Ramadan is a time for both fasting and feasting. We celebrate the flavours of the Muslim world and how they found their way to the USA.
By Ibraheem Ali
Ramadan Mubarak from all of us here at Alchemiya! We pray that it’s a time of spiritual rejuvenation for you all and that you have a peaceful and rewarding month.
It’s the 30 days where Muslims across the globe fast from dawn till dusk and seek to improve their relationship with their Creator, as well as each other.
It’s also the time of year when the internet decides to shove cooking videos in our faces. We’ve all been down that rabbit hole which is filled with street food vlogs and recipes for dishes you never paid any mind to before you started fasting. It’s a guilty form of catharsis, and those pesky YouTube algorithms know it.
Instead of spiralling down into an abyss of mindless food content, why not turn that into a learning opportunity? Whether it’s inspiration for your next Iftar meal or just to appreciate what is arguably the best part of all cultures – the food!
We’ve curated a selection of videos celebrating cuisines from a host of Muslim cultures in the melting pot of American food diversity and here are just a few on our menu, for you to sample.
Uyghur food, Oakland
Sadly, for many people, including Muslims, the culture and heritage of the Uyghur people were something of an enigma until their plight and persecution entered news cycles in recent years. The Uyghurs are a Central Asian, Turkic Muslim community whose Islamic heritage dates back over 1000 years to the Kara-Khanid period. With their ethnic homeland being situated at the heart of the ancient Silk Road, Uyghur culture brings together aspects of eastern and western Asia, and their cuisine is just one of many testaments to that fusion. This short film takes us to Oakland California of all places, where chef, Pattar Dilmurat, runs Sama restaurant which is dedicated to bringing Uyghur cuisine to the West. The episode showcases a number of wonderful dishes. From hand-pulled noodles stewed in spices, to Samsa pastries (similar to the South Asian Samosa) and many more.
Dearborn Halal Meat Market
It might come as a surprise how far back Arab history in America goes. From the late 19th century, immigrants from modern-day Lebanon, Syria and Yemen settled in the state of Michigan, where many came to work for Henry Ford’s car factory in Detroit. Today the city of Dearborn boasts of one of the largest concentrations of Arabs in the United States and the Muslim community makes up a significant portion of that population. Cut and Grill is a Dearborn-based Halal butcher’s that has had roots in the community for decades. The owner, Sam Saad, originally moved from Lebanon to Detroit nearly 40 years ago. He worked in a variety of businesses before a heavy recession drove him out of the city and into Dearborn where he picked up the trade that went back through five generations of his family. Since then he has become a local celebrity, providing premium cuts of high-grade Halal meats and even serving up traditional Lebanese barbecue.
Tribeca, Pakistan Tea House
On the busy streets of New York under a washed-out green sign with a generic name and amid a galaxy of other similar establishments, we find what seems to be a run-of-the-mill diner. In actuality it is one of Manhattan’s most precious hidden gems. In the aftermath of 9/11, the diner became a source of comfort and refuge for locals of Tribeca, with the owners providing free meals for Taxi drivers and public servants around the area. It’s a place where you can break bread that’s fresh out of the tandoor, warm yourself up with a plate of all sorts of vibrant and spice infused dishes or just relax and enjoy good company over a cup of Karak chai.
The Halal Guys
The term halal can be simply translated as ‘permissible’ and refers to activities in which Muslims can and/or should partake. Applied to food it refers to what is permissible to consume, particularly in relation to how meat is slaughtered according to specific ritual – similar to the concept of kosher. In certain parts of the US, however, you might find that halal has mistakenly become a blanket term amongst non-Muslims to encompass some generic middle-eastern cuisines. The culprit for this misconception is a humble food stall in Midtown Manhattan run by three Egyptian Muslim immigrants, known today by their brand The Halal Guys.
This short documentary examines the history of what has become one of New York’s street food culture legends. The Halal Guys began as a standard hot dog stall in the early nineties but quickly shifted towards serving foods familiar to the many Muslim taxi drivers frequenting the stall. Known for their iconic hotplate staple of rice, gyro chicken and white sauce, The Halal Guys stall has built up a cult following not only amongst New Yorkers but foodies from all walks of life. Although now an international franchise, the original Midtown stall operates to this day and regularly attracts lines of customers filling out around an entire city block.
Look out for a whole lot more food and cooking related programmes on Alchemiya. You can enjoy Alchemiya free for 7 days on the link below.