Hello! My name is Shahrukh and I serve one of the best halal food at the corner of 47th and Park. My clients are all these Investment Banker types from Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Barclays – you name it and I guarantee I have someone or the other from that bank as my regular customer! I am originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh and came to the United States almost 18 years ago when I was in my mid-20s. My uncle had moved to the US quite a few years ago and gave us the most fortunate opportunity of our lives by sponsoring my family & my visa for greencard. I was studying to be a Doctor when I moved here however, couldn’t continue with my studies once in US due to the high education costs and not having enough funds to pay for university. So to make ends meet, like a lot of immigrants in the US, I soon became a taxi driver. I did this for almost 6 years and as luck would have it, on a blessed day, I picked up a passenger who owned & distributed the food carts that virtually every food cart vendors used. He made his pitch on why I should leave the taxi business and move into the food serving business, discussed the financial upside and I was convinced! I always loved to cook and thought why not!
Anyway, long story short, 12 years later, here I am, making & serving the best halal food in Uptown-East! I am not part of the ‘Halal Guys’ group but make my own halal food. For those of you don’t know, halal food is essentially as common to NYC as taco trucks in LA. Originally, Halal referred to the method of slaughtering & cooking meat based on the doctrines of the Quran. However, today, when you say Halal food it’s basically grilled halal meat with rice, lentils and vegetables. Although all carts look the same to a novice, only a person who has my food will be able to differentiate my flavorful serving from those of the rest (just ask any of my regulars!) It’s all about the special herbs & spices that I put in the gravy and I make sure not to use a lot of oil to make it as healthy as I can. Lately, I have been getting immense joy out of serving my food mainly because despite all the islamophobia in the Western hemisphere, people still eat and enjoy my Halal food giving me the opportunity to shine a positive light on the virtues of my religion vs. what is being depicted in the news. When I look back at my life, I definitely would have never predicted that I would be a cook in NYC, serving to everyday folks, but you know I am happy where life has brought me and I am extremely thankful for all the opportunities given to me. Anyway, lets get into my every day:
3 AM: I wake up very early! The first thing I do when I wake up is pray and give thanks for all that I have in my life
4 AM: Showered, had my morning tea and I head out for work with my special spices concoction. Take the B,D,F or M from Queens to Rockefeller to get to work
5 AM: Reach my usual spot of 47th and Park. There is a code among us food cart vendors – we know where everyone is located so we don’t try to encroach upon their spots. I wait here for my delivery guy to bring my cart & raw vegetables and meat with him. I pay a monthly rent for my cart which comes with a bag of vegetables, meat and a delivery guy who brings my cart to my spot every day at 5:30 am. They also refuel the cart when it is low on gas and then take it back to the storage in the evenings
6 AM: I get the cart all warmed up and begin marinating the meat and making the basmati rice & vegetables. My first client usually comes in at 7 am so I need to make sure I have everything ready to begin the day! Yes a lot of people DO eat Halal food for breakfast! Its usually the older executives who come in very early and students heading to college
7 AM: My first regular client comes and like clockwork he orders a chicken shwarma with diet coke. From here on, it becomes extremely busy till around 3 pm when the lunch crowd finally ends. Although, I do stay till 4 pm just to make sure that all my regulars have got food and also some lost tourists who are walking around for good, cheap food. My average price is $11 for a full meal with a drink and on any given day I serve 25 – 35 people rain, snow or shine
4 PM: My delivery guy comes by, picks up the food cart and takes it back to the storage warehouse. They also clean it up, which is pretty good! I take my stuff and begin heading back home
5 PM: Finally home, I hang out with my youngest – she is 4 years old but acts & talks like a mature adult. She is at that phase right now that if I don’t teach her Bangla (language spoken in Bangladesh) she will never learn. So every day when I come back home, I make sure to talk to her in Bangla and teach her some basic words
6 PM: Help my wife with dinner. She agrees I am a better cook but given I cook almost all day, every day, she takes care of the dinner and I help her with prepping.
7 PM: We all have dinner; I finish a few household chores, spend some quality time with my family and am off to bed by 9 pm