When Long Islanders Tahmid Bashir and Adil Palwala were students at St. John’s University in Queens they would go to places like Peter Luger’s steakhouse with friends, but their choices were always limited.
Going to other restaurants with their friends didn’t work that well either.
“We would go out to eat with friends who don’t eat halal,” says Bashir, 31, of Merrick. “We couldn’t go to Peter Luger’s and have a steak or Shake Shack and have a burger, so we would take them to a halal restaurant only to feel a little ashamed at what little choices our food had to offer.”
With that dilemma in mind Bashir says he and Palwala decided to start the wholesale company Hal & Al Meats and Provisions earlier this year to provide “high quality” hand-slaughtered halal meats to restaurants specializing in halal food as well as American restaurants. That business opened in July and two months ago they launched the restaurant, Holy Cow, in Manhattan’s Flatiron District.
And on Sept. 29, they hope to spread the message about halal food and its delicious options to an audience of thousands through their first Hal & Al Food Fest at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, where more than 20 vendors from New York City and Long Island will showcase the next generation of halal food offerings.
Bashir and Palwala say they they know of no other halal food festival that has ever been held on Long Island, though they have been held in New Jersey, California and Canada. “We decided to put together Hal & Al Food Fest to further educate New Yorkers, both in and outside of the halal community, about what it means to have quality meat and the possibilities for halal beyond the food trucks most New Yorkers think of when they think [of] halal food,” says Palwala, 33, of Valley Stream.
A PRIMER ON HALAL
Halal is Arabic for permissible and refers to food that adheres to Islamic law as defined in the Quran. The slaughtering process involves killing through a cut to the jugular vein, windpipe or artery. The animals must be alive and healthy at the time of slaughter and all blood is drained from the carcass. During the process a Muslim will recite a dedication, known as tasmiya or shahada.
Before the cows, goats and lambs are slaughtered, prayers are said over them so their muscles don't tense up, which makes the meat tender, Palwala says. “There’s a lot of things about the halal procedure that we believe is humane.”
There is much that people will be able to learn through the food festival, Palwala says. “New York as a market is behind on halal, which is very ironic since it has a large and very educated Muslim population,” Palwala says.
Halal food is a lot more than meat, rice and white sauce, Palwala notes. He says that at his restaurant, cheeseburgers and hot dogs are among the items on the menu. Bashir adds that some different takes on halal foods at the festival will include tacos, Chinese food and smoked brisket.
In the last few months more and more halal restaurants have started springing up all over Long Island – something Palwala says indicates the appetite for this food. He says that people around his age and younger who are Muslim are embracing the opportunity to enjoy some of the foods they saw while growing up watching such shows as “Top Chef” and programs on the Food Network.
“We wondered where . . . could we eat that [food],” Palwala says. “Indian and Pakistani food is fine for the first generation [of immigrants], but we grew up here and want to have a burger, steak or fried chicken. We don’t want what we’re eating at home.”
Palwala says halal food also has wide appeal to non-Muslims because “it’s a quick, easy bite that’s cheap and fills you up.”
Mohammed Habaldaim, manager of The Halal Guys, which opened in Farmingdale in March, says business is booming.
“Halal food is for all kinds of people,” Habaldaim says. “This festival is for everyone.”
Hal & Al’s Halal Food Fest 2018
WHEN | WHERE 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at NYCB Live’s main plaza at Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale