There’s too much heat — and not enough ice — at the taco stands at the Red Hook soccer fields.
The beloved Latin American food vendors who sell mouth-watering delicacies each weekend at Red Hook Park have found themselves in the center of a new kind of feeding frenzy, one that will take more than an ear of roasted corn and a few goat tacos to resolve.
First, it was the city’s Parks Department that descended on the 18 mom and pop vendors with news that they would have to compete with other food purveyors — including deep-pocketed corporations — for the right to sell food at the fields. There were regulations to uphold! Permits to sell! Rules that must be followed! And so it went.
Foodies cried that the sale of the permits would endanger a dying breed of authentic papusa. Salsa-lovers everywhere decried the Parks Department enforcers for a lack of heart — and taste buds. “Fight the power! Save the Soccer Tacos!” screamed the Web site, whitetrashbbq.com. Even Sen. Chuck Schumer ate a chimichanga in solidarity.
Then, the Health Department woke up.
As it turns out, the city’s rat-chasing food-service inspectors were shocked — shocked! — to find that the vendors had been grilling meat and frying tacos at the park for the last 30 years. So while, the vendors have paid annual permit fees of about $10,000 to operate in the park, they never received food-service permits, or the training that such permits entail.
You know what that means — inspection time!
Two weeks ago, Health inspectors invaded the field, clipboard, thermometers and all. And as it turns out, the main problem seems to be inadequate supplies of ice, according to vendors who received directions for getting their stands up to code.
“They are mostly worried about making sure the [uncooked] meat is cold enough. Everyone is going to have to keep more ice,” said Fabian Perez, who runs a popular taco stand with his mother.
Perez and others said that getting up to code would mean small investments in new coolers, more dry ice and possibly, portable sinks. (Already, one portable hand-washing sink has been installed, a plastic contraption with a pedal-operated faucet and a built-in paper-towel dispenser.)
Vendors will also have to obtain food-service permits and start preparing their food in city-inspected commercial kitchens, not at home, a spokeswoman for the Health Department said.
But as with any cloud, there is a silver lining. In this case, the lining is actually black and yellow and chocolate all over.
As I learned last week from vendor Umberto Carrilo, platano cubierto de chocolate — the chocolate banana, to all you “Arrested Development” fans — is an essential component of the Guatemalan summer that has been sorely missed on the ballfields. “It’s never been cold enough to keep them frozen,” Carrilo explained.
With more ice in the cooler that will change and summer will be just that much sweeter.
Ariella Cohen, a Red Hook resident, is a staff reporter of The Brooklyn Paper.
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