“Just move the pork to one side.”
Seven seemingly innocent words but its impact was immediate. The table fell silent.
It was 2004 in Melbourne, my last year of university. I met a football buddy at a Chinese restaurant where he introduced me to his Malaysian coursemate — a Muslim.
We chatted, bitched about each other’s football teams, then sipped some tea.
Fried rice was ordered to share. It arrived — but with strips of ham poking out from all angles.
“Oh. I forgot to ask if it was halal,” said my Singaporean friend. “Um… Just move the pork to one side.”
Can my friend get a giant foot to go with his fried rice, please?
After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, the expected reply came from the Malaysian lad: “Cannot lah!”
We packed the food to go and left together.
Fourteen years ago, it must have been difficult for a Muslim student in Australia — a life spent searching for different halal places to eat, coupled with the same conversation over and over again.
I. Can’t. Eat. Here.
Fast forward to 2012. Adam Shah and wife, Maryah, are struggling to find enough halal places to satisfy their foodie habits. But here’s the kicker — they live in Singapore!
The husband-and-wife team decided enough was enough, and launched The Halal Food Blog.
FILLING A GAP IN THE MARKET
It’s hard to imagine that even as recently as five years ago, Google wasn’t cooking up enough information on the best halal places to eat in Singapore.
But this is the problem Muslim diners were faced with, say Adam and Maryah.
And since the couple was eating out all the time, they thought it would be useful to blog about the places they ate for the benefit of other halal foodies.
They were right.
The Halal Food Blog has continued to grow in popularity since its 2012 launch, currently racking up 80,000 views per month.
“It’s been an amazing five years with The Halal Food Blog,” Adam tells The Scoop.
“I think my favourite moments are still when our readers spot us on the streets, or when we’re having a meal, and either come up to us or drop us a message later to say ‘hi’ and also say that they appreciate what we do.
“It’s really humbling.”
The journey to mini-celebrity did not come without some difficulties that required tweaking the original recipe.
Both Adam and Maryah have full-time jobs and their three-year-old daughter, Allyssa. To balance things out between work, family and blogging, they hired management company Chooosie Group to deal with their commercial arrangements.
One thing they can’t do is be the first to write about an exciting new halal restaurant that has just opened.
Ask anyone in publishing about the thrill of beating a rival to a story, and you are likely to get a passionate response.
So it must be an incredible frustrating experience for Adam and his team when they have to sit and wait for the outlet’s halal certificate to come through before they can serve up another review.
“We had previously announced [soon-to-be-halal] restaurants only to receive a backlash from the community with regards to the halal status of the restaurant at that specific point in time. says Jumaiyah M, managing representative for The Halal Food Blog.
“This is mainly because the restaurant has to first be operational before the halal certification process can even start.”
We’ve been told ‘patience is a virtue’ and apparently it rings true when in it comes to halal food blogging in Singapore.
Despite the challenge of being a step behind reviewers from non-halal publications, readers of the Halal Food Blog appear pretty grateful about how the blog has filled a gap in the market.
And it’s not uncommon for the brand to be hit up for advice via its social media channels.
“This is very obvious when we have readers and travellers who write in to us or leave comments on our pages looking for food recommendations, and also asking us for the halal option for a specific cuisine that they are looking for,” Jumaiyah says.
The Halal Food Blog claims their reviews are at about 50-50 — meaning half of them are undercover and the other half are either ‘arranged, invited, or sponsored’.
“Even for paid engagements, the opinions are always subjective and we always aim to give the most honest representation of our experience. After all, the aim is dissemination of information to the community,” says Adam.
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There are also plans to do halal food guides for popular tourist destinations across the region. But this extension of their brand is expected to roll out slowly due to work and family commitments.
“We do always try to widen our horizons especially if it is content that our readers are interested in,” Adam says.
“So, this year we launched our YouTube channel which will include travel vlogs to share our experiences when travelling overseas.
“We’ve got Bangkok, Hong Kong and Japan planned for now and hopefully we can plan a trip to beautiful Brunei soon!”
According to Market Research company Hexa Research, the global halal food market is anticipated to reach US$2.55 trillion by 2024 driven largely by the “rising demand for the consumption of halal meat.”
The report marked Asia Pacific as having the highest market share in terms of revenue.