The History of the Halal Cart

The History of the Halal Cart

If there is one thing to describe the true hustle and bustle of New York City, it would undoubtedly be street vending. Street vending has been an excellent way for new immigrants to get accustomed to their new home country.

In today’s society, halal food controls the streets of New York. However, this wasn’t always the case. Essentially, street vending has evolved over the years. Yet, not many people know where it originated from. In fact, the earliest form of street food included either oysters or clams. At one point, it was the food of the people. As European immigrants continued to come to New York, the street food changed from seafood to foods like pickles, knishes, and sausages. In the late 20th century, Greek souvlaki and kabobs were being sold from these street carts. Soon after, the Muslim population increased, and so did halal carts.

Quite frankly, there is no clear “first cart” in halal cart history. In fact, the most famous halal cart vendor, the Halal Guys, started off as a hot dog stand in the 1990s. According to the Halal Guys website, the business took off when they made the switch from serving hot dogs to actual halal meals. From making the switch, their business actually expanded exponentially.

It can be said that Muslims took over the street-cart business in the 1990s from the Greeks, who took over for the Italian and German street vendors. In an analysis of data from 1990, the Queens College sociology department found that 306 first-generation German and Italian New Yorkers identified themselves as members of an occupational category that included the job title “street vendor”. However, by the year of 2005, that figure fell to zero. During that period, the number of people who identified themselves as Egyptians, Bangladeshis and Afghans surged to 563 from only 69. Essentially that’s about seven times more than recorded over 15 years ago.

With such an influx of immigrants with a similar background taking on jobs such as taxi drivers and street vendors, it is no wonder as to why halal carts came to fruition in the first place. According to an article posted by the New York Times, there were about 400 Bangladeshi immigrants to the city per year in the 1980s. This soon increased to about 3,900 in the mid 1990s. This wave of immigration coincides with the beginnings of many halal carts opening up in New York City.

Halal carts are considered to be one of the most quintessential elements to New York living. The reason why people love halal carts is simple: the food is cheap and filling. They have taken New York by storm and have helped its workers assimilate and become accustomed to living in not only the United States, but in the city. Street vending has evolved throughout the years and has continued to remain successful regardless of the food being served. With each new influx of immigrants, street vending changes. Yet, its customers still remain intrigued and hungry. We don’t know how long the halal cart craze will last, but we do know this: New Yorkers will always be hungry and eager to try something new.

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