Monday, May 18, 2009

Red Hook: New York's Latin Street Food Mecca

Latin food vendor and Red Hook, Brooklyn seems to be synonymous in NYC's food world these days. Our much-anticipated visit to the Red Hook Ball fields was finally fulfilled last weekend.
Note that the bold text is on purpose, since “filled” is an understatement because we were determined to taste as much as possible and may have crossed the line into gluttony.

The Red Hook Latin food vendors have built up quite a reputation in recent years and have earned a following of Brooklynites and Manhattanites alike. Now we can add Queensites (doesn't sound as cool huh?) to the list.

As we approached, my heart raced and I had butterflies in my stomach that were soon going to be drowned by aguas frescas (fresh waters). These are Mexican drinks that are similar to iced tea in that they are water based with a combination of different natural ingredients from fruits to flowers. I ordered my favorite, horchata, which is made with rice, almonds, cinnamon and vanilla. It has that nutty soymilk feel from the rice but it's much tastier and refreshing. Jaquie ordered jamaica (hibiscus) pronounced ha-my-ka. I, of course, asked for a few large gulps before she could drink it all. It tasted like a natural flower cool-aid if you can imagine that.

We walked up and down the block trying to choose wisely and decided to wait on the longest line. We figured people must have been waiting for a reason. So, we waited to savor the Salvadorian pupusas (thick tortillas stuffed with cheese, meat, beans or loroco). Loroco was a new discovery for us. It's a flower grown in El Salvador and used in many native dishes. I get excited when I find new food; it fuels our exciting journey to discover the less known culinary treasures in Latin America and expose them to the world.

As we patiently waited, I couldn't help my urges to try something from the lonelier Guatemalan cart next door. I asked a couple if I could take a picture of the enchiladas (above). They looked great, but they’ll have to wait for another visit. I was more curious to try another food that was new to us. A small handwritten sign read, "we sell pacayas". Pacaya is a bitter flower with stems resembling squid tentacles. It must be an acquired taste because it has an incredibly strong pungent aftertaste. The bitterness lingers for a while. It’s definitely a one-time deal for me, though the sauce was great and frying it helped hide the bitterness a little. Jaquie also mentioned she would use less onions to decrease the bitter flavor and add extra tomato-y sauce for the sweetness. For the record I'm a fan of extra sauce!

We finally made it to the front of the pupusa line and were enthralled at the instinctual flow of the women preparing the meal. They grab the stuffing, place it inside the doe and roll it together until it's flat and round then smack it on the grill in less than 10 seconds.

We had a loroco and a pork pupusa, both also stuffed with cheese. They were very delectable paired with a ton of pickled jalapeƱos, pickled cabbage, heavy cream and salsa. The pupusas themselves were like meat stuffed tortilla pancakes with the doe still moist inside. A different experience that is sure to become more popular as the world is exposed to this Salvadorian delicacy. It definitely made believers out of us.

We finished the feast with the Mexican truck and indulged in a huarache, which in this case was essentially a HUGE taco. This huarache was too messy for a picture but just imagine a Monster Taco! On Jaquie's authenticity scale, the Red Hook huarache scores a 4 because what should’ve been a corn based dough that is slightly thicker than a tortilla was just a giant flour tortilla instead.

We also shared a taco al pastor (spicy pork taco), which was one of the better tacos i've tasted in New York. The chiles de arbol (dried tree chilis) were deliciously soaked in olive oil and salt. It's curious to know that these "tree chilis" are actually not grown on trees.

I wanted to take some shrimp ceviche to go from the Chilean cart, but early bird brooklynites had beaten me to the punch. I made the lady at the cart promise to bring more next time.

The Colombian truck, while lively with the loud music, was lonely and had a variety of typical fried Colombian dishes. A little creativity would probably attract more customers. I suggested they make the milk-based fruit juices that I grew up loving.

Though we were expecting more carts from all the hype, the experience was fantastic. I would recommend going with a few friends and spending a few hours on the picnic tables munching away the afternoon.
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  1. Dude, that sounds awesome! I have to go check it out soon. Hopefully they'll have the shrimp ceviche.

  2. I love pacaya! as you said, it is the perfect description of the Pacaya: a bitter flower with stems resembling squid tentacles. And YES, it is an acquired taste, none in my family eats it... and I have to suffer :-) eating my "Pacayas envueltas en huevo",

  3. Dude learn how to spell "dough" not "Doe" (a deer a baby deer).

  4. One of these vendors in "Reh-who" (we have a thick accent) just when an award for great, fresh authentic food.