“White sauce, Sir?”
“Not too much.”
“Just a bit.”
It’s a familiar exchange and, granted, one I used to have much more often when, with my devil-may-care attitude toward nutrition, I bee-lined over to King Tut Halal twice, thrice, sometimes four times a week. It’s not that I don’t care about my health, you see, it’s just…when the delicious taste of those chopped-up chicken thighs beckons, it’s damn near impossible to resist the urge. It doesn’t care if life is good or bad. The craving always comes, and when it does, you must have it.
It’s not that I didn’t know that chicken-and-rice (or worse and more devilishly delicious, lamb) is not at the top of Michelle Obama’s food pyramid, it’s that I was not aware of the scope of the damage. So when I started looking up calorie counts online for some of my favorite foods, the numbers, though all over the map, were shocking. Several websites listed a standard chicken platter at 1800 calories or higher. The most conservative estimates had it at 1200. That was it–I had gone too far behind the scenes. I wished that I had never looked up this stupid fact, that I could put this message back in the bottle and chuck it back out to sea. But I had to face reality. As things stood, there was no way I could continue to patronize the Halal stand at the same frequency. Not without feeling guilty every time I tried to hold my loved ones’ gaze.
Still, I hadn’t forsaken my neighborhood protein-and-rice dispensary altogether. Every once in a while I would allow myself a treat. I was much chagrined to discover that my Halal guy, a fixture on the scene for months, if not years, was replaced by another whose face I’d never seen before. Another man with another mustache and other mannerisms. And then another, and another. The tasty constant that had anchored my workaday existence was gone. For me, it was like losing a really special math teacher in the 8th grade for improprieties. (Sure, he might have cursed at the kids and flaunted a few rules, but man, did he run one hell of an after-school math club!)
Suddenly there was no choice of yellow rice vs. basmati. No one inquired about my onion preferences. I couldn’t even muster enthusiasm to ask about a bonus falafel anymore. What’s worse, I ceased to much care about it, one way or the other. Only one question still linked up one nameless vendor with the next: “White sauce?…Hot?”
In a city where Halal guys come and go, where does a man look for comfort?