USA: Muslim “Foodies” to Host California’s First Halal Food Fest in Bay Area

95315158GyrosMuslims across the globe are poised to break pita on Thursday with a joyous festival called Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the monthlong fast of Ramadan.

And in California, Muslim foodies are also gearing up to celebrate the end of the fast with the state’s first “Halal Fest,” where nearly two dozen vendors will be selling everything from halal hot dogs to cake pops, from southern fried chicken to bean pies. All the goodies have been prepared according to Islamic dietary law.

“Halal Fest” is scheduled to be held Aug. 17 at NewPark Mall in Newark, Calif. The free event follows on the heels of similar halal-focused festivals “I got the idea after I visited New York City,” said Irfan Rydhan of San Jose, 38, a self-described “halal foodie” and Muslim activist who is one of eight key California Halal Fest organizers. “I saw all these halal food carts, and I wondered why we couldn’t do that here.” 

So he started talking to friends last summer and began planning the festival, which will boast not only food, but Moroccan jazz, as well as a fitness, chess and hip hop demonstrations. Rydhan said he hopes at least 2,000 people will attend.  As of this week, his group’s Facebook page has more than 1,200 “likes.”

The California fest follows what Sameer Sarmast of  “Sameer’s Eats” in New Jersey started last summer in New Jersey, where about 3,000 halal-lovers came to what was dubbed as the country’s first halal food fest.

“It was pretty successful,” Sarmast, the online host of the Muslim equivalent to Guy Fieri, told NBC Bay Area on Tuesday.

And it just seems like the halal craze is catching on.

“It’s crazy how much interest there is in this, “ said Aysha Mohsin, 28, of Milpitas, another Halal Fest organizer. “Food is at the center of bringing so many people together. And food trucks are so trendy right now. We just thought, ‘Why not host a festival?’ ‘’

Halal means “permissible” in Arabic and is similar to kosher food for Jews. Muslims who keep halal don’t eat pork or drink alcohol. Animals must be slaughtered in a particular way and God’s name must be invoked during the act.

And it’s not just kabobs and falafel that are considered halal. Just take a look at this festival’s menu to see the wide array of halal offerings: Brisket soft tacos by King’s BBQ and Grill in Fremont, southern fried chicken by New Africa Kitchen prepared at the Masjid Waritheen mosque in Oakland, chocolate dipped bananas by Livermore Donut Wheel, organic cupcakes by RajaBelle’s in San Jose, bean and carrot pies by Raoof’s in San Jose and mango orange pina coladas (virgin, of course) from Maui Wowi Hawaiian Coffee and Smoothies.

For the Halal Fest organizers, the event means more to them than just having a calorie-rich day eating chicken tikka masala and sipping New Africa sweet tea. It’s about embracing a rich, religious tradition and showcasing the diversity of the culture to the rest of the world. It’s also, organizers believe, a way to become closer to God.

“This is going to be a historic event for California, celebrating halal food with our Eid festival,” Rydhan said. “We believe in the spiritual benefits on halal food. We believe if you put good things in your body, then good things will happen to you in your life.”

IF YOU’RE INTERESTED: To learn more about Halal Fest, click  on The event is free. Food tokens are available at the festival and online. Please bring a canned item of food, no pork please, to  donate. The festival runs from noon to 7 p.m. Parking is free.