the vendy hungry caterpillar

Illustration by Eric Carle

N, S and I have been friends for ages.  Back when S only used to eat Chef Boyardee, I never would have predicted that years later we’d enjoy a tradition of attending the annual Vendy Awards in NYC, sampling the diverse cuisine that NY food trucks have to offer.

The competition started in 2005 with just a few vendors and has since grown into one of the most fun, delicious events in the city and is usually sold out.  We like to support the Vendys because it is a fundraiser organized by the Street Vendor Project.  This non-profit organization works to protect vendors’ rights and obtain respect from corporations who do not value the contributions of vendors.  SVP is part of the Urban Justice Center which has provided pro bono legal representation and advocated for marginalized New Yorkers.  The Vendys also partners with local organizations that support the sustainable food movement and events have spun off into three other cities.  Participants are chosen for the Vendys through public nomination and there are several categories of competition:  Best Dessert, Best of Market, Rookie of the Year, Masters Cup, Vendy Cup and People’s Choice.  This year the Vendys were held on Governors Island and beverages were provided free of charge…  wines by Santa Cristina, lagers and IPAs from Brooklyn Brewery.

N, S, his bro and I got our tickets early.  Wanna know what we ate?  Let me tell you the story.

Rain clouds and the Freedom Tower from Governors Island

One Saturday morning, the grey clouds rolled in and pop, four friends took the ferry to Governors Island and stood in line to sample food at the 10th Annual Vendy Awards. They were as hungry as a certain very hungry caterpillar. Once the gates opened, they fanned out and started to look for food. 

That afternoon they ate through:

1 Shrimp & Scallop Empanada and 1 Italian Sausage Meatball empanada from the Nuchas truck
1 bowl of spiced Vietnamese Chicken on dirty rice and 1 bowl of Loco Moco topped with a runny egg from
Big D’s Khao Cart
1 unbelievably fresh and crunchy Churro w/ Dulce de Leche from
Ricas Botanas Mexican
1 bowl of machete-hacked Puerto Rican Pernil and Rice w/ pigeon peas from
Lechonera La Pirana
1 creamsicle drink with a stripey straw from
Chickpea & Olive
1 glass of white wine and 1 glass of red wine courtesy of Santa Cristina wines
1 Thai Green Curry Asiancini (cute wordplay for their Korean version of arancini) and 1 beef Bulgogi Asiancini w/ gochujang aioli from
Zha Pan Asian
1 quarter of a Gribaldi Sandwich on a handmade English muffin from
GoGo Grill
1 Mini Chicken Pie w/ mash & gravy (skip the mushy peas), followed by a delicious shot of Counter Culture cold brewed coffee from
Dub Pies
1 sampler plate of German sausages, served with sauerkraut, German potato and a side of mustard from
Hallo Berlin
1 perfectly crisp vegan Pondicherry Masala Dosa packed with super fresh veggies and a side of sambar from
NY Dosa cart
1 Saltena: a baked empanada filled with stewed beef, and 1 Mini Chola: a pulled pork street sandwich from
Bolivian Llama Party
1 quarter of a Grilled Cheddar Sandwich kissed with Maple Syrup and a shot of gazpacho, followed by a shot of Cucumber Mint Shaved Ice at
1 quarter of a Ramen burger (Yeah dude, the bun is a perfectly shaped cylinder of ramen noodles) from
Ramen Burger
1 Baja Fish Taco, and half a rolled Chipotle Pork Quesadilla from
1 Dulce de leche cheesecake bite and a guava and cheese empanada at Nuchas (yes, we circled back around. Don’t judge. I mean seriously, I’m not even done with my list yet, so if you’re going to judge, at least reserve it till the end.)
1 plate of Chicken & Rice doused in spicy and white sauce from
The King of Falafel & Shawarma
1 tiny bowl of black tea ice cream with lemon charcoal caramel swirl,
1 tiny bowl of black currant ice cream drizzled with goat milk panna cotta and dusted with buckwheat streusel, and
1 tiny bowl of toasted milk ice cream with sea salt chocolate ganache swirl from
Ice & Vice
1 Game Changer: a chicken puri-bhaji with hot sauce from
Desi Food Truck
1 Chinese chive and Pork Dumpling & Mango Bubble Tea from Shanghai Sogo

That night they all had stomach aches.

Believe it or not, despite that gargantuan list, there were actually a few things that we didn’t sample. Among them were: 
Cinnamon Snail: serving outstanding vegan fare.
El Rey Del Taco: authentic spicy Mexican tacos.
Solber Pupusas: Salvadorian griddled dough pocket of beans, cheese or chicken, garnished with pickled slaw and curls of red onion.
Alchemy Creamery: Dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan ice “cream.”  They works with custom blends of hazelnut, almond milk, and coconut milk so even the dietarily unrestricted can enjoy.
Craffles Food Truck: Crepes & Waffles (get it?) topped w/ Nutella, berries and banana.
Dough: Hibiscus and Dulce de Leche doughnuts
Ssam BBQ: Korean chicken, beef, and pork BBQ, marinated in their signature, house-made sauces

So, um, yeah… we ate A LOT, and you just read A LOT. Because I care about you, and because brevity is the soul of wit, I’ll try to quickly (too late) sum up my impressions.

