Traveling across the state or across the world can be exciting and a chance to re-charge your internal batteries, a welcome a change of pace and scenery. Finding halal food in the sky or on the road, however, isn’t always as easy.
Even though the word halal is beginning to penetrate common everyday lingo across the United States and Europe, it isn’t as well-known a term as kosher, vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free diets. That said, restaurants, airlines, hotels and supermarkets may either misunderstand or be completely unaware of the Islamic dietary lifestyle for Muslims that disapproves of pork, alcohol and all their by-products in food Muslims will consume.
As a Muslim traveler, how can you ensure that you and your family are eating halal while traveling? Here are a some simple steps you can take to find food that fits your halal lifestyle, satisfies the appetite of a hungry traveler, and allows you to experience as much of the local cuisine and culture as possible, insha’allah.
Preparing Ahead of Travel
- Do a bit of research about your destination before you go, which can save you precious minutes during travel. Whether it’s travel for business or pleasure, who wants to waste time driving around in circles just to stop in and ask every third restaurant if they serve halal food?
- Go to Zabihah.com, the internet’s top search engine for finding restaurants, supermarkets and even airlines that serve halal food. Enter the zip code or country name of your destination to find out which places serve halal food and how the authentication is rated (i.e. verbal, Islamic authorization, etc.).
- Eat halal in the skies before even reaching your destination. Zabihah.com even has a list of airlines that serve halal meals on board– some listed have only verbal assurances and some are actually unverified. When in doubt, go with those listed as having ‘halal certificates on display” or “Islamic authorization”.
- Talk to your friends and family to find out if they know anyone at your destination. You’d be surprised how many people have friends and colleagues in places they never mentioned before. Most of the time people are more than happy to direct you to small, family-run halal food sources not listed on any websites. As a bonus, sometimes they’ll even show you around in person.
- If you don’t know anyone at your destination, contact a local masjid. Go to Islamic Finder to enter the zip code of your travel destination and get the details of the closest masjid (mosque) nearby. Call and ask questions about how and where you can find restaurants and markets in the area. They may even inform you of an upcoming event or dinner taking place where you can meet new people and eat a nice halal dinner at the same time.
- Pack healthy, halal snacks and instant foods like oatmeal or couscous to curb your hunger. In the U.S., stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are great places to find packaged nuts, dried fruits and vegetarian cereal bars without the extra sodium or unhealthy ingredients like MSG.
- Bring your own utensils for on-the-go eating and a hot pot for your hotel room.You might find some really cool places to shop for fresh foods in outdoor markets at your destination. You may even be able to have a mini-picnic with your food finds. If you have to stay indoors for breakfast or to get some work done, a hot pot will allow you to make your own food for the meantime. Just be sure to bring an electric outlet adapter if traveling abroad.
Enjoy the Destination, Eat Halal
Once you arrive, it’s time to soak in the fresh change of pace, scenery and people. If you have some time, try to find the nearest farmers’ market. In the United States, the simplest way to search is by going online to Local Harvest, which provides links to the blogs and websites of markets and events surrounding local foods. What a great way to meet people and find fresh, halal foods like fruits, vegetables and organic drinks you can sample and purchase.
You may want to visit some of the best farmers markets in the world. For a complete list, check out Hub Pages for the markets listed, which are mainly outside of the United States.
Want to dine out but are confused about which ethnic ingredients may or may not be halal? Print the Eating Out page on My Halal Kitchen which breaks down the different names for pork or alcohol in food items at Mexican, Italian, French and some American food restaurants.
Relax, Halal Isn’t SO Difficult
Knowing that you’ve done everything possible to eat halal while traveling can really afford you a piece of mind before and during your time away.
If you haven’t planned much ahead of time, simply shop at local stores for the most natural products (fruits, vegetables, bread, honey, etc.), as packaged goods seem to have the most questionable ingredients in them. Store them in your hotel refrigerator or buy goods that won’t spoil if left out.
When dining out, opt for the least-processed, vegetarian or seafood meals you can be sure aren’t made with pork or alcohol in them. Politely requesting to know more about the preparation of foods as soon as you’ve had a scan through the menu will give your server a head’s up about your dietary requirements.
Islam isn’t difficult, and that includes eating halal.
How do you eat halal while traveling? Please share your suggestions in the comments below.