NYC Food Adventures: Mama Halal Food

Notes from a New York City Foodie Trip

The halal cart phenomenon continues unabated in NYC, and with good reason.

Forget about hotdogs, for several decades now, the New York City street food par excellence has been halal fare. Originally referring to the types of foods permitted for Muslims – think Kosher but far less strict -, halal carts are understood to serve food of Mediterranean origins, mainly shawarmas and kababs, either served on pita or as part of a rice bowl. Halal carts broke into the NYC street scene in the 1980’s, when Greek carts were still a thing, but really blew up in the 1990’s. By the end of the millennium, there were over 500 halal carts in NYC, and their numbers have only grown since then.

Perhaps the most famous halal cart, and one of the first, is Halal Guys. Over the decades, they have not only expanded throughout the city but nationwide, operating both carts and brick and mortar restaurants. Like many of the current carts, it was operated by Egyptian immigrants. They are famous for their white and red sauces – the former apparently a mint yogurt sauce and the latter apparently shattah, a peppery sauce. -, something which other carts seem to have imitated. In addition to Egyptians, many halal carts are operated by Bangladeshi and Afghan immigrants/refugees, and the menus of their specific carts may reflect these interests.

Getting food from a halal cart was one of my “NYC must do’s” and we were lucky that one of the two halal carts located immediately across the street from our hotel – there were probably a dozen or so within a couple of blocks -, got very good reviews. Thus on our second night in the City, after attending a taping of the Colbert show, we got halal take out at Mama Halal Food and ate it in our hotel.

lamb gyro

I went with the lamb gyro ($8.50) and I was very happy. The lamb cubes were impossible tender and flavorful, and after I removed some lettuce, the pita sandwich was well balanced. I had it just with the white sauce. The gyro was perhaps a tad small, but fortunately I wasn’t terribly hungry. I’d definitely order it again if I was in the area.

chicken tikka masala

Mike had the chicken tikka masala bowl ($10.50), with both white and red sauces, and he was very happy with it. I, personally, didn’t think it tasted much like tikka masala, and the red sauce had made it too spicy for my taste, but I appreciated how tender the chicken was. He’d order it again, I wouldn’t.

Drinks were cheap, just $2 for cans, if I recall correctly. There was almost no wait on that cold February Monday night, and service was friendly and efficient. In addition to the W 51st location that we visited, Mama Halal Food has carts at W54st/8Ave, W50st/9Ave and 121st/LibertyAve (Queens).

Mama Halal Food
W 51st St. & 7th Ave.
NYC
(347) 207-5804
M-Su 10 AM - 3 AM

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.