There was a great variety of street food trucks at the Hornstull Marknard, and the smell of all sorts of meats being grilled perfumed the small walkway. Those ventilation exhausts on the food trucks weren’t just safety measures they were aromatic advertising at its finest.
Too many choices is sometimes a bad thing, I was famished, but the abundance options meant my stomach was being pulled in all directions.
Ironically it wasnt the fragrance advetising that enticed me but a black chalk board. The name of the food truck was rather hidden (Funky Chicken) but the sign was prominent and the sign said ‘New York Style Chicken over Rice’.
Since when did Chicken Rice become New Yorker? And yes its chicken rice not the grammatically correct Chicken over rice, or at least that was what I thought the dish was. Chicken rice is practically a national dish in Singapore, where I come from.
But I couldn’t help but be intrigued at the offering… I like chicken, I like rice, I regularly ate them together back home, what makes this New York turn so different?
And so I joined the queue.
My bowl was served up in barely a minute, this was ‘fast’ food literally, but the dish looked nothing like Singaporean Hainanese Chicken Rice. What greeted me was an explosion of colour: brown barbequed shredded chicken meat on top of a bed of yellow basmati rice with a side of coleslaw relish and garnished with chopped collard greens. There was a baguette to boot too. The magic of the dish however lay not in those ingredients but the magic sauce that was slathered generously on the chicken meat.
It was comfort street food clearly meant to be mixed up into a mess and devoured with only a spoon. Street food has to be convenient since you are “on the street” and this passed the test. Each component on its own was nice overall it was a nice savoury dish with a hint of sweetness, what really sold me however was the combination of textures – juicy softness of the chicken, the fluffy bite in the rice, crunchy sourness of the relish mixed in the slithery mess.
But what made this New York?
So I did a bit of research, and discovered The Halal Guys.
The Halal Guys is a street food truck that began in New York and has now become a global franchise, all the while still keeping the main stall open. It was open by a group of Eygptian migrants and it was their chicken over rice that took over the streets of New York. The make up of the dish is similar, rice, chicekn meat vegetables and another bread, the one on offer by Funky Chicken was slightly modified too.
For those curious, Halal is a meat preparation method that is required of religious Muslims as ordained by the Kuran. The concept of dietary rules is similar to Kosher, although halal preparation is generally considered less strict than kosher (for example shellfish is not kosher, but can be eaten in halal cuisine). What it generally involves is that the animal is brought up humanely, and when it is sacrificed is sacrificed humanely by a religious person who offers up prayers before an animal is killed. The animal has to also be killed by slitting at the jugular, which leads to instant death and hence no pain for the animal, and the animal must be drained of blood, which has been shown scientifically to actually be more healthy. Of all the meat forms, one sort of meat that is definitely haram and not halal is pork meat. Why go through all the effort?
Here’s the logic: God instructs man to be good and behave in a good way, to avoid the way of Shaitan (or Satan). Being good involves thoughts and deeds, and the thoughts and deeds of man are a reflection of what they eat, since what we put into out body becomes a part of us, you are what you eat. You become part of the food that you eat. Therefore the meat that is reared should be raised in a pure way and killed in a pure way so that the food you eat helps you towards becoming good and doesn’t detract you. Why are pigs particularly bad? Because they are considered dirty both physically and psychologically (i.e. lusty behaviour is always described as piggish no?), don’t forget Jesus in the bible cast out a legion of demons from a person and they jumped into swines.
Back to food. The Chicken over Rice certainly seems to be a New York invention inspired by Eygptian and Levantine cuisine, mainly Shawarma which is a cooking of meat over a spit fire and grilled with the meat than sliced.
Now I want to go to check out The Halal Guys if I ever go to New York.
ON THE MAP (Funky Chicken Food Truck)