Biryani is an age-old dish believed to have been created in the kitchens of Mughal emperors, who demanded only the finest food throughout their empire be gathered and combined into a single dish fit for the Almighty himself. Consisting of fine-grain rice, chopped beef, chicken or goat, and cooked with refined butter and a dash of aromatic spices, the beauty of biryani lies in its simplicity–its greasy, delicious, rib-sticking simplicity.
Tucked away on a narrow, crowded byway in Old Dhaka lies a hidden gem of culinary delight called Haji Biryani. Haji Biryani is perhaps the most famous of all biryani houses in all of Dhaka and sat atop the list of my personal to-do list upon arriving to Bangladesh back in April. After many weeks of procrastination, I finally acted on visions of manifest destiny and set out on my own personal hajj to partake in the heralded mutton biryani served up by the city’s oldest such restaurant.
True to its name, traveling to Haji Biryani requires one to depart on a harrowing journey not unlike the annual Muslim hajj to the sacred center of the Islamic world in Mecca. Getting to the restaurant itself will test your faith, mettle, and force you to overcome physical torment of hunger, claustrophobic crowds and hellacious traffic jams. Could I possibly survive the gauntlet standing between me and the coveted biryani without melting down?
Let me begin this Food Truck Fetish Friday post by saying that tapas are not my cup of tea. While I have long admired the nation of Spain for its collective embrace of daily siesta nap culture as necessity, folklore of El Cid and Don Quixote, and a storied tradition of running with—and being gored by—enormous angry bulls, I have never cared for their saucer-sized contribution to the scene of international cuisine.
Or at least that is the notion I have always firmly ingrained in my mind because I rarely indulge in tapas. Like, ever. You see, my perception of this style of dining gravitates toward the quintessential American school of thought: it’s freakin’ lame, much as it is perceived in Birmingham, Kansas City, Memphis, or anywhere that prides themselves on the value of sizable portions, which, judging by our restaurants and waistlines is…THE ENTIRE U.S.A.!
I also have innate biological restraints to tapas that are hardwired deep into my inner circuitry. Being a self-conscious barbaric male precludes me from seeking out this form of nutrition when I need to satisfy my appetite. Typically, these dishes are served alongside glass pitchers of fruit-infused, pinkish sangria to groups of 24 year-old female interns on Capitol Hill. Apparently, these young ladies enjoy paying $15 for each paltry appetizer plate in a fleeting attempt to relive their trials and tribulations as study-abroad students in Barcelona.
Me? I know where I belong and that is usually sitting in a dark, dank dive bar with a lukewarm beer in one hand, an overstuffed roast beef po’ boy sandwich in the other, and my mind flip-flopping back and forth as I decide whether it is advisable to carry my foodstuffs with me when I get up to use the bathroom.
Well, wouldn’t you know—my next stop on the free food truck lunch tour was…the Tapas Truck.
Kebabs, or kabobs, depending on your spelling preference, are a form of food that appeals to the barbarian within all of us. The mere thought of sharp metal and wooden skewers piercing through tender hunks of meat as it sizzles over roaring flames conjure images of Turkish warriors, Arabian knights, and even Greek philosophers gathered around ancient pyres under starry desert skies, awaiting a higher form of sustenance earned only through the shedding of blood or arduous debate over human existence (in the case of the philosophers).
This primal mojo, coupled with my boundless adoration of eating meat on a stick, is precisely what makes kebabs one of my all-time favorite food items. Kebabs, in fact, approach perfection. Easy to handle, you can eat kebabs at carnivals, you can eat kebabs at weddings–both during ceremonies and receptions; you can eat kebabs on your couch, and you can eat kebabs to suppress road rage while suffering through rush hour traffic. On a boat, in a plane, or on the toilet — the kebab allows the eater to fill their stomach in succulent pleasure without the need for elitist plates, forks, knives, or napkins. Simply place the meat in your mouth and chew, swallow, and toss the empty skewer on the ground, and return your focus to the important business of thinking about what to eat next while sitting in front of your TV.
For these reasons, I was particularly excited about redeeming my free lunch coupon for the Tasty Kabob food truck in Washington, D.C.
Boy, did I ever set myself up for disappointment of tragic proportions.
Fate is one of the mystical forces in our universe that escapes all explanation and is only visible to us through the lens of hindsight. Each day, we wander mindlessly as we suffer through the routine doldrums in the office, at school, in a car, on the train, or on the couch, never quite knowing when fate will move us to achieve greater things in the grand scheme of the cosmos. While we can surely never predict when these unseen forces will strike next, it is impossible to mistake the precise moment our path intersects the threads of existence that profoundly shape our lives, only to be explained by our feeble, mortal minds as destiny.
This past weekend, I found myself under a fading amber sky speckled with a few of the brighter stars in our galaxy when I recognized the planets had aligned in my favor. It happened as I was standing in line for the Holy Grail of ballpark food: bacon…on…a…stick.
Eating complimentary meals from Washington, D.C. food trucks is a monumental task. In fact, I only have until December 31st to capitalize on the greatest prize I have ever won, which is a pile of 40 pieces of paper, each redeemable for free food. There is something about carrying these coupons around that, well, makes me feel much cooler than other patrons who have to fork over wads of crusty dollar bills or swipe their Visa Platinum Rewards card to get their lunch. Me? I just brandish my stack of cardstock tickets and slam them down on the counter as I demand free food.
It was under this condition that I marched toward the Rolls on Rolls food truck at Franklin Park in downtown D.C., my sails filled with gale-force wind. Knowing that I was entitled to a chicken masala roll, vegetable samosa, and a frothy mango lassi, I nearly realized ultimate enlightenment as I perched under the Bodhi-like awning to place my order.
Typically, when you order Indian food and ask for “spicy,” you receive a warm smile, shallow promise, and a paltry pinch of cayenne basked in politeness so as not to nuke your virgin American palate. At Rolls on Rolls, they do away with the niceties and follow through on the mission to deliver maximum heat.
In an attempt to launch a new series on this blog, I am going to dedicate each Friday to food—specifically, food served from a truck. You see, I recently won (OK, my wife and our friend won) a raffle prize at an event called “Trucko de Mayo” entitling us (OK, mostly me so far) to a free meal from more than 30 different food trucks in the Washington, D.C. area.
With that, I have the unique opportunity to sample a variety of cuisine while inhaling the sweet essence of diesel fumes in our nation’s capital. In doing so, I will review the vendors and dishes…mostly just for fun. More importantly, I hope to decipher whether the food truck craze is justified by virtue of the quality of their menus, or whether it is simply a passing fad to capitalize on our insatiable quest as Americans to eat in every possible location, venue and setting throughout our great country.
Since I occasionally watch foodie programs on TV and am biologically programmed to consume food to survive, you can rest assured that my opinion counts just as much as any other Joe Schmoe on TV who has ever taken a bite into a luscious carne asada taco only to be met with disgust upon recognizing that the “meat” consists of heavily seasoned shoulder fat scraped together from the butcher’s refuse pile.
But first, a quick look into the foodie phenomenon that has overtaken the U.S. of A.