The Halal Life
by Alejandro Jose Bautista Garcia
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. Alejandro talks about the halal business and how it has impacted his life and how he learned many new things because of it.
As hunger always strikes us in different times of the day, we often ponder on what to eat and what could potentially satisfy us until the next time we have to fulfill our needs again. Young folks like me and even adults often go through a process of elimination in what we should eat. Some factors that we often think about when we go to eat are whether the food is healthy or greasy, cheap or expensive and last but not least how far or close in distance it is to where we are situated.
After starting this project I came to a big realization, that my peers and I often bought Halal food from different carts and the reason being was because it was somewhat healthy, fast, very cheap, and we could travel to it in no less than 10 minutes. After interviewing the two gentlemen situated on 16th and chestnut who I personally considered to be the best halal food cart in the business. Following a short interview with these two gentlemen I learned that the halal food business is run by a company and the reason why they are situated literally in every block is because the company tells them to be there.
A few things go through my head while I impatiently get closer and closer to the halal cart is the smell of the food while getting within a few feet of the stand and how will I greet my best man, which usually leads to a short but very friendly “Hey man how is it going?” What should our small talk topic be? Most of the time it is “How’s work going today?” Then after making sure all of these are well thought of, I proceed to start craving what I always get which is lamb over rice with white sauce, hot sauce and extra lamb with lettuce and cucumber. every time I inhale the air near the cart I get overwhelmed by the many smells of the amazing halal food. It ranges from spices to the type of meat. It’s either chicken, lamb or even fish! Others smells are usually the smell of that soft and well seasoned rice or even the smell of the fresh vegetables that are either lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers or onions. After gathering all the smells from a distance I walk up to the cart and finally greet the real MVP of the halal business. After I do say I say “Hey my man how is it going??” I visited so often that he now calls me his brother to which he replies, “Hey brother!, how are you?” After having our little chat about the business I get down to order what I want and say “give me the usual with extra lamb and white sauce my man, you know how to hook me up” he then smiles and give me what I asked for.
After I obtained my food and money was exchanged I proceeded to talk with him about how the halal business is everywhere. I asked him, what does he (halal man) bring to the table in any form of culture and food to the United States,why did he choose the halal business? And lastly, why are there so many stationed in every block of Philly? To which he kindly and happily responded with:
“Oh the halal business is fun you know but it has some good and bad days which always happens at any job…..I feel that the halal business brings new culture to the United States or maybe just Philly because it’s not everyone's type of food you know? But at least we try to make it for everyone. Nowadays our culture is seen through a negative perspective because of terrorism but it’s not all like that and I want to show people what my culture can offer and things like that…. I chose the halal business because, well I moved the U.S and I didn’t go to college and this pays well which I’m okay with since at least I have a source of money and it’s not all that bad, and the reason why we are everywhere it’s because we work for a company and they just tell us to stay here or wherever they tell us to be.”
Following this I thanked him for the food and for taking his hard earned time to give me a quick interview. In conclusion more people should try the halal business in Philadelphia, since there are many unknown stories that each of these people bring to the table. In the end this is the city of the brotherly love and we should love one another despite our background or what we look like on the outside.