If you’ve ever been to New York, you’ve almost certainly passed by a halal cart selling fragrant platters of grilled chicken over rice. But have you ever tried halal food in the form of lo mein noodles or a BLT? We asked our friend Ahmed Ali Akbar to give us an introduction to the city’s incredibly multifaceted and ever-so-tantalizing Muslim food scene.
Ahmed is a writer and host of the award-winning BuzzFeed News podcast See Something Say Something, a show about the many ways to be an American Muslim. He writes about American Muslim culture, nostalgia, the immigrant experience, video games, and more.
"In New York, there are so many places that sell halal food because there’s so many Muslims. You can go to a mosque and see people from Somalia, Bosnia, Black converts, Chinese Muslims. Your classic bodega, to my understanding, has its roots in Latino and Jewish communities, but when you go to Brooklyn, a lot of them are run by Yemenis. You can get a BLT, and the bacon will be beef.
Halal carts are what most people are familiar with, but halal cart food is not from any country. The white sauce and red sauce are from New York. Halal is not really a cuisine—it’s a legal category that means whether something is allowed—but it’s often applied to food. Meat has to be slaughtered a certain way to make it halal, by saying a prayer over it and cutting the jugular of the animal and making sure the animal has been well cared for and is not abused. But there’s halal barbecue, halal Thai food, the most Americanized Chinese halal food you’ll see—pretty much the only thing that can’t be halal is pork and alcohol.
In New York, you can find the fancy, but you can also find the very real. When you’re eating halal food, the restaurants aren’t going to be like table service and super fancy—they’re going to be places that are serving halal meat because they’re trying to nourish the community. It’s like a cabbie, or people who are checking meters, or a construction worker: a lot of people live an hour or an hour and a half away from home, so these are important spots for people to build bonds.
I think that everyone should try a halal cart at least once. It’s delicious, and it’s the most basic entry point. People should start there, but they shouldn’t end there. You could go from China to Morocco to the American South just by eating halal food in New York, and the people who are going there are a really diverse community who have this bond of eating. It’s one of the best tapestries of the world."
276 Knickerbocker Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Tue: 5-10 p.m.; Wed-Sun: 12-10 p.m.
113 Lexington Ave, New York, NY
Mon-Sun: 10-12 a.m.
No Pork Halal Kitchen
50 4th Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Mon-Thu: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Fri-Sat: 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m.; Sun: 12-11:30 p.m.
63 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Mon, Wed-Thu, Sun: 12-10:30 p.m.; Tue: 4:30-10:30 p.m.; Fri-Sat: 12-11 p.m.
1953-1955 Coney Island Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Mon-Sun: 12-11 p.m.