Muslim foodies are celebrating the end of the fast with California's first Halal Fest, where nearly two dozen vendors are selling everything from halal hot dogs to cake pops. All the goodies have been prepared according to Islamic dietary law.
Halal Fest is being held today at New Park Mall in Newark, Calif. The free festival comes on the heels of other halal-focused events elsewhere, including in New Jersey, Chicago and Toronto.
“I got the idea after I visited New York City,” said Irfan Rydhan of San Jose, 38, a self-described “halal foodie” and Muslim activist who is one of eight key California Halal Fest organizers. “I saw all these halal food carts, and I wondered why we couldn’t do that here.”
So he started talking to friends last summer and began planning the festival, which will boast not only food but also Moroccan jazz and skateboard, fitness, chess and hip-hop demonstrations. Rydhan said he hopes at least 2,000 people will attend. As of this week, his group’s Facebook page has more than 1,200 “likes.”
The California festival follows what Sameer Sarmast of Sameer's Eats started last summer in New Brunswick, N.J., where about 3,000 halal-lovers came to what was dubbed as the country's first halal food fest.
"It was pretty successful," Sarmast, the online host of the Muslim equivalent to Guy Fieri, told NBC Bay Area on Tuesday.
It appears the halal craze is catching on.
"It’s crazy how much interest there is in this," said Aysha Mohsin, 28, of Milpitas, another Halal Fest organizer. "Food is at the center of bringing so many people together. And food trucks are so trendy right now. We just thought, 'Why not host a festival?'"
Halal means “permissible” in Arabic and is similar to kosher food for Jews. Muslims who keep halal don’t eat pork or drink alcohol. Animals must be slaughtered in a particular way and God’s name must be invoked during the act.
And it’s not just kabobs and falafel that are considered halal. Just take a look at this festival’s menu to see the wide array of halal offerings: Brisket soft tacos by King’s BBQ and Grill in Fremont, southern fried chicken by New Africa Kitchen prepared at the Masjid Waritheen mosque in Oakland, chocolate-dipped bananas by Livermore Donut Wheel, organic cupcakes by RajaBelle’s in San Jose, bean and carrot pies by Raoof’s in San Jose and mango orange piña coladas (virgin, of course) from Maui Wowi Hawaiian Coffee and Smoothies.
For the Halal Fest organizers, the event means more than just having a calorie-rich day eating chicken tikka masala and sipping New Africa sweet tea. It’s about embracing a rich, religious tradition and showcasing the diversity of the culture to the rest of the world. It’s also, organizers believe, a way to become closer to God.
“This is going to be a historic event for California,” Rydhan said. “We believe in the spiritual benefits on halal food. We believe if you put good things in your body, then good things will happen to you in your life.”
IF YOU’RE INTERESTED: To learn more about Halal Fest, click on halalfest.com. The event is free. Food tokens are available at the festival and online. Please bring a canned item of food, no pork please, to donate. The festival runs from noon to 7 p.m. Parking is free.
To see a promotional video about the Halal Fest on Youtube, click here: