THE NEW YORK HALAL DRUNK FOOD

“CHANCES ARE, YOU’VE HAD SOME SORT OF PROMISCUOUS ENCOUNTER…  YOU JUST DON’T REMEMBER IS ALL”

You’re probably thinking, what in the world is this?  Or at least the 90% of you who has never traveled/lived in New York plus the 8% who has (completely made-up statistics..), but stuck disciplinarily to mother’s rule of never putting anything questionable from the street into your mouth, wouldn’t have the slightest clue what the hell this is.  But then… then there’s the rest of the 2% you.

Well, hello there, my friend.  You know you’ve been bad.

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If you’re thinking, “I have visited, or even live in New York, and I love putting questionable things from the street into my mouth but I have absolutely no recollection of this.”  Well, chances are, you’ve had some sort of promiscuous encounter with it, probably more than once, squatting at a dark corner somewhere in Midtown under the black cloak of the night… feeling really dirty about yourself.

You just don’t remember is all.

Because this is something we call “the halal truck”.  It’s a humongous foil-wrapped plate of yellow rice under a greasy topping of chopped up chicken and minced lamb that are well-seasoned with spices, drenched in the notorious “white sauce” with a nuclear douse of hot sauce, accompanied by the randomness of sliced lettuce and tomato just because.  It’s a practice started by and owed to one of the now-many parked around the Midtown West Hilton hotel.  To which one exactly, is still an on-going dispute.  It is the Godfather of New York’s “street food truck-scene”, if there’s any.  It has toppled the dirty water dog, and asserted itself as New Yorker’s No. 1 mysterious street-meat.  And at the time before other imposters sprung up across the island of Manhattan at every corner, it was only socially admissible to consume (for the first time at least) under the misguidance of a local friend, after a night of irresponsible behaviours and substance-based impaired judgement.  The only evidence of you ever eating it in the morning after, is a post-drunken haze and curious bowel movement…

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I’ve never been much of a drinker.  But throughout my 7 years in New York as the sole sober bystander, witnessing friends after friends in the wee-hours of the night, smiling through their vacant eyes in a slow and slanted wobble while wasting their notably asymmetrical face into a plate of the halal truck platter, I’ve always wondered to myself:

Do they know, or will even remember, how incredibly extraordinary and magnificent this piece of gastronomic art they are slobbering unconsciously into their mouth right now is?  Talk about wasting food.

Yes, of course you can nowadays find halal trucks available during most times of the day, but say… to be caught face-deep buried in a plate of “halal” at the office during lunch time, is to be questioned for your adequacy of making life-choices.  This isn’t by any means healthy, nor clean, nor energizing, and likely leaves the rest of your day as functional as a doorknob.  It is for people and only people who feed for none of the objectives above except for pure and simple pleasure, the irresponsible gratification that it tastes really, really, really damn good.  And since the day I left New York, I’ve been making it myself at home.  And my version, if I may say so myself, pretty damn near great.

There’s no talking-you-into-this.  You either rejoice, or you frown upon it.  It’s a personality issue.  You’re either a halal truck-person, or you’re not.  But if you’re open to conversion, here’s where you should start.

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Servings: 4

Don’t freak out!  This is one of those recipes with very long ingredients-list (tends to happen when using a mixture of spices) but with simple preparation.  You can marinate the lamb and/or chicken the day before or hours ahead of time.  You can even cook them ahead of time because it reheats well (staying with the true halal truck spirit…).

Whether or not you choose to use real halal meat, is completely up to you.  The ground lamb I used this time was on the overly fatty side, even for me.  You should use something with 20% fat, but no less/leaner than that.  Also, you should leave at least 1~2 pieces of the chicken thighs with its skin on (even if you were using chicken breasts), for rendering the fat that’s going to cook the meat itself.  Don’t worry about too much grease, because any excess fat will be removed/poured out of the pan after the browning is done!  All you’ll be left with are crispy bits of chicken skins with their fat rendered out.  In the instruction, the lamb and chicken is cooked in the same big skillet (again, staying true with the halal truck spirit…), but if you don’t like one flavour contaminating with the other (for eg, some ppl don’t like lamb), you can cook them in separate skillet.

