This week my Indian intern friend Varsha and me are joining the “Beyond food barrier” project of the company. Our first mission was to experience being a vegan and a Muslim for one day, in which we were given 2 hours to find a suitable restaurant and go there for lunch.
We tried searching for a halal restaurant near the company. There were a few options that are halal-friendly, but most of them are expensive compared to normal restaurants: a ramen shop, a Japanese restaurant and an Indian restaurant.
We decided to pick the Indian restaurant which is Halal certified and has the vegan menu as well. Although it was the nearest and cheapest we could find, it took us about 10 mins on the bus and 10 mins to walk there. Arriving at 11:00 when it had just opened, we were the first customers of the day. I could easily recognize the Halal certification marks outside of the restaurant, but found no marks inside. However, after looking carefully, I found some boards with photos of Mecca and the Quran on the wall. And it’s also said on their website that all the chiefs are Muslim and they’ve got the Halal certificate from Kyoto Halal Committee. There are chicken, beef, lamb, seafood but no pork on the menu, which is safe for the Muslim.
For my Halal lunch, I chose a seafood curry with naan (flat bread) and mango lassi (yogurt drink). The seafood curry contained shrimps, squids, clams, potatoes, and was decorated with mayonnaise sauce. I was satisfied with the tasty food but the portion was too big for me. I tried to finish everything and after that even breathing was difficult, and laughing hurt! I would definitely recommend this restaurant to my Muslim friends if they like Indian cuisine and want to enjoy a decent meal.
I thought I was safe with the seafood choice until I got back to the company and checked again about Halal food. Some information said that all seafood products are considered halal, but there are also some sources saying that only scale fish is halal, not squids and clams. I am really confused about this but now I can confirm all seafood is halal after checking with my Indonesian Muslim friend.
Although I couldn’t say that we have had the real Halal experience with just one meal, I can still feel the difficulty and inconvenience being a Muslim in a foreign country. Halal certified restaurants are not difficult to find with Google, but they are not always available nearby, and there are not so many varieties on the menu to choose from, either. It would be inconvenient if we couldn’t eat anything we find on the way. For Muslim visitors who prefer preparing their own meals, some supermarkets in major cities do offer halal products. However, they tend to be mainly frozen halal meats rather than ready-to-eat foods. I don’t think it is possible to find halal products in average supermarkets here.
It was lucky that today Varsha and me are Muslim and Vegan, and we could find a place where both of us could eat and had a good time. But if a Muslim joins a group of people from different culture backgrounds, then having meals together is not that easy for them.
Taking this into consideration, we at Prema Inc. are working on a project called “Beyond Food Barrier” with the aim of helping people with food restrictions and allergies to enjoy their stay in Japan with no worries. So if you are or know someone who are Muslim, vegetarians, vegans or people with food allergies, feel free to share with us your story and what you think we can do to improve your experience in Japan.