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This Is Why People Are Crazy About The Halal Food Scene Right Now

The UK halal economy is worth around £800 million. So we went to London's Halal Food Festival to speak to people who want a slice of it.

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Thousands of people turned up to the Halal Food Festival at the weekend to try halal food from all around the globe.

Aisha Gani/BuzzFeed

Tickets were sold out as a queue of keen halal foodies snaked around the block at Tobacco Docks in Wapping, east London, to get the chance to sample mocktails, try new burgers, and watch celebrity chefs in action. Organisers said 5,000 tickets were sold for the first day of the event, only halal food festival in the UK. Here's what else went on there:

There was Great British Bake Off stardust.

Ali Imdad, a former contestant on BBC One's The Great British Bake Off, came from a cooking demonstration on stage to rustle up a Mediterranean chicken salad.

"This is the first time I've had a stall like this, and I've got some tarts, some brownies, some macaroons, and to be honest it's been maybe four hours and I've almost sold out," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to have to sell tomorrow.

"My favourite product by a mile is the matcha tart. Matcha [powdered green tea] is a new sort of thing right now, and anything with matcha in it I'm just obsessed with it. Anything matcha-related – I'm in. I'm just encouraging people to try it.

"The halal food scene is really growing and someone who has a bit more disposable income to spend on food is not just looking for chicken and chips any more, we have so many options now. And to have all under one roof? For a foodie it's a dream."

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There were sushi burritos.

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Paplu Hussain was selling his Yaki Maki products from a food truck, including sushi burrito. "But it's not like traditional Japanese sushi," he said. "We don't do any raw food, but we do chicken katsu, and cooked prawn and salmon. My favourite one is king prawn. I was inspired as my uncle worked for famous sushi restaurant chains and we went from there."

There was jerk chicken.

Corrine, of Jerk City, said: "It's a West Indian food business and we're based in Soho, been established there for 16 years, and at the moment we only have a few things on our menu – we've got jerk chicken, curry vegetable, curry goat, rice and peas, and a vegetable roastie also. It's been very busy and we're waiting for the next influx to come in. This is the first time we've done this."

There was chaat (South Asian street food).

"I'm just starting up and this is Taz's Kitchen. I'm trying out chaat today," Tehreem, from northwest London, said. "The basic ingredients are chickpeas, potatoes, and black-eyed beans with coriander and mint. And then you have tamarind sauce, yoghurt-based sauce, and then all the various condiments that go with it.

"In my day job I'm in the pharmaceutical industry, and I like cooking and I like entertaining so I thought, Well, why not? [I'll] give it a go. People have really enjoyed it, it's very fresh."

There was chapli kabab and pakoras.

Zulf, co-founder of Curry Cookhouse, said: "Me and my wife Harima started our business three years ago, and we've always loved food. I worked in IT before, and I thought, Why not? Harima's a really good cook and I thought we better make the most of it. We always said we'd build it slowly, organicly, but I think we're losing a bit of patience now so we need to be a bit more proactive. So hopefully you'll see a bit more of us.

"Our base is Pakistani food, but we use seasonal British products, all our salad is seasonal, we make our own sauces, marinate all our meat, so we're kind of responsible for everything from A-Z. My favourite dish is the lamb, my wife's favourite dish is the chicken and the pakoras as well. We love the pakoras.

On the eye-catching, even hipster-ish branding, Zulf said: "We trade in Brick Lane and I saw a graffiti piece there, and so I was inspired and made it ours."

There were curry boxes.

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Joanna and Gisa said Inito, which means Indian burrito, opened two years ago in Liverpool Street. "We have handmade roti, paneer that is Indian cheese, chicken tikka, and aloo papri chaat, and yoghurt," they said. "We also do mango lasi and masala chai. My favourite dish is the aloo papri chaat."

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There were British takes on Egyptian hawowshees (a kind of minced meat sandwich).

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"Our company is called Beledi and our product is seared wowshees, and it's inspired by Egyptian street food – the types of food you'll find in the streets of Cairo," Mohammed said. "We've got classics of the Mediterranean and the Middle East really – so we've got chicken sharwarma, lamb and cheese wowshee, and a little British twist to a lot of the sandwiches.

