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Sacramento Muslims — And Many Others — Flock To This Fried Chicken Spot During Ramadan

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Imran Naseem left Pakistan for the United States in 2000, when he was 17 years old. After owning and managing a Mel's Diner Franchise in Sacramento, he struck out on his own and started a restaurant, Halal Fried Chicken.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Many Muslim-Americans love fast-food, but struggle to keep their commitment to eating halal — especially if they want to indulge on a burger from McDonalds. Enter Halal Fried Chicken: one Sacramento man’s answer to breaking fast and still staying true to the Muslim faith.

Imran Naseem was 17 years old when he left Pakistan for America. While living in California, he realized there weren’t many food options for Muslims.

“There was no halal restaurants,” Naseem said. “Even if there were, they were so far away that you really [couldn’t] go there every day.”

Halal refers to certain dietary restrictions some Muslims follow. It mostly deals with how the animal is killed. The meat is often sourced organically and free-range. It also excludes pork. Naseem says it’s similar to Kosher practices in Judaism.

Naseem says he wasn’t strict with himself about eating only halal foods. He would cheat a bit and eat American fast food, namely KFC. And he was OK with that — until he had children.

He wanted them to eat halal food more frequently. When Naseem went to restaurants with them, they would ask for burgers and chicken fingers, but they weren’t halal.

“So, our kids weren’t able to eat, so that’s when it came in my mind, ‘What about the other families?’ Maybe they’re thinking the same way, ‘Oh, we can’t take the kids outside,’” Naseem said.

He had been managing a Mel’s Diner at the time. While working there, he says he learned about a great fried chicken recipe and had been thinking about opening his own restaurant. Eventually, he decided to leave his job at Mel’s and fulfill his dream. He called it Halal Fried Chicken and set up shop in Rancho Cordova.

His restaurant has been open for two years. And during Ramadan, Muslims flock to it.

Shameer Mohammed lives in Elk Grove but works near the restaurant. “I was born and raised here, so we like McDonalds and all that stuff, too. And during Ramadan, I just try to eat halal as best I can,” Mohammed said.

James Grant, from Arden-Arcade, is also fasting during Ramadan. He says if he wants to eat halal food from a restaurant, it usually comes from Indian, Pakistani or Middle Eastern ones.

“I’m American. I love eating different foods from different cultures, but sometimes you just want some food you grew up on … some comfort food,” Grant said.

Naseem says a majority of his customers aren’t Muslim. A recent report from the State of Global Islamic Economy Report for 2017-18 by the Dubai Islamic Economy Development Center and Reuters says there is an intersection with demand for healthy and organic foods and for halal choices. Because of this, halal food has become increasingly popular among Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Connie Rios from Elk Grove believed Halal Fried Chicken would have healthier options, specifically because the restaurant served halal food. “Because I figured it’s better than regular fast-food, I thought. I just imagined that it would be and it ended up tasting better to me,” she says.

When the restaurant first opened, Naseem thought he would mainly be serving Muslims. But he likes it better making food for everyone, and says it gives people an opportunity to learn about halal practices and Islam.

Adhiti Bandlamudi

NPR Kroc Fellow

Adhiti Bandlamudi is a visiting NPR Kroc Fellow. During her fellowship, she has worked as a reporter for the National Desk and as a producer for Weekend All Things Considered and Planet Money.   Read Full Bio 

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