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  • ummyakoub
    THE NEW HALAL FOODS THAT CONFORM TO ISLAMIC LAW FIND A WIDER AUDIENCE Carol Ness, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/3/03 http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 6, 2003

      Carol Ness, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/3/03

      When 19-year-old Mariam Hansia and her friends get a screaming yen
      for fast food, they hop in the car and drive all the way from their
      homes in Mill Valley to Julie's pad Thai-burger place in Berkeley.

      In San Bruno, La Creperie du Monde attracts eager diners from as far
      away as San Ramon and points east for its Breton-style crepes.
      Cabbies Burger in San Francisco's Tenderloin is the spot for

      What lures Hansia and others in the know is that these spots serve
      halal food -- food, especially meats, that meet Islamic dietary
      requirements, often described as "kosher for Muslims."

      Driven by the fast-growing Muslim population, halal foods are headed
      toward wider popularity. Once confined to traditional back-home
      dishes like curries and couscous, halal restaurants now offer pizzas,
      burgers, hoagies, Thai and Mexican foods. Halal meat markets are
      multiplying, and halal chicken nuggets and hot links are showing up
      in some supermarkets.

      The surge has many people believing that the American halal food
      industry, now in its infancy, will follow kosher foods into the
      mainstream, pushed not only by the faithful but by non-Muslim
      consumers seeking clean, healthy foods.

      The local hotbed of halal (pronounced hah-LAL) is the South Bay,
      where new immigrants drawn to the high tech industry are selling the
      foods from back home. The trend is also highly visible in
      neighborhoods like San Francisco's Tenderloin, with its proliferation
      of Indo-Pakistani cafes. But it's also taking hold up and down the
      Peninsula, and in the East Bay from Hercules to Fremont.

      Numbers have jumped

      "In the last five years, there's been an explosion in the number of
      halal restaurants, because the demand is really increasing,'' says
      Shahed Amanullah, a civil engineer who lives in the East Bay and
      started a Web site four years ago to help fellow Muslims stay on top
      of the scene. Zabihah.com lists restaurants and markets by region,
      all over the country, and invites reviews and comments from readers.

      "I've seen it go from maybe 10 I was aware of in 1999 to almost 100
      in the Bay Area. It's just taken off,'' Amanullah says. "It's very
      exciting for Muslims born here. That's our palate. When a halal
      burger joint opens up, that's really exciting.''

      Meat markets are popping up on more street corners, most of them
      family owned and serving as community centers as well. At Salama
      Halal Meat in San Francisco, an old man is offered a chair while he
      waits for his order to be custom cut. While fresh meat and chicken
      comprise the markets' main business, the bigger shops now have
      freezers stuffed with kid-friendly halal pepperoni pizza and chicken
      nuggets, and coolers brimming with halal salami and cold cuts.

      Koran's dietary code

      Halal literally means "permitted," and refers to the Islamic dietary
      code based on what the Koran says is allowable for Muslims to eat and
      what they should avoid. Mostly, it's about the meat. Pork is
      forbidden. Other meats -- beef, lamb, goat and poultry -- must be
      raised as cleanly and humanely as possible (organic isn't required),
      and blessed during slaughter, a process called zabihah. Slaughter
      itself should be done by hand with a sharp knife, though some Islamic
      scholars have interpreted the code to allow mechanical slaughter and
      a tape recorded prayer.

      Every Monday morning at Harris Ranch in Fresno, halal meat broker
      Amin Attia shows up to calm, bless and quickly slice the throats of
      about 100 cattle. The carcasses are bled out quickly, which Muslims
      believe drains out all disease and impurities. Attia, who is
      recognized by his Fresno mosque, certifies the meat and sends it on
      its way to shops like the large, gleaming Halal Food Market in
      Berkeley and Salama Halal Meat in San Francisco.

      At Fulton Valley Farms and Petaluma Poultry in Sonoma County, other
      mosque representatives slaughter chickens on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.
      Many meat and poultry producers around the country now provide
      similar services to supply the halal market, and Harrison Poultry in
      Georgia has started a national halal brand called Al Marwah.

