California's Halal Food Fest, Victim of Success

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Courtesy of Shafath Syed
    Long lines snaked around halal food vendors at NewPark Mall on Aug. 17. About 10,000 guests came, five times what was expected.

    California's first halal food festival on Saturday was a victim of its own success.

    Dubbed Halal Fest and held Saturday at NewPark Mall in Newark, the debut event featuring nearly two dozen vendors selling everything from halal tacos to shaved ice drew 10,000 guests - nearly five times the expected guest list. Many non-Muslims joined in the experience, too. 

    Co-organizer Irfan Rydhan immediately went to Facebook to apologize for the long lines and lack of food in response the the many complaints he received regarding traffic congestion and upset people. The vendors simply weren't prepared to feed the masses.

    "We apologize to all those who were unable to try any of the delicious 18 different halal restaurant food, trucks, drink and dessert vendors," he wrote on this post.

    Guests who arrived when the doors opened at 1p.m. were the lucky ones who had plenty to eat. But there was a burst of guests who arrived an hour later, who flooded the parking lot. Some vendors ran low on food.

    "It was too much for us to handle," Rydhan said Monday morning.

    To see raw video of the crowds, click here. (Courtesy Shafath Syed)

    But Rydhan was also quick to point out that on the bright side of things, this was the largest Muslim event in the last decade. And he also added that many who didn't want to wait in line drove to nearby halal restaurants in Fremont, San Jose and nearby cities.

    Some attendees were nice about it, joking that the long lines were preparing them for the Hajj to Mecca.

    And  many backed Rydhan and his team's efforts for putting on such a popular event. Shafath Syed of Sunnyvale told his Facebook friends to keep it all in perspective.

    "We are blessed to live in this area," he said. "Muslims are dying and suffering oppression in Egypt, Syria... and other places."

    Rydhan said he'd be issuing a survey for people to fill out and offer their construction criticism for future halal festivals.

    The California halal fest mirrored what Sameer Sarmast of  Sameer's Eats started on New Brunswick, N.J. last summer, where about 3,000 halal-lovers came to what was dubbed as the country's first halal food fest.

    Sarmast told NBC Bay Area that he, too, ran out of food the first year, not realizing how many people would be interested in eating halal.

    Halal means “permissible” in Arabic and is similar to kosher food for Jews. Muslims who keep halal don’t eat pork or drink alcohol. Animals must be slaughtered in a particular way and God’s name must be invoked during the act.

    Any unused halal food tokens will be accepted at Mela Tandoori Kitchen in San Francisco.