"We started just under a year ago, and we're three brothers and one of us is a chef and we've always grown up with great food. No one else is doing Egyptian street food here so there's a lot of interest."

There were ready-to-eat meals (for millennials).

Friends Imran and Noman, who founded Haloodies – a portmanteau of "halal foodies" – were giving out samples of their line of ready-to-eat range of chicken, including peri-peri split sticks, southern fried chicken, battered chicken fillets and bites, chargrilled mini-fillets, and also sliced chicken with cajun and tikka flavourings.

They started the company three years ago, giving up jobs in medicine and dentistry to provide quality, convenience and ethically sourced produce for halal consumers. Haloodies has grown fast, and is now sold at Tesco as well as Amazon Fresh and Ocado.

"Twelve per cent of London's population is Muslim," Imran said, "and although there are a lot of halal choices particularly with restaurants, for the average London resident, there is a limited option and range. This is for the young millennial Muslims who are time poor, have cash, want good quality – and we're here to provide that. We will be the product that will be in every Muslim's fridge, inshallah. That's our ambition. The supermarkets are waking up to the fact halal is big business, and we're one of the handful of mainstream halal brands that are coming through."

There were mocktails.

"We're selling a non-alcoholic mohito, named it Nohito, and it's a premium bottled drink, nice flavoured mohito, in a good-looking bottle," said Shahin Hussain, one of the founders. "We saw there was a gap in the market for [non-]alcoholic drinks and obviously the consumer nowadays is getting more and more assertive, more and more social, and they want better choices than a J20, Appetizer, or Shloer."

Bottles of Nohito were selling for £2, manufactured in Portugal. The drink contains lime juice, mint, and orange, and the founders say it has fewer calories than regular soft drinks. "We've had amazing feedback people coming back and getting more and more bottles," Hussain said. "They're loving it, loving the flavour, the concept, are asking which supermarkets are stocking it. We're buzzing."

There was Mecca Cola.

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"We sell Mecca Cola and we founded the company in 1992, and it's been going on since and throughout Europe and the Far East as well," said Javed Abbasi. "We'll be opening up in China, so it's going worldwide.

"We started it up as an alternative halal product for the Muslim community. We sell containers of the product. It's been very popular."

There was gluten-free hot sauce.

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The founders of Dynasty Foods said: "We bring gourmet sauces from our sister Sadia in America and we sell it in the UK. Right now we're selling it in small shops, but we're trying to take it mainstream. A lot of people are buying it and like the taste. It's all natural, gluten free. We don't use any additives. People want organic.

"We've got three flavours – hot, mild, and sweet. For the sweet one we use dates and use no sugar. For the mild one we use tamarind, and for hot we use tamarind as well as chilli."

There were Belgian chocolate-coated Medina dates.

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"We're selling chocolate-coated dates, with the finest Belgian chocolate," Aisha Vohra of The Datery said. "We use Anbar Medina dates and we've combined the two cultures to produce a really luxury beautiful product for everyone to enjoy. Me and my husband travel a lot in the Middle East and we find that you have beautiful dates, however the quality of chocolate just isn't there.

"We travelled to Belgium and I trained as a chocolatier, and so we've just combined the two products and are really passionate about it. All our dates are stuffed with walnut, almond, or pistachio, and we have white, milk, and dark chocolate. We started earlier this year and we've been overwhelmed and have had to scale quite drastically in order to meet demand."

And finally, there was posh candy floss.

So Fluff founder Zora said: "We are trying to bring back candy floss and make it a bit more fun, so we've got our own flavours. So we've got coconut with toasted coconut flakes, banana with cinnamon sugar, sour apple with popping candy, and vanilla with popping candy.

"We're here as we heard about the event and love to support the Muslim community and it was a great opportunity to get our product out there. We're quite new, so it's a great way to market ourselves. And it's busy because there's a lots of kids – it's been great."

Asked about her inspiration, Zora said: "I was travelling through South-East Asia and Australia and saw candy floss was quite popular, and I thought, This reminds me of our childhood and let's do it here but mix it up a bit."

Aisha Gani is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Aisha Gani at aisha.gani@buzzfeed.com.

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