Friday, February 01, 2008

Street Meat

9th and Broadway
Lunch, no soda: $5

The aroma that wafts from the corner of 9th and Broadway holds a special place in my heart, right next to pool exhaust. It's comforting and familiar, and it's the siren song Rafiqi's uses to get you in line for a box of meat and rice, salad, hot sauce-white sauce. The general consensus is that street meat will kill you. Your intestines will explode with the fury of a thousand Spartans, and afternoon productivity levels will reach new lows as you spend the rest of your day in your "other" office. Logically speaking, a street vendor is subject to much more scrutiny than that of a storefront, and it's difficult to conceal hygenic shortcomings in a 5' x 5' stainless steel box. In that respect, I trust it. On the other hand, how can you get a healthy portion of chicken, lamb-flavored meat product, and rice for less than five bucks?

The answer is not low overhead. The answer is cut-rate ingredients. The "lamb" is really pressed meat and spices. Texturally, Rafiqi's does the right thing with it. It's cut from the shawarma-tisserie and thrown on the grill until a crunchy shell forms. Nonetheless, it's simply cubes of halal spam. The chicken is just plain wrong. In the age of chicken breasts, I'm not used to eating fatty chicken. It has the consistency of undercooked chicken, and no matter how many spices you rub it with, the texture screams salmonella. The salad is soggy lettuce and one slice of tomato. The rice is overcooked. The sauces are nothing more than mayonnaise and sriracha, and you'll get at least a cup of each squirted all over your platter. Aside from the crispy "lamb," the dish was a major disappointment.

This is one outpost of many Rafiqi's. Quite possibly, the expansion of the operation has diminished the quality of the food. The testimonials printed all over their cart sing their praises, but I have to put them at the bottom of my list of halal food trucks. If you're near 9th and Broadway, spend the extra money and time and make your way over to Chickpea on 3rd Avenue and St. Mark's Place. Buen Provecho.

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