A vanilla ice cream cone double-dipped in fudge and smothered in peanuts made its way from the Mister Softee truck in the East Village to the reaching hands of Ava Castillo, 4, who was held up to the counter by her mother Josephine, 32. Ava’s eyes lit up as she buried her face into the cone, instantly staining her rosy-colored face with remnants of melted chocolate.
“Last winter, I know for a fact I wasn’t buying this little one a cone the first week of March,” said the Park Slope, Brooklyn mom, as she wiped Ava’s face now sprinkled with peanuts stuck to the corners of her mouth. “Ice cream trucks or food carts in general were hard to find because there was no business, but now they’re all over the place.”
Most of New York City’s food trucks have experienced a surge in customers due to the unusually warm winter weather this year, with temperatures skirting the 40s over the past few months and no major snowstorms hitting the Northeast. Food trucks were hit hard with dangerous blizzards back in 2011 and 2010 that forced hundreds of vendors to close until early spring.
But some, like Belgium-born Wafels and Dinges, parked in Columbus Circle, took out their shovels and continued business.
“Last winter was a hard time because we had a big snowstorm and not many people came out, but we made sure we did so customers knew we were there and that built our reputation,” said employee Azamat Alanazaron of Borough Park, Brooklyn. “Our customers are important to us and we want to make them happy. We know waffles do just that during any type of weather.”
Alanazaron added that thanks to social media like Twitter and Facebook, they were able to update foodies on their location before trekking out into the storm.
Like Belgian-inspired Wafels and Dinges, Little Cupcake Lover, a small dessert cart located on Lafayette Street in the East Village, suffered a loss in profits the past few winters that forced them to close its ovens until early spring. This year, however, the cart has served nearly 200 customers daily, a major increase from last year.
“There was so much snow in 2010, we had to close until spring because there was no business, no one was out,” said employee Bahy Elsayed of the two-year-old baking business. “This winter was good, we tried to work Monday through Friday and the temperature was between 30 to 40 degrees, which is good for this time of year.”
Mobile bakery Sweetery NYC, which travels around the city serving treats like muffins and scones in addition to hot and cold beverages, was also in business last winter. But president and co-founder Grant Di Mille said business was slow since “people don’t want to go out.” During slow winter months, Sweetery relies on a catering business with clients including Food Network and the Weather Channel.
Sweetery NYC customer Ellen Dobrin of Gramercy, said she noticed more food trucks out this winter and attributed it to the warmer weather.
“It’s definitely still chilly out, but nothing like it was the past few years,” Dobrin said. “Temperatures were in the single digits and this year we barely reached the ‘teens, so that definitely had a positive effect on all the food trucks that are popping up more and more each day.”
Mediterranean food vendor The Chabah, also in the neighborhood, said bad weather does not affect their business. Serving classic favorites like falafel platters and chicken gyros to more than 100 hungry customers daily, Chabah said rain or shine, they try their best to make it to their location on the corner of 66th Street and Broadway.
“We have to work, no matter what,” he said. “We have regular customers that rely on us and we value their business. We don’t want to lose them because we decided not to open on a snowy day.”
At Island Burger, guests are hit with “island fever,” as calypso and steel drum tunes fill the air while the aroma of freshly grilled burgers takes them on a tropical journey from Brooklyn to Trinidad.
Island Burger is one of dozens of Caribbean restaurants lining Utica Avenue in East Flatbush and attracting guests from near and far wanting a taste of the islands. But it stands alone as the sole eatery serving “gourmet fast food” like burgers, ribs and wings incorporating Trinidadian seasonings, spices and sauces, which co-owner Tracy Agarrat said gives their food a unique “twist.”
“In Trinidad, they cook and season everything differently than they do over here,” said Agarrat, 40, co-owner of Island Burger alongside her sister Linette Beckles, 34. “What we’re doing here is gourmet fast food – using different sauces that bring out the food’s real flavor.”
The London-born siblings had both discussed opening a retail store until Beckles made a huge discovery during a trip to Trinidad’s capital, Port of Spain, where they both lived for many years.
“My sister and her boyfriend had taken a trip to Trinidad over Christmas break and one night her and her boyfriend stopped by one of those beachside food stands,” Agarrat said. “The burger was so great that by the time they got home they decided to drive back to get more.”
Beckles, who along with her sister had previous experience in the restaurant business, proposed the idea of opening a restaurant to her back in New York. After scouring the neighborhood, the sisters noticed a pattern of Caribbean restaurants serving traditional foods like rice, peas and curry– but none serving fast food the “Trini way.” Eighteen months later, Island Burger first opened its doors.
