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Falafel Kingdoms

By Aaron D. Mihalik

Associate Features Editor

During their first days at MIT students pick up on a few things pretty quickly -- getting a hair cut from the tech barbers is a bad idea, buying books from The Coop is costly and buying lunch from a food truck is the way to go.

Moishe Katz, the owner of “Moishe’s Chicken” summed up the food truck experience: “I think it’s great... we cater for the students and they get the best price and the best quality of food right here. I think it’s a jewel for the students.”

New food trucks add more variety

Butch Harris, the operator of the new “Alrights Catering & BB-q Co.” truck near Building 66 is the newest food truck at MIT. Although Harris is just beginning his food truck career, he has been a chef and caterer since the early 70s.

“I’m at a point in life where it’s more of a nurturing thing,” said Harris. “It’s like being in my kitchen when you walk up to this window.”

His pristine yellow truck is easily distinguishable among some of the more dilapidated trucks near Building 66. “We built the truck specifically to come here,” said Harris. It was built, he said, “for the 21st century.”

His new facilities address “a lot of concerns over food today, especially sanitation, the health, [and] the safety of the food.” These issues “are very important to me,” said Harris. Other food vendors are improving their conditions as well. For instance, Moishe’s Chicken, one of the oldest food truck businesses, is now housed in a new truck.

Harris’ menu is constantly changing to include dishes that both taste good and can be served quickly. “There is a great emphasis on speed,” said Harris. If a dish cannot be “good food fast, then we can’t serve it.” As a result “we’ve had to drop and modify a lot of dishes... that just don’t work in this environment.”

Owners have had experience

Some of the food trucks have been serving at MIT for over twenty years. Yona Shentov and Katz are two such people. Shentov runs “Maurice’s Pizzeria” near Building 66. Katz, who is the original owner of the “Falafel King” and has since kept the nickname, manages a handful of other trucks in addition to Moishe’s Chicken.

Katz, like many of the other food truck owners, used to own a restaurant. “I didn’t like the restaurant... [and] once I got into a truck, I gave up on the restaurant,” said Katz. Owing a restaurant requires “too many hours and too much aggravation. In the lunch truck, I work lunch, then I go home.”

Shentov had a similiar experience with managing a restaurant. When you own a restaurant “you have to stay 14-15 hours a day [and] by the time you have reached 40, it’s too much.” Working at the food trucks only during the lunch hour offers a welcome alternative.

Trucks serve authentic food

Many students eat at food trucks because they offer types of food that neither Lobdell nor Walker can provide. The food trucks offer eclectic foods that are appealing to their customers. For instance “CousCous Kitchen” on Mass Ave offers customers authentic Middle East and Greek entrees.

Boutros Youssef and his wife Ahalan Khaled have been working the crosswalk for nearly five years and Youssef has been a chef for almost 40 years. “I started working as a cook when I was 13 years old,” said Youssef. He specializes in Middle East and Greek type of food because he knows the food “better than anybody else... and it’s my food,” said Youssef.

Although there are a number of places in Cambridge to eat Middle Eastern type food, Youssef maintains that his is superior. He complains about the packaged and refrigerated foods offered at supermarkets. “They pack it and put it in the fridge,” said Youssef. “You can’t do the Middle Eastern food like this. We do it every day, fresh. [We use] a lot of fresh lemon, garlic, everyday.”

Youssef attributes three points to his success as a food vendor. “Chicken is chicken,” but the falafel is difficult for other food venders to emulate, said Youssef. Also a falafel is not too expensive. “Not everybody is rich. I have to find something that is not too expensive for everyone.” Finally, “almost 75 percent or more” of Youssef’s customers are repeat customers, he said.