A note on cooking rice.  I don’t know what the hell other people are talking about when they say the ratio of rice to water should be 1 : 2 (1 cup of rice uses 2 cups of water)?!!  That’s absurd!  If anything, it should be 1 : 1.2 by volume (1 cup of rice uses 1.2 cup of water/liquid), and some rice, say Japanese sushi rice may need even less liquid than that!

Ingredients:

  • Lamb:
    • 17.6 oz (500 grams) of ground lamb
    • 1 tbsp of plain yogurt
    • 2 shallots, finely minced
    • 2 cloves of garlic, grated
    • 2 tsp of grated ginger
    • 1 1/4 tsp of salt
    • 1 tsp of cornstarch
    • 1 1/4 tsp of ground cumin
    • 1 tsp of ground coriander
    • 3/4 tsp of curry powder
    • 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp of paprika
    • 1/4 tsp of ground allspice
    • 1/4 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
  • Chicken:
    • 20.8 oz (590 grams) of boneless chicken thighs, with half of the skin on
    • 2 tbsp of plain yogurt
    • 1 clove of garlic, grated
    • 1 tsp of grated ginger
    • 1 1/8 tsp of salt
    • 1 tsp of ground coriander
    • 3/4 tsp of curry powder
    • 1/2 tsp of ground cumin
    • 1/2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/4 tsp of ground turmeric
    • 1/4 tsp of ground white pepper

  • The “white sauce”:
    • 1 1/2 cup (345 grams) of plain yogurt
    • 1 tbsp (19 grams) of dark-toasted tahini, or 2 tbsp (38 grams) of light-toasted tahini
    • 1 clove of garlic, grated
    • 1 tsp of salt
    • 1 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
  • Turmeric basmati rice:
    • 3 cups (630 grams) of basmati rice
    • 1 small onion, finely minced
    • 2 small slices of ginger
    • 1/2 tsp of salt + a little ground black pepper
    • 1/2 tsp of turmeric
    • 1/4 tsp of ground cardamon
    • 3 2/3 cups of chicken stock, or water
  • Chili oil:
    • 2 tbsp of aleppo chili pepper
    • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
    • 1 tsp of ground cumin
    • 1/2 tsp of ground coriander
    • 1/4 tsp of curry powder
    • 1/4 cup of vegetable oil
  • To finish:
    • 2 tbsp of chopped cilantro, or parsley
    • 1 tsp of Aleppo chili flakes
    • 1/2 tsp of crushed cumin, or ground cumin
    • Salt, ground black pepper and white pepper to taste
    • Finely sliced iceberg lettuce and chopped tomatoes for topping

To prepare the lamb:  Mix all the ingredients evenly together in a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill/marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour to several hours or overnight.

To prepare the chicken:  Keep the chicken thighs whole, and rub all the seasonings all over them to distribute evenly.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill/marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour to several hours or overnight.

To prepare the “white sauce”:  Whisk all the ingredients together until smooth and even.  1 tsp of freshly ground black pepper may sound like a lot but that’s how much it needs.  Let sit at room-temperature for at last 1 hour for the flavours to combine, or several hours to overnight in the fridge.

To prepare the chili oil:  Combine all the ingredients in a small pot and set over medium heat.  Cook until the chili flakes have turned darker in color, and the minced garlic slightly browned.  Let sit for at least 1 hour before using.

To prepare the turmeric basmati rice:  I always use a rice-cooker to cook my rice, but if you don’t have one, here’s an instruction I find adequate but ignore their rice and water ratio.  In a pot over medium heat, sauté minced onions and sliced ginger with 1 tbsp of oil, salt and black pepper, until the onions have completely soften, slightly browned and reduced about 1/2 in volume.  Add the turmeric, ground cardamon and basmati rice and cook until fragrant.  Transfer to a rice cooker (or in the same pot that you’re using), add the chicken stock (or water) and stir to break up any rice-lumps.  Cook the rice according to the rice-cooker’s instruction, or stove-stop instruction as linked.

