Photo by Jeff Orlick
By Rebecca Henely

To their surprise and confusion, a vendy operating at 74th Street near 37th Avenue received a lamb-topped trophy last week for being the best halal food cart in the Roosevelt Avenue area of Jackson Heights.

Sunnyside resident Muhammad Alam, 33, and Woodside resident Nuris Laam, 28, could not say why their unnamed halal cart that sets up shop next to the TD Bank was named the best, but smiled for the cameras with Jeff Orlick, Rachel Antonio and Desmond Chow, who conducted the survey.

“These guys won hands down over everyone,” Orlick said.

Similar to Jewish kosher food, halal is cuisine made in accordance with Islamic law. Carts selling falafel, as well as chicken or lamb over rice, are widespread throughout the city. They are particularly popular in Jackson Heights, which boasts large Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations.

Orlick, who hosts tours of places to eat in Jackson Heights, characterized halal food carts as continuing the tradition of offering cheap, familiar food to the immigrant worker populations. He compared them to the hot dog stands once created for the German immigrants and the Greek food trucks in the 1970s and ’80s.

“Halal food is the latest generation of what is for the workers here,” he said.

To determine the best halal food, Orlick, Antonio and Chow sampled 13 different food carts along Roosevelt Avenue near 74th and 82nd streets. While there were some other strong contenders, like 2006 NYC Vendy Awards winner Sammy’s Halal Food, on Broadway and 73rd Street, the three said the cart on 74th was the clear winner.

“They were always consistent,” Antonio said.

She described good halal food as evenly spiced as well as made from flavorful ingredients.

“The rice and the lamp and chicken should taste good regardless of the spices you bring to it,” she said.

Jojo Kaur, 19, of Elmhurst, said she stops at the stand in front of TD Bank about every two weeks after coming home from classes at the City College of New York in Manhattan.

“They actually have halal stands on my campus, but they’re OK,” Kaur said. “It’s not as good.”

Alam and Laam said while their stand did not have a name, their parent company, 39th Street Wholesale Depot, also runs a stand on Queens Boulevard near 88th Street in Elmhurst.

Orlick said the tasters may look into trying the other location.

“Maybe this is not over,” he said.

Orlick said he plans to do a similar “Momo Crawl,” which will rate the Nepalese dumplings sold in the same area.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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