      Besides the rules governing meat, halal has other requirements: No
      alcohol -- which means ingredients like vanilla extract, which can
      contain alcohol, are off limits; no cheese made with rennet, which
      means most cheeses are forbidden. Most fish and vegetables are OK,
      although pesticides should be avoided.

      Muslims vary widely in how strictly they stick to halal. Many avoid
      pork and alcohol, but will buy kosher or even supermarket meats. Some
      will frequent In-N-Out burger, believing it cleaner because it's run
      by Christians who print biblical references on their burger wrap and
      soda containers.

      Checking the labels

      Strict halal adherents scan every label at the supermarket for off-
      limits ingredients (gelatin, since it's an animal product),
      additives, chemicals and animal byproducts. Internet resources answer
      urgent questions about whether Philadelphia cream cheese (yes) or
      Walgreen's high-protein powder (no) are halal.

      People who want to observe halal have an easier time than ever in the
      Bay Area. For one thing, there are more markets -- and they're still
      the only place to buy fresh halal meats and poultry.

      Indus Foods in Berkeley is one of the pioneers, opening in the 1970s
      to supply halal goat meat to Pakistanis and Indians who were settling
      around University and San Pablo avenues, according to Shahid Salimi,
      who manages the store for his father. Since then, the gleaming Halal
      Food Market has opened a couple of storefronts down San Pablo Avenue
      and has just doubled in size. At least three halal markets are strung
      down Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. Business is that good, says Salimi.

      "We see a growing trend toward non-Muslims coming in, people who live
      in the neighborhood. We get Jewish customers,'' says Salimi, who has
      degrees in economics and business and harbors big ambitions to push
      halal into the American mainstream.

      His freezer carries the halal pepperoni pizza and chicken nuggets
      manufactured by Al Safa, a Toronto-based company founded by David
      Muller, an Orthodox Jew. Muller expects sales, which were $10 million
      last year, will hit $100 million by 2008.

      Salimi persuaded Harrison Poultry in Bethlehem, Ga., to start
      offering halal chicken in the 1990s. Business turned out to be so
      good that in February Harrison launched its Al Marwah brand. Now,
      just seven months later, sales have climbed to 50,000 pounds a week,
      and company president Larry Guest expects that to multiply tenfold in
      the next couple of years.

      Supermarkets are starting to pay attention, too. In the Bay Area,
      Albertsons has started selling frozen pizzas, chicken nuggets and
      other processed halal foods in 19 stores. Markets like Indus, though,
      still supply all the fresh meats.

      Eating out is another story. Until recently, halal choices have been
      limited, especially for Muslims raised with all-American taste buds.

      "It was hard growing up, and especially going to high school," says
      Suleman Hansia, Mariam's brother. Lunchtime at Tamalpais High School
      in Mill Valley meant McDonald's, says Suleman, 22, who graduated in
      2000 and went to the College of Marin. "I'd go, but I'd have to eat
      the fish fillet -- but you can only eat so much fish," he says. "You
      become a sort of vegetarian who just eats meat at home."

      It's not all curry

      Or you eat a lot of curry and naan -- until recently, that is.

      Julie's Healthy Cafe burger and Thai lunch counter was the leading
      edge of the trend, opening up 10 years ago across from the UC
      Berkeley campus and becoming a gathering place for the local Muslim
      community, especially on Friday afternoons after prayers. Now there's
      a wraps place and a chaat spot in downtown Berkeley, and a halal
      pizza place on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland.

      In the last year, a halal burger and burrito place called Cabbies
      Burger, and Star Thai, with its southern Thai cooking, have brought
      new flavors to Tenderloin halal. And a month ago the Hansia family
      opened an attractive halal Indian restaurant in the area, with table
      service and a Gujarati menu a cut above the more standard bare-bones

      In San Bruno, La Creperie du Monde in the Bayhill shopping center,
      testifies to halal's mainstream potential. Owner Sami Fars created
      the cozy cafe to serve savory and dessert crepes that just happen to
      be halal. Mostly, it means seeking out a halal meat supplier, and
      paying a bit more for meats.

