Monday, October 29, 2012

Halalathon Part I- Best Halal Carts of Jackson Heights


Halal Cart Map (Jackson Heights + Elmhurst)
Jackson Heights, home to a thousand and one different ethnic eats, has a bunch of halal carts. My friend Jeff, of Jeffrey Tastes - Queens Qustodian, had the brilliant idea of a Halalathon. We would try all the halal carts in one night and compare them. I had never tried the halal food in Queens and thought it would be a great opportunity to gain a greater understanding of them and appreciate their flavors. 

The word on the street was that the Gyro King in Jackson Heights had the best Halal food. Was it a rumor, an award, or fact? We were to find out at Halalathon. Last night, my friends and I decided to tackle five of the carts and compare them to two restaurants Gyro King and American Chicken.

The rules of Halalathon were simple. Everyone was to buy a chicken and lamb combination platter over rice with sauce on the side. We would then do a taste comparison of each dish. We created a map on Google Maps pinpointing the location of the carts. The majority of the carts were clustered on the corner of 37th Road and 73rd Street and a few were around the corner at 74th Street and 37th Avenue. We met in front of Kebab King, split up to buy food, and then met up at Tastes Village in Jackson Heights to eat.

Location: 74th Street and 37th Avenue
Gyro King
Sammy Halal Food
The dishes were varied and none looked identical. I was a surprised that they were so different compared to the Halal cart food I bought in Manhattan. In Manhattan, the combination chicken and lamb over rice or salad were always the same color, same look, and same taste. In Jackson Heights, the halal cart food looked and tasted more specialized.

This got me thinking. What was the definition of halal food and was it more than just chicken and lamb over rice?

According to an article on About.com, writer Saad Fayed explained the basic definition of halal:

“Halal foods are foods that are allowed under Islamic dietary guideline. According to these guidelines gathered from the Qu’ran, Muslim followers cannot consume the following:

-         pork or pork by products
-         animals that were dead prior to slaughtering
-         animals not slaughtered properly or not slaughtered in the name of Allah
-         blood and blood by products   
-         alcohol
-         carnivorous animals
-         birds of prey
-         land animals without external ears”

It is the type of meat supplied to the carts and there was much more than just chicken or rice. Some carts had hotdogs, hamburgers, samosas, and Philly cheesesteaks. The hot dogs were especially popular among the Muslim and Indian children. There was often a line at each cart.

Of all the carts we tried, only one was a recipient of an award, the Vendy Award. Sammy Halal Food was voted best food cart in 2006. Our collective notes determined that while Sammy may have an award tucked under his belt, his food was not necessarily the best. We voted the cart by TD Bank on 74th Street and 37th Avenue #1 for the night. A well balanced plate was the key. I had watched the man cook. The lamb started out as a patty. He then chopped it up and while the chicken and lamb were cooking he sprinkled seasoning all over. I have no idea what was in the seasoning but it sure made the dish good and tasty.

As I had mentioned earlier, each cart was different. They were varied in presentation, taste, and ingredients. Some used Basmati rice, some were oilier than others, and one, American Chicken used Mexican rice and it was extremely bland. American Chicken even gave sour cream and jalapeno sauce. They were the worst tasting of the bunch, dry and flavorless.

Gyro King was also a tad bit disappointing. Their salad consisted of pickled vegetables and the red sauce was on the sour side. The cart food was best when slathered in white sauce and hot sauce. We concluded that the sauces made all the dishes decent and edible. The best ones and most favored were consumed within minutes.

We’ll do a Halalathon Part II and venture into Elmhurst. Sammy Halal Food and the cart by TD Bank will be used as a comparison. Till next time…

Photography and Map Credit: Jeffrey Tastes - Queens Qustodian

Jeffrey Tastes - Queens Qustodian

Sammy Halal Food

About.com: Halal Food


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