Volume 20 Issue 20 | Sept. 28 - Oct. 04, 2007

Downtown Express photos by Elizabeth Proitsis

Thiru Kumar a.k.a. the “Dosa Man” of Washington Square South is vying for the Vendy Awards championship.

2 Downtown vendors vie for the city title

By Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke

There is a surprising variety and art to street food, and there is more than soggy hotdogs on the menu at many lunchtime carts.

On Sat., Sept. 29, the Street Vendor Project will celebrate the inexpensive, intricately prepared food around the city with the third annual Vendy Awards cook-off in Tompkins Square Park.

Loyal customers nominate their favorite food vendors, and the five vendors with the most nominations become finalists. The finalists compete during a cook-off event, and a panel of judges chooses the winner. Criteria include flavor, portability and charisma of the chef.

This year, two of the five finalists are Downtown favorites. Thiru “Dosa Man” Kumar from Washington Square is entering his third year as a finalist, while Veronica Julien, from Front and Pine Sts. in the Financial District, is a newcomer to the festivities.

“The ‘Dosa Man’ is like the Susan Lucci of the Vendys,” said Jaclyn Kessel, who is in charge of public relations for the awards. “Like Scorsese, this just might be his year.”

“It would be nice to win, but it will be fun no matter what because I love what I do,” said Kumar.

Kumar is famous for his vegan South Indian food that he sells from his cart on Washington Square Park South. A long line forms by noon for the various forms of pancakes with vegetable and potato fillings, exotic sauces and appetizers. Particularly popular appetizers include a soy protein “drumstick” on a piece of sugar cane and the classic samosas.

Regulars flock to the cart, and Kumar remembers who likes which specialty, and how much spice each person prefers. Kumar has received a great deal of publicity, and newspaper clippings adorn his cart.

“I have been written up in 48 countries, and I am listed in guidebooks and airline magazines. People come here from all over the world,” said Kumar.

During a sunny Monday at lunchtime, waiting among the crowd was an Indian computer graphics student at New York University and his two visitors.

“When friends come from India, this is the first place I take them,” said the student. “This food is very authentic, but where I am from it is usually served as breakfast.”

Other regulars included an environmentally minded recent N.Y.U. graduate who brings his own container, and Kumar’s volunteer assistants.

“On my good days I am a vegan, and I used to come here to eat once or twice a week,” said Gina Telaroi, a filmmaker who has a day job at N.Y.U. “Then I started coming here more because it makes so much sense. It is inexpensive, healthy, tasty and I like to support a local business. One day I started helping Kumar serve food.” Now, Telaroi comes during her lunch break, in exchange for what she calls “the best free lunch.”

Further Downtown, Veronica Julien serves her native Trinidadian food to a hungry Wall St. crowd. Her specialties include oxtail and goat curry, jerk chicken and a variety of tasty sides.

More soft-spoken than her fellow nominee, Julien has a big sign in the front of her cart for the Vendys with “Finalist” written over it.

Julien serves around 75 people a day, and her regulars are very enthusiastic about her nomination.

“She is the champion selection!” said Mir Niles, a driver for FreshDirect who makes it a point to stop at Veronica’s Kitchen as often as possible.

“I am very much excited for the awards,” said Julien. “It will be a big surprise. I do not know what to expect.”

The Vendy Awards are the annual fundraiser for the Street Vendor Project of the Urban Justice Center. Sean Basinski worked as a street vendor while attending Georgetown University Law School, and came to understand the difficulties that vendors face. After law school, he began the Street Vendor Project to advocate on their behalf.

Last year, the Vendy Awards raised $12,000 for the project, and Basinski is hoping this year will be even more successful. Tickets cost $60 dollars in advance and $75 at the event. The Vendy Awards are all you can eat between 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and offer a great deal of entertainment. The judges panel includes Village Voice gossip columnist Michael Musto, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and political activist and comedian Mo Rocca, as well as notable foodies.

To buy tickets online, enter in the browser.

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