Most entrée items are under $10, with most guests raving about “D Island Burger,” an 8-ounce beef patty topped with coleslaw, tomato, pineapple, and an array of sauces such as mango chutney, tamarind and garlic.
To longtime customer Tameeka Downing, the sauces make all the difference.
“They definitely bring out the real flavors of the food,” Downing said. “They have this mango sauce, garlic sauce, and tamarind sauce that all really bring it back to the island. You don’t get that in other restaurants.”
Even the takeout boxes are reminiscent of the southernmost Caribbean island where locals buy tasty eats from food huts along the beach.
“In Trinidad they use these white cardboard takeout boxes, I think they’re called chicken boxes,” Agarrat said. “We fold them and put the wax paper on top. People really like that – especially those from the Caribbean – they say, ‘Oh, they do it just like back home.’ ”
As hungry crowds started to fill the eatery late on a cold evening last Friday, the sounds of sizzling burgers on the grill intertwined with the Caribbean music broadcast through the radio. For a brief moment, it was another day in Trinidad.
Lavish signs in all hues of orange, blue, and green adorn Main Street in Flushing, Queens, showcasing homeland favorites like flaky, pan-fried scallion pancakes and luscious pearl milk tea to Chinese movies and books galore. Most of these signs catch the eye not for their colors or designs, but because majority of them are in Chinese.
“It really makes me feel like I’m actually there – in China,” said Rouen, France native Agnes Rousseau, 37, who was visiting New York with her husband and two young daughters. “But it’s extremely overwhelming and a bit intimidating how nearly every sign is structured in the same way with barely any English translations.”
Last August, Councilman Peter Koo urged inspectors with the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs to enforce a state law passed in 1993 that would require Flushing businesses to have at least 60 percent of their signs in English or face a fine if they did not comply. The law was originally enacted during the Depression to safeguard shoppers from scams in underground stores.
“Ultimately, these bills will help local businesses expand their customer base, increase revenues and be more consumer friendly,” said Koo in a press release. “Additionally, our police, firemen and emergency responders will be able to easily locate an establishment and ascertain what type of business they will encounter when they arrive.”
Koo’s chief of staff, James McLelland, said the bill is still being discussed in general counsel.
The proposition has divided much of the Asian population. Some dissenters believe English signs would not only “alienate” Chinese customers, especially those who do not speak English and rely on the signs for guidance, but also force immigrants to assimilate to American customs. On the other hand, supporters of the law feel that implementing English is something necessary that would not only generate more revenue by attracting consumers of more diverse backgrounds, but also seems proper to incorporate the dialect that U.S. citizens are required to know.
Flushing resident Yu Zhou, 52, does not want the signs to change. They help her feel connected to her native language and culture.
“My language and culture is all I have here to remind me of what I left behind,” she said . “I feel like I would be giving up a part of me if all the signs were to change.”
Zhou, who came to New York with her daughter and son from Shanghai nearly 20 years ago, said she felt the law “may have good intentions,” but being immersed into “so much English” in a city supposedly renowned for its diversity is upsetting.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Asian Americans constitute about 12 percent of New York City’s population, with those of Chinese origin making up nearly half that number.
Maylei Zhou, 24, Yu’s daughter, has been frequenting Main Street’s Tai Pan Bakery for her daily morning roast pork bun and hot milk tea before her commute to Hunter College, where she is studying nursing. She said the bakery, which caters to a mostly Chinese community, makes her relive the few memories she has left of her childhood back in Shanghai.
“It’s like my little piece of China,” she said. “It gives me a sense of connection to the things we left back home. But for others, the menu, the language, it may seem a bit overwhelming.”
Zhou referenced the predominantly Chinese-language menu at Tai Pan Bakery, where she pointed out the minute English descriptions under the large Chinese lettering of menu items, adding that for those unfamiliar with the Chinese language, deciphering the menu could very much be a daunting endeavor.
A few blocks down south at the Maxin Bakery, which also has a menu much akin to the one in Tai Pan, Mai Ling Chen, 45, said most of the regular customers were of Chinese descent and that tourists rarely frequented the eatery. She said the law, if enforced, would not welcome new customers, but rather discourage some of their current patrons.
“When most people think of Chinatown, they go to Manhattan, not Flushing,” said Chen, of Bayside, Queens. “Most of the people that come in here are Chinese and other Asian customers buying groceries or baked goods on a daily basis, not as a one-time visit.”
