cereal, staring out the window.

Soon a truck loaded with fruit and vegetables would come into my second floor frame of view, and stop in front of a stoop across the street.

vegetable truck

Before long women would come down from their apartments, “pocketbooks” hanging from their elbows.They would wait their turn while the customer of the moment  pointed out what she wanted – maybe four or five tomatoes,  two pounds of potatoes, a pound of onions,  a bunch of bananas. The peddler would weigh her purchases on the scale hanging from the back of the truck. He’d jot each on a paper bag and calculate the total before depositing it all into the same paper bag. No paper or plastic in those days and the bag served as the receipt.

On other mornings, usually Fridays, I enjoyed a whole different spectacle. One I’d hear before seeing.  A man’s voice, preternaturally loud and as nasal as I’d ever heard would shatter the morning silence, proclaiming in an odd chant “I’ve got fish today,” That was just the prelude. “I’ve got fresh flounder. I’ve got fresh butterfish. I’ve got fresh mackerel.” The words of his sing-song might vary from season to season but the key word was fresh.

fish in truck

Again the women would gather, and like the produce peddler he’d serve one at a time, weigh it on the swaying scale, and having attended the same school of accounting, jot and calculate the total on a paper bag. The only added task was that he’d first wrap the fish in newspaper, yes newspaper!

There was another truck that visited but not nearly so regularly. And while it didn’t sell food, it offered a food-related service. It was the knife grinder and as unpleasant as I found the fish monger’s voice, I’d take it anytime over the grating noise that set my teeth on edge as women brought their knives to him and he ran them against the giant grindstone wheel.

knife sharpening

 

Then there was the truck that came in the afternoon – after I’d been reprieved from breakfast prison, and finished lunch – the truck us kids flocked to; hearing its bells before it even turned into 150th Street.

good humor man

 

And of course, everyone knows this truck.

milk  truck

 

And my former husband’s father drove one of these, delivering fresh bread directly to the doors of customers in Westchester.

Dugan's truck

But uh oh, stop the presses! Look what I just came upon.

pushcar war

Maybe things weren’t quite as copacetic as I remember

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7 responses to “Food Fight

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  1. I’ve seen those food trucks on television, but never in person. Very interesting. Since I’m from a tiny town, the only traveling vendor we had was the ice cream truck!

  2. What a difference 10 miles or so makes. We’re the same age, but I grew up in nearby Queens, not Manhattan. I remember ice cream trucks, of course (and they still cruise the local streets today), knife grinders, milk men and the bakery truck – ours was Entemanns with cakes, but not bread. The only time I saw fruit and vegetable trucks was in the Bronx in my grandmother’s neighborhood. But never any fish.

    As a kid what I and my brother liked best was the trucks that offered rides, especially the one shaped like a half cylinder that rocked along a central hub. We kids went up and down like a gigantic swing, and the first on the ride got to sit in the top rows where the swing was at the maximum. That beat ice cream any night!

  3. I enjoy your blog. “Push Cart War” is one of my favorite books. Also, when I first moved to Yonkers the scissor and knife grinding man still came through the neighborhood. I also seem to remember a man with a horse and cart in SW Yonkers and this was in the early 1970’s.

  4. Great blog! This is really going to date me, but I remember when I was a child and we came into Wapakoneta, Ohio from our farm to do the shopping there was a little old man with a little old donkey pulling a vegetable cart. That is really dating me, but honestly it wasn’t the 1800s. Wapakoneta is the home of Neil Armstrong, as well as being the place we did our shopping and the place where the vegetable cart pulled by the donkey could be found. (or maybe it was a mule, I’m not sure – anyhow, something like that). Also, your story reminded me of the first time I had a hot dog from a street vendor in NYC. It tasted good but when I told a friend, she said, “Oh no. You didn’t have a dirty water hot dog!” It took me back for a bit but didn’t stop me from having hot dogs from street vendors at future dates.

    • Wow, Neil Armstrong went from donkey carts to Space capsules!
      Regarding hot dogs, my mom always told a story. As a child she lived near a hot dog vendor who stored his hot dogs in the cellar as she called it, and she swears they were moldy. I don’t remember how she knew this. But I still think they’re good. Dirty water, mold, notwithstanding!

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