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The Taste of Islam

November 14, 2005

Every year, the magnificent city of Chicago hosts the annual “Taste of
Chicago” during the summer. It’s basically a huge festival wherein they
have food booths of every ethnicity set up shop and feed the throngs of
visitors to such an event. Mexican, Italian, American bistro, and
Chinese are among the various kinds of food one may sample at the
Taste. It’s a great way for the city to generate a whole bunch of
revenue from charging each booth a fee to set up shop. Of course, it’s
also an excellent way for a restaurant to generate money and put itself
on the city’s culinary map. But I guess the biggest (no pun intended)
winners are the folks who attend the event and get to stuff themselves
full of pok choi, pannini, pork rinds, pollo pibil, pakoras, and well,
everything else that people eat and get fat on. But I digress…

The illustrious Omar Ashrafi had an idea that we set up something
similar for the Chicago Muslim community. After some brainstorming, we
decided to call it the Taste of Islam: an event wherein we would bring
together all the various types of Muslim cuisine in one area. I guess
we’re not eating enough already, but the idea had a lot of potential. We
could rent out a park and set up 40-50 booths from all the various
Muslim restaurants around the Chicagoland area… you know, have a
gathering where the masala aromas from Devon will mix with the freshly
made baklawa aromas of the Bridgeview area. Just imagine a place where
you could choose between Baladis, Italian Express, Usmania, Cedar’s,
al-Khaymeh, JK Kabob House, Ghareeb Nawaz, etc. A place where I can
order a shawerma, dip it in some butter chicken, take a bite of some
low mein, and wash it down with a icy cold mango shake. An event
wherein one could cut up baklawa into small pieces, mix it with
rasmalai, and throw in some freshly made apple pie. I mean, the
possibilities to achieve gastronomical nirvana are quite endless.


I’m too lazy to edit this picture, but replace “Chicago” with “Islam”

Now, this isn’t just a business proposition to get extremely wealthy…
well, in a way it is, but it’d be for a constructive purpose. What I
had in mind is to make this a weekend-long event that would benefit 3
specific groups of people:

1. Well, of course, it’d benefit the attendees since they would have an
opportunity to sample food from all over the Muslim world. Especially
if we could get some Muslim-inspired (and Zabiha-ified, of course)
Chinese, Mexican, and/or European cooking, that’d be truly impressive.
It’d give us a chance to eat something else besides shawermas and
biryani and expand our palate to include delicacies from other cultures
as well.

2. This sort of event would also financially benefit the restaurant
owners themselves, especially some of the small-time restaurants that
most people don’t know about. For example, places like Sabri Nehari
have established a virtual monopoly amongst the Chicago Muslims,
seeming as if they’re the only place that people can cater their events
from. Personally, I think places like Sabri and Italian are overrated,
and there’s a whole bunch of smaller, not-so-famous places that would
own Sabri, such as Gulshan or al-Kareem, and could emerge as big
players in the lucrative world of desi-Muslim-event catering from their
showing at the Taste of Islam. How refreshing would that be: to go to a
Muslim wedding in Chicago and eat something besides Sabri’s played-out
biryani? An event like this would help to bring out these
diamonds-in-the-rough

3. Finally, and most importantly, this event could substitute for your
average, run-of-the-mill, boring fundraising dinner where someone just
gets up, gives a speech, and then pleads with people to open up their
wallets. With this sort of event, the focus would be on tasting and
sampling different foods, yet the proceeds from such an event could be
tied to a charitable cause. Personally, I’d prefer for this to be
linked to Islamic Relief, and have the proceeds from this (well, minus
a few dollars for me to buy a Nissan 350Z)


One of the hottest things I’ve ever seen…

But seriously, we could set up a stage in the middle of the park that
we’d rent out and have Anwar Khan or someone from Islamic Relief do a
plug for their organization. Ashrafi had the idea that we could code
the tickets to correspond to a different area of the Muslim world
that’s in need of help. For example, if one wanted to purchase a meal
ticket for an entree, the ticket would also include a blurb about the
situation in Kashmir or Palestine. Add in some entertainment such some
music performers and/or comedians and this could definitely be
something the whole family would enjoy.

Anyway, so that’s the idea so far. There’s certainly a lot of issues to
think about, especially whether or not it’s appropriate to have a food
festival to raise money for hungry people in other parts of the Muslim
world. Other logistical issues would include how to bring in the
various restaurants, ensuring that the food is sanitary (trust me, with
Muslim restaurants, this is a HUGE issue), making sure the entire range
of Muslim culture is represented, checking the “zabiha-ness” of the
vendors, etc. I’m sure there’s a whole slew of potential obstacles that
may come up with such an event that I can’t think of at the moment.