The New York City Department of City Planning’s 2000 Census states there are over 122,000 foreign-born residents in Queens Community District 7, which includes cities such as Flushing, College Point, and Bay Terrace. Of that figure, about 32,000 people are from China. Additionally, nearly 35 percent of that population does not speak English; Chinese is the main language spoken in 27,031 homes.
Gary Luo, 55, owner of a small electronics store nearby, agreed with Chen, noting that most of his customers are fellow Chinese consumers, many from his hometown of Beijing. Luo said most of the people that visit his store come in because “they feel comfortable asking questions about technical things with someone they know will not judge or criticize them if their language is a little off.”
Luo, who came to Flushing 22 years ago with his daughter and son, said he struggled learning English but knew it was necessary for him to start his business. He added that he felt it was important for him to know English so he could teach his children.
“It was scary at first when we first came to America, learning something new, but it’s part of being an American,” Luo said. “I feel as a Chinese-American that you need to embrace the English language but remember your roots also. You don’t need to give it all up.”
However, he added that the law does not take into consideration differences between the Chinese and English languages.
“That up there in Chinese means Red House,” Luo said as he pointed to a fluorescent orange sign surrounded by other multicolored placards. “But that’s actually a real estate office.”
Lin Chun, 31, of Flushing, left Changsha, China for New York five years ago to pursue a law degree. She has come to Maxin Bakery every morning for her usual coffee and egg tart, which she said instantly “teleports me to the corner bakery in Changsha.” She felt it was a “shame” that the battle for English signs in Flushing was garnering opposition because “equality is something that should be present everywhere.”
“I am proud of my heritage, my culture, my language,” Chun said. “You see all of that here, but I’m not only Chinese. I’m Chinese-American. And that means the English language is a part of me now, too. It’s only fitting that everyone should get the best of both worlds.”
Upon crossing Willis Avenue Bridge, runners in the 2011 ING New York City Marathon celebrated their 20-mile victory by waving to the crowds, putting their hands in the air, and bobbing their heads to the swift sounds of hip-hop music that infiltrated the air as they invaded the Bronx.
“They’re running straight into the place where hip-hop was made,” said spectator Annie Ruiz-Martinez, 26, from Pelham Bay, Bronx. “It’s great that they’re being welcomed to the borough with this upbeat music to keep them going!”
Widely recognized as the birthplace of the hip-hop subculture, the Bronx welcomed thousands of runners from all over the world and attracted even more cheering fans hoping to give marathoners a boost on the 26.2 mile-long journey. Some passed out water bottles, others yelled tidbits of inspiration, and many extended their arms for a friendly high-five. But the BURN U Movement gave runners a taste of entertainment native to the borough they had finally reached.
“We’re getting such a positive response from the runners and the crowds,” said founder LaRue Marlow, 37, of Co-op City, Bronx. “We want to bring excitement to the runners and as soon as they pass that bridge, they hear us and get inspired to keep moving.”
Marlow, who came to the marathon with six other Movement members and has been involved in the music industry for the past 20 years, said the group’s mission to “bring unity through hip-hop culture” brought them to perform at the marathon for the first time, engaging crowds and runners with everything from rap and gospel to R&B.
“Why not encourage runners with upbeat music at a time where they’re probably needing it most,” Marlow said.
Rapper Isaiah “Saiah” Seward, 29, of Albany, NY, who performs both as a solo artist and with the Movement, was inspired to organize the group’s involvement with the marathon because of his passion of giving back to the community.
“I would never be able to get through this race,” Seward said. “So the Movement and I get to keep them going through music and remind them they can reach their goals.”
Seward, who has been performing for nearly 10 years, said entertaining runners in the Bronx was the perfect place not only because of its reputation as the hip-hop motherland, but because the location is a fundamental point for marathoners.
“At the 20-mile mark they’re probably reaching that point where they’re getting tired but people here are yelling, ‘Welcome to the Bronx!’ and we’re engaging the crowds,” Seward said. “We just want to give the runners energy and inspiration to get to the end.”
As for involvement in future races, both Marlow and Seward agreed they would love to be part of the marathon – not by running but performing again.
“Next year I’m going to try and get a stage down here,” Marlow said. “It has been an amazing first experience and we hope we accomplished something today by showing others that there’s more to hip-hop than what you may see or hear.”
Spectator Cherise Gonzalez, 35, of Melrose, Bronx said the Movement’s beats helped her continue cheering, which she said may not be as strenuous as running, but requires just as much energy.
“It’s uplifting and helps me to help runners,” Gonzalez said. “They really get a sense of not only the Bronx but New York as a whole in that we welcome people from all over and take care of each other especially on days like today.”
