Taste the Caribbean on this Bustling Bronx Corner
It’s a scene that plays out countless times all over the city: harried office workers, commuters and visitors lined up at nondescript food carts. But get closer to the cart on the corner of East 161st Street and Concourse Village West and Fauzia Abdur-Rahman’s lilting voice breaks through the street noise, while smells of the Caribbean—simmering rice and beans, codfish fritters, jerk chicken—draw you closer to her cart, Fauzia’s Heavenly Delights.
Abdur-Rahman and her husband, Amin Rasheed, arrive at the corner, steps from the Bronx criminal and civil courthouse by 9 o’clock most mornings. Inside the food cart they fire up the grill and begin cooking. Exactly what changes every day.
“It’s boring making the same things everyday, which is one of the main reasons I don’t have a menu,” Abdur-Rahman said. “I can’t stick to a menu, I have to cook how I feel.”
There are always a few vegetarian dishes and the sides—which include items such as rice and beans, steamed yams with broccoli and corn, and mixed vegetables—are always vegan. Meat dishes vary between her famous jerk chicken, goat or lamb curry and more. There are fish options; fresh-made drinks including sorrel made with Star Anise, cinnamon, ginger and cloves; pineapple lemonade and desserts, many of which she makes, such as the banana pudding, but also the carrot cake she gets from Bronx favorite Lloyd’s.
“To me food is like the paint you put on a canvas: You just have to play with it,” Abdur-Rahman said. “Like a masterpiece, you start drawing little squiggly lines until you get something that you’re, like, wow.”
While she’s constantly creating new food combinations her family inspired many of the recipes. Her mother helped her develop the jerk for her famous chicken, her vegetarian husband inspired her tofu dishes, her aunt her cabbage and her customers have gotten used to seeing certain items on specific days. Thursdays, for instance, there is a potato, spinach and carrots combination that started with potatoes while Abdur-Rahman slowly tried adding different vegetables until settling on the spinach and carrots. You’ll find no added sugar, MSG or artificial flavorings in any of the dishes.
Abdur-Rahman had no formal business or chef training when she and her husband first pulled a food cart up to a corner of the Bronx. Maternity leave for the mother of two had just ended and, struggling to pay her bills, she decided not to go to back her work as a social worker. She had been doing a little vending on the weekends, selling sorrel and codfish cakes, and with her mother’s encouragement to start a business she decided to take the vending to the next level.
“It just so happened they were giving out food vending licenses at the time, and it was first come, first served, so my husband and I slept out there all night and got a license,” Abdur-Rahman said.
With the license, which by chance was Bronx specific, and a custom-built cart, the pair drove around the Bronx looking for a place to set up, ending up briefly at Lincoln Hospital before being driven off by another food vendor.
“We drove around and we came up this block and they had just taken off the scaffolding off this building and we stopped right here and my husband was, like, ‘How about this corner?’” Abdur-Rahman said.
That was 26 years ago and Abdur-Rahman and Rasheed have been at East 161st Street and Concourse Village West ever since. The business has been profitable enough to keep them going, allow them to buy a co-op and send their children to college. These days it’s not as much of a hustle. On days when it’s extremely cold, downpouring or scorching, the couple no longer sees the need to work. But when they are open, it’s the customers that put a smile on their faces and keep them coming back.
“My customers are the best. They are so sweet, so loyal. I have customers that have been here from the first day. I get so sad when they come and tell me they’re retiring, but then I have a new young crew that comes in,” Abdur-Rahman said. “It’s a cycle.”
As the weather warms up Abdur-Rahman and Rasheed will briefly abandon their East 161st corner to head to Governor’s Island. During the summer the menu stays as unpredictable as ever, although they tend to favor lighter, cooler options that include chilled soups, smoothies and other fresh juices, and seaweed salad.