So in short, I’ll end this post here and await everyone’s opinions on
this idea. Can it work? Any things that we’re leaving out or
forgetting? Other major problems that you foresee at the moment? Feel
free to answer these questions or add your other comments about this
idea, and we’ll see where it goes from here.

Currently Eating – Ammi’s Gulab Jamuns (these oughta be in the festival)

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43 Comments
  1. Anonymous permalink

    im trying to study for an exam…but im reading your damn xanga instead…*shakes fist*
    sounds like a good idea…let me get in on this…i need to make some loot…and yeah i want to get people fatter than they already are…
    “I guess we’re don’t eat enough already”  <—- when did you turn completely FOB? friggin A baby…friggin A…
    nigger-ul-haq

  2. that was a typo… you jerk, i fixed it

  3. Anonymous permalink

    haha you should’ve left it how it was…it was better that way…
    why dont you tell everyone the REAL reason why you want this taste of Islam…
    its so that people like us (guys) will get to see Muslim girls from all different backgrounds…in the same place…with their oh so tight black booty pants that dont exactly reach their feet…and their hoochified shirts that are so tight that its hard for them to breathe…all the while maintaining their “perfectly” pinned hijabs…
    haha…you know thats the real reason kamran dont deny it nigga…
    nigger-ul-haq

  4. lol @ lt’s comment. You’re one crazy dude.The MEC Food and Fun Fair I guess can qualify as a sort of “Taste of Islam.” They have food from the Indian, Arab, and American persuasion. Personally, I just go for the halal fried chicken. This sounds like a great idea. I think the fair should be held at my house and I should be the only one invited. Come to think of it, they don’t even have to set up booths…they could just send the food over and I’ll display it myself.

  5. KR just describer Taking it to the Streets with more food.I think its feasible, but extremely expensive and difficult to profit off of. Of course, I’m saying that without having done the research. But hey, experience is somewhat beneficial.

  6. I noticed the 350Z in that pic is the Track edition of the car (you can tell by the wheels). That means it’s 6-speed manual. When you dream about that car, you better dream about it in stick. Or you’re a wuss.

  7. Anonymous permalink

    qidas…my nigga…i just speak the truth….
    saqib…with your wuss comment…my son…you definitely spoke the truth….
    damn its late…
    nigger-ul-haq

  8. Assalam-U-Alaikum,
    its 1:23 am…and i am not asleep thanks to your post….
    i think this is a good idea…and it might even work….one thing you are missing is to seperate guys and girls…probably those “we wanna see the imam purdahs” from MMC will help please everybody?…
    and one more thing….
    “ensuring that the food is sanitary (trust me, with Muslim restaurants, this is a HUGE issue)” the Muslim part should be repalced with desi….its not all the Muslims…but it definately is all the desis…
    Allah Hafiz
    Wasalaam
    ps…your posts are always enlightening…especially when you use huge words in front of a fourteen year old….

  9. Excellent idea…you need to start advising Muslim NPOs how to raise funds like this instead of “your average, run-of-the-mill, boring fundraising dinner where someone just gets up, gives a speech, and then pleads with people to open up their wallets.” You could even have souveniers and t-shirts made that say something like “I increased my BMI by five points at theTaste of Islam” (I’m sure you can think of something more clever.) You could make some cash from them too maybe. But yeah the sheikh’s in if this goes through Inshallah.

  10. i think it will be an awesome idea. I already have a crave for how a shawerma dipped into some butter chicken and washed down with an icy cold mango shake would taste. hmmmmmmmm… haha! With the right planning, we can Insha Allah get a lot of people coming. There are so many who show up at McCormick on eid for a fashion show anyway… I am sure plenty would show up for zabiha halaal food. A Matrimonial mithayee booth would definitely help!!! what is it? after any couple gets hooked up, tahoora could be ready with the shaadi mithai…hehe!

  11. Go TASTE OF ISLAM!

  12. Make sure you have plenty of booths with Zabiha Chinese food there…

  13. Salaam,
    Just browsing through. The idea is fantastic and has a good reason behind it. But would it turn into another ISNA= Club ISNA?
    Wasalam

  14. Anonymous permalink

    Omar Ashrafi is so creative – which is pretty obvious since he lived in Champaign Urbana, the best city for champs to be in.

  15. when’s the last time champaign won anything… i recall the sox winning the world series… and i also recall the illini losing to north carolina in the finals =)… face it urbana sucks

  16. sounds like a great great great idea. don’t forget to set up a booth for prayer. and if u have any aunties who are willing to cook in bulk in the future, im sure alot of party people would love for them to cater their parties sometime. salam!

