At 5:30 pm, in the pattering drizzle of the approaching month of April, a crowd emerges from the subway at West 4th Street rumbling like a train onto Avenue of the Americas. Among them are residents of the area, those who have come for the films at IFC, and the happy-hour-day drinkers that gather around downtown for “thirsty Thursday”. A group of 30 people linger on the sidewalk, spread out between Golden Swan Garden’s short black fence and “the Cage.” Some are standing alone, checking BBM’s or playing on their Nintendo DS 3Ds, while others are paired off, but there is something uniting this diverse mix of adults. On March 31st, a food truck would bring in food from Pentos, a fictional land from the “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series by George R.R. Martin, and these fans are hoping to be the first to get a taste.
If the books don’t sound familiar, “A Game of Thrones,” might. It is the name of the first book of the series, but moreover, the newest show in the HBO lineup set to premiere on April 17th. Since the announcement of the show, Martin’s book sales are approaching triple digit growth in year-to-year sales, according to “Thrones Tomes Selling Big” in Variety. In the United States alone the books have reportedly sold 4.5 million copies, according to the publisher, Bantam books, in the article.
The promotional food trucks were, in the tradition of an Easter, set up as a scavenger hunt. The rules were simple: check the “Game of Thrones” Facebook or Twitter page between March 28th and April 1st, show up to the destination by 6:00pm, find the cart, and be among the first 300 in line. The location of the trucks and the food varied daily from Astor Place on Tuesday, where “The Riverlands” green goodness came to life, to Lincoln Center on Wednesday, where food from “The Wall” could be sampled.
By 6:30 pm on Thursday, the Pentos truck had yet to arrive at West 4th. The HBO crew, identifiable only by their “Game of Thrones” t-shirts, had already ushered the masses, now numbering in the hundreds, into a four-person-wide line that wrapped around the corner of the garden. The grumbling was almost audible by the time the truck arrived, and talk of the week’s meals started simultaneously among the crowd.
“Of the three that I’ve tried, my favorite dish has to be the squab,” said Kat Baek, a sophomore at Baruch College, now on her third hunt for the cart. “The lemon cakes were served every day [but] the taste never got old,” she added, taking refuge underneath a Burberry patterned umbrella.
When the black truck was parked, the day’s menu was handed out. The more hardcore fans on the line attempted to decode the puzzle embedded in it. “Apples to oranges,” announced a crew member.
“It means you have to fold the apples to oranges in the menu to find the hidden message,” said Joseph DeSimone, an avid fan of the series and Senior at Baruch College. “I’m not even going to try,” DeSimone added, worn from the hour long wait in the rain.
The first dish was the spice roasted duck with dates, buttered turnips, cabbage and juniper. The second option was the Lamb Flatbread with chickpeas and purple olives. As usual, the dishes were to be accompanied by the “famous” lemon cakes. The books themselves are refered to as “tomes” for good reason, as they are detailed accounts of this fictional world, even when describing the meals.
“In the book they talk about this buttered cabbage and turnip dish,” said the meals architect Tom Colicchio (Top Chef)in an interview for the ‘Thrones’ Facebook page. “Pentos is an area more east, sort of a lot of spices are there, and so I want to use a lot of spices,” added Colicchio. This was evident in the duck, which mixed coriander, fennel seed, red/white/black pepper, and cardamom in its spice sauce to awaken the taste buds. The lamb flatbread was just as full of flavor. The thin piece of flatbread was surprisingly not brittle but more suprising was how well cooked the shredded lamb was in a food truck. The combination of its spices mixed the coolness of the chickpeas and the tartness of the olives gave the dish a perfect balance.
“I wish there was a permanent one,” commented Baek, referring to the food truck as she enjoyed her free lemon cake in the shelter of the subway.