In New York City, a new halal Senegalese restaurant has recently opened its doors, accompanied by an Uyghur food spot and a restaurant offering dishes from Uzbekistan. These additions join the numerous Turkish food spots scattered throughout the city. Providing their expert opinions on these culinary offerings are a trio of Muslim women known as the Muslim Foodies – Jiniya Azad, Tahirah Baksh, and Sameen Choudhry. Just like any other passionate New Yorkers, Azad, Baksh, and Choudhry have a deep love for the food they enjoy.
Azad’s cravings revolve around delicate dumplings immersed in chili oil, with a preference for the more refined varieties. Baksh finds delight in indulging in pizza, noodles, and the occasional fiery chicken sandwich. On the other hand, Choudhry confesses that she cannot imagine her life without biryani, a flavorful spiced rice dish popular in Pakistan and India, as well as the classic American chicken wing.
When entering a restaurant, you can often find Azad equipped with an iPhone creatively mounted on a bright ring light. She openly admits to purchasing her phone solely for the purpose of capturing high-quality food photographs, showcasing her dedication to the art of food photography.
This Kind Of Thing Was Unheard Of
Azad, reflecting on their blog, emphasizes that Muslim halal restaurant reviews were once unheard of in the food scene. The concept of having dedicated platforms for reviewing halal restaurants was not commonly seen. However, the Muslim Foodies have filled this gap by providing written and video reviews of halal restaurants in New York and across the United States.
Their services have garnered significant demand among Muslims residing in or visiting the vibrant city of New York. At the time of publication, they have amassed more than 77,000 followers on Instagram and over 83,000 followers on TikTok.
The bond between these women, who initially met as undergraduate students at the City College of New York, remains strong even after several years. They refer to their connection as a sisterhood. Their journey into food blogging began during their time on campus and originated from a common struggle experienced by many Muslims in the Western world: the search for halal food.
Recognizing the difficulty they faced, they realized they could assist others who encountered the same challenge. Azad had the idea to compile all the information in one central place and create reviews specifically focused on halal restaurants. Thus, in early 2017, Muslim Foodies was born. Choudhry adds that their mission is to ease the process for the Muslim community to find halal eateries and simultaneously support these restaurants through their reviews.
Educating On Halal
The blog not only serves as a comprehensive guide to halal eateries but also as a platform for educating people about the concept of halal. They aim to spread awareness that halal refers to food prepared in accordance with Islamic law and is permissible for Muslims to consume.
The trio believes that their growing following is a testament to the fact that the halal dining scene in New York has long been overlooked. Azad points out that there is limited consideration for halal dietary restrictions within the dining scene, and there remains a need to build awareness around Muslim halal eating. However, she expresses gratitude, saying that progress is being made, albeit slowly but surely. In addition to their work on the food blog, each woman has a day job. Azad works as a graphic designer and photographer, Baksh as a medical scribe, and Choudhry as an orthopedic physician assistant.
For years, the trio would select a new spot to gather, enjoy a meal, write a review, and share pictures of their dishes on Instagram. Initially, they focused on places near their West Harlem campus. However, after graduating, they expanded their coverage by exploring new locations, which helped grow their fan base. Readers would also inform them about new restaurants they had heard of, prompting the trio to visit and review those establishments. Azad explains that since people are already using Instagram to search for food, when they come across a page that serves as a resource for halal dining, they become highly engaged and supportive.
At times, the group actively sought out places offering halal food. Azad spent her days searching review sites like Yelp, Infatuation, and zabihah.com, using keywords such as “halal” or “Muslim food” to discover suitable dining options.
Choudhry highlights that many restaurants don’t explicitly label themselves as halal, requiring customers to do their own research. The blog aims to bridge this gap by identifying halal eateries, especially those representing diverse cultures beyond their usual preferences for Desi (South Asian) or Middle Eastern cuisine, which tend to be the most popular halal spots. Additionally, the blog assists in identifying “partially halal” establishments, where only specific menu items are designated as halal, often pertaining to chicken dishes.
Choudhry emphasizes that they make an effort to visit and review partially halal restaurants, taking into consideration whether separate utensils and cookware are used. They go to great lengths to ensure the authenticity of the halal offerings. The trio evaluates restaurants based on various factors, including the quality of food, pricing, ambiance, and service.
Throughout their journey as food bloggers, the group has fostered a strong connection with their readers and restaurant owners. Their followers actively engage with their posts and share their own opinions about the places reviewed, further enriching the dialogue.
Occasionally, restaurant owners proactively approach the Muslim Foodies, inviting them to visit their establishments in hopes that a positive review from the trio will boost their business. In transparency, the women ensure to indicate in every Instagram post whether they paid for their meal or received it complimentary. They are conscious of the fact that most of the restaurants they review are small businesses, and they approach their assessments with sensitivity.
The Muslim Foodies strive to provide fair ratings and offer constructive criticism that can aid restaurant owners in making improvements.