London Halal Food Festival opens its doors to 18,000 visitors

LONDON: The Halal Food Festival returned to the British capital this year for its sixth edition with 25 cuisines on offer at more than 150 stalls.

At least 18,000 people attended the two-day event, which took place from September 24-25 at London Stadium in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

The sheer scale and scope of the festival means that London now hosts one of the biggest gatherings of specifically halal food in the world, organizers say.

Kevin Jackson, director of Algebra Festivals, launched the festival with his partner Waleed Jahangia seven years ago.

“We created an event that would put food at the heart of the community. There is no better way to share culture than through food,” he said.

After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers have invested heavily in infrastructure, transforming the festival into an experience that goes beyond food.

The event included a VIP lounge, shopping stalls, live entertainment, cooking theatre, picnic area, children’s play area, mechanical bulls and fun competitions.

One of the highlights was a live demonstration by Dr Saliha Mahmood Ahmed, NHS doctor and former ‘MasterChef’ winner.

By using bread dough to teach women how to examine themselves for early signs of breast cancer, Ahmed aimed to overcome cultural taboos that contribute to low cancer awareness within the UK’s Muslim community. .

The new additions reflect the growing view that halal is more than just about food, but also a way of life.

Jackson recalled that when he and Jahangia launched the festival, most Muslim events in London were held in community centers or school halls.

But the London stadium event shows that the Muslim community now has access to some of the capital’s most renowned venues.

The festival has also become a cultural melting pot, with its cuisine and gourmets from all over the world.

“We have people from Manchester, from Birmingham, people who came on a day trip from Paris yesterday. We have people from Spain. We have people from Scotland. It’s such a big event for the Muslim community that they travel miles to get there,” Jackson said.

Chef Fatima El-Rify of Mama Hayam reported positive feedback from visitors tasting her Egyptian cuisine.

“They didn’t know exactly what it was. They knew a little kosher, but now they have a very precise idea. They come back for more. They bring their friends. They really like kosheri and mahshi so it’s really good.

She added: “I don’t think there’s anywhere else in London where you can try all these different cuisines and have this facility that everything is halal.”

The festival also showcases the timeless and the contemporary, from Jordan’s traditional Anabtawi Sweets to London’s Lola’s Cupcakes.

Apart from catering to Muslim visitors, it aims to provide an international platform for the Halal economy, while helping to develop small and medium Halal businesses.

“We build business relationships. Traders all trade with each other. Suppliers, our partners here, Tariq Halal, provide products to our exhibitors,” Jackson said.

Founder Shahin Bharwani of Mocktail Company, which sells soft drinks, said she was lucky to have been able to exhibit at the Halal Food Festival in 2016 a few months after launching her business.

“It was great to be a startup to get the brand exposure needed for this type of event.”

Festival vendors reflected on the growth of the halal industry over the past decade.

Bharwani said, “There are so many variations of businesses here, especially food. Years ago you could never imagine the hell of halal tacos or gourmet burgers, that kind of stuff, so having those kind of halal options now is amazing.

Proper Burgers co-partner Abid Haider said the event “just keeps getting bigger.”

With an industry now worth billions, the London festival is part of a growing movement bringing halal to the high streets.

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