Married couple aged 26 and 30 – Him: Banking, Her: Science/Immunology PhD graduate now in medical writing. Together we have put together The Halal Plug – Connecting muslims to a plethora of leading halal restaurants through the ramblings of a hungry mind.
I love travelling, eating and discovering new restaurants. Although my culinary skills aren’t half bad, my main skill set lies in consuming whatever tasty cuisines I can sink my teeth into.
My love for food is no secret. My heritage is Indian (Sindhi), however my mother and father grew up in Singapore and Vietnam respectively. My mixed background has meant that I have been exposed to a variety of food and cuisine from a young age, and despite being mocked for my frequent inability to finish an entire meal, I still enjoy trying every type of cuisine possible!
Initially when I reverted to Islam over 6 years ago, I found the halal food barrier incredibly frustrating. I was studying at University of Bristol at a time where halal meat wasn’t readily available. My inexperience meant that I would readily indulge in anything halal I could get my hands on, which usually consisted of a greasy kebab or an international buffet serving poor quality food.
Eventually my frustration at not finding good halal food turned to curiosity as I began to search a bit harder for local halal cuisines in my area. I began to discover some of the ‘hidden gems’ Bristol had to offer, and came to the realisation that halal food extended far beyond the local Turkish kebab shop. One example is Afro Delight, a small family run Jamaican restaurant in St. Paul’s. This was my first experience with Caribbean cuisine (it has since shut down unfortunately).
During my weekend breaks over the last 7 years I was constantly exploring and discovering new halal restaurants and cuisines as I travelled to cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham as well as delving into Scotland. During this time, I enjoyed researching the options for grabbing food to satisfy each craving I had.
After studying in Bristol, I moved to Birmingham to study my Masters and PhD, where I lived for four years. During this time I well and truly discovered everything the city had to offer in terms of international halal cuisine, and although my time there has come to an end, a little coaxing from my best friend gave me the courage to now write about my culinary experiences both within and outside of the UK. Where best to start than in my new home, London?
You know you’re serious about food when your life motto tells you two poor meals in a day is unacceptable and must be put right immediately.
Being an 80’s baby, the last 30 years has seen an exponential growth in the availability and variety of halal meat from takeaways and restaurants. This, coincidently also has a direct correlation with the growth of my waistline over the same time period.
As a young boy, I recall salivating at all the adverts on TV for McD’s, Burger King and the like, wishing I could take just one bite to know how it feels to enjoy food the way other kids did at school. I understood why as Muslims we only eat halal meat, but it didn’t stop me feeling like life was grossly unfair when I had been invited to a kid’s birthday party and McD’s (you know them ones where there was a ball pit and that cool little play house), and I’m watching everyone tuck into their chicken nuggets and big mac’s whilst I’m stuck with some cold french fries – never having that feeling of collecting the toy you get inside a Happy Meal, and instead having to replicate the joy by collecting a free plastic spoon from the Nesquik cereal box instead.
As I got older, from 7-10, the market had started to change, and the emergence of Dixy Chicken changed MY life forever. Now, we had our own version of KFC and it was amazing. Suddenly, I started to look forward to being dragged to Ilford Lane to shop with my parents as it opened up the possibility of being treated to a chicken burger or a value box. I think thats why I’ll never be ‘too grown up’ or ‘too classy’ for hitting the fried chicken shop, no matter how many posh bistros and chicken and waffles eateries open up.
As time went on and I entered my teenage years, the range of halal take aways grew steadily, soon we were discovering all the basic options we take for granted today – Al Farooqs, Kebabish, Tayyabs, Ruby’s (Ambala) to name a few. These were exciting times, and although predominantly Indian or kebab type places, it was enough to keep us happy. It would be difficult to find halal meat outside of these options or if you were out somewhere away from home – but it was a real treat or a special occasion when one of the above was on the cards for dinner.
In my late teen’s, things really took off with the emergence of Nando’s, and it was at this point other genres entered the equation – Sahara Grill for example. This period of life saw a change from having halal takeaways on a special occasion, to excitement at regularly discovering new and different options for halal food. Moving to Manchester for University initially meant an acceptance that the majority of food I would eat would be vegetarian, but by then, even frozen options were available from Indian grocery shops and clearly with Manchester being the multicultural city it is with a heavy presence of muslims, I was soon discovering ‘Curry Mile’ and the hundreds of options for food.
Until this point, halal food was a bonus, a luxury, something to be valued, treasured and appreciated. What has happened in the last 10 years can only be described as a madness, although it’s taken me a while to realise it. Initially, The Halal Plug idea was an opportunity for me to share knowledge of where halal food could be found, helping people who maybe had been through similar struggles to find food both at home and abroad. However, I very quickly realised that actually, halal food isn’t a novelty anymore, it isn’t something which is exciting and saved for special occasions now – it is an expectation. Not only can you find big chains like KFC, Subway, Las Iguana’s, GBK etc serving halal meat – but the food business in general has become totally saturated with every type of cuisine you could imagine with the expectation of it being halal. It is now actually a surprise when dining out and the meat isn’t halal – how crazy is that? Something I could have only dreamt about when I was 5. Holiday after holiday, wherever I would go, it wouldn’t be difficult to figure out halal dining options. Yet somehow, my eyes, belly and heart light up as if I was still that 5 year old kid when I see or receive confirmation that an establishment is halal.
Fast forward to today, and the issue really isn’t whether a place serves halal meat. In fact, these days, things have escalated to the point where there’s debate over the different types of Halal with various certifications (HMC/HFA) and ethics considerations – Alhamdulillah, what a position to be in where one has the luxury of being able to practice to the level of ‘halalness’ that best suit’s their belief’s and still be spoilt for choice.
As a result, my posts on The Halal Plug aren’t just about providing info into where halal eateries are found, but it’s really the insight that comes with my experience of dining at them places. Being spoilt for choice means we aren’t just satisfied with the halal factor, because with over 10000 alternatives, it’s important to choose the place that you know will deliver against your expectations. Opinions are clearly subjective, but feedback from those around me suggest I do have a knack for identifying whether the food will hit the spot. My aim here is to equip you with the knowledge of what’s hot and what’s not, to ensure you are never in my nightmare position of having two poor meals in a day…