Goodbye bulky social studies textbook. Hello slim, sleek iPad2.
Students at Our Lady’s Catholic Academy in South Ozone Park, Queens are closing their “old-fashioned” textbooks and notebooks as they enter the touch-screen world of Apple for assignments, note taking and tutorials.
“I’m so emotional,” said Katherine Duarte, 11, of South Ozone Park. “I think I’m going to be able to learn a lot more things than with a regular book because it’s interactive.”
Thirty-one students of Ricky Sosa’s sixth-grade class traded in their Mead paper notebooks for iPads yesterday, thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Alive in Hope Foundation and Futures in Education. Additional funding was acquired through school fundraisers, increased enrollment and cost savings from the discontinued use of paper textbooks.
Principal Kevin Coyne, 32, of Rockaway Park, said this year’s sixth grade class had the greatest gain in standardized test scores, especially in the reading area. As a result, he decided to write a grant to the Alive in Hope Foundation to help students move forward with a new approach.
“Education is limited by traditional technology,” Coyne said. “With an iPad, children can access vocabulary by tapping on a word and instantly seeing the definition or explore geography with 3-D maps.”
Coyne added that with the use of an iPad, the child becomes more active in effective learning. He said that while many think Catholic schools are “stuck in the 20th century,” OLCA is breaking boundaries by becoming the first school in the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens to introduce iPads to students.
“I wanted to do this not because it’s the ‘cool thing’ but because this is going to be a tool that will maximize a student’s learning experience,” he said. “We’re bringing kids to the present.”
Priscilla Uy of Futures in Education, an organization providing tuition assistance and program support to students of Catholic schools in Brooklyn and Queens, said the introduction of the iPad in to the classroom is priceless.
“It’s going to help kids keep up with the world and be up-to-date with technology,” said Uy, 30, of Oakwood, Staten Island. “It’s a great gift of education. We’re giving a lot of kids in this neighborhood an opportunity they might not otherwise have.”
Children in Sosa’s class will ditch their heavy textbooks and opt for iBooks, which will enable them to highlight, take notes and even look up words in a built-in dictionary. The iPad even has the ability to read back to them.
“These students have the tools right in front of them,” said Sosa, 26, of Kew Garden Hills. “You’re presenting the information and letting them explore it themselves.”
However, there will be restrictions as to what his students can access. Educational-based applications in geography, science, math and anatomy are all acceptable but students do not have access to the Apple App Store and the iPads can only be used in the classroom.
Sosa said the class isn’t completely exiling books, pens and notebooks from the classroom, but that the iPad is simply an additional tool that will be integrated in the curriculum to help students on a more personal level.
“If a student has a question about a word or something they don’t understand, they have the ability to go on Google and look it up themselves,” Sosa said. “We do the research together and learn together.”
Ananda Persaud, 40, mother of 11-year-old Kayla, who received an iPad today, has mixed feelings toward the new technology being introduced to her daughter.
“I’m a little wary because I wonder, what about manuals and textbooks,” said the mother of three from Ozone Park. “But my kids know a lot about technology, they even teach me, so I’m supportive.
Sebastian Araya, 11, of South Ozone Park, admitted he would probably take fewer notes with a pen and paper but that the iPad would still do more good than harm for him.
“I need more help in math, so I can use the iPad to play math games,” Araya said. “It’s different because I’m learning in a fun way.”
Shortly before lunchtime, other students peeked into Sosa’s classroom to witness their friends turning a new page in their school’s history with the simple touch of a finger.
It really seemed as if everyone at The 3rd Annual Tang’s Natural NYC Dumpling Festival had died and gone to heaven. A succulent, sweet and spicy heaven.
The event, held at Sara D. Roosevelt Park Sept. 17 in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, featured a variety of foods such as lamb and potato dumplings from Elsewhere, the spiced apple dumplings of Ivy Bakery and Mediterranean inspired chicken liver ravioli via Bistro de la Gare.
“My favorite was the chicken momo,” said Leanne Bui, 24, of Bayside, Queens. “Everything here tastes phenomenal and inspires me to try and make my own dumplings at home.”
Terry Tang, CEO of TMI Food Group, and Debbie Kellogg, director of business development for the Food Bank For New York City, made opening remarks before the official dumpling-slicing ceremony kicked off the festivities, including two very steamy eating contests that put both contenders and the crowd in a frenzy.
An adjudicator from Guinness World Records attended to preside over attempts to set the “Most Dumplings Eaten in 2 Minutes” record. Contest rules were simple enough: no water, no condiments and competitors were to only eat one dumpling at a time, showing judges an empty mouth after each bite.
