July 29, 2007
THE detail springs out at you from the laminated articles that practically sheath his pushcart on the corner of 45th Street and Avenue of the Americas: Mohammed Rahman, owner of Kwik Meal and maker of a widely touted lamb-and-rice platter, once worked as a sous-chef at the celebrated Russian Tea Room.
A native of Bangladesh whose pristine toque reaches nearly to the ceiling of his cramped stall, Mr. Rahman quit the restaurant business in 2000 after he noticed a pushcart near the World Trade Center selling platters of halal food. Intrigued, he ordered a container of chicken and rice. A few greasy bites later, he had concluded that he could elevate the plebeian dish to unprecedented heights of refinement.
“I’m a chef,” Mr. Rahman recalled thinking at the time. “I can serve better food for people from the office. The suit-and-tie people — they will come.”
Back then, the sight of a gourmet halal cart might have caused some passers-by to raise their eyebrows. But in recent years it has become increasingly common to see purveyors of $4.95 lamb-and-rice platters displaying glowing reviews and drawing huge crowds. It’s become increasingly common to see purveyors of $4.95 lamb-and-rice platters, period.
Although the city doesn’t collect statistics that distinguish between different types of street food, halal vendors generally agree that their ranks have swelled in the last five to eight years, prompting the obvious question: How did the halal platter become the city’s new hot dog?