  17. This is a great idea, I think I’d definitely enjoy coming to this more than the regular fund-raising dinner. Don’t get me wrong, I just think that these dinners are pretty boring ’cause after you’ve been to one, you’ve been to em all.
    A couple of things to think about:
    1. Board of Health people will be all over this to make sure that food is kept at a hot temperature if it’s being served to the public. This might be a problem to make sure that each shop owner makes sure that his food is at a hot enough temp.
    2. Like you said, the whole zabeeha thing… How will that be determined? Are you just going to accept people’s word or make sure they are certified by someone?
    3. Won’t this be somewhat overpriced food since you have to cover your expenses, the restaurant people’s profits, and the donations for Islamic Relief. A regular biryani that might sell for $3 might sell for $6 at the event. Knowing how Muslims are such cheapskates, that might cause a fall in the turnout.
    I had some more things, but I forgot. Overall, I like the idea, but I think a lot more planning has to go into it.

  18. 350Z=Beautiful

  19. great idea

  20. interesting idea. yum yum yum. i like this: raise $$ for islamic relief. and this: sample foods from different cultures. but i believe it’d be very hard to do both, esp in the first go. i’ve been administratively and recreationally involved for ten years with something called The Skokie Festival of Cultures and the food vendors there make a ton o money doing the whole diverse-foods bit, are very eager to participate. the food also attracts a lottttt of ppl, which means lots of that awareness stuff (shout out to my hot thai noodles, i see yall–). so if your goal is food-sampling+Islam awareness, that can def work. adding in the proceeds-to-charity might be a bit much. to rectify this, you can keep the charity piece (which i def love), present yes but unaffiliated with the food. later down the line you can hook the two up iA.aight, i shall estop there iA.peace,IJB

  21. yummm thai noodles 🙂
    i like the idea tambien
    o.O

  22. couple points to add:1) The food absolutely needs to be sanitary and up to health code snuff. That’s part of the reason why it can only feasibly be open to licensed food establishments, and not to out-of-the-house catering operations.2) Part of the goal would be to feature Muslim cooking establishments, both within the usual indo/pak/arab context but also classical american/southern/SE Asian (not chinese) cuisines. Variety is key. Think of it almost as a tapas restaurant row…little bites and samples from a dozen different types of food…without having to overstuff yourself in the process3) The cost of the event would definitely be an issue, but if we can pair it with other ‘draws’ (i.e. performances etc.) then it is do-able. Figure you could also slim down portion sizes to keep costs in line for the consumers.4) We could have a friendly rivalry, like anoint the best-biryani in Chicago based on sales.5) On the side note of nikkah’s, this would be a good way for soon-to-be couples to try a variety of caterers in one setting.As far as names go, I was also thinking “Ummahteria” (ummah + cafeteria)or ummahzition (ummah + exposition) you get the idea…

  23. We have an event like that for IAW week at loyola, called taste of faith, except we keep the food free, which is donated from various devon restaurants, arab restaurants, use to be camilles cafe and those donated by students. It’s probably the best event we have all week, since it advertises the rest of the week. Anyways the car in the middle was random, and I had something else to say but totally forgot….

  24. thats a really good idea, it has potential, i think. having a couple different goals is not a bad idea, beacuse if one fails then you got other goals to focus on…thats a point of view..there are different ones which say that if you have a couple of different goals then you must fulfill each one or you have failed collectively… either way works… you could even have a booth/section provided by the city about health/sanitary standards, etc etc… that’d be a way to get the city at large involved..just dont turn it into a health fair… plus, have most major muslim chicago orgs endorse this and actually play active parts in the planning of… so it really IS a collective effort to bring everyone together… food, who’da thunk it.  

  25. An event that celebrates food AND raises money for other people… count me in. Just make sure there’s enough aloo parathas for me.

  26. This would be a great pre-ISNA event… lol

  27. i’m sorry to say that the name “Taste of Islam” is not your original idea, but that of the stout irish catholic man who lives next door to my in-laws… that’s what he thought the IFS Fun Fair was when he drove past and saw all the tents…

  28. good idea

  29. Anonymous permalink

    A novel idea indeed. But not worhty of FC

  30. Anonymous permalink

    1. bro, i love u so much: where I can order a shawerma, dip it in some butter chicken, take a bite of some low mein, and wash it down with a icy cold mango shake. An event wherein one could cut up baklawa into small pieces, mix it with rasmalai, and throw in some freshly made apple pie
    2. i dont think #3 would work. everyone wants the money for themselves. highly unlikely
    3. i went to the taste almost everyday during the summer since i work a block away. Zam Zam restaurant was there. people were returning the food cuz there were too many tiny bones in the biryani. it was SO funny. we desis are so used to having that BONE plate.

