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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Halal Guys

As soon as I moved to New York, my friend KC posted on Facebook that I had to eat at the Halal Guys cart at 53rd and 6th.
Here's what she wrote: Their carts serve THE BEST street food I've ever eaten (and I'm a big fan of street food the world over)! The menu is pretty limited. You get rice, "salad," pita, and sauce, plus chicken, falafel, or lamb (or maybe it's a lamb/beef gyro-style hybrid). You can also get these items wrapped up as a sandwich (but not all three of their carts do this). Their white sauce and hot sauce must contain trace amounts of crack, though, and the smell of the meat cooking will pull you down the street like a cartoon character floating along, led by the nose.

Tody was a perfect day to venture out into the neighborhood around my office. (In fact, it was such a nice day, I took a new route into work (via the 1 train along Seventh Avenue) and enjoyed a stroll down 50th Street for a change of scenery.) But before I left the office, I got a little overwhelmed when I started Googling to make sure I located the right cart.

KC had warned me (as she'd been warned) that there are Halal Guys "fakes" who troll nearby. Turns out there is an entire Wikipedia entry devoted to the topic, and the "myths of the most famous chicken and rice intersection in New York City" are the subject of intense online discussion and debate.
Off to the southeast corner of the intersection I went (the more famous original cart on the southwest corner is on a late p.m. schedule). I knew I was in the right place when I saw the queue:
It took me 20 minutes to get to the front of the line, and wouldn't you know it -- today was the one day I didn't have anything to read in my purse! Nevertheless, let's simulate the wait with some more fun facts I learned while researching my lunch...
A 2007 Times article headlined "Decline of the Dog" noted halal may have trumped the hot dog as New Yorkers' street food of choice. If you're curious like me, perhaps you're wondering: what does halal mean anyway?

The term halal may be applied to any food prepared in accordance with the laws of the Koran, although in New York the term has taken on special connotations: oily chunks of chicken or gyro meat, yellowish rice, some scraps of lettuce, hot sauce and, of course, the mysterious substance known as white sauce. 
The guy was quite chatty when I ordered my combination plate. I was curious how much it would cost since there were no prices posted. Quite a bargain for $6, including a Diet Pepsi. I went to a little courtyard across from MoMa to dig in.
As with most highly-hyped experiences, I had great expectations, so I wouldn't say I was dazzled. But it was tasty, and KC was right about the heavenly smell that wafts down the street. (Also, I definitely should have gotten more of the crack sauce.) A cheap, filling midday meal -- I honestly think it was a good three servings' worth. I'll be back!

P.S. for my Alabama readers, I can't resist mentioning I had flashbacks to the famous white BBQ sauce at Big Bob Gibson's in Decatur...

1 comment:

sherry said...

Cart cuisine? Who knew? Well, probably all of NYC...but from the sticks in the midwest - it seems like an unlikely culinary adventure - and of such fame as to be in wickepedia!? I am amazed. Imagining that the greatest majority of those standing in line are "true" New Yorkers and very few on line would be tourists.