      People crowd in for the food and ambience. Fars says 99 percent of
      his customers are not Muslim, but that Muslims will drive from Contra
      Costa County to eat there.

      Halal creperie

      Most customers don't know the meat is halal, and Fars expresses a
      passing worry that exposure might drive his creperie into a niche, or
      discourage customers who don't understand what halal means.

      At Sultan, the Hansia family likewise appeals to home-grown palates
      with their "All American Breakfast" -- eggs with bacon, pancakes with
      sausage. That's beef bacon and beef sausage, and they're halal.

      Back at Julie's Healthy Cafe, Nooreen Sharif slathers ketchup on her
      cheeseburger. She always stops in when she's in Berkeley.

      Even with all the new places opening up, especially in Fremont where
      she lives, "We still don't get too many fast-food restaurants," she
      says, and hopes the trend will bring more.

      What about a three-star French restaurant, the kind many Bay Area
      gourmets take for granted? Sharif opens her eyes wide but shakes her

      "That would be nice," she says. "But that's asking too much."

      Tasting the way through halal steak and chicken

      Halal meats and poultry are blessed as they're hand-slaughtered, but
      do they taste different? The Chronicle Food staff took to the kitchen
      to find out, pan-grilling halal and non-halal T-bones from Harris
      Ranch, roasting halal and non-halal natural chicken breasts from
      Fulton Valley Farms, and then tasting the food blind.

      The quality of both the halal and non-halal steak and chicken were
      top- notch. That said, the halal steak and halal chicken had more
      flavor than the non-halal. That was a less of a plus with the steaks
      than with the chicken.

      When it came to the steaks, we bought the non-halal T-bones already
      cut from Berkeley Bowl for $9 per pound. The halal steaks were custom
      cut at Halal Food Market in Berkeley and cost $5.99 per pound.

      Raw, the non-halal steaks were a much brighter red than the halal
      ones, which are bled out quickly as part of the halal process. We
      seasoned them with salt and pepper and cooked them to medium rare in
      a stovetop grill pan.

      The non-halal meat was much redder even after cooking. One staffer
      commented that it looked more "real." The halal T-bones had more
      visible fat and gristle.

      In the tasting, the staff found the non-halal steaks to be both "more
      subtle" and "more delicate in flavor" as well as more tender, with a
      finer texture. The meat reminded one staffer of filet
      mignon. "Butter - it melted in my mouth," she said. Another noticed
      that the outside caramelized better.

      The halal steak had a "beefier flavor" and was chewier, with a more
      sinewy texture, and was less caramelized, perhaps because it contains
      fewer juices.

      But both were moist and delicious, and we managed to eat our way
      through both sets of steaks before deciding we'd buy either, with the
      non-halal the slight favorite. As Chronicle Executive Food and Wine
      Editor Michael Bauer put it, "I'd go by price."

      The chicken breasts were natural, on-the-bone numbers from Fulton
      Valley Farms. The halal chicken was purchased at Salama Halal Meat in
      San Francisco for $2.49 per pound. We bought the non-halal breasts at
      Andronico's on Solano Avenue in Berkeley for $4.29 per pound.

      The breasts looked similar before and after cooking. We salted and
      peppered them, browned them on top of the stove and then finished
      them in a 400 degree oven.

      They revealed subtle differences in the tasting. The halal chicken
      had more flavor {ndash} variously described by staffers
      as "fuller," "rounder," "more intense" and having "more chickeny-
      ness." It was everyone's favorite {ndash} although everyone agreed
      that both sets were excellent and the differences small. And whether
      the differences were the result of the halal process or simply of the
      meat coming from different animals was impossible to determine.

      About price: Although it's generally said that halal processing adds
      to the price of meats, that seems not to be true when comparing
      quality meat with its halal sibling. In fact, in both cases the halal
      meats were far cheaper than the non-halal. And we couldn't help
      noticing skinless, boneless natural chicken breasts in one halal shop
      at $2.49 per pound. But there's no set pattern and prices vary wildly
      from shop to shop, both halal and not.

