When Arabic and Bengali becomes useful- only in New York City

I have finally found knowing Bengali and Arabic useful, at the same time: at the hahal food cart on the corner of 42nd street and 5th avenue.

This is like any other typical cart you may have seen around the city- small, wobbly steel box on small wheels, pasted with bright posters of various meat sandwiches all over its outer wall, with the smell of grease and lamb taking over a ten feet radius. Go between noon and 2 pm and you will be on a line behind investment bankers, few confused tourists, and stick thin women on heels in need to indulge. The food is a mix of Middle Eastern, Greek, and Indian- my favorite kind all in one. So of course I was going to make the carts my new best friends.

Lucky for me there is one right outside of my building, towards 5th avenue. I had a particular craving for chicken and wait obediently in line and notice that the two men running the place is a Bangladeshi and an Arab. So of course I get excited and start babbling away in both languages as I order. And they were so confused at first, and then the Arabic guy asked me why, and how I knew both languages. I wanted to go off on my normal story but you can’t exactly do that at 1 pm in Manhattan with hungry, impatient bankers and analysts lined behind you. Especially not when you are a lowly intern.

It was amusing to order and ask for various ingredients and transact money in both languages. They found this hilarious, and gave me a discount, and made me promise to come back. Which I have been, though it is not the healthiest decision especially since they have taken a liking to give me extra rice and meat every time in portions that could feed a family. So far, my four minute interactions led me to listen about their kids, or how they hate their plumber. And of course get corrected in my language, which I guess is a good thing.

This is one of my favorite things about this city- how the diversity can come together and work without drawing a lot of attention. You can see that just from looking at the carts- you are never really sure what it is exactly they are serving. Is it Thai and Chinese fusion? Mexican and Korean together? Greek and Indian, somehow blended together? The food is mixed, the people working together come from different ethnicities, but all at the same time at an ease you can’t find anywhere else.

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