Each year since 2005, the Vendy Awards has been crowning a street food slinger with the coveted Vendy Cup. The event is meant not only to showcase the city’s best street food, but also to raise awareness of the challenges and harassment these cart and truck operators routinely face as they try to launch small businesses and enrich the food culture of our streets.
The 2011 Vendy Awards were held this past weekend on Governor’s Island. This year’s finalists included Brooklyn-based Solber Pupusas, of Red Hook Ballfields and Flea/Smorgasburg fame; as well as Tamales Guadalupe, a cart specializing in traditional and Oaxacan varieties of the Mexican specialty – you’ll find Guadalupe Galacia, (aka the tamale lady), at Knickerbocker and Dekalb, also in Brooklyn.
Manhattan-based finalists included Eggstravaganza, a Mexican-style cart specializing in, yes, egg sandwiches at 52nd and Park; Chimichury El Malecon, slingers of Chimis, a Dominican-style hamburger, at West 207th St and Sherman Avenue; Souvlaki GR, a truck serving traditional Greek street food at Old Slip and Front St.; Trini-Paki Boys Halal Food, specialists in Trinidadian/Pakistani fare at 43rd and 6th; and Sam’s Falafel, a falafel cart at Cedar St. and Broadway. You can find more details on each of the finalists on the Vendy’s website.
The winner? The mighty Solber Pupusas took the 2011 Vendy Cup. We recently interviewed Solber’s Reina Soler - her story is a fascinating one.
Reina, Where in El Salvador are you from?
I am from the Eastern part of El Salvador called San Miguel. San Miguel is one of the happiest parts of El Salvador! We are famous because we have a carnival celebrating the end of the year in the middle of November. It is more joyful than you can imagine! The people dance in the street and in the parks! The weather is hot, but we have very beautiful beaches nearby. We are an hour from the border with Honduras.
Why did you leave?
What made me leave my country, practically speaking, was that during this time there was a war. I had to emigrate because the situation was really bad. My main fear was for my son. And, well, I said to myself, I have to leave, because really it was not possible, it was not possible to live peacefully in El Salvador. I left above all for the well-being of my son.
How did you decide to get involved with food? Did you have experience?
For us, in El Salvador, the pupusa is the typical food. You eat it in the morning for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner. It made me think, if we like it so much, then also we can introduce it here so people can taste how good it is.
Above all when I came to this country and I missed our food…I think that is when I developed a greater love for our cuisine. And not knowing about where to eat a pupusa or tamale, this made me learn how to cook.
What is your dream for the future?
To have a restaurant! Here in Brooklyn. In Red Hook or in this area (Fort Greene) or the place where we have the other Flea, in Williamsburg. Yes, this is my dream.
It motivates me even more when people come and ask me “When are you going to have your restaurant?” I say “Very soon!” It gives me more strength to realize my dream.
Here’s the full interview with Reina.