New York City is catholic (in the non-religious sense) in its embrace of different cultures, food and people.
And sure enough of Halal too.
These days it seems as if every direction we turn in New York City there’s a food establishment proclaiming its food to be Halal.
The other day as we were walking through the Pakistani enclave of Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn we did a double-take upon seeing the sign Halal Pizza (at the intersection of Coney Island Ave and Foster Ave).
So we’d assume this pizzeria does not offer the popular Pepperoni topping made from Pork.
Or if it does, the Pepperoni won’t include cured pork but will instead be made from beef or chicken.
Halal Pizza @ Coney Island Ave, Brooklyn
It’s not just pizza places in Brooklyn that have embraced Halal.
Go to midtown Manhattan and you’ll find food carts screaming their Halal-hood.
Hey, there’s even a food cart in Midtown West Manhattan labeled The Halal Guys (see picture below).
Can a NYC food establishment get more Halalesque than incorporating Halal in its very name?
We think not.
Halal Guys W.53rd St in Midtown Manhattan
If there are less than a few dozen Halal food carts in Midtown Manhattan alone, we’d be surprised.
Food carts abound in Midtown Manhattan because it’s a tourist hub given the proximity to Times Square and some prominent museums like MOMA.
Also, there are a lot of businesses, including giants like Morgan Stanley, in Midtown and all those employees have to eat somewhere.
And these days eating cheaply is a sine qua non for many.
Here’s another Halal food cart that we ran into near the famous Museum of Modern Art, again in Midtown Manhattan.
Halal Food Cart near MOMA in NYC
If so many Manhattan eateries have enthusiastically embraced Halal, surely their harbingers must have been in the ethnic neighborhoods of Queens.
Take the 7 train from Times Square to the South Asian neighborhood of Jackson Heights and sure enough there’s the Halal evidence in plain sight as you descend the stairs to 74th St.
Walk through the dirty 73rd and 74th Sts along 37th Ave in Jackson Heights and there you see the Halal food carts with their intoxicating (or nauseating if you’re a vegetarian) aroma of Chicken and Beef Kebabs.
Halal Dishes Food Cart 74th St, Jackson Heights, NY
What is Halal Food?
To understand this Halal phenomenon, we set off to do some research.
First of, what does the word Halal mean?
Anon we went to Encyclopedia Britannica, which surprisingly has no reference to Halal food.
So we headed to Wikipedia, which describes Halal as:
a term designating any object or an action which is permissible to use or engage in, according to Islamic law
By the way, the opposite of Halal is Haram (forbidden).
The word Halal is most often applied to food.
For more information on Halal as it applies to food, we traipsed over to the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA) web site.
IFANCA tells us that all food is Halal except the following Haram items:
Swine/Pork and its by-products
Animals improperly slaughtered or dead before slaughtering
Alcoholic drinks and intoxicants
Carnivorous animals, birds of prey and certain other animals
Foods contaminated with any of the above products
So don’t expect to see Pork Fried Rice on the menu of any of these Halal establishments.
Pork is out.
But Beef, Chicken, Lamb, Goat and Fish are in.
Why Halal Food in NYC?
The Muslim population in NYC although substantial at 700,000 is still not big when you consider the city’s total population of about 8 million.
So then why these ubiquitous Halal signs if there aren’t that many Muslims and if most of the customers are non-Muslims?
In our analysis, the main reason – A lot of food carts and restaurants in ethnic enclaves like Brooklyn’s Coney Island Ave) or Jackson Heights (73rd and 74th St) and Midtown Manhattan are owned mostly by Muslims, often immigrants.
By declaring their food to be Halal, these Muslim immigrants are essentially telling other Muslims of their strict adherence to Islamic precepts even in a distant nation far from native shores.
As for customers, our hypothesis is that most New Yorkers couldn’t care less if their food is Halal or Haram as long as it’s cheap, plentiful and tasty (in that order).
Well, some Pakistani food carts in Midtown Manhattan already serve Masala Dosa but we’re not sure if it’s Halal!
Even “Hot Breads” near my home claims to use Zaheeba Halal meat in their preparation.
Hot Breads is a popular eatery in Chennai.
Hmmm, so Chicago desis are eating Halal Puffs and pies!
Don’t remember seeing the Halal signs in their NJ stores.
Wonder why Hindus don’t have something equivalent like Ram-Ram to ram home their abhorrence of beef.
That way, American Hindus can quickly know for sure that the juicy Kebabs they’re digging into are not made from the Holy Cow!
Dare we say that Americans too will find Ram-Ram quiet appealing!
Ram this Kebab down your throat, baby has a nice feeling to it. 😉
The Jews, of course, have their bland Kosher stuff.