Standouts to me were the Churro (simple, but the best I’ve ever had), the Asiancini (I’m partial to Thai green curry), the dosa (trust the Indian girl when I tell you that it was superb), the chola from Bolivian Llama Party (surprisingly tasty and they earned my vote for People’s Choice), the ice cream from Ice & Vice (so imaginative) and the Chicken & Rice (baffling how good it really is). There were other delicious foods, but if I had to go back for seconds (don’t be horrified, it’s just a saying) those are the ones I would pick.

As for regrets, I have a few. Namely not tasting food from the Cinnamon Snail which churns out such impressive food it’s hard to believe it’s all vegan. (They were serving Sage Tempeh Sausage Sliders, Korean BBQ Seitan Tacos and warm crème brulee doughnuts.  I mean come on!)  Also missed Solber who won the Vendy Cup a few years ago. I remember voting for them that year and I would’ve liked to see if they stood the test of time, but their line was never-ending. Finally the doughnuts from Dough looked really beautiful, but I was feeling like the Kool-aid man when we passed by their truck, so didn’t partake of their sticky, sweet goodness.

Calexico had the biggest plate of food, and Bolivian Llama Party had the best tunes blasting.  Snowday was the most polite, which was nice to note because I later discovered that they have a mission to train, employ and mentor formerly incarcerated youth in food service and entrepreneurship. The Ramen burger was the biggest “meh” but I would follow Freddy from King of Falafel & Shawarma to the ends of the earth for more chicken & rice… or at least to Astoria.

A panel of judges voted for the winners; among them were Chef Alex Guarnaschelli from multiple shows on the Food Network and Adam Richman of Travel Channel fame. The winners were: Vendy Cup – Cinnamon Snail, Masters Cup – Calexico, Rookie of the Year – Snowday, Best of Market – Zha Pan Asian, Best Dessert – Ice & Vice and the crowd voted for the People’s Choice – Nuchas

The Vendys are truly the Oscars of Street Food. And the pictures… Oh! The pictures! Now’s your chance to indulge.

Nuchas offered different types of empanada: Veggie (squash, goat cheese, quinoa, green chile, oregano, whole wheat dough), Shrimp and Scallop (shrimp, sea scallop, shallots, Merken Nantua sauce, turmeric, sesame black dough or regular dough), Argentine (Pat Lafrieda’s ground beef, onions, peppers, scallions, potatoes, and olives with white dough), Braised Lamb (lamb, garlic, tomato sauce, parsnip, onions, thyme, lemon zest, and parsley), and Italian Sausage Meatball (Italian sausage, San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil, and Parmesan cheese dough).

Vietnamese Chicken over dirty rice and Loco Moco: a traditional Hawaiian dish of rice topped by a juicy burger patty with gravy and a runny egg from
Big D’s Khao Cart

best churro I’ve ever had

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Roast pork and rice with pigeon peas from Lechonera La Pirana.  Angel Jimenez from Lechonera chops his pernil with a machete.  It’s quite a site… and you can see it here.

Stripey straw in my creamsicle drink

pour me another
Thai Green Curry Asiancini and beef Bulgogi Asiancini w/ gochujang aioli – I am a fan!

Garibaldi sandwich
Pulled pork, slaw and aioli in a handmade English muffin.  This ain’t Thomas’ people!
New Zealand style savory Mini Chicken Pie w/ mash & gravy (skip the mushy peas)

Hallo Berlin’s sampler plate:  Pork Bratwurst, Bavarian veal Wurst, Berliner Currywurst, and beef-pork Bauernwurst, served with red wine cabbage, sauerkraut, and a trio of string bean, cucumber, and German potato salads with a side of mustard

Pondicherry Masala Dosa packed with super fresh veggies and a side of sambar

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Bolivian Llama Party got my vote with their spicy and original food.  Left is the saltena:  a baked Bolivian style empanada of amaretto flavored pastry encasing a filling of stewed beef, chicken, quinoa, and house made cheese.  Right is the chola: a Bolivian street sandwich packed with pulled pork, cured pork belly, and flavored with chuquisaca bacon, bacon and roasted garlic aioli, salsa criolla, pickled carrots, chiles, and hibiscus red onions.
Snowday Clay Williams
Grilled Cheddar Cheese Sandwich kissed with Maple Syrup and a shot of savory gazpacho

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The original Ramen Burger

Beer-battered Baja Fish Taco w/ spicy slaw and mango salsa, homemade plantain and tortilla chips with a trio of dipping sauces, and half a rolled Chipotle Pork Quesadilla w/ pickled red onion

Dulce de leche cheesecake bite and a guava and cheese fried mini empanada

Oh that 7 spice chicken and rice from King of Falafel & Shawarma… sigh

Tea Dance (pictured above): a Nigiri black tea ice cream with lemon charcoal caramel swirl.  Also sampled: Farmer Boy: black currant ice cream drizzled with goat milk panna cotta and dusted with buckwheat streusel), and Milk Money: toasted milk ice cream with sea salt chocolate ganache swirl

chicken puri-bhaji with hot sauce

Chinese chive and Pork Dumpling & Mango Bubble Tea

The End