So you’re in London, have a few friends with you and the pressure is on; “where shall we eat?” they ask you. Suddenly all you can think about is that falafel takeaway you went to the other evening, which was fine when you were in a rush to get the train home, but not great to have a social at. Well, help is at hand.
We were lucky enough to interview Zohra Khaku, founder of a great new app called Halal Gems that does exactly what you need when hunting down the best places to eat. Zohra’s app that is being launched next month provides easy connections to the best halal friendly restaurants nearest to you, making your dining problems a stress free and relaxing one. We asked Zohra a few questions on travel, food, what inspired her to come up with the app, and what we can expect from Halal Gems, and thought we would share her answers so that you too can enjoy hassle free, delicious halal friendly cuisines that may be nearer to you than you first knew.
Sussie : What motivated you to do what you are doing now? Was there a specific reason why you decided to launch Halal Gems?
Zohra: Michael Pollan’s book In Defence of Food changed my life. It prompted me to think much more about what’s in our food. I became vegetarian for seven months until I could understand where our meat comes from and what it really is. I also realised that we really don’t know much about the ingredients that go into our food, and that ‘halal’ can mean almost anything.
My vision for halal food is that one day, ‘halal’ will indicate the best quality, most ethically produced, fairly traded, wholesome, tayyib food available. This may take years to achieve, but we want Halal Gems to be part of that story.
Sussie : I read an article dated back to February last year where it said halal restaurants are hard to find, and you were aiming to change that. Now it’s been a year since the article was released, do you feel there has been a change? Have halal restaurants become easier to find? And are they more accessible now?
Zohra: They are certainly more accessible (see halalgems.com!), but I do think that there are great restaurants out there that people haven’t heard of. If your friends know about new restaurants, you might hear about them, but search engines still don’t do a great job helping halal conscious diners to find new and novel restaurants.
Sussie : I see you have an app coming out soon, could you tell us a little about it?
Zohra: The Halal Gems app is designed to make it easier to find interesting new restaurants. It also helps give you a sense of what the best things to order are, and what other people thought of their experiences. It has collections of restaurants curated by us, as well as exclusive collections curated by special guests.
If you’re looking for the best halal chinese in London, a full English breakfast in Manchester, or the best places in Abu Dhabi that don’t serve alcohol, the app will find the right restaurant for you.
Sussie : You must try out some amazing food, do you have any favourites?
Zohra: Trying to pick my favourite food is hard! Highlights for me are Lebanese at Sambusek, Abu Dhabi, Cona in Bradford, sushi at Nobu, Malibu. For me food is all about the stories behind the food and the story of the meal itself.
Sambusek was amazing because of the innovation in Lebanese cuisine (you can read my review of Sambusek here). At Cona in Bradford the chef/owner has such passion for his food and atmosphere at the restaurant that he can talk about mundane details like the lighting and make it sound utterly fascinating. Nobu, Malibu was a trip I took with a friend where we celebrated her becoming a ‘real’ doctor. There was a piece of sushi on their tasting menu that was like a party in my mouth. It was sushi, but it tasted like a mojito.
Sussie : On the contrary, what is the strangest cuisine you’ve sampled?
Zohra: Beef tongue soup! In Malaysia my friend Iman took me to a Nasi Kandar where she recommended trying this unique dish. It actually tasted pretty great, and I now recommend it to anyone travelling to Malaysia.
Sussie : From your travel repertoire to date which destination has been your favourite and why?
Zohra: That’s a tough one – I’m stuck between Vancouver, Canada and almost anywhere, California. I had the privilege of living in California for a while and I loved it. I’d wake up at 4am every day, have some exercise and work done before watching the sunrise and then explore whatever city I was in. Californians are friendly people, and the food is incredible. I think the thing I enjoyed about it the most was that it was somehow easier to be healthy, explore both culture and nature, feed my inner techie, and have a great time, while feeling more spiritually connected than ever before.
Vancouver has always been a bit of an attraction for me. We have a lot of family there so I’ve spent some time there over the years. There is something incredibly awe inspiring about the landscape. The people are fantastic, the lifestyle feels wholesome, and their new government is fascinating.
Sussie : What is the first thing you pack when you’re heading on holiday?
Zohra: My eye cover thing and neck pillow for the airplane! I’m not sure what the eye cover things are called. Eye muffs, like ear muffs?! I like to sleep in complete darkness, and sleeping on a plane is hard enough, so anything I can take to help is important. Mine are from Muji, small, lightweight and stripy. I also have a mathematical rule for how many of each type of clothes to take both in my suitcase and my carry on.
Sussie : Imagine for a second you could take anyone from past or present with you on a round the world in eighty days’ voyage, who would it be and why?
Zohra: Definitely the Prophet! (saw). I’d love to see the world from his point of view. So much to learn. That would be an incredible experience.
Sussie : If we could send you anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would it be and why?
Zohra: Take me back to California! I haven’t been back since 2013. It has been way too long. I’d love to be relaxing at the Marina in San Francisco, a beach near Los Angeles or on the water by San Diego. All of these experiences would be made complete with fish tacos!
Now that you’ve got to know Zohra a bit more, and what her new app is all about, you may be interested in taking a look at her website Halal Gems that also provides information on halal restaurants, cuisines, the best halal food in your area, the latest updates on her upcoming app, and loads more interesting information, facts, and food related articles and blogs that will make you crave for your favourite dish, or perhaps something completely new.
Food is such an important aspect in every ones daily life, but can be even more important when it comes to travelling. Travellers depend on solid guides when travelling abroad to countries that may offer very different cuisines than that of what one’s use to, and that’s why we at Luxury Halal Travel do our best to ensure all our customers and clients get the right information and guidelines when it comes to eating abroad.
All destinations, hotels and resorts we offer are specially selected and put together with our partners abroad to ensure that your stay and meals are of the standard that you expect and are looking for. Though some destinations don’t offer halal cuisines, we make sure that an appropriate alternative is available no matter where you go. We aim to provide the best luxurious holidays that not only provides top of the class facilities, amenities, gorgeous and breathtaking sceneries, and views, but also destination where we know your hunger cravings will be met to nothing but pure satisfaction.
If you would like to find out more on our destinations, and exactly what we can offer you, feel free to contact us or visit our website Luxury Halal Travel for a luxurious getaway with your loved ones at some of the Earths most beautiful paradises where luxury and delicious cuisines is waiting to be explored.