The Evolution of Halal Food in New York

You probably can’t walk down the streets of Manhattan without spotting a Halal food cart. These carts inhabit the city with their sizzles, smoke, long lines, and memories of home. Can you call yourself a New Yorker if you’ve never tried The Halal Guys? 

Although Halal food has become a staple of the New York experience, there is more to it than just chicken over rice. It’s important to note that ‘Halal’ is an adjective, not a noun. It’s an Arabic word that describes anything that is permissible in Islam. The concept of Halal is applicable to many aspects of life - food, fashion, makeup, medicine, and even finance.

When referring to halal food, it means that the item does not contain pork or any of its products, such as gelatin and lard. It also means that permissible meats (such as beef, chicken, mutton, and fish) are prepared in a specific way. For the meat to be Halal, the animal needs to be butchered by a Muslim with a blessing and in a quick, continuous motion. The animal must be treated well on part of the butcher according to the guidelines. There are more rules and guidelines surrounding how the animal is fed, how it’s raised and later prepared after slaughtering. These guidelines are meant to ensure the humane treatment of animals. 

The definition of Halal food makes it clear that it can be anything that abides by the above mentioned rules and a few more. Halal is only a descriptor of food, not food itself. This means that chicken over rice is only one type of Halal food. 

Halal food has always existed in the nooks and cranny of Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. The popularity of Halal food soared due to the emergence of Middle Eastern and South Asian food carts. Grub Street explored the origins of Halal food carts in the 1980s and 90s through the perspective of the very people who started them. There have been many profiles on Halal cart culture, but there isn’t a discussion on how Halal food has changed in the city. 

Although Halal food had humble beginnings on the sidewalks of New York, it encompasses more than just the traditional chicken over rice we know and love. Now there are Halal restaurants scattered across the city that serve Halal food belonging to Indian, Malaysian, Chinese, and Thai cuisines. 

It’s almost impossible to walk in Queens without spotting a Halal place - whether it be Kabab King, Turkish Grill or Halalbee’s. My aunt, who moved to Queens in ‘98, recalls travelling to Brooklyn for Halal Chinese food. Now, it’s only a 10 minute drive away within the borough. 

Manhattan has welcomed Halal food as well. Near NYU alone, there is Mamoun’s Falafel, Mint Masala, BURGERS by Honest Chops, The Kati Roll Company, Top Thai Greenwich, Masala Times, Manousheh, and Rasa. The growing number of Halal restaurants indicates that people are paying attention to the needs of Muslims and trying to grasp the true meaning of Halal. Vegetarian and vegan places are also Halal, since they don’t contain any meat at all. 

The great thing about Halal food is that anyone can have it! You don’t have to be Muslim to consume Halal products. Not everyone is aware of this fact as many assume that Halal food is only reserved for Muslims. It’s necessary to discuss the misconceptions and preconceived notions we may have about Halal food - only then we can understand its true importance to the people of New York City and its cultural fabric. 

It’s important to remember that Halal restaurants don’t aim to limit anyone’s food choices; they strive to make food more inclusive. 

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