Over the holidays, we dashed across the pond for a quick visit to one of my all time favourite destinations, New York. For me, half the fun in going away is the late nights I usually spend researching and planning my time away which culminates in dizzying levels of excitement and a list of things I *have* to do on arrival. Being Muslim means that in addition to putting together a list of all my must-sees and dos, I usually spend some time doing my homework on the availability of halal food outlets or vegetarian alternatives.
Interestingly through my travels I have discovered that halal means different things to different people. In the States in particular, I learnt on my first visit that it is prudent to ask whether food labelled halal is Zabihah. While halal in the broadest sense is defined as permissible and the two terms are commonly used interchangeably by many Muslims, halal might sometimes refer to meat that is not forbidden for Muslims to consume. Zabihah, on the other hand, refers to meat that has been slaughtered in accordance with Islamic principles.
Having travelled to the States and New York before, I knew that there was no shortage of good halal food options. But finding a meal in Manhattan that was Zabihah proved to be a challenge. We rose to the challenge and came across a few notable eateries which have been included in my recommendations for a Muslim in Manhattan.
If you have ever been to New York, chances are you have witnessed the incredibly long line of hungry customers queuing up in select locations across the city at all hours of the day and night.
I personally am a fan of the chicken and rice served with their famous white and hot sauce. Take it from an Asian who takes their chilli pretty seriously, go easy on the hot sauce – it is a fiery burst of flavour, best washed down with a can of Pepsi. Priced at just $7, your tummy and pocket will be pleased in equal measure. Also on offer is the “sandwich” – melt in your mouth pita bread with a filling of your choice (falafel, chicken, lamb or a combo).
If you’re staying in Midtown Manhattan, the cart most conveniently located is most likely the one across from the Hilton hotel on the corner of 6th avenue and West 53rd.
The queue can be daunting as the Halal Guys attract Muslim and non Muslim patrons but these guys are ridiculously efficient and once you’re cradling your foil container of chicken and rice, chances are you will be back for more.
These guys are so popular, you will find copycat carts across the city with several variations of the name and logos that look identical to the unknowing eye. I can’t vouch for any of these but The original Halal Guys are hard to beat.
I was first introduced to this Mexican eatery five and a half years ago on my very first visit to New York. An unassuming front on East 53rd, my expectations were not very high when I first entered the restaurant and discovered it also goes by the name Marrakesh and serves Middle Eastern cuisine. I quickly changed my mind once the food arrived and we dug in. On that same trip, we returned back twice more within a four day period. Five and a half years later, I was thrilled to discover the food is every bit as good as I remembered.
My personal recommendation is the combo fajita with a splash of the hot sauce.
Halal Hot Dogs
You can’t visit New York and not try a hot dog, right? One of most quintessentially New York experiences is having a hot dog from one of the ubiquitous carts that dot the city. Despite all the halal signs prominently displayed on so many of these carts, upon enquiry almost all of them will confirm that the hot dogs are kosher rather than zabihah.
We walked more blocks than we care to admit and stopped by far too many carts asking the same questions and slowly our hopes began to fade. Eventually on just off the corner of West 49th and 6th avenue (outside the New York Sports Club), we found a Muslim cart owner who was playing Qirat from his cart. Upon enquiry, he advised that he did not sell hot dogs but offered us zabihah sausage rolls instead. Albeit not truly a hot dog, these were pretty delicious!
There’s nothing new about Magnolia Bakery, long renowned for its cupcakes and it’s not one especially aimed towards the Muslim demographic. However, on this visit I had my first taste of the double fudge brownie which merits a mention in this post. If you have a sweet tooth, I highly recommend you give it a try and if you’re not a fan of milk chocolate, the chocolate chunk blondies are equally delicious.
In general, I have found that the States tend to be less vegetarian friendly than the UK with vegetarian menu items often contaminated by being prepared with non-vegetarian items. If you are a Muslim traveller and conscious about consuming strictly halal food, It is best practice to enquire about ingredients as well as preparation when dining at non-halal outlets.
For Jumuah salaah, I turned to the very helpful Zabihah app, which in addition to providing halal food options, suggests the closest places for prayer. We opted to go to the Islamic Society of Mid Manhattan mosque, conveniently located in East Midtown, as it indicated that women prayer facilities were also available. Unlike the huge mosques we are accustomed to seeing in London (think East London and Regents Park mosque), there were two small doorways leading to the mosque. A narrow building, the mosque was sprawled across five floors with women in the top floor in an office-come prayer area. I was pleasantly surprised by the size and diversity of the turnout and that the area demarcated for women could barely accomodate the entire congregation.
If you’ve been a Muslim in Manhattan and have any Muslim must-know tips for good zabiha food, we would love to hear from you.