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Halal Gems: How One Woman is Making the UK a Better Place for Halal Foodies

Above: Some halloumi fries being served up at Halal Gems recent Street Eats event. Credit: Halal Gems.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been highlighting bloggers who spend their days searching out the best halal food in the UK. They’re all a great resource, as they reveal halal restaurants that may have remained a mystery to us were it not for their efforts on Instagram.

The only problem is, our halal food bloggers aren’t handily all under one digital roof. Fortunately, one website/app is trying to consolidate all the best halal food in the country, to make it easier to find it from the phone in the palm of your hand.

Four years ago, Zohra Khaku quit her job in finance to start Halal Gems, a halal-restaurant location app. It has since evolved into more of a ‘platform’, with a magazine and website featuring reviews and interviews with chefs and foodies shaping the scene.

For her latest Halal Gems venture, Zohra launched Street Eats, a halal street food festival that plays host to 24 traders cooking up a variety of innovative, delicious and very instagrammable halal dishes. The first event took place last weekend in Old Spitalfields Market, London, and judging by the Halal Gems Instagram, it was a serious success:

Zohra’s decision to launch Halal Gems, as well as Street Eats, was due to the growing demand among young, cool Muslims with disposable income for exciting, high quality and ethically sourced food. They don’t just want halal food, they want it to taste good and look appealing on social media.

In an interview with Buzzfeed News prior to the first Street Eats event, Zohra explained how she was frustrated by a lack of creativity in halal cuisine: ‘When you go on an airline and you order a halal meal, it’s always curry. And that really bugs me because, to be honest, I don’t like curry that much. And if I’m going to eat curry, I might as well eat the curry that’s at home because it’s great.’

Growing up with a Tanzanian mother and Kenyan father, Zohra was exposed to a wide array of different cuisine – all of it halal. This is a crucial point. As we all know, halal simply means ‘permissible’, but people tend to mistake it for a type of food in itself.

‘They think it’s a cuisine and say, “You can eat Brazilian, Lebanese, and halal.”’ Zohra says. ‘But they don’t understand you can eat halal Lebanese, and halal Brazilian.’

One of the aims of Halal Gems, of course, is to demystify halal food, to prove that it can basically be anything, provided that the meat involved is certified halal (obviously). That’s why when you look on the Halal Gems Instagram you see khao suey (a Burmese dish)…

Khao Suey from @khao.london at #StreetEatsFest

A post shared by Halal Gems (@halalgems) on

Bintang chicken wings (Korean)…

and Texas beef brisket burgers (USA) – and it’s all halal.

Along with dispelling misconceptions about halal food, Zohra is keen for Street Eats to set the tone for ethically sourced meat. While a new generation of Muslim foodies require halal meat, they’re also concerned with the life the animals lead prior to slaughter.

Zohra wants Halal Gems to reflect this demand, so the meat being served at Street Eats has to be ‘tayyab’ – good and wholesome – meaning it’s sourced from farms with high standards of animal husbandry. Put simply, the animal lived a good life before it became the food on your plate. ‘The whole point of Halal Gems was to improve the food chain, and that is increasing transparency and quality in the general food chain,’ she says.

Halal Gems is giving its users the opportunity to sample dishes they may literally have never heard of before. The app is also listing vegan and vegetarian restaurants where halal is an irrelevance anyway, allowing these places to potentially reach a whole new audience of eaters. Best of all, Halal Gems is benefiting both customers and businesses, as positive posts on the HG Instagram are often boosting sales. In one case, an establishment experienced a 42% spike in revenue after Zohra gave them a glowing nod on IG.

Combine this with their ethical approach, the website and app, and the early success of Street Eats, and Zohra has created a multi-platform destination to drive the high quality halal food scene.

For more information about Halal Gems and the next Street Eats event, head to their website.

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