By Rumina Rizvi and Aaisha Zafar Islam
“Halal Food Fest TO, #hffto, is the largest halal food festival in North America attended by over 30,000 visitors. This year’s festival tagline is “Eating Well” to celebrate and promote healthy eating. We welcome everyone to join this celebration. With the events planned, the festival is sure to be a feast for your eyes — and of course, your stomachs. The Festival is organized annually to bring the community together.”
– Organizers of Halal Food Fest TO, 2014
We’d seen a blitz of messages preceding the festival and honestly, they had us at halal! Is the festival really a must-visit? MuslimMoms of Canada had a reporting team on ground to cover the largest halal food festival in North America. Read on!
According to Salima Jivraj, the founder and marketing director for Halal FoodFest TO, last year had seen more than 30,000 attendees at the event and the numbers were sure to be larger this year.
“We’ve doubled our venue size from last year and have more things planned for the entire family in seven festival areas,” she told the media as she took them around on the festival’s opening day.
Halal FoodFest TO was held on June 14th and 15th, at the International Centre, Mississauga.
With more than 200 vendors, including 75 + in the sample city alone, the festival was an absolute gastronomic treat!
Some highlights at this year’s FoodFest included the Grill Master Competition as well as demonstrations and informative seminars through-out the two days, on ‘Eating Well’ also the theme for this year.
Notables in the guest list included MP’s Brad Butt, Linda Jeffrey, S Wong, Shaykh Yousuf Badat and Shaykh Omar Subedar as John Tory introduced the speakers at the front stage. However the crowd’s most energetic cheering was reserved for Nazem Kadri #43 from Toronto Maple Leaf, also the brand ambassador of the Paramount Fine Food.
Veteran Festival Go-er
Rumina, an ardent foodie was at the event both days. She’d also come to the FoodFest held last year and had a good comparison model on hand already.
The moment I stepped in, I was astounded at how well organized the whole setup was. Unlike last year, there were no line ups at the registration booth.
With three rows for pre-registered attendees and separate ones for on-site ticket purchase as well as Help Desk tables, everything was streamlined from the very entrance.
After the media walk-though and opening speeches, I went to the Sample City to indulge in treats that vendors and sponsors had. My pick of the lot were Twisters’ yummy fresh cut fries with chilli’s, tornado fries and sausage stick. They had huge line ups and people were anxiously waiting for the hot n fresh tornado fries.
Next I got myself some kachori chat from Premium Sweets and headed for the outdoor Street Festival. I got to meet Chef Aleem Syed, Toronto’s Second Chef on a Wheelchair – Co-Owner and Executive Chef at Black Ox Bistro.
Finally I decided to have a full meal from the Burger Factory – a succulent beef patty filled with mozzarella cheese- grilled to perfection. I topped off everything with the famous funnel cake.
I knew I was done for the day with enough temptations to return for tomorrow!
The second day I went for another round of food sampling and exploring other stalls selling clothing, books and other items.
Clothings, hijabs, embellishments, jewellery, wall decorations and art works, Islamic charitable organizations and NGOs, it was a well-rounded line up of vendors.
Second day’s highlights included Azhar Usman, the famous stand up comedian to entertain the crowd. He took over the stage for Grill Master held at the Outdoor Street Fest.
The outdoors had vendor trucks from the famous Beaver tails, Yalla Paramount along with a newbie Buster’s Sea Cove. My eyes this time were on the savoury and succulent fall off-the-bone ribs by Karachi Kitchen, right at at the entrance to the outdoor.
It was a complete family event that will be much anticipated for another round, next year.
A First Timer’s Report
Aaisha Zafar Islam went there alone to report on the event, but the festive atmosphere and many, many treats and food temptations got her to call in her family and friends. Come one, come all!
To be fair, I am not a food enthusiast. I like good food, but I lose my appetite when I see too much of it. Despite the dazzling array of food varieties on sale at the second Halal Food Fest TO, I must say I enjoyed the event.
All feedback I had gathered from friends, of last year’s event, had scared me of huge line-ups and an absolute crush at the venue. I thought it wise to go there as a reporter and not as a festival attendee. My idea went up in barbecue smoke as soon as I stepped into the Festival Area!
Here’s what I liked about the festival:
The variety of food, all halal that could be sampled, bought and eaten.
Daddy’s Halal Ribs were highly recommended by Salima in her media tour. I passed on her words of gastronomic wisdom to my husband and promptly got ribbed on the name. However, he did get me some of these famed ribs and a second round for himself, so that is real endorsement! Unlike me, my husband is a foodie, he loves trying out different cuisines, cholesterol and digestion worries all forgotten!
In a quirky turn of events, our party ended up eating from Daddy’s Ribs and Big Mama’s Burgers!
I also enjoyed the cheese seminars held through the day. Who knew there were such a number and assortment of artisan cheeses, all #madeinCanada, that we could eat as Muslims. I have saved that list for my next grocery trip!
The ‘pit stop’ complete with colouring books, crayons and a Chevy at the festival. The children in our party had actually monopolized this area! The friendly attendant there was given a crash course on where his friends lived by my son. My toddler, on the other hand refused to come out of the SUV. ‘Mine!’ she said, too bad we could not bring that vehicle home to ‘sample!’
Modest clothing, all natural personal care items, halal gummies, teas, Islamic books, one day was simply not enough to take in all the festival offered. Unfortunately my little ones were totally exhausted by the end of our day, and I had to stay at home to recover from the excitement on Sunday.