To cook the chicken and lamb, plus assemble:  Heat up a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Once hot, place the skin-on chicken thighs into the skillet with the skin-side down.  Render the fat out of the skin until it’s nice and browned.  Keep the fat in the skillet, turn over the chicken and add the rest of the skinless thighs into the skillet.  Move the chickens to one side of the skillet, then add the ground lamb into the other side (if you’re cooking lamb in a separate skillet, add 1 tbsp of oil to that skillet).  Press the lamb down into like a giant patty, but do not break it up too much at this point (we’ll do that later).  Once you have a nice, even browning on both sides of the lamb and chicken, remove/transfer them to a large plate.  Reserve just 1 tbsp of oil in the skillet and pour the rest out.

Cut the chicken thighs into small pieces with a kitchen scissor.  Return the chicken and lamb back to the same skillet over medium-high heat.  Now you break up the ground lamb into smaller chunks with a wooden spoon.  Cook for 1 more minute to get further caramelizations on the meat, then add the chopped cilantro (or parsley), Aleppo chili flakes and cumin, stir to combine.  Re-season with salt and pepper if need to.

Serve the lamb and chicken-combo over turmeric rice, with a good handful of thinly sliced iceberg lettuce and chopped tomato.  Pour a relentless amount of “white sauce” over the top, plus a relatively more cautious amount of chili oil.  Don’t get too wasted, because you’ll want to remember this meal.

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69 Comments

  • Yes! Halal Carts are one of the quintessential NYC food groups. I always get mine with extra white sauce and hot sauce. During my visits to The City, I would always find any excuse I could to eat at those carts. I knew it was bad when the vendor started calling me by my first name. Luckily, even here in South Korea, Halal food is still present, although it pales in comparison to the glorious majesty that is NYC Halal Cart food. // I am not 100%, but I think the white sauce has sour cream and/or mayonnaise in it. I just remember it being a little richer than just straight yogurt.

    • Can I worship the ground you walk on? But actually though.
      Since you’ve posted this I have made it 3 times and every time I am always satisfied. Gone are the nights of wasting my money on pizza because I know this bad boy is at home waiting for me to devour it in all my drunken glory (give or take the glory part). And it tastes even better when I’m sober.

      Lady, you are my Queen.

  • Back in my meatpacking-district clubbing phase (all New Yorkers have had a clubbing stint in one form or another, even if brief), the meat trucks always repelled me on the way into the club, but on the way out, there wasn’t a more heavenly smell in the world. Thanks for shedding some light on this nary spoken of food culture.

  • This looks and sounds exactly like the shawarma we used to have all the time! I’m extremely interested in trying out the white sauce since that was pretty much my favourite part (that and the rice). If that’s anywhere close, I’ll be making this monthly!

  • This totally gave me a flashback, both in memory and heartburn. Love it, and I miss the smell of this more than anything.

  • I am not familiar with food trucks (I have never been on that much of bender) but I can relate to late night halal Lebanese food ( mostly because of Uni). I agree while it may be unnaturally colored sometimes; it taste bloody good at 2 am. I do not even have to drunk to appreciate the taste. The spices, rice and sauce is enough to make me want to get drunk every night, so I can be in the area get some of this food.
    Love the images of the rice here!

  • oh my gosh this sounds devine……. i’ll be making it tonight! cheers! i’ve never been to New York nor have I eaten at a Halal truck but maybe i will now. thanks for the wonderfully sounding recipe.

  • OMG Mandy how did you know HOW DID YOU KNOW how did you know that this is my favorite food in. the. whole. WORLD. omg.omg.omgomgomg.

    I’m pretty sure no one else’s recipes reduce me to ecstatic mumbling as often as yours do. Just saying. And also I’m aware that I have said “how did you know this is my favorite food” for like 15 foods. But. It’s just. Ahhhhhhhhhhh. Also, the pics are gorgeous, and I love that you even put foil in the plate. Perfection. Someday.. someday I will make this.

