I’m currently presenting a trade show in the Emirates (Abu Dhabi and Dubai), and I wanted to take a moment to address a topic that often perplexes many of my followers.


The Muslim Kitchen!

In the early 21st century, Islam remains, in many respects, a mysterious object, often treated by outsiders with a certain distrust at best. Part of this mistrust is likely linked to what, in the Western world, is considered the ‘rigidity’ of its rules, closely linked to religion. Yet, these are norms that precisely regulate many aspects of the life of the faithful, not least their diet.

Indeed, the nourishment of every good Muslim plays a central role in maintaining the purity and integrity of his body and, consequently, his soul. In addition to pleasing Allah, healthy eating and strict respect for the rules offer advantages in places with hot climates. It is no coincidence that the word Ramadan translates into “torrid month.”

Halal and Haram: the classification of food.

This premise is necessary to understand the profound meaning of two terms of fundamental importance for Islamic worship, namely Halal and Haram, translatable respectively into lawful (Arabic: حلال‎) and forbidden (حرام), with explicit reference to all which a good Muslim may or may not eat.

It should be kept in mind that these two simple words constitute a sort of ‘traffic light,’ an objective judge of the culinary choices of populations living in vast territories, often referred to as the Arab world, ranging from Africa to the Middle East, up to distant Indonesia, not to mention all those who have emigrated around the planet.

Halal, legal foods

Which types of food are considered halal, i.e., ‘allowed.’?

Let’s start with the meat: the most consumed is sheep and poultry. However, there is no shortage of beef and camel meat. Of fundamental importance is its slaughter, which must be carried out ritually (dhabihah) by completely draining the animal’s blood. This meat is often used in small pieces or chunks to prepare tasty stews. As far as fish is concerned, wide varieties are permitted, most of which have scales.

Cracked wheat, other cereals, and milk

The role of cereals play a central role, above all rice and all wheat, thanks to which real ‘classics’ of Arab gastronomy are prepared: mention the couscous of Berber origins, the pita or pitta (the particular type of bread often accompanies grilled meat kebabs or vegetarian falafel balls), and bulgur (‘cracked wheat’), much appreciated, especially in Turkey. Milk and its derivatives are mostly allowed (with some rare exceptions).

Especially yogurt, such as ‘labneh,’ prepared with sheep’s, cow’s, and occasionally goat’s milk. It is impossible to forget legumes (above all chickpeas, lentils, and broad beans), vegetables in general, and above all spices: an ingredient that, more than any other, gives Muslim specialties their incredible taste and aroma. Cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, saffron, paprika, and ginger are the most typical.

Haram, forbidden foods

Haram foods are, as already mentioned, absolutely forbidden. Even in minimal quantities (contaminants), their presence can make a halal product ‘illegal.’ These include pork, wild boar, rabbit, and, more generally, predatory animals. Some fish varieties, such as eel, swordfish, lobster, and all seafood, are equally prohibited.

Furthermore, alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, and various distillates are strictly forbidden.

Mushbooh, the suspicious foods

Finally, the third and less mentioned suspicious category includes mushbooh foods. This suspicion derives from the ‘uncertainty’ about the legitimacy or otherwise of one or more ingredients used in their preparation. A potentially ‘Halal’ ice cream could contain, for example, an aromatic substance or a ‘Haram’ preservative, making it unsuitable for consumption and creating evident discomfort for a faithful observant, occasionally forced to investigate the ingredients before consumption closely.

Dubai skyline from the Sofitel Hotel, Obelisk Restaurant 7 PM (WP)

Certification companies

To address this potential problem, specific certifying companies have been created over the years (authorized by the Halal International Authority) which, as it is easy to understand from the name, deal precisely with carrying out this type of analysis, assigning a sort of ‘stamp’ to various products. Nowadays, the food market for people of the Islamic faith has increased and is growing further, demonstrating that coexistence between different civilizations is possible by overcoming mutual mistrust and adopting an attitude of mutual respect.

One of our talented presenters at the Arab Cuisine Forum (WP)

There is a constant, recognizable thread in Walter Potenza's career to elevate the level of Italian culinary culture in the United States. Besides his unquestionable culinary talent and his winning business perspective, Chef Walter has been a relentless educator with passion and knowledge who contributes to defeating stereotypes. His life, career, and values are a model, an example to follow, by any Italian gastronomy chef working outside Italy. A native of Mosciano Sant' Angelo in Abruzzo, Italy, is known as one of the most passionate and accomplished practitioners of traditional and historical Italian cooking in the nation. His fields of expertise include Terracotta Cookery, Historical Cookery from the Roman Empire to the Unification of Italy, the Cuisines of the Sephardim Italian Jewish Heritage, and the Mediterranean 21 Health & Wellness, with major emphasis on Diabetes, Celiac and the Cuisines of the 21 countries present in the MED basin.

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