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August 2005
Feeding Urban Critters: Vegan Eats on the Streets
The Satya Interview with Thiru Kumar

 

Photo by Mark Wells

Warmer weather brings New Yorkers out and about in the city’s parks to enjoy concerts, outdoor films and other leisure activities. Summer street fairs also bring a variety of fun—and eats—to the streets. While New York vegans are spoiled with a plentitude of accessible and diverse dining options, we often miss out on street vendor fare, typically consisting of hot dogs, burgers, and buttery, honey-laden nuts. Even when opting for a vegetarian falafel, we risk potential shish kebab contamination.

Sri Lankan chef, Thiru Kumar, however, provides a most exciting alternative in street eats. Operating NY Dosas, a 100 percent vegan street cart in Washington Square Park, Thiru’s specialties are varieties of dosa—a south Indian rice crepe—served with spicy sambar soup and coconut chutney. Dosa, however, is not the only thing Thiru provides. South Indian treats like adai, idly, vada, and utthapam are available, as well as a spicy roti curry. If these dishes are unfamiliar to you, just ask Thiru—he’ll explain and recommend something perfect for you. For something quick on the go, pre-made and delicious samosas ($1) roti rolls ($2) and veggie drumsticks ($1) work well. The best part is everything on the menu is under $5.

Most of Thiru’s many customers are regulars and he surprisingly can anticipate their daily cravings by predicting their orders in advance. Yet, veg*ns aren’t the only ones enjoying Thiru’s fare. NY Dosa has won awards and accolades for best slow food, street eats and sidewalk dining. During peak lunch hours, as many as 60 people patiently wait in line for up to 40 minutes for their meal. Don’t be discouraged though, the average wait is usually less, and having your delectable dosa created in front of you and served with Thiru’s endearing smile always makes the wait worthwhile. The line is usually shorter if you come before 12:30 or after two p.m., but if you are in a rush, you can call your order in ahead of time. Thiru also caters, and whether it be a wedding or an NYU campus event, NY Dosas will provide scrumptious fare for your occasion.

Satya staff ventured to Washington Square Park and sampled a mix of Thiru’s magic. In between flipping dosas, heating roti rolls and catching up with his regular customers, Thiru Kumar talked with Sangamithra Iyer about the joys of running a vegan street cart and the path that led him there.

I understand you started this cart about four years ago. What were you doing before then?
All kinds of stuff, from working construction, to being a mechanic and working in restaurants. I used to be a chef for Dosa Hut in Queens. Back in Sri Lanka, I used to be a swimming and diving instructor. I would take the kids to the water and would have to feed them. When you swim you get very hungry. That’s when I learned to cook.

So what is the most popular item here?

Pondicherry dosa—[a rice crepe filled with potatoes, vegetables and spices]—is the most famous one. The Jaffna dosa [a specialty from Jaffna, Sri Lanka] is really great, but only the regulars know about that one.

How many dosas do you make a day?
It’s hard to say. I usually bring enough food to feed 200 people every day. Sometimes more. When I run out of food, I pack up and leave.

Do you ever get tired? How do you keep that smile on your face?
No. I love what I do. I want to do something different. That’s why I started this pushcart, rather than [working those] other jobs. I’m the only one in the United States and Canada doing this on the streets—100 percent vegan food and drink.

So why vegan?
Because most of my friends are vegan. I’m turning vegan too now. I’ve come to know what’s good. Vegan is better—very healthy and very good.

And I like to sell good vegan food in the streets.

And vegans are excited to have your delicious vegan food on the streets. Do you incorporate vegan outreach into your cart?
Yeah. I donate food to the [animal rights club] at NYU. People ask me questions about why vegan and I hand out fliers about it.

What is your favorite part of your job?
I like everything—the people I meet every day, being outside. I don’t like to work inside a kitchen in a restaurant. I receive many offers to work in restaurants, but that’s not what I want to do. I love to work here. It’s healthy food and I’m happy that people can see what they eat made right in front of them.

NY Dosas is located at Washington Square Park South and Sullivan Street. Thiru’s cart is open year-round Monday through Friday and some Saturdays, approximately 11:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. (Times subject to change with the seasons.) To learn more contact NYdosas@yahoo.com or (917) 710-2092.

 

 


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