If you place me in New York City I almost guarantee I won’t go 24 hours before I turn back to my sweet street side lover: Chicken and Rice. This dish is a favorite of mine from my years as both dog walker and student. Going to college is for many of us an expensive ticket to a higher standard of living. So when I had little money but needed to cram for studying, had a tight walking schedule for the day, or work late hours in my student newspaper office I usually took a quick step down any busy road and bought myself a batch of chicken and rice. Heck, I even ate it when I had better options. When I worked in a tea shop I generally ate it because it was a cheap alternative and I could walk to Central Park to enjoy it.
Little did I know my greasy lover was waiting for me in Jakarta of all places. Enter: The Halal Boys
This would-be shipping container has parked itself on a side street by one of the biggest malls in Jakarta. Complete with a taxi motif in case you weren’t picking up on the cue. Too bad the taxis now in NYC are sporting a nice green “apple” color these days in increasing numbers. Still, the nod is noted and suddenly I feel like the humidity in Indonesia is really just a bad night in August on the streets of Manhattan. So let me be clear, chicken and rice isn’t some crème de la crème of culinary delights. In fact, it’s pretty bad for you and is probably no better nutrient wise than a hot dog. But boy has it gotten me through some days in the Big Apple. The best part is, the owners of the business have certainly added the best touch here, the sauce.
The White Sauce is really what epitomizes NYC halal style chicken over rice. It’s a sweet and tangy dairy product. It is the MSG of halal street food. It’s long been a trade secret of successful Egyptian food cart gurus The Halal Guys up until 2014. Rip off carts usually provide just a basic watered down mayonnaise that never quite tastes the same. Honestly I’ve never had the chance to eat at THE Halal Guys, so watered down mayonnaise has been pretty much norm in my days. Inevitably, I’m a little puzzled by the BBQ sauce label. Any NYC street vendor worth the dirty water under their food trays will call it hot sauce. But in the land of sambal and chilies, I suppose it’s just trying to stand out as “American”.
So it’s not served in a white Styrofoam package, they chop the lettuce and mix up all your ingredients. But it’s a decent replica of a dish that is near and dear to my heart. The downside is that it’s a bit pricey. You get a cup of delicious chicken and rice for 55,000 rupiah. This price is pretty standard price for a dish in an air conditioned sit down restaurant. But this is outside, competing with the warungs were dinner for two would cost 40,000. Still, this is upscale as far as Jakarta outdoor eateries go. It provides tables, seating, bottled water, and even the formerly thought to be extinct trash can. Most places serve your food in a plastic bag, and you get to squat on the nearest piece of cement, or maybe a beaten up plastic stool. So it’s an in between price for an in between place. Thanks to the taste of home, we’ll certainly be going again.