- Choices are limited for the city’s 300,000 Muslims, as there are only 63 halal-certified restaurants
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It was lunchtime, and the KFC restaurant just minutes from the Kowloon Mosque in Tsim Sha Tsui was packed with customers relishing their fried chicken.
Among them was a family of four who had come all the way from Yuen Long because this was the fast-food chain’s first halal-certified outlet in Hong Kong.
“We are very excited,” said Aslam, 50, a Muslim who had brought his family and asked to be identified by his first name only. “Mostly, we cook at home.”
The outlet began offering halal meals earlier this month, with KFC becoming the first fast-food chain to cater to Muslims in the city.
“The halal-friendly menu is available at KFC Chuang’s London Plaza store in Jordan. This new initiative echoes our support of diversity and inclusion,” said a spokeswoman from the Jardine Restaurant Group which operates KFC and Pizza Hut.
Mufti Muhammad Arshad, Hong Kong’s chief imam and Islamic spiritual leader, welcomed KFC’s move, saying: “Any international chain which provides halal food ... gives good news and happiness to Muslims.”
Hong Kong’s halal options lag behind
Food choices are limited for the city’s 300,000 Muslims, who make up about four per cent of the population. Islam’s halal practices not only forbid eating pork and its by-products, but also refer to how animals are slaughtered for their meat.
Halal certification by the Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund of Hong Kong means an establishment is committed to sourcing and preparing food in accordance with the religion’s requirements.
But Hong Kong had only 63 halal-certified establishments as of February this year. Two-thirds of these restaurants serve South Asian food, and most others offer Middle Eastern cuisine. The only Chinese halal-certified restaurant serves Cantonese-style dim sum at the Islamic Centre Canteen in Wan Chai.
“Compared to Singapore, Thailand and other countries, we have fewer halal-certified restaurants,” Arshad said. In Singapore, where Muslims account for 15 per cent of the population, 4,000 halal certificates were issued to food establishments last year alone.
Explaining why Hong Kong lagged behind, Associate Professor James Frankel, director of Chinese University’s Centre for the Study of Islamic Culture, said: “Muslim patronage is not enough to sustain a lot of businesses.”
As a Muslim himself, he said that to survive in the city, halal restaurants should try to attract non-Muslims. He regarded KFC’s move as a positive development in “mainstreaming Muslim identity” in the city, but felt there was still a long way to go.
Need for more options
Marjan Lotfi Fard, 22, a Muslim student from Iran, hoped more restaurant chains like McDonald’s would be encouraged to do likewise.
She said that most halal restaurants in Hong Kong were in areas such as Tsim Sha Tsui or Central.
“If you live outside those areas, it’s kind of impossible to find any,” she said, adding that there were no halal-certified restaurants in Tseung Kwan O, where she lived.
So when eating out, she looks for vegetarian or seafood options. She started an Instagram page in 2020 and has about 1,000 followers who track her halal or vegetarian food recommendations.
Fellow foodie Maryam Khan, 24, an Indian Muslim who grew up in Hong Kong, has 1,600 followers on her Instagram page about halal food.
Khan, who works in social media marketing, said she had come across restaurants that were not halal-certified but used halal suppliers for their food.
“After I found that out, I’ve made a habit of asking the servers if the meat is halal,” she said, adding it would help if shops specified they used halal food supplies.
Education is key
Khan recalled a bad experience from her primary school days, when she went on a field trip and was told there would be vegetarian food.
“But there was only noodles with ham,” she said. “I did tell the teacher, but I believe she didn’t understand it was a dietary requirement. She just asked me to remove the ham with a spoon and eat the noodles.”
She felt there was a need to raise awareness about halal food and its importance to the Muslim community.
“If we can highlight and emphasise its importance, there is a higher chance restaurants will see the demand and cater to this niche,” she said.
Frankel agreed that most Hongkongers, who were non-Muslim, had little understanding of halal food.
He said: “If Muslim business owners and the Muslim community could raise awareness, they could actually sell halal products beyond the Muslim community.”
The government could help, as there were benefits for harmony between communities and promoting Hong Kong as a Muslim-friendly city, he added.
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