D.C. Streets Smell More Like Shwarma, Less Like Smog
So we may not have the Vendy Awards quite yet, but Washington, D.C., has been playing ketchup in the street vendor cuisine department. Ever since last October, when the city lifted a ten-year moratorium limiting entrepreneurs to certain appliances and food-prep processes, more than 300 prospective vendors have applied for permits downtown, the Washington Post reports this week. Of the 300, only 21 have actually been authorized by city officials. But baby steps, right?
While old laws didn't leave room for creativity—just your dime-a-dozen boiled half-smokes and packaged 'tato crisps—we've now got shwarma, wings, fancy coffees, "pasties" (not to be confused with those kind) and Korean barbecue in our stars. The Post focused on Delle & Campbell's Halal Luncheonette, the new vendor selling $7 pitas filled with spit-roasted chicken and spicy lamb sausage. Nary a word actually critiqued the street meat (does it even taste good?) but maybe that's not the point. Just having the new kid on the block is newsworthy.
While this genesis of a tasty, downtown street vendor scene is exciting, there's still plenty of work ahead. Organizing educational clinics about the legal rights of vendors, and just covering the basics (like how to set up every morning) would be helpful. The new, less-than-perfect system has even inspired longtime vendors to call it quits. Before the moratorium went into effect, 1,200 carts roamed the streets; now there are just 200. The Washington Post called this "a stark decline." "Crazy stark" might be more accurate. We could sure use New York's Street Vendor Project, the Urban Justice Centersponsored program dedicated to the community education, legal services, and political organizing of street vendors.
In the meantime, check out the nifty map provided by the Post, locating new neighbors on the public sidewalk. Sigh. Still no signs of the dumpling dude or pot pie proprietor.
About the author: Erin Zimmer, Serious Eats's Washington, D.C., correspondent, is a just-graduated Georgetown gal following her nose about town as Washingtonian magazine's Dining intern and Best Bites blogger. She got her start as the Hoya campus paper's food columnist, and since entering "real person-hood" has ached for her dining hall's omelet station.