Anyone who lives near or has frequented the area over the last ten years will have noticed the change. via Haandi, Curry Hill Restaurant, Is Popular Among Cabbies – NYTimes.com.
LATE at night, there are intervals when Urdu is the only language spoken in Haandi, a fanatically adored restaurant that may be the most popular after-hours spot in the area known as Curry Hill. It is as integral to some taxi drivers’ routines as the gas needed to refuel their cars.
Stacks of free newspapers like New York Awam and The Pakistan Post sit inside the entrance, on Lexington Avenue near 28th Street. Only chai, not coffee, is served. By day, business bustles with students and office workers. At night, Pakistani and Indian cabdrivers meet to change shifts with partners, one having dinner, the other breakfast. Others stop to wash in the restrooms before prayers, and sometimes, when the restaurant is not busy, they kneel to pray on the lower level.
The white walls have little decoration. The food counter, however, is a sea of spice and color: lamb shanks emerging from oily red lagoons, rich green saag, yellow biriyani, freshly buttered naan; hard-to-find dishes like paya — cow foot soup — lack any description on the wall menu.
Haandi’s two owners, Shabbir Sial and Artaza Ali, are childhood friends from Nizamabad, a small town in Pakistan. They started cooking in Curry Hill in the 1990s and returned to found Haandi in 2001; a devoted clientele of cabdrivers followed them there.
Two regulars, Tariq Mahmood and Shafqat Bhatti, had just capped the workday with a feast. Their taxis were parked outside. They nursed their bellies and spooned sugar into their chai.
“This is my brother,” Mr. Mahmood said, pointing to Mr. Bhatti. “Actually, he is my cousin, but we say ‘brother.’ It is our culture.”
And when “brothers” and “sisters” marry in most cultures it’s called incest, and it has serious health affects.
“The only culture here is money,” he joked, speaking of America.
As Joe Pesci said in Goodfellas, “Funny how?” It’s hard for Muslims to know about American culture when they hold Islamic conferences on all major U.S. holidays and choose to establish enclaves. Stop by Mahmood’s and make a few jokes about Pakistani and Islamic culture. See if you get any laughs. Then ask Mahmood why he came to America.
It was the second visit of his shift for Mr. Mahmood. He eats at Haandi almost every day, as Mr. Bhatti does; it has been a practice for years. “Ninety percent of cabdrivers are Pakistani,” he said. “The quality is best here. ”
An older man with a rich silver beard, who wore a traditional shalwar kameez, walked in. “Salaam aleikum,” he said to the server.
“There!” Mr. Mahmood said of the Muslim greeting. “You see? This is customary.”
Mr. Bhatti smiled and agreed: “This is customary.”
Mr. Khan, a cabbie from Lahore, Pakistan, has frequented Haandi for eight years, he said, and was a regular of the restaurants in Curry Hill, in Rose Hill, long before that.
“This was a dangerous area 30 years ago,” he recalled. “You didn’t want to come here. But it was one of the few places to eat Indian in the city. Cabdrivers even came then.”
The newcomer finished his food and left without thanking his benefactor. Mr. Khan paid no attention.
Also part of the culture apparently, as opposed to the culture of only money.
Just before the restaurant closed at 4 a.m., Mr. Khan prepared to head out into the predawn cold. “I come not just to eat,” he said, “but to pray, to use the bathroom. It’s my place.”