By Toby Stein (CE’18)
Created using Google Maps.
I warn you, what you are about to read will change the way you conduct your daily lives. It will push you out of your comfort zone and into new territory. It will challenge your beliefs and push you to question those you hold close to your heart. It will open your eyes to a world that you did not know existed. I am of course talking about the world of halal food.
Here I was, arriving to the big city, confident that I was cultured, and that I brought a good understanding of cuisine to university with me. Here I was, in the same shoes that some of you are, relying on the staples of Frankie’s, Ray’s, and Chipotle. No one had yet opened my eyes to the world of halal. Now, by definition, and according to a Wikipedia page, halal just means “any object or action which is permissible to use or engage in, according to Islamic law.” Yet, I assert that its most common reference is to some of the most underrated and unappreciated food in the East Village. If you have never had halal food before, this article will convince you to step out of your comfort zone and give halal a shot. If you are an avid halal consumer, this article will bolster your love for the food and give you a better understanding of the area’s best and tastiest halal trucks.
The beauty of halal trucks lies in minimalism, and the beauty of minimalism lies in simplicity. It seems these days, the more you pay for food, the less you get. I’ve never understood that framework of mind and let me just say that halal bucks that trend. Few know that Abraham Lincoln used to use his top hat to store important documents (actually true, look it up), yet most know that for a halal truck the most important document is a piece of paper with ‘ol Abe’s face emblazoned on the front.
Ordering a lamb over rice, a chicken over rice, or the I-know-what-I’m-doing-here special combo over rice, is like ordering a bed of warmth and love. You walk up to the truck; he greets you jovially and asks you how you are and what you would like. You order. You watch as he lines the bottom of the Styrofoam box with the standard bed of rice. You salivate as the rice greases the sides with butter and warms the container that will soon hold enough food to feed a small family. Anticipation builds. The surroundings go quiet: you are alone in the world with the halal truck. The chef deposits lettuce and tomatoes into one side of the box; if you are lucky and go in the winter, sometimes the tomatoes are frozen. The shrill sound of metal on metal cuts through the afternoon air as the chef fries the meat to perfection on the griddle. Using both blades, the chef heaps the meat from the griddle onto the bed of rice. Anticipation builds. Behind him, the thin and tall plastic bottles of sauce glisten with condensation. He looks at you to lead him further: do you want fancy white sauce or hot sauce? They are classics in the world of halal. You get both, asking for extra hot sauce. He springs into action, layering first white, then hot across the top of the steaming meat.
He deftly seals the box, places it in a plastic bag with a fork and napkin, and passes you the steaming bag through the window. You almost drop the bag as it is unexpectedly heavy. Only then do you recognize how much food you are about to consume, and you feel as though you are undercutting him by only paying five dollars. You smile and turn to walk away. Yet again, anticipation builds. You sit down and instantly isolate yourself from the rest of the world. There is an unspoken agreement between humans: you don’t talk when someone is eating halal. You let them focus, you let them enjoy.
Time blurs; you do not know what happening. Your hunger disappears and you feel your stomach expand. You lose control of your limbs. Your brain tells your arms to stop putting food in your mouth. Your arms do not listen. Your body slows, beginning to protest the amount of food entering it. Your arms do not listen. Time blurs again. You look down and it is gone. Not a speck of rice is left in the box, all the sauce has been licked from the crevices and you cannot stand to think about yourself. You walk to the bathroom to wash your hands and catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. You look like a stranger. You hate yourself for what you have just done. You wash your hands and splash some water onto your face. You look up once again at the mirror, but you don’t see yourself.
You shoot up out of your bed, confused, disoriented and hungry. Was that really a dream you wonder? You have not gotten your fix in days. You need it. You jump out of bed, throw clothes on and run to your closest truck. You babble out an order that barely resembles English. This is your drug; this is what withdrahalal looks like. ◊