Vegan Dosa Cart Crowned Street-Food Champion Thiru "Dosa Man" Kumar's vegan cart won New York City's Third Annual Vendy Awards on Saturday. Muhammed Rahman, winner of the People's Choice award, tells how it's done, and Judge Mo Rocca talks about the joys of street food.
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Vegan Dosa Cart Crowned Street-Food Champion

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Vegan Dosa Cart Crowned Street-Food Champion

Vegan Dosa Cart Crowned Street-Food Champion

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You know, living in New York is sort of tough, but there is one thing that makes your life a lot better. Every street you walk down, there are at least four different guys that will sell you some insanely good thing that they cooked on like a tiny one-square-inch burner.


There's all these street vendors. A lot of different places have them. When I was - lived in Providence, it was the silver truck on the corner of Thayer and John Street. That's where you knew to go get great sandwiches.

BURBANK: Yeah, there was this one hotdog cart in Seattle off of Market Street in Ballard, had the best hotdogs. Although, whenever you were there, it was late in the evening. You'd probably had a few, so that might have influenced…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: …how good the stuff tasted. Well, on Saturday, New York's finest street-food chefs squared off for the Third Annual Vendy Awards. The competition between street vendors was a fundraiser for the Urban Justice Street Vendors Project, which is a group that provides advocacy and legal help for vendors and some other groups in need. At the end of a four-hour cook-off in Tompkins Square Park…

STEWART: I was there for the whole thing.

BURBANK: …only four of the five competitors remained. Alison, you and your bride Bill were there, trying lots of foods…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: …and was it more than once? Let's hear some of the competitors.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. THIRU KUMAR (Owner, NY Dosas): I'm (unintelligible) Thiru Kumar. I have a vegetarian vegan stand called NY Dosas. Turn out a good vegan lunch, the big ones, like crepes and wraps and stuff.

Ms. VERONICA JULIEN (Owner, Veronica's Kitchen): My name is Veronica Julien. I do American West Indian cooking. My specialties are Jerk Chicken, Oxtail, Macaroni and Cheese, Potato Salad.

Mr. MUHAMMED RAHMAN (Owner, Kwik Meal): I'm Muhammed Rahman. I own the Kwik Meal on Sixth Avenue and 42th Street. This is (unintelligible) freshly from our country Bangladesh. I use all the fresh ingredients of cumin, coriander, black pepper, all these, I buy the whole and I (unintelligible) it and I grind it and then I use it.

STEWART: Okay, as you could see, it was international fair. There were two big winners: the judges' winner and the people's choice winner. We don't want to break the surprise, but we do want to talk to one of the judges from the event. That, of course, is Mo Rocca, the man behind and a TV personality. So Mo, what are some of the categories you were asked to judge?

Mr. MO ROCCA (Comedian, TV and Radio Host): Well, we were asked to judge portability…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROCCA: …presentation - certainly, taste. Messiness was a factor in my vote, because I was dressed very beautifully. I wore gorgeous linen suit from Paul Stewart. And I…

STEWART: Can I just say that Mo looked like Thurston Howell if the Easter Bunny was his stylist. You had on butter yellow pants and a turquoise blazer in that red judge's sash.

Mr. ROCCA: Well, now then, and Easter is the appropriate comparison, because I did look like the second coming. I mean, I looked terrific.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROCCA: And so, and I wanted to see if - I did it intentionally to see if I'd get stained, and I didn't at all, so that was a real testament to all of the competitors. But, and obviously, taste and quickness were important factors as well.

STEWART: What about - some of the judges went out on a limb a little bit. Veronica, for her Trinidadian Kitchen cart, she gave you oxtail. Did you give points for originality?

Mr. ROCCA: I did. However, the oxtail was a little bit tough. I thought her Jerk Chicken was terrific, and I loved the way she looked. She had a great head wrap on. She looked terrific, and she was very, very friendly and the Jerk Chicken was good. The oxtail - a little bit tough.

STEWART: There was a little bit of drama. The Super Taco Truck left early.

Mr. ROCCA: Yeah. What happened - there are lot of different theories. What actually happened is Lou Dobbs showed up. And so…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: Well, we do have "Broken Borders," Mo. You can't forget that.

Mr. ROCCA: Exactly. And she just tore out of there. No, I felt terrible about that. I think that - in fact, she should have been given extra points because she apparently had such a long line, and that, you know, they basically ran out of food. And then, you know, at that point, I think they just said, you know, forget it, we're not going to win, and took off. Which is too bad. I never even got to try her tacos.

STEWART: All right. We're going to - Mo, I'm going to ask you to hold on, on the line because we do have the winner of the people's choice in our studio.

Mr. ROCCA: Wow.

STEWART: We won't hold you in suspense any longer. It's Muhammed Rahman of Kwik Meal, who has brought some of the delicious-smelling food into the studio.

Mr. RAHMAN: I love being here.

STEWART: Muhammed, congratulations on your people's choice award.

Mr. RAHMAN: Thank you, thank you.

STEWART: The people love you. What was your strategy? What did you serve that made people so happy? What did you make?

Mr. RAHMAN: I was serving to the people chicken, lamb and falafel on a pita bread. And, you know, as I - all I served, everything was fresh, mixed and spiced, cooked on (unintelligible) butter.

BURBANK: This is amazing.

Mr. RAHMAN: Was it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Luke is chowing down, we should say in the middle of this segment.

BURBANK: I ought to tell you, this is like, I don't know, like a street meat explosion in my mouth.

Mr. ROCCA: I have to tell you, just quite seriously, not only are the Kwik Meals absolutely delicious, but seriously, if you are dressed even nicely all, it is a great meal to have. I'm serious - the portability is amazing. These things, he puts everything together, you could put them in, on the inside of your jacket pocket and you would not get stained. I mean, they're such little nifty meals.

STEWART: Now, Muhammed, you are a trained chef. Tell people the very fancy restaurant where you used to work.

Mr. RAHMAN: I used to work in the Russian Tea Room. That was my last job. I was their sous-chef.

STEWART: And what made you decide to go and get your own cart, to leave the Russian Tea Room?

Mr. RAHMAN: I wanted to open a restaurant, but I was thinking how to serve the best food, but the price cannot be very high. In the restaurant, all is overheaded high, so you cannot sell the food cheap. That way, I was thinking that if I can do something overhead, how can I make it lower? so I thought if it was something on the street, I don't have to pay the rent.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: So you're a good cook and a smart man. Muhammed, congratulations on your People's Choice Vendy Award.

(Soundbite of applause)

BURBANK: Hey, Muhammed, what's the - what are the cross streets? Where is your cart at?

Mr. RAHMAN: I'm on Sixth Avenue and 45th Street.

STEWART: And Mo Rocca, thank you for your culinary expertise and your sartorial (unintelligible).

BURBANK: Mo, where is your cart?

Mr. ROCCA: I need to get one. And I'll tell you, you know, Muhammed, if you want to win next year, you just need a constituency. The vegan guy had a lot of white people with dreadlocks. (unintelligible)…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROCCA: …it's true. They were going off to a Starbucks to throw a chair through a plate glass window afterwards.

STEWART: Mo Rocca, thank you so much. We should mention the vegan winner, (unintelligible).


Mr. ROCCA: Thanks, guys.

STEWART: All right. Thanks, everybody.

Mr. ROCCA: Bye-bye.

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