Growing up in Portland, OR, there wasn't much in the way of street food available around the city. Sure, there were a select few carts located directly around the big downtown office buildings, but they had very limited hours and were spottily placed. One of the things I looked forward to experiencing each summer, during our annual trip to Philadelphia to visit family, was the all the food carts on the street. They scented the air, lending the aroma of hot dogs, pickle relish and frying beef to the air in their direct proximity.
I'm currently in New York right now, attending a conference and hanging out a bit with some family. When I was getting ready to leave her house this morning, my cousin Betsy asked me where I was going. When I gave her the address, she seemed to shuffle through an index file stored in the back of her brain. Then she said, "There's a terrific Halal food cart on 53rd Street, right off 6th Avenue, with great, cheap food." I was a little boggled at her ability to pinpoint a food cart in a city the size of New York, but as she's lived here for the last 30+ years, I believed that she knew of what she spoke.
I kept Betsy's suggestion in mind this afternoon as I left the hotel in search of lunch. The cart was just where she had said it would be and when I walked up, one of the two guys working the cart looked at me and said, "What can I getcha, babe?" I replied that I only had five bucks and what could I get. He grinned at me and said, "Oh you can get plenty! How about a little mix?" When the blank look stayed on my face, he explained that a "mix" is a platter with rice, lettuce, tomatoes, chicken, lamb and sauce. I nodded happily and said, "Sure, sounds great!"
About two minutes later, in exchange for my five dollar bill, he handed me a plastic bag containing a foil container topped with a plastic lid that contained enough food for two meals. As I walked away, he shouted, "Enjoy New York!" I guess it was clear enough that I'm not from here.
Back in the hotel, I settled down on a corner of carpet outside a ballroom to eat. The first bite in, I was totally hooked. The meat was flavorful and tender. The sauce was a little bit tangy and cooled down the spiciness of the hot sauce that he had artfully applied. Under it all there was the occasional crunch of iceberg lettuce (which I normally scorn, but in this context worked perfectly).
Any city where this food like this available on the corner for $5 is a city worth knowing. New York's street food is just another reason why it's food reigns supreme!
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