  31. I can do more than laundry, thank you….I can complain about it too 😛 NO PROPS FOR YOU!! :PI second the idea on this “Taste of Islam”..sounds like a good plan as long as a portion goes to a charity.p.s. where do you find the time to type so much??

  32. Good idea KamKam.  I think I’m going to cook my nut-accented bryani and other nutty dishes.  It will be a taste from the Squirrel Madhab. 

  33. salaam, very nice idea.  I agree with isra, though, that it might be too much to do both (fundraising and food..) but maybe you can just have a part of the proceeds go to a charity and yea Islamic Relief is a perfect choice.  also, yea from my experiences ppl love ethnic food… excellent idea.

  34. Anonymous permalink

    props just cause you mentioned Anwar Khan

  35. the plural of Gulab Jamun is Gulab Jamun.

    get it straight and put on your pants son.

  36. i think the community aspect of it is great, but personally sounds more like a gastronomical inferno than a gastronomical nirvana.  make sure you have a walgreens booth just for tumbs, pepcid ac, imodium, and of course pepto bismal… and i think hotel or convention hall would be better… can you imagine the porta-potty situation??  ::shudders::

  37. Anonymous permalink

    I think this is the best idea for an Islamic fundraiser, because you know people will come (out of curiosity of how good the food will be) i honestly wish we had such innovative ideas down here in Houston, but we got stuck with all the “im too good to hang out with other muslims” muslims
    (just a touch of exaggeration)
    salam

  38. hmmmm…the hygiene situation is definitely something that merits further thought. they actually have porta-trailers which are rolling bathrooms on wheels and are pretty clean. and i think as long as the portions are small and the variety big, the “inferno” can be kept to a minimum (though an antacid vendor would probably rake it in…)Now I’m wondering how important it is to have this thing outside. I thought outdoors simply because thats how the taste of chicago does it. But maybe a place like the mega center in st. charles (big hall, lots of parking) or something similar might not be a bad idea either…

  39. response to comments:everyone else: thanks for the feedback. ashrafi and i are gonna discuss it in the next few days/weeks and we’ll keep you guys informed.hyattlobby: hahah, indeed it would, consider this a dress rehearsal for ISNAnadinedesgriffes: oh mann, darnit, we’ll just have to go with ashrafi’s suggestions then… i think ummahteria was pretty cleverkabri: harsh, no props… its amazing how much free time one has when one neglects all important things in his life =)rooji: squirrel madhab? well, we’ll make sure there’s enough dishes that feature dishes with almonds, walnuts, and peanuts… well, we better warn all the people allergic to peanuts if we decide that.pk: the plural of gulab jamun is gulab jamuns, or whatever i say it is. you forget that im kamran friggin riaz, and whatever i say is how it will be.ashrafi: hmm, the idea of it perhaps being indoors does have a lot of merit, especially considering that any event outside is contingent on weather.

  40. Anonymous permalink

    im in tooo!  when i first saw this i was cracking up…but when i continued on reading i must admit thats a great idea!!~ 
    and altamash pshhhhhhh…*tsk tsk* ….go read my posttt!!!!! 

  41. quit wasting ur time on these crappy post and do some subhanallah thingy u do sometimes… anyway, just here to give u my annual props…

  42. i would have propped this on monday, but i kept delaying it in hopes that I could come up with some incredibly awesome suggestions/ comments — three days later i’m realizing that i’ve got nothin’.
    “the taste” sounds like a great idea and it could work. it should be done indoors so that people don’t have to deal with mother nature and to leave open the possibility of having the taste of islam at any time of the year. the only downfall is that with so many vendors cooking so many types of food, you’ve got a ventilation issue. i recall that getting freshly made food at isna was not an issue when the convention was held at mc cormick place. but then, getting mc cormick is contigent upon the expectation that there will be a lot of people attending, and that the organizational board that’s setting up the taste has a lot on money to invest in renting the space in the first place. so like oashrafi said, mega center could be a good location, i just hope it can outfit a lot of food vendors in one location. 
    it might be good idea to ask people who have regular experience with coordinating events like the taste of chicago or any local food fair events. ciogc and individual masajid might have insight on the distribution of muslim populations and business around the chicagoland area so that you know who to reach out to attend and participate in such an event.
    also, for the fundraising thing: it might be good to either eliminate fundraising from the sale of tickets or to keep the amount of money raised from tickets low so that it doesn’t prevent people from buying several tickets, therefore ensuring that businesses benefit from the experience and want to participate again in the future. i would agree with whoever suggested that serious fundraising could be kept as a separate event during the fair.
    ohhhh, and gulab jamun. how heavenly. why didn’t you share with the rest of us? don’t be stingy, kr.

  43. that would be AWESOME.

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