Street Fare: Secrets to Steal from New York’s Festivals

Food festivals are the essence of American summers, with trucks, street vendors, and private chefs dishing up everything from classic street fare to elegant tapas. But in New York, the grandest festival arrives mid October, just as scarlet and crimson leaves line the sidewalks and the air turns cooler.

New York City’s Food and Wine Festival has previously featured over 500 celebrity chefs and products from 100 wineries, marking it as one of the biggest festivals of its kind in the United States. This year’s event, which runs from the 12th of October through the 15th, marks its tenth year anniversary and already promises a host of celebrity, including the cast of Chopped and celebrity chefs Anne Burell and Alex Guarnaschelli.

But if you think the festival’s main claim to fame is related to celebrity, think again. Special events place the culinary arts of full display, from cooking demonstrations to intimate dinners, rooftop parties, and street tastings.

And at the heart of everything is what makes food festivals appealing as a whole: a fusion of different cultures all in one place, transformed into a culinary experience and expression of a city’s multiculturalism.

A Cultural Fusion

While NYC’s Food and Wine Festival has a reputation also, for being expensive (many events are over one hundred dollars), it in part succeeds due to its offering of walking tastings. Walking tastings are at the heart of food festivals worldwide, offering small samples that can be eaten as customers navigate the festival.

Many New York festivals thrive on small and portable portions in order to offer many small culinary experiences. But New York street fairs are unique in the sheer variety they offer in a single strip. A festival might offer any of the state’s iconic foods, from Vietnamese carts selling banh mi sandwiches to halal offerings like a kati roll.

John Trumble, the director of the Food and Wine Festival in New York, sees food festivals and street fairs as being more about the fusion of culture and people coming together than anything else:

“People talk about recipes and cooking being generational, I’ll tell you what, the only thing that may be more generational and in the fiber of somebody’s being and family is sports and athletic team allegiance. These guys that are tailgating outside the Giants and Jets stadium are people who have been doing that for years and years and years with their mom and dad, their grandmother and grandfather, where their grandma would make her famous potato salad – those recipes are generational, so it’s a really cool kind of hook.”

Steal these Secrets to Success

Personal and private chefs in some ways are attempting to do a similar thing: bring clients food experiences they will remember, and create their own signature approach that separates them from competitors.

And a great way to do that? Offer clients the best of New York by bringing street fair to them. Cultural immersion, simple but purposeful plating and bite sized portions make a meal fun, memorable, and play homage to New York’s rich culture.

Child’s Play

‘New York street food has an undeniably playful spirit, transforming childhood favorites with expert pairing. The bubble egg waffle is traditionally based in Hong Kong and is made by placing large pockets of air in a buttermilk waffle to give its appearance. New Yorkers top it with caramel ice cream and even play with the batter by adding purple yam. Grilled cheese gets an update when it’s made into bite size pastries and served with  marinara. And of course, if hot dogs are emblematic of childhood, more mature taste buds might be pleased with their revival in a New York “Dirty Water Dog”, where hot dogs are boiled in water seasoned with vinegar, cumin, and ground nutmeg.

Wrap it Up

 Little says street food more than something you can carry on the go, and in New York that means tortillas, pitas, and wraps of all kinds. Mexican corn cakes, also known as massa, are stuffed with cheese, sour cream, tomato sauce, and jalapenos. Traditional French crepes get a New York twist when filled with swiss, chicken, parmesan, and caramelized peppers and onions. Burritos are given bolder flavor by using slow cooked goat in Barbacoa de Chivo; you can also substitute shredded lamb, duck, or even bison.

On a Stick

Perhaps the most iconic way to go, kebabs give off a street food vibe but are still sophisticated when paired with a colorful side. Quail, beef, and chicken are served grilled on skewers with sage and other herbs. Lamb shish kabobs are served on a bed of rice, while a chicken kabab is given a Turkish twist when served with Imam Bayildi, an eggplant casserole.

…Or Join

Personal and private chefs should also consider applying to be included in festivals when possible. By doing so, not only will you be essentially advertising your signature dishes, but you might also have a chance to commune with other local chefs and food suppliers.  Food festivals tend attract many people willing to spend a good deal of money, as well. You may need to apply for a temporary permit: click here for details.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *