By Abigail Pope-Brooks
Giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “hunger games,” the 2018 Vendy Awards brewed up strongly flavored competition and wowed foodies from near and far for the 14th year.
Governor’s Island lived up to its reputation for hosting the cool and unusual on Saturday, September 22. On this particular Saturday afternoon you could find 25 of the best street vendors in New York City in one place and eat your way from breakfast to second breakfast, through lunch, and to dessert. Don’t forget second dessert.
General admission came in at $100 a pop. Holder of $170 VIP tickets entered one hour early–a perk that offers an advantage as some vendors run out of supplies before the event is over.
This year’s winners included Nansense, which took home the prize for Best Rookie; Baonanas, which took home Best Dessert; Mama Jo’s Breakfast Cart, which took home Best Breakfast; and D’Abruzzo NYC, which took home Best of Market. People’s Choice went to Burmese Bites and the coveted Vendy Cup to Royal Grill Halal Food.
The Vendy Cup winner is so popular that Royal Grill Halal Food’s M.D. Alam said he’s seen lines of 300 people form for his delicious halal food. For Alam it “means I create more people loving my food.”
What felt special about the Vendys was seeing (and tasting) food from small family-owned businesses hailing from across the globe. Food from Italy, Burma, Greece, Colombia, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Turkey, India, Indonesia, Laos, Romania, Japan, El Salvador and more were all represented here.
Some highlights were delicious banana pudding (including a vegan option), restaurant quality dosas, comforting Burmese-style chicken noodle soup, grandma-style pizza (with the sauce on top, of course), and fun-and-light Romanian twister cakes (also known as chimney cake).
This wide variety was no accident, and not just for novelty’s sake. The event is a purposeful celebration of the cultural richness that street vendors, most of them immigrants, bring to hungry New Yorkers every day. Often unseen and unacclaimed, the event aims to bring their hard work, grit and ingenuity to the fore.
The Vendy Awards are presented by the Street Vendor Project as its biggest fundraising event of the year. “Every dollar that we make…goes directly to the Street Vendor Project to support thousands of street vendors out in New York City,” said Mohamed Attia, Street Vendor Project co-director.
Attia was himself a food vendor for nine years. He told the Brooklyn Reporter, “I’m so passionate about street vendors. This is what I’ve been doing my whole life here.”
Attia said Street Vendor Project addresses the most pressing issues facing street vendors by providing legal services, organizing and advocacy. He explained, “the city limited the number of permits more than 37 years ago. In 1981 they capped the number of permits to 3,000. There’s no way for a [new] vendor to get a permit [directly] from the city.”
This creates an underground market for illegally renting permits from their existing owners. Street vendors feel coerced into this as their only option (besides operating without a permit, which would put them at risk of arrest or hefty fines). The prices for these coveted permits can go “up to $25,000 in cash,” claimed Attia. “That’s the biggest struggle street vendors deal with every day.”
The Street Vendor Project’s major campaign is to raise the 3,000 cap so that vendors can “invest the money they spend in the underground market into their businesses” instead.
So while foodies revel in the best New York City has to offer, they were also supporting the empowerment and betterment of their beloved vendors. This was one opportunity to put your money where your mouth is, AND put your mouth where your money is–that is, enjoy as much as your stomach will allow!
Attia reminds everyone, “It only happens once a year!”