What is mujaddara?
- An Afghan guerrilla hiding in the crevices of the
- A dark polyester veil wrapped around the sweating brow of an
observant Muslim woman.
No, it is neither of those things. But it’s still a mystery to me –
green lentils, both pasty and firm, moist but not enough to make the
bread soggy, topped with French’s golden fried onions, or some natural
equivalent. What else is in it? And why is it so freaking delicious with
a little tahini and hot sauce?
Where’s the old man? I want to watch him make my sandwich. You have
never seen a man take so much pride in his sandwich creation.
The old man wears a paper cap, the kind that fattens into the shape of an eye when you squeeze the two edges together.
OLD MAN: What do you want?
ME: Mujaddara sandwich.
I wait for it.
OLD MAN: Mujaddara!
The word is magical from him. My coworker Jesse and I
practice imitating the old man’s mujaddara song. Mujaddara! MujaDRA!
Mujjadddra! It never gets old.
Try to order a combo, which is totally encouraged by the overhead menu,
and the old man will look at you with disappointment in his filmy eyes.
OLD MAN: You don’t want that. Your sandwich will fall apart.
He waits for the inevitable cave-in.
ME: Okay, just mujaddara, then.
OLD MAN: Mujaddara.
And then he turns back to the counter, picking out a container
deliberately. He chooses a pita and returns to the steam table, dipping
the huge spoon into the aluminum tray, as he does every day at lunch
He is slow. S-l-o-w. But he overstuffs that pita with more love than it
has ever felt in its brief, floury life.
OLD MAN: Lettuce toMAYto?
ME: Yes please.
OLD MAN: Hot sauce?
ME: Yes, please.
A few minutes pass. Maybe I turn to the many refrigerator cases behind me to grab a kelly green bottle of elderflower soda, or to eyeball the odd imported beverages — soda of wormwood, sherbet-colored mango lassi, names emblazoned on the labels in the font equivalent of jazz hands.
The sandwich is wrapped in wax paper and sliced in half. Here it comes. He turns to his co-sandwich makers, his small hands wrapped around each C-cup half of the mujaddara sandwich.
OLD MAN: Look how beautiful. That is a beautiful sandwich.
His smile is genuine, and those milky glazed eyes light up. He nestles that perfect sandwich gently into its foil container, packs a few pickles on top and puts a lid on it.
How can you not love a man like that?
But where’s the old man today? I ask his colleagues, one a middle eastern man with a salt and pepper mane and a lazy eye, the other a tall African man with a round nose and apple-y cheeks.
ME: Where’s the boss?
SALT AND PEPPER: He’s in the kitchen.
I imagine him working his alchemy on another potful, a small and shrinking man smiling lovingly at the lentils and whispering his incantation –
OLD MAN: Mujaddara…
Lexington and 28th
Also recommended: The olive oil moistened spinach with toasted slivered almonds and onion, the turmeric eggplant. But not in your sandwich! Take your sandwich to go and sit in Madison Square Park — heaven. Also, I can’t get enough of their dried California apricots and “colossal” California pistachios, roasted and unsalted.