Note: The 2009 Vendy Awards, a celebration of New York street food, will be held on September 26 at the Queens Museum of Art (buy tickets here). All proceeds will benefit the Street Vendor Project, an arm of the Urban Justice Center, advocating for the interests of New York street vendors. This year's five finalists will all be on hand to feed the crowds, the judges, and compete for the ultimate title in street food. Each day this week, we'll be profiling one of the finalists.
Winner of the 2008 Vendy People's Choice Award, The Biryani Cart is one of this year's only two repeat finalists. So popular is this fixture of the Midtown street food scene, holding down the busy corner of 46th Street and 6th Avenue for more than five years, that owner and operator Meru Sikder recently added a second, adjacent cart (dubbed "Sandwich Land") during lunch hours, next to the original operation.
Why all the love? To start, of course, there's the biryani, the chicken-and-rice dish that gives the cart its name—a pile of tender, spiced basmati with slivers of juicy chicken, a whole egg korma, and a mango pickle ($6). Sikder also serves a rice plate with chicken tikka masala ($6), familiar to anyone who's dabbled in Indian food, though far lighter on the sauce than you'd find in a restaurant curry.
But hang around the Biryani Cart line long enough, and you'll soon see that the real draw is the kati rolls—roughly speaking, India's answer to the soft taco. At Biryani Cart, the kati are rolled in a tender chapati flatbread. Thinner than a pita, doughier than a tortilla, it's a chewy, buttery cradle for the meats piled inside.
Kati rolls come two to an order ($6), in a number of different incarnations, mostly dominated by chicken and spice—the firey, mint-habanero Spicy Buradi roll, spiced chicken tikka King Koti roll, and the Pune roll, flavored with a far milder chaat masala. Those looking for a sweeter tang should opt for the chicken Chennai roll. There's also a nicely spiced lamb roll, and an aloo gobi with cauliflower and potatoes,
Biryani's auxiliary cart, "Sandwich Land," covers the usual street food bases—lamb gyros, chicken pitas, falafel, cheesesteaks. (Zach Brooks is a particular fan of the Buffalo Chicken Pita.) Tasty? Sure. Worth your time? In our opinion, absolutely not. It'd be like walking into Peter Luger and ordering chicken. Unless you've utterly exhausted your capacity for kati rolls, there's no reason to venture elsewhere on the menu.
The Biryani Cart
SW Corner of 46th Street and Sixth Avenue, New York NY 10036 (map)
Vendys Video: The Biryani Cart
For more info on the Vendy Awards, visit streetvendor.org/vendys.