Before the birth of hipster food carts, before the Vendy Awards, before eating on the street was ever considered cool, Muhammad Rahman was selling lamb pita from a cart on 45th St. and 6th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan.
Muhammad’s devotees know his story well. Within a few years of leaving his post as the sous-chef at the Russian Tea Room and creating Kwik Meal, he won rave reviews from The Daily News, The New York Times, Time Out, and Gourmet Magazine, among others.
With all due respect to Muhammad’s many accomplishments and media write-ups, they weren’t the main reason I made my way to his food cart last Friday. It was actually a poem by Taxi Gourmet reader Marc Alan Di Martino that moved me to consummate my curiosity about Kwik Meal’s food:
“I was a regular at Muhammad Rahman’s Kwik Meal #1 cart, as were we all at the Gotham [Book Mart]…And one day Mr. Rahman — who was aware that I wrote poetry — asked me to write him something that would make people stop and eat. I declined. He insisted. I wrote, and he paid me in falafel sandwiches.”
True to Marc’s words, a sweet aroma scented the afternoon as I approached the inspiration for his verse.
Zach Brooks, the founder of Midtownlunch.com and New York’s reigning expert on street food, was kind enough to meet me there and explain the reasons behind the worship of Muhammad’s lamb pita.
According to Zach, Muhammad is one of the only halal vendors in the city to use whole leg of lamb that he marinates himself and cooks to order on the flat top in the cart.
In contrast to the mealy, haphazardly-seasoned lamb at many other carts, Muhammad’s meat bursts with cumin, cardamom, and the brightness of citrus.
Though some of the lamb chunks are chewier than others, Zach explained that that’s the price the chef pays for using real leg of lamb – the only cut that’s affordable at a street food price point.
To experience Kwik Meal’s lamb in its full glory, Zach suggested I order the lamb over rice ($7.50) instead of the lamb pita. I was glad he did. Muhammad’s marinade is a modern-day ode to the spices of the Silk Road. It was my first time tasting it, and I didn’t want anything coming between me and those musky flavors (though the basmati rice and the yogurt-based white sauce on the side were both delicious).
As convincing as that argument may sound, the real reason I was glad I tried the lamb over rice is that I now have a perfect excuse to go back to Kwik Meal. I have to actually try the pita that inspired Marc’s poem – and I have to know whether Muhammad’s marinade can live up to the already legendary status it’s achieved in my taste memory.
In the meantime, I could probably dedicate some verses to Muhammad’s lamb over rice, which is worthy of a ballad all its own.
Correction, 22 Oct 2009: Marc Alan Di Martino informed me that he was a vegetarian during his years at Gotham Book Mart – and that his poem was actually dedicated to Muhammad’s falafel pita – not the lamb pita that he recommended I try. Since posting this entry, I went back to Kwik Meal and tried the lamb pita (which was tasty, although the lamb got a little lost in the white sauce). Now I have a reason to go back a third time, although the lamb is going to be hard to resist.
6th Ave. & 45th St. – Midtown West
Open: Daily from 11am-midnight