  • I admit, while living in NYC, that I have eaten ‘street meat’ many times while not under the influence of anything other than a watering mouth and rumbling stomach.
    My husband and I, who now live in the dreaded suburbs of NYC, have actually bundled up our two children to take a quick drive to the upper West side outside of the Hilton, to grab a delicious street meat meal! LOVE!

  • I love the fact that every single time I visit your blog, I discover something completely new to me. Coming from a completely different food world (I am from Greece), I am amazed at your flavor combinations and food preferences. It’s always amazing to me to discover people who are so passionate about food! Love your blog and your photographs. Thanks Mandy!

  • i love how you included a link on how to cook rice…as a chinese person, i only know how to cook rice in a rice cooker. cooking rice in a pot seems magical :P

  • mandy, you are a real kick in the pants! I want to know if you have ever met or talked to Kenji Alt-Lopez? I want him to see this piece, in which you have really outdone yourself!
    He will love it.

  • This looks right up my alley, preferably with a halal truck parked on the corner. I’ll make this soon.

  • As a person who likes to drink, and also one who will almost always put questionable street food in my mouth, I think we could be great friends.

  • Oh man, the halal truck is one of the things I miss most about NYC! (That and 75 cent coffee and random street hot dogs with spicy brown mustard.) I always ate mine sedately for work lunch, but still. SO good.

  • I just found your blog… I love it! I may not have been in NY (yet!) but most definitely questionable street food consumed in the wee hours…& it always tastes soooo good….at this time!

  • Since moving from the city 5 years ago I make a point to stop by 53rd and 6th every time I am home. If this satisfies my cravings the other 340 days a year, I’ll take it!!!

  • Thanks Mandy for another awesome NYC memory. I miss the halal truck aroma, which is appetizing to me at any time of the day or night. I’m going to try this one out.

  • Someone posted this yesterday, I went straight to the grocery store, marinated the meat overnight and just made it. THIS IS EXACTLY HOW I (kind of) REMEMBER. Can definitely say I never ate this under the light of day, but many definitely pissed of a ton of taxicab drivers as I flung it around in the backseat trying to drunkenly get fork to mouth. HEAVEN and THANK YOU!

  • And I, every weekend, swore I’d go test the 56th street halal truck (and check whether it’s true their ‘brother’ cart on the opposite side of the street is better) and NEVER got around to it.

    Well, looks like I have no excuse to skip my halal anymore. This is SO HAPPENING.

  • One look at the title of this and I was grinning. I *have* been bad! I *do* want to eat this again! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • I’ve never been to New York or tried the Halal truck, but this is super tasty! Will be on the lookout when I finally get a chance to visit. Thanks for the recipe, love it!

  • Hi, love your recipe! although, can i substitute your chili oil recipe with a asian store-bought one? thanks x

  • THANK YOU. Seriously, thank you. I had the real thing years ago in NYC and haven’t been able to get it again. You don’t know how many times I’ve googled “halal cart in LA.” Finally, I decided to take on the challenge of creating it myself, but I doubted every recipe I found online until I saw yours. I immediately went out and got all the ingredients, followed this recipe exactly, and the result? One of the best things I’ve ever made…I’m going to be returning to this recipe for years to come. I can’t wait to make this again for my family, friends, and weekday lunches.

  • Honestly, this is one of my most favourite-est things to eat in NYC (this and black and white cookies). I am definitely going to have to make this someday

  • I just made this last night & I went to bed still wanting some more it was soooooooo good!!! Ive been to NYC but never tried any street meat despite passing many delicious-smelling ones. Seriously amazing.

  • Made this tonight and it turned out wonderful! I only had Chicken breast so used that and although a bit dry, it was so flavorful! I will definitely use Chicken thighs in the future. Also had saffron on hand so made Saffron rice instead of Turmeric. So glad I found this recipe since I haven’t been able to find any eatery close to the NY Halal Guys. I wish you also had the recipe for the chili red sauce that was more sweeter (kinda like a BBQ-style chili sauce). I remember that’s the other ‘red sauce’ the Halal Guys had. Thanks so much!

