No time for new material this week, but as a tribute to the lovely platter I had this weekend with the oh-so-glamorous Miral Sattar herself – in all her intelligence-layered glory, radiating social ease galore – I will repost a piece I wrote on chicken and rice for Divanee magazine…
Meet Me at 53rd and 6th
I was in Connecticut a few weeks ago, and every time we drove past a sign for Plattsville Road, my mind automatically read “Plattersville Road.” That’s when I knew I had a problem.
My name is Sarah Khan, and I am a Platteroholic.
I wasn’t always like this. For years I’d heard rumblings of Platter-speak from my Connecticut and New Jersey friends, and had never paid them much heed. Anyone who would drive into Manhattan from an hour away just to eat some food off a street cart was clearly riddled by some rapidly misfiring dendrites, in my opinion.
That was a simpler time. Today, I make trips from Boston to satisfy my Platter cravings. I disguise them in any way I can – spa weekends, shopping expeditions, conferences, trips to visit old friends – but the underlying premise remains the same. “Hey it’s so great seeing you again after so long! Why don’t we get something to eat? I know a great little place at 53rd and 6th…”
I’ve had Platter cold first thing in the morning in my hotel room, despite not having refrigerated it overnight. I’ve scarfed up leftovers on long bus rides to Boston, without any consideration for my neighbors’ olfactory sensibilities. Any food that still tastes good two days old, two states away, and microwaved, is worth the dirty looks.
I became a convert on a cold drizzly night in February 2004, when my Connecticut junkies first introduced me to the wonders of street food. I’d never eaten from a cart before, and the thought of waiting in the rain for an hour to consume a tin tub of masala and grease in the middle of the night did not strike me as the most appetizing way to end a fun evening in the city. But I succumbed to peer pressure, perched myself on the edge of a wet bench on 53rd Street, dug in, and was mesmerized. Angels sang. The earth moved. And I almost didn’t even notice the mice scurrying around behind me.
In the 18 months since I converted, I’ve become something of a missionary myself, climbing atop a soapbox and performing Platter dawah [preaching] whenever I can find someone who’ll listen. One of the happiest moments of my life came when my brother, who has long ridiculed me for my taste in everything from music to movies to food, called me up from New York to say “Sarah, for once in your life you didn’t overhype and underdeliver. This stuff is phenomenal. It was only $5 but I’d pay $20 for it any day.”
Even though the line snakes all the way down the block, no one will go to the poor empty stall a block away at 52nd Street. Now that I fancy myself a cart connoisseur, I know why. The offerings at 52nd are simply NOT comparable to those of 53rd, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I learned this sad truth myself the hard way, and now no line is too long for me at 53rd. Don’t sell out like I did that one sad night. It’s not worth it.
Is it the mysterious white sauce? The seasoned yellow rice? Some intoxicating blend of spices marinated into the succulent lumps of meat? The cute new plastic bags? Who knows, and who cares? Now no trip to NYC or its outlying areas is complete without a nocturnal driveby to the stand known as Platter, Chicken and Rice, or Gyro – its personas are many, but its taste remains the same. If the proprietors of its website, 53rdand6th.com, are to be believed, Platter isn’t merely a meal. It’s a way of life.
And a wait in the Platter line serves as a mirror into South Asian American lifestyle. You have your requisite Jersey Thugs at the front, trash talking at the top of their lungs and skillfully inserting expletives into their repartee at a rate of approximately three F-words per sentence. They’ve cut into line in front of the nerdy FOBs, who are lost in contemplation of their shiny white sneakers and pretend they don’t mind that the Jersey Thugs have added an additional 15 minutes to their two-hour wait. The FOBs are subjected to disparaging looks by the Club Skanks behind them, who’ve shown up at 53rd drunk, shrieky, half-naked, and annoyed when guys hit on them, but pissed off when they don’t. The Hijabis stand quietly next in line, observing the scandalous scene and hoping their husbands understand that lowering their gaze means ALL the way to the ground, not stopping half way down. Even the Vegetarians make appearances – some order rice with white sauce, while others just get pizza nearby and come to take in the ambiance. Then in roll the Balle Balle boys, blasting bhangra music out of their giant SUV’s and charging to the front of the line, looking to start a fight. Preferably with the Jersey Thugs, but the FOBs might suffice.
Ahhh, the fights. Platter could not be Platter without 5-foot scrawny drunk Guju guys screeching out invectives and lunging after burly Punjabis for no apparent reason, after throwing cheesy pickup lines at the Club Skanks – much to their visible chagrin, but secret delight. The Platter scene truly represents a microcosm of Desi America, with brown folks from all walks of life congregating at one starlit street corner, united by their two greatest loves: food and fighting.
I’ve been to New York three times in the last month, and people have started asking me if I have a guy down there. I tell them I have several guys. They wear sexy yellow t-shirts, pack foil boxes with finesse and speed, and give me as much white sauce as I ask for. What more does a woman need?
So next time I’m in New York, you know where to find me. I’ll be somewhere in the Platter line, a few spots behind the Malu Mafia but ahead of the Bewildered Token White Tourist. He deserves to get cut anyway.