Halal Food Cart
by Abuhena Hares
Re-PLACE-ing Philadelphia is building an expanded archive of cultural memory that includes multiple histories, re-place-ing the established with new narratives and understandings. Notes consider place via the street, sound, food, trees, and other portals.
In partnership with educator Joshua Block, students from Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy are creating and publishing their Philadelphia Field Notes. Abuhena Hares creates some context for the halal food carts that line the streets of Center City Philadelphia.
Everyone who commutes through center city has their own personal spot. Each individual will pipe up their favorite spot saying things like “best falafel place in the city” and “their sauce is so much better than everyone else's.” This is the culture of food carts. Food carts have been around for many years allowing people to grab a quick bite on their way to work or on their way to school. However in recent years food carts have evolved to become so much more. Food carts allow us to taste and enjoy new flavors which we normally wouldn’t have been able to. Through these carts we can taste everything from Chinese to Mediterranean to Mexican food. For many people in Philadelphia, the most popular kind of food cart is the halal food cart.
Halal food carts are very simplistic in design. Most have a steel and aluminum exterior and bare the bright sign on the front which reads “halal.” Each cart presents pictures of their signature foods with price lines varying from three to seven dollars. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect to halal food carts is their size which is usually no bigger than a closet. Each food cart also proudly reminds everyone “drinks are free with food.” Each cart carries a strong aroma of lamb and chicken which is almost intoxicating in the way that it manipulates our appetites. This can be proven by the long lines which start from the front of each cart, with people constantly coming and going.
Despite many people’s familiarity with the taste of the halal food most people don’t even know what halal is. Halal is the word used to describe the food which practicing Muslims denote as edible. Pork is the biggest example of that which is not halal to Muslims. Despite not knowing of the origins of halal thousands of people everyday still enjoy halal food. From personal experience I hear more people say “let’s get some lamb over rice” rather than “let’s go get pizza.” This brings me hope as I see many people becoming more interesting in a certain aspect of Islamic culture.
There is no doubt that there is a negative stigma around Muslims after so many extremists and terrorists have spread fear and distress through the world. This minority claims that their actions are justified by Islam despite the majority of Muslims advocating for peace and prosperity. Despite these setbacks of extremists many Muslims are working hard to create a new positive image for Islam as a whole. Halal Food is key in this regenesis as people come to associate Muslims more with the exotic cuisine rather than the cultist factions which plague the planet. Halal food is something which connects America to a culture which once seemed foreign. So while Americans might not be able to embrace Islam spiritually or politically, they can accept Islamic culture through their stomachs. After all we are all connected by what we eat.