One eater used the strategy of time. Placing one dumpling in his mouth, rapidly chewing, then showing the judge he had swallowed was the key to his success.
“It was definitely difficult, but I am beyond happy that I got to set the new world record,” said 39-year-old champion Seth Grudberg, of Riverdale in the Bronx. “It pales a little in comparison to the other contest but it feels great.”
Grudberg triumphed over 11 other contestants in the race, indulging in 18 steamed pork dumplings to set the record.
“I don’t know how he did it,” said Brenda Oliveras, 45, of Austin, Texas. “It looks easy when you watch, but I’m sure if I was up there, I wouldn’t have done so well.”
The Chef One Dumpling Contest followed, and was divided into two separate challenges: one for men and another for women, bringing together a total of 50 competitors ready to devour and defeat. Some entered as a challenge brought upon them by friends and others just for fun and a free meal. But only one could leave full, satisfied and with the $1,000 check.
For the men’s division, 42-year-old Joseph Menchetti reigned supreme, breaking his record last year and winning with an astonishing 69 dumplings.
“I didn’t eat for 18 hours straight to prep for this,” said Menchetti of Cheshire, Connecticut. “It’s a speed contest that requires mostly natural talent and unfortunately this is my specialty.”
The champion added that although he has taken the lead for the past six years, he was a bit wary this time due to a sudden change in the menu.
“Last year we had regular dumplings and this year they switched to whole wheat, which is harder to chew, so I was a little anxious.”
Representing the women, six-time champion Floria Lee of Woodside, Queens defeated 20 other ladies and also held on to her title with a record 38 dumplings.
Second and third-place winners in both divisions each received $400 and $300, respectively.
The festival continued with Polynesian dancing by Lei Pasifika and festivalgoers continued to sample dumplings and mingle before calling it a day.
“This is my first time here,” said 30-year-old Sarah Nguyen of Harlem, Manhattan. “I love that there are different restaurants, not just Asian ones, that put their own spin on dumplings.”
She said that the festival’s good cause of benefiting the food bank also prompted her to attend.
“You don’t only get to feel physically satisfied in the end, but mentally and emotionally too knowing that your money is going to others that are hungry too and more in need,” she said. “That’s what is so great about this, everyone helps each other.”
The curly, red locks of a child emerged from the crowd not because of its shade or style, but because it was the only head lifted high as the rest were bowed in respect of those who lost their lives ten years ago on September 11, 2001.
“I don’t bow my head because I like to look up at the sky and think they’re all looking down here,” said 10-year-old Aleiah Rosario, who came with her mother from Sydney, Australia.
“Ten years ago I gave birth to my little one here,” Kaleah Rosario, 34, said as she pat the head of her daughter, dressed from head-to-toe in red, white and blue to perfectly match the American flag clutched in her hand. “I saved enough to make the trip here to show her that her birthday has so much more meaning to it, that it isn’t just about cake and balloons.”
Despite long security lines and terror threats, throngs of people gathered along Church and Murray Streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ceremony, attended by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
At 8:54 a.m., the name-reading ceremony began. Relatives spoke aloud each name of the nearly 3,000 victims in addition to those killed in the 1993 World Trade Center attack. Many of the names were read by children, some recalling fond memories of a lost parent and others tearing as they vowed to “never forget.”
“It really adds something personal,” said Jeung Lee, 23 of Canarsie, Brooklyn as she wiped tears. “You really see the emotions, the pain, the sadness and everything in their eyes as they read the names and it just strikes you.”
A bell to signify when United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower marked the second moment of silence at 9:03 a.m. President George W. Bush then read a letter written by Abraham Lincoln to a widow who had lost her five sons in the Civil War. At this, 42-year-old Stella Cappallicci of Florence, Italy began to cry as she remembered this was the exact moment terror unleashed right before her eyes.
“I was here, visiting New York City for the first time 10 years ago,” Cappallicci said. “Then I was crying because I was so scared and fearful for my life, but now I cry just thinking of all the people that day, especially the ones who helped get me to safety. I never got a chance to say thank you.”
Four more pauses followed – the time when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon, the moment when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, and the times each tower fell.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in addition to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former mayor Rudy Giuliani all did short readings.
San Francisco native Don Paramo, 52, said his first trip to the city today would forever hold a special place his heart.
“Usually when people think of New York the first thing they think of is bright lights or diversity,” he said as he held the hand of his wife, Dana, 53. “But this is something that will come to my mind every time I’m asked that question. It’s something that surpasses every other memory I have of this city.”