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In my day, a hot dog cost exactly one dollar. Besides the value was the benefit of never having to deal with coins. Now, street vendors charge $1.50 or more for a “dirty water dog.” And let’s take a moment to lament the Great Pizza Tax of 2004. Due to skyrocketing milk prices, a plain slice currently comes to a random $1.70 (and up to an enraging $2.25). Don’t get me started on subway rides, coffee, or bottled water.
Slices and dogs are staples of a great snacking tradition. Easily my favorite meal, the snack—a self-contained between-meal treat which need not correspond to hunger—is best enjoyed leaning at a counter, during a day of touristy walking, or immediately following any unpleasant experience (school being the classic example). Since they are small, snacks can be indulgent—this is not a meal, so it is unnecessary to bother with silly considerations such as vegetable representation. They should be fattening and extremely flavorful. But even the best seem less delicious when they don’t cost a dollar. Don’t worry, though—there’s a new snack in town.
On a Sunday trip to Queens, I parked my car on the cusp of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, a location I knew by aromas as much as anything else. Over one shoulder wafted the spices of all-you-can-eat roti. Over the other came the gristly delights of Korean BBQ. Dotted in between were pollo a la brasa (chicken roasted over coals) and Malaysian noodles. It was almost too much to take in, for a tourist who simply needed some quick, greasy fuel.
First I tried a strange concoction others were lining up for outside a Colombian diner. It was pale orange Styrofoam-like squiggles in a plastic bag. Imagine cheese doodles—hold the cheese. Flavor was added in the form of hot sauce and lemon juice, which I dribbled generously, imitating the woman in front of me. After giving the mixture a shake, I dug in with a plastic fork. Some doodles had become soggy, while others remained crisp and tasteless. I don’t totally get this snack, though it did cost a dollar.
I meandered off Broadway, down Whitney Avenue, where perfect little bundles of joy awaited. Lao Bei Fang Dumpling House is a stall featuring Northern Chinese dumplings—the city’s new quintessential snack. In the last few years, similar spots have sprung up in the Chinatowns of Manhattan and Queens. The menu is listed over the heads of the cooks who pan-fry the juicy, thick-skinned pork and chive dumplings right before your eyes. An order of four costs—you guessed it—exactly one dollar. At Manhattan’s best stall, Dumpling House, and most others, a dollar buys five, but these were larger and generously stuffed, so it seemed well worth it.