I'll Halal Your Cart

The Halal Cart on 53rd and 6th

Feast. Chicken-Gyro combo plate.

This was a four day trip to New York, the purpose of which was to visit Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, where I am currently a graduate student. (We just finished year one, so obviously I’m super behind on my posts…what else is new?) Regardless, I found out about my acceptance to Mailman during my adventures in Taiwan. A visit (read food-hop) was in store.

New York is known not only for its ridiculously varied cuisine, but also for its street-side Halal carts. These red and yellow umbrella-toting carts churn out cheap gyros, bagels, strong coffee, soda pop, candy, nuts, and newspapers. Some of the carts were even decked out with scrolling neon marquees. They’re always around, rain or shine, ready to serve. Yet, since living in New York, I still haven’t had anything from a normal cart yet. I have however, had “the” Halal cart (also known as the Halal Guys, (on 53rd and 6th)), which was supposed to be a special kind of Halal cart (mainly the kind with big, delicious, meaty portions).

I walked two hours for this.

It was pretty good. It’s not surprising that now they’re thinking about a brick and mortar establishment (probably already established now), but I was glad that I was around when the Halal Guys didn’t have an establishment. There’s a certain “grit” factor of cart food, although these guys were so popular and generated such a ridiculous line that they had to do their prep work off-site and then van their ingredients to the cart when line-armageddon rolled around. Demand was super high; three long lines of customers appeared out of thin air to score these steaming plates of deliciousness. I got there early enough to get a tote bag from them. Cute. Marketing.

No better tagline.

I took mine to go and trekked back to my hostel, unknowingly trudging through Central Park at 9:30 pm (apparently you’re NOT supposed to be trudging through the park that late), and I completely misjudged the distance between “53rd” and “145th,” thinking that it was a thirty minute stroll. Good job Frank, you don’t understand the concept of a “ONE HUNDRED BLOCKS” (or safety, as a matter of fact).

Two hours later, I plopped down on a chair, and dug in. The rice was moist, the chicken was a bit dry, and the gyro was tender and oily, which made up for the dry chicken. Some scattered lettuce and carrot rounded out the meal. I did put a little bit of the white sauce they provided (I think it’s some sort of creamy ranch), but avoided the red sauce, as a precursory taste of the red stuff left me with no taste buds on a couple pixels of my tongue. Overall, it’s somewhat hard to go wrong with excellently seasoned meat and rice. I feel there’s not much else that needs to be had if all you’re looking for is a hearty meal that wouldn’t break the bank.


So what is it that makes gyros (I think it’s pronounced “yeeros”) so special?

First off, its not just one slab of meat. From what I gather, it’s multiple slices (a bit thicker than prime rib slices) of fatty but still meaty slices that are stacked cross-sectionally on a vertical rotating spit. This spit is essentially a large rotisserie; the juices that run out of the meat simply drop a meat slice level below and continue on until it hits the drippings pan. If you want an analogy, it’s sort of like your typical office building of, oh, twenty floors. Each floor is a slab of cross-sectional meat. The floors are stacked, and the building rotates around the pooling oil in the parking lot. Every time someone orders a yeero, your window-facing co-worker is shaved off along with the subsequent window-facing coworkers on every ascending and descending floor and served to hungry peeps. Since office buildings (and meat) don’t regenerate, it’s only a matter of time before you’re the window facing worker and the knife shaves you and your cubicle off to more hungry peeps.

Yeah…maybe a little too graphic…but I bet your office daydreams will be super fun now.

There’s not much science here; there is, however, the cleverness of stacking cross-sectional meat. This way, the juices have a higher probability of getting redistributed to the layers below. Utilization of cross-sectional meat also allows the gyro-master to switch out and play with a unique combination of flavors and textures (what would happen if someone just stacked ribeyes and filet mignons?)

What about resting? Doesn’t shaving the meat right off just make the juices come flying out?

Even if it does, the juices land in whatever your gyro is sitting on anyway (gyro-infused rice? Count me in). Plus, the heat of the vertical rotating rotisserie is most likely set at a moderate or low intensity. Low and slow doesn’t cause protein fibers to squeeze too tightly, resulting in better fluid retention.

Stay out of Central Park at night. And window-facing cubicles.