Halal Consumer - Issue 32 - page 7

After working in Michelin-star restaurants
and experimenting with food all week,
Aleem Syed, a Toronto-based chef, would
want to come home and eat the Indian
cuisine that he had as a child. “Running
around as a chef, you have the worst
hours,” he says. “On your day off, you
tend to eat things that are familiar.”
That was some of the motivation for the February 2015 launch of
his The Holy Grill food truck. He’s known for his tacos, burgers,
and steaks, but the menu also includes items like Mom’s Butter
Chicken Poutine, which is literally his mother’s recipe put on top
of a Canadian specialty of fried potatoes and cheese curds. “It’s
my version of East meets West,” Syed explains. “Being Indian, I
grew up on butter chicken. That’s normal for us.”
Syed’s food is just one example of chefs taking ethnic and global
flavors and combining them with local fare. Food trucks, in par-
ticular, have been a trendy way to take on this fusion idea and
dole it out on a daily basis to hungry lunch-goers. The lower
overhead of a mobile venue gives more room to experiment with
different styles and more autonomy outside of a restaurant.
Ghezal Raouf, who runs the Kabob Trolley in California, was
born and raised in the Bay Area but has roots in Afghanistan.
When she saw how popular the Halal Guys and their gyros and
meat platters were in New York, she wanted to bring the con-
cept to the West coast. “I blended my rich cultural flavors […]
with the traditional American twist, cheesesteaks,” she says.
The food truck model also serves her well for blending cultures
because, as Raouf explains, Afghan meals are not necessarily
healthy and can be time-consuming to make. This way, her cus-
tomers get a taste of Afghanistan in an easily consumable and
cost-efficient way.
Syed and Raouf agree that with the world shrinking and differ-
ent types of menus readily available, customers are yearning to
try new cuisine. “People like ethnic, different foods but want
to eat something familiar at the same time,” states Raouf. “By
mixing global ingredients (East spices) into a local food concept
(gyros and cheesesteaks), it creates an appeal to customers.”
Omar Anani, owner of three food trucks in the Detroit area,
including his flagship Qais Truck that serves Mediterranean
farm-to-table dishes, says the fusion aspect also gives him room
to test items that Muslims may not be able to eat in other venues.
For example, he loves experimenting with charcuterie, or pre-
pared meat products, but that often includes pork in a traditional
restaurant setting. Anani compensates by making bacon out of
lamb and finding alternatives to pork sausage. Syed also uses the
flavors that would go into a chorizo sausage and uses beef as the
main element instead.
This sampling of cultures isn’t limited to just the chefs’ specific
ethnic backgrounds; because they are exposed to so many dif-
ferent types of food in their work, their menus can easily reflect
different areas of the world. Anani touches on Turkish and
Moroccan specialties and also owns the Fat Panda Truck, which
specializes in pho and ramen, as well as Grill Billies that serves
up barbecue. Syed includes tastes from Mexico, Japan, and
Spain, among others, in his cooking.
Because this intermingling also means that there’s an element of
an American or Canadian base, it offers Anani, Syed, and Raouf
a chance to source local products. For Anani, the motivation is
his hometown. Detroit has been going through a tough financial
period, and he felt a responsibility to boost the economy by buy-
ing items like local jams, mushrooms, cheese, and vinegar. “The
more money we can keep locally, stimulate jobs, the better off
everyone can be,” he adds.
For Syed, it’s about being proud to be Canadian and using what is
readily available to him. Cheese curds are a staple in poutine, and
the specialty is in turn native to Canada. It made sense to Syed to use
cheese curds strictly from Quebec, where poutine was invented.
Of course, this joining of global and local flavors isn’t limited to
professional chefs and restaurants. Home cooks have been doing this
for years, sometimes for the ease of replacing specific ingredients and
sometimes because they’ve found certain tastes complement others.
Lisa Y. Kherwish, a resident of Bridgeview, Illinois, has a mixed
ethnic background, and that’s often reflected in the meals she makes
for herself. Taking direction from her mother, who grew up in Puerto
Rico, she often mixes in
– a blend of herbs and vegetables – in
with her daily fare.
Spring 2015
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