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Street food in New York conjures up images of hot dogs and pretzels served from carts by recent immigrants. But now, a whole new breed of food trucks is hitting the streets, with offerings as varied as Asian dumplings and Austrian schnitzel. These vendors attract loyal customers, and now they are getting formal recognition from New York's food establishment in the form of an award called the Vendy, which has been called the Oscar for New York's eating public.
Restaurants have long sought recognition by getting a favorable review in a major newspaper, or a listing in the Michelin and Zagat guides, but there has never been much recognition for street food vendors. Now that has changed and vendors all over New York City are hustling to win the ultimate prize in their business: the Vendy.
Now in its fifth year, the Vendy honors the best street food in New York. And we are not talking about the hot dog and pretzel stands of years past, but a new generation of multi ethnic food brought to New York from around the world.
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This year's overall winners were Fernando and Jolando Martinez for their Country Boys Taco Truck; in the dessert category Thomas DeGeest's Belgian waffles cart; and winning the People's Choice award for the second year in a row - the Biriyani cart run by Banglasdeshi Meru Sikder. "This is one of the best sellers I have in Midtown Manhattan...Typical Indian Food, made on Chapati roll with Chicken Yoghurt and Spices," Sikder said.
Sikder shows off the kati rolls that helped him clinch the title. He says his secret is in the freshness of his ingredients and the cheap cost of selling food on the street - which means he can sell food for less money than restaurants can.
Some customers remarks:
" It's fantastic it actually rivals many of the Indian restaurants, many of the sit-down restaurants that you have in the area.
"The lamb over rice unbelievable - highly recommend it. Hot sauce white sauce delicious!"
From spicy to sweet. A few blocks away, Thomas DeGeest, the winner of the Vendy for Best Dessert shows off his gas-powered Belgian waffle maker and ingredients.
DeGeest says he left a corporate career to pursue his dream of running his own business. He says he loves bringing a bit of Belgium to New York. "People have very stressed lives here in New York and what we give them is five minutes of childhood and happiness which is a good thing," he said.
The Vendy awards do more than promote street food. Proceeds from the event go to the Street Vendor Project, which protects the rights of vendors who operate about five-thousand food carts in the city.
This year's overall winner Fernanado Martinez and his family faced eviction from this area of Brooklyn in 2007. Now the Martinez family operates the most celebrated food truck in New York. "I think I'm happier when I see a lot of people - not just Mexicans or Latinos - also North Americans who come to eat - to taste the food and they like it," he said.
Like many other vendors, Martinez dreams of one day opening a restaurant. But with a slow economy and growing popularity for street food, a four-wheeled cart seems to be a better bet, for now.