Well, this weekend was the much-awaited Halal Food Festival in Toronto. I had been excited about this event for a long, long, long time. Without further ado, I am going to highlight some good aspects aswell as areas for improvements:
- Large Number of Restaurants: I was happy (and surprised) to see that there were many restaurants that I had never heard of. Alot of vendors participated and that made me happy!
- Food Samples: Many vendors were giving samples in exchange for tickets ($10 for 20 tickets) which was great if you wanted to try/test a place
- Scheduled Activities: The stage area had fun and educational activities – such as Cake Decorating Competition and Grilling Techniques by Muslim Chefs.
- Other Vendors: It was also nice to see that alot of Muslim business owners participated. There were stalls for everything – jewellery, Hijabs/Abayas, books, Islamic Art, clothes, etc.
- Play Area for Children: There was a play area for children that had all sorts of attractions such as bouncy castles
Areas of Improvement:
- Variety of Cuisines: I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t alot of variety of food. Yes, there were alot of burgers and ribs but I expected more than just that. There was one Mexican vendor but I had so been counting on more! Other food items I would’ve liked to see at the food court: Middle Eastern, Italian, Pizza, Wings, Mexican, Pakistani (okay, so I am not a fan of eating desi food outside but I know that some parents/grandparents prefer that. I know many people were hoping to eat Kabab Rolls and papri chaat) and even snacks such as corn.
- Taste of Food: Overall, everyone in my family thought the food was not as good as we had anticipated.
- Lack of Vegetarian Options: I get it. It was Halal Food Festival so the majority of people wanted to eat beef and chicken – anything with meat. However, there are a small number of Muslims who do not eat meat (for health or personal reasons) and were completely excluded. Besides fries, poutine and icecream, there was not much we could eat. I hope that we won’t be overlooked next year!
- Crowd Control: Since this was the first event, I am assuming the organizers and vendors did not have a good estimate of the turnout. As a result, there were large crowds and long lineups – which obviously upset alot of people. Many of the food vendors also ran out of their major attractions very early. We arrived at Big Mama’s House at 1:30pm on Sunday and their burgers were sold out.
- Consistency: Some vendors were quoting different ticket numbers to different people. Nouman’s parents bought icecream for 4 tickets, but when Nouman went, they told him it was 5. However, when I went back to the same place, they told me 4 again (all handled by the same person).
- Sample Tickets: There seemed to be some confusion with the purchase of sample tickets. Many people thought that the vouchers could be used towards the food court but were disappointed (and annoyed) when they realized that the food court was cash only. Next time, the organizers should either make it clearer or allow the tickets to be used towards food court items
Some Funny/Weird Incidents:
- For the life of me, I could not understand why I heard so many people asking vendors if the food was Halal. Nouman even overheard one person arguing with a vendor about not having a Halal sign up.
- Alot of people were complaining that the food samples were too small and/or there wasn’t any free food. This was the most absurd thing I have ever heard – why on earth would you be allowed to enter, park and eat for free?!
- Beef Sausage: Apparently, these were good
- Poutines: The vegetarian poutine was a joke – it tasted like I was eating pasta sauce with the nachos. I would never have this again. The chicken poutine was better
- Juicy Lucy: Although the wait to get the food was extremely long, the boys liked their burgers.
- Funnel Cake: It was hard to like the funnel cake because the icecream had melted from being outside all day. The cake portion was good – batter was the right consistency and not soft (or too crunchy). I wish they had real strawberries instead of just the strawberry sauce
- Churros: They offered three fillings: chocolate, strawberry and caramel. Unfortunately, they skimped out on the filling. Otherwise, the churros were good (the ones we had in Chicago were way better).
Overall, I liked the festival. It was a great event and it is always a pleasure to see the Muslim community come together. There were a few places that I wanted to eat at (i.e. The Pie Guyz) – I can’t wait for the event to be even bigger and better next year InshAllah. I would love to be part of it next time!