      Specialty halal items like beef bacon do cost more because they're
      harder to find and aren't mass marketed yet. We tried the beef bacon
      served at La Creperie du Monde in San Bruno and were surprised that
      the bacon taste was so strong. It looks browner than pork bacon, but
      has the same salty smokiness. But it doesn't cook up with the same
      crisp crunch of the porcine kind. Both the meat and the fat stay
      chewier. But it does the job.

      What Makes Meat Halal?

      A meeting was held to identify the main issues regarding Halal meat,
      and a process that would lead to a formal position by the Muslim
      CommUnity relative to the regulation for the Halal Food Law.

      The Majlis Ash-Shura of New Jersey, working with the American Muslim
      Union, held an ad hoc meeting to discuss regulations for New Jersey's
      Halal Food Law. The New Jersey Halal Food bill has already been
      signed into law, but regulations to enforce the law were never
      developed and has thus not been properly implemented or enforced. The
      goal of the meeting was to identify the main issues regarding the
      definition of Halal meat, and to identify a process through which a
      consensus position could be reached on behalf of the entire community
      relative to the Halal Food Law. That position would be presented at
      the public hearing scheduled by the State for September 18 in Newark.

      At the meeting, Salman Sheikh gave an informative presentation on the
      subject of Halal meat. The presentation focused on two primary
      issues: the feed and other enhancement drugs given to animals before
      slaughter and the manner in which animals are slaughtered.

      The feed of the animal is important because eating "jallalah"
      (animals that eat the waste or flesh of other animals) is considered
      prohibited (haram) by one group of scholars, scornful (muqrooh) by
      another, and allowed (mubah) by a third. Some say animals must be
      quarantined and fed only grain for some period before slaughter. The
      manner an animal is slaughtered is also important because some
      scholars say it is prohibited to use machines to slaughter animals,
      and there is a question regarding the use of electricity to stun an
      animal before it is slaughtered.

      Animal feed may be grouped into three broad categories: organic,
      natural, and protein supplement. Organic feed means that the animals
      are fed only grain, and that the grain is grown organically without
      pesticides, and is not genetically modified. Natural means that the
      animals are fed only grain, but there is no restriction on the
      farming techniques used to grow the grain. Protein supplement means
      that the animals are fed a combination of grain and animal protein.
      The animal protein is made up of ground animal byproducts (remains
      and byproducts of pigs, chickens, horses, cattle, sheep, dogs, cats,
      rodents, and even road-kill).

      There are several issues with the slaughtering process, including
      whether animals are stunned in some way before slaughter, or if
      attempting to stun an animal may kill it before slaughter. Cattle,
      for example, are shot in the head with a rubber bullet to make them
      unconscious and easier to handle. There is a fear that the rubber
      bullet could kill the cow before it is slaughtered, making the animal
      Islamically unlawful to eat. For chickens, a low voltage is applied
      to the chicken to ensure they remain docile through the slaughtering
      process. There is much less concern over the chickens dying as a
      result of that low voltage.

      Another issue with the slaughtering process is whether or not you can
      use a machine to slaughter an animal. This is an especially important
      question when it comes to chicken. Almost all chickens are
      slaughtered by machine, and questions exist as to how and if that
      process can be made consistent with the requirements of Halal

      The challenge for the Muslim community is to develop a definition
      for "Halal meat" that state regulators can use to enforce the Halal
      Food Law. If the Muslim community does not develop a consensus
      position, the State will come up with its own definition and use that
      to implement the Halal Food Law.


      Halal Web sites
      Here are some Internet resources for information about halal foods,
      markets and restaurants.

      www.zabihah.com. This Web site lists restaurants and markets around
      the country, by region, along with comments and reviews from readers.

      www.muslimconsumergroup.com. Run by S. Rasheed Ahmed, a food
      scientist in Fairfield, this site tracks the ingredients of
      supermarket products to determine which are halal and which aren't.
      It also offers a lot of basic information about halal, and about
      cases of halal fraud. Rasheed also publishes a book, "A Comprehensive
      List of Halal Food Products in U.S. Supermarkets."

      www.eat-halal.com. This site offers basic information about halal,
      alerts about hidden non-halal ingredients in foods, tips for eating
      out and recipes.



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