New York is famous around the world for its restaurants. But at lunchtime, New Yorkers themselves often head right for the sidewalk outside their offices, where a huge variety of wonderful fresh food is available from pushcart food vendors and for a good price. Most, if not all, of these vendors are new immigrants trying to succeed in their new land.
The sights and sounds of New York's Times Square at lunch hour are deliciously overwhelming. But the aromas alone would make it a festival. One particularly appetizing odor comes from the pushcart grill where Trinidad native Fatima Kahn is dishing out lamb and curried chicken and other food to a long line of salivating Manhattanites. It's the middle of a sixteen hour work day for her.
"I start at three o' clock in the morning to make the rice," she says. "We get to the garage around seven, we prepare all the stuff over there and we get here around 9:30 or 10. Then we get started about 10:30 or eleven when the customers start coming. I don't know. It could be about two or three hundred meals a day maybe.
Is it a good living? "Yes it is!" answers Fatima Kahn. Asked if she likes America, she says: "I like it very much because here you can make a life for yourself and better yourself, you know? Back home it wasn't that easy. So I came here to make a better life. You meet all different kinds of people and you enjoy that too, you know. They are black. They are white. They are Spanish. There are different kinds of people you can find. The whole world is in America!"
There is a lot of hybrid cuisine on the streets of New York. Just down the block, an Egyptian named Ibrahim is selling grilled meat prepared in the American style, with an Islamic twist. "This is 'Hallal food,' he explains. "We kill the animal in [the] Muslim way, by the neck. And we bless the animal with the name of God. This is the Muslim way of eating meat. And we take the blood out. It's healthy. Like a kosher [meal], but for Muslims."
What does Ibrahim think of New York? "New York is very good. Crazy and good!" he says.
Not everybody is selling cooked food on this hot and humid day. Mahmoud Husail is from Bangladesh. He is selling fruit salad and cherry, apples, blueberry, bananas. "It's good stuff here," he says. "People are buying a little cheaper also. That's okay."
There is, of course, a difference between selling fruit on 43rd Street and Sixth Avenue and selling fruit in Bangladesh. "Here [it is] very free and everything [is] very clean. [It] is big difference here," says Mr. Husail." The customers are 'beautiful.' "I love my customers!"
A customer asks for a pound of cherries, a pound of grapes, and a dozen bananas. It's great to shop here, he says. "Being that it's outside, I can also watch the pretty women going by. It's not air conditioned, but the sights are great."
But traditionalists who prefer a classic New York City hot dog will not be disappointed either. Izwan Rodgros emigrated all the way from Greece to set up his stand. What attracted him to New York? "Well, he says, "I had an idea that there are better opportunities in America and I always liked to be successful."
Not every thing is perfect, though. "I have a few ups and downs, you now," he confides. "Don't forget that we deal with the public. People have problems. They're mad. I have a way to settle them down. If they don't comply, I tell them 'take a walk!' But 99 percent of them, they comply. They become 'mellow yellow.' "
How does Mr. Rodgos keeps his sanity at such a busy street corner? "It's Times Square! Welcome to the show!" he says with a laugh.