  • This was so good I can’t deal – just as great as that halal cart, minus the atmosphere. Thank you so much for making this possible in my own kitchen.

  • My family LOVED this! To keep it leaner, we used ground turkey the second time we made it. It was still very tasty
    Thank you for this terrific recipe.

  • I want to eat this.

    Honestly, it looks amazing, and reminds me of some of the best food I’ve been able to find in Lima, which is Peruvian “Arabic” except this includes so many spices and flavours you just can’t get in Peru.

    When I once more have access to a decent kitchen and a proper China Town I am so going crazy on the recipes in your blog!

  • Hello again from the Netherlands! :) I happened to have some chicken thighs in my fridge as well as just enough lamb meat to grind up, so I made this today! I was familiar with the dish from a post on Serious Eats. I made their recipe a while back and I loved it, but yours is even better! :) Although homemade it really felt and tasted like an awesome sort of take out food! We even switched to plastic forks and eating on the couch instead of at the table halfway through dinner, to maximize the experience! :) Just one thing: we had way too much rice! We barely managed to get through half of it! Oh well, we’ll just have some fried rice for dinner tomorrow. :)

  • I just ate a halal lamb salad from the truck at Varick and Canal st. I feel very tired, and bloated. I wonder if there is gluten or MSG in it…..

  • Thank you Mandy… You made my dream to come true! I will definetely make this really soon :-) one question: did you ever try to add cumin on the rice? When i buy the plate, i usually see the seeds in there.
    Thank you very much!

  • OMG just finished making the lamb, rice, and whitesauce from your recipe and it came friggin” delicious!!!!!!! I will prob never buy from the corner cart again! Thank you!!!!

  • Might not have had this in New York but the recipe really reminded me of the restaurants in the city I used to like in in the UK. Took a gamble and madd this for the first time and also for 10 people (doubled the recipe and added some roasted cauliflower and chickpeas with spices) on the weekend and it went down so well. Absolutely perfect!

  • I have had halal
    This one is closer than most but not as good as the original.
    Your white sauce is off
    The rice is ok
    The meat was good

    • I went to NYC in Sept 2015 and had the Halal Guys truck again and must say… their flavors and quality (no need to mention service) has really gone downhill. You are crazy for thinking this recipe isn’t as good and should try again.

  • This recipe is FIRE! The flavors in the lamb and chicken are complex- savory with the right amount of kick! We loved the rice, just the cardamom flavor gave it such a perfect balance, that zestiness. I think the white sauce is above all necessary, it completes the dish and brings it all together. I love tahini anyways so the combo with the yoghurt was fantastic! Thank you for all the delicious recipes keep them comping!!
    – Sandra http://www.travelsonder.com

  • Mandy!!!
    Thank you so much for your recipes! This is my FAVORITE meal in the whole world. I have a few questions for you. I could swear that, with some vendors, i could taste cinnamon and clove in the rice…And it was delicious! Also, i have seen some rices with some really bright orange color. What spice do you think it is? I cant wait to try all this :-)

    • Antonia, yeah of course you can add cinnamon and cloves to the rice :) I haven’t seen the “orange” rice that you’re talking about… Most of them seems “neon yellow” to me, hahaa, which is the result of turmeric… I hope. Or you can mix some papripa to give it a red + yello = orange, too :)

  • Thank you so much for sharing this recipe! I just made it tonight and the taste is super close to the real deal. You have given me the ability to recreate a meal that I love so much! I have many great memories of late night adventures waiting on the super long lines to get this dish on 53rd & 6th Ave in NYC.

  • may i know what can i substitute for lamb?cz my hubby just doesn’t fancy lamb meat and i’m thinking of making him this some day 😥

  • Mandy,

    I am late to your blog, but I have been loving every. single. thing. I have tried to cook. This was no exception, so much flavour. So much feels.

    Thanks for sharing all these and the work that goes into each post. Can’t wait to eat my way through your blog :)

  • Made this again and it gets even better! This is one of those recipes that is fool proof and will keep forever. Thanks Mandy!

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