Eating out at a restaurant can be a fun treat. But, for a Muslim it can also be a pain! It is difficult enough to decipher product labels at the grocery store, but what do we do when we only have a menu?
There may be times when you have to go to a restaurant, whether it is with colleagues, for a friend’s party, or for a job interview. Unfortunately, Halal restaurants are not found everywhere. You can be prepared, though, with an idea of safe foods choices, and foods to avoid. As you read on you will gain tips to take along the next time you go to a restaurant.
Think about the ingredients in the dish you are ordering. Imagine you are at the grocery store looking at the label of the product you are about to order. What types of questionable (mashbooh) or haram ingredients might you find? It may be useful to carry a list of questionable ingredients and dishes with you when you go to a restaurant.
- Sauces and soups may contain animal fat or meat based flavors. Pasta and pizza sauces may contain beef or chicken fat as a flavoring, and even vegetable soups may be made with chicken or beef stock.
- Ask if wine is used in preparing your meal, especially if you are ordering fish, or a dish with a sauce. The server may reply that all the alcohol evaporates during cooking. In truth, alcohol will not completely evaporate during cooking, even if boiled. Simply choose another dish.
- If ordering a fried food, see what other fried foods are offered. All fried foods are probably cooked in the same oil, whether a vegetarian sampler, seafood, or meat. Additionally, french fries and other battered foods may contain meat flavors in the batter.
- Salads containing different types of lettuce, a variety of veggies, and topped with boiled eggs are a nutritious option that can be turned into a meal. Choose your dressing wisely, though; Low fat dressings may contain gelatin. If available, ask for olive oil and a lemon on the side.
- Check to ensure pork is not present. Bacon and ham are sometimes used in vegetable dishes such as potato salad and as a topping for salads.
The type of restaurant is also a factor. Buffets can be a Muslims worst nightmare. How often do you think people switch the serving spoons between meat and vegetables? In addition, how do you know what is really in that dumpling? Is it pork, beef, or vegetarian? There are a variety of stylish soup and sandwich cafés that cater to vegetarians or vegans.
Servers at these restaurants are often helpful with finding information about dishes. On the other hand, small diners usually use one large griddle for everything from sausage patties to vegetarian omelets. Many chains, from fast food to set-down restaurants, are now posting nutrition information online. This allows consumers to check the menu and ingredients ahead of time.
What other dishes are served at the restaurant? Is there pork or alcohol served? How comfortable are you with utensils touching your dish, and a non-halal dish? Chinese, Mexican, and other ethnic restaurants may be largely off limits. Chicken stock in the egg drop soup, pork lard in the refried beans, and meat mixed in with the rice. There are not many vegetarian options left.
Of course, your best option is to choose a halal restaurant. If you are trying a new restaurant, ask if all the food is zabiha halal, or only certain dishes. Ask to see proof from the containers or bills. You may need to talk to a manager or owner, so consider calling ahead of time for arrangements.
Finally, just because you are dining at a halal restaurant, do not blindly eat anything on the menu. Just because someone owns or manages a restaurant does not mean that they know all the Islamic food laws, or that they are aware of the all the ingredients in the food they are serving. We alone are responsible for the food we eat, and the food we provide to our families.
Written by: Suzanne Audi for Halal Consumer magazine (Spring 2007 edition) from IFANCA