He stands over the grill, chopping chicken, lamb, and broccoli with a metal paddle. After he stops chopping he presses down on the meat with an aluminum foil plate. As he presses, the juice from the meat spreads out slowly, bubbling away vigorously. He fills a large Styrofoam box with fresh lettuce and tomatoes on the left and a brown colored rice on the right. After filling the box, he removes the press and scoops the meat with two metal paddles and lays it upon the rice and vegetable.
“White Sauce, Hot Sauce please?,” the cook asks. “A little bit of both,” replies the customer. To which the cook proceeds to lather the box with white sauce and hot sauce. He closes the box, slips it into a plastic bag, and passes it the customer who hands over a five-dollar bill. “Next please,” the cook exclaims, signaling another customer in line for their order.
This is a common procedure for the cook, Hussain Mudassar, a Pakistani man who operates the Zaiqa halal food cart on the corner of Hillel Place and Campus Road. Mudassar was born in Punjab, Pakistan, Pakistan’s most populous and developed region. Before he moved to the United States, he was student in Pakistan. He came to the United States 20 years ago and like most immigrants, he came looking for a better life. Before running the halal food cart, Mudassar drove a tow truck and before that he drove a yellow taxicab.
“I felt I had to into the halal cart business,” was reason for setting up shop and he claims that when he first set up shop in the area he was the only halal food cart around, before the halal food carts by Target and in front of Brooklyn College on Bedford Avenue. Mudassar says that “before it was good, now it is slow,” as he describes the impact of competition on his business. Despite the competition, Mudassar continues to provide economic sized meals. “I love the job and cooking is my passion,” he proclaims. His food is well worth the price, whether it is chicken, lamb, or both over rice, his platters all cost five dollars and all of his gyros are four dollars each.
“I make good food,” he says, displaying pride in his work. “I use Basmati rice, the best rice in the world,” he says while describing the quality of his food. Basmati rice is a long grain rice with a nonstick texture that commands a higher price than most rice types and is grown in South Asian regions. He prepares his food the night before, such as marinating the chicken and mixing up a batch of white sauce. He never serves leftovers either, and anything that he does have left over is given to the poor and homeless. His work is labor intensive. The air around his cart is hot, moist, and uncomfortable even on mild day, having to work in the summer heat makes it even more gruesome, and is also filled with the fragrance of the spices he uses. He serves other food items as well such as falafel, and sometimes fries. He also plans on expanding menu to include fish.
Mudassar moves his cart with a truck and is open for business at around 9:30 to 6:30 depending on the traffic. During the weeks students do not attend classes, Mudassar uses these short breaks to get recertified.
Mudassar is a man passionate about delivering delicious food with a generous heart. He is a hard working Pakistani immigrant. And he provides the quality and value that many Brooklyn College students look for during their many years of study.