Lobster poutine, fried chicken sandwiches, doner kebabs and noodles. Very soon, Muslims in Toronto will be able to enjoy all this and more in a single space, as a halal food festival makes its way through the city.
Night Market Toronto, one of the city's leading food festivals, has recently announced it will be launching what is believed to be Canada’s first “all halal food tour”. From May 6 to June 26, the event will hit eight cities in and around the Greater Toronto Area over eight weekends, starting from Square One Shopping Centre in Mississauga. Good vibes, music and unique dishes are all on the cards.
The plan is the brainchild of Rafaa Chapti, Zaina Moussa and Amanee Nassereddine, three female entrepreneurs from Mississauga. The founders of Run The World Summit — a career and events platform for female entrepreneurs — got the idea to launch Night Market Toronto during one of their many coffee and brainstorming sessions.
In 2021, they decided to launch All You Can Eid, an Eid-themed food festival in Mississauga. While they realised there was a gap in the market, they didn't quite expect the response it got from the community.
“We have just under 30,000 people come out in just three days,” says Nassereddine. “There were line-ups around the lot and vendors were selling [out] hours before closing. Seeing the response, we know there was an appetite for this kind of event.”
Providing Muslims with 'peace of mind'
It also planted the seed for a bigger plan. “We had many of the festival attendees tell us they drove from outside of Mississauga to this event specifically — up to two hours away. We realised that there was an opportunity to take vendors on a tour to these cities so they could experience halal food around their home,” says Moussa.
While many restaurants in Canada sell halal food, it’s not commonplace. This means Muslims have to ask questions about the meat and how it was prepared, then often eschew establishments altogether.
The founders believe this new event will offer many Muslims in the community "peace of mind" while also bringing them together.
The idea has had a positive response already. Only one day after making the announcement on Instagram, the post racked up more than 80 comments from excited customers wanting to know more.
“There clearly is a need for the halal demographic and we're just happy we were the ones to create this impact,” says Nassereddine.
Ramadan without restrictions in Toronto
There’s another reason the trio believe the time is right for such an event, and that’s to help small vendors whose businesses have been hard hit over the past two years by the pandemic.
“We are all about putting our vendors first,” says Moussa. “We have focused on giving them a space to sell to the community by taking on conversations with the city and key stakeholders; they just have to show up and sell their amazing food.”
“It is actually amazing to see vendors do so much more by simply changing their meat,” says Chapti. “I personally love fried chicken more than anything. Several of our vendors have their unique fried chicken sandwiches, so you can say I am excited for them all.”
The community clearly has a lot to celebrate, as 2022 marks the first time in two years that Muslims in Toronto are celebrating Ramadan without restrictions.
Sarah Latif, a quality coach and mother who moved to Toronto two years ago, says it has been much more special.
“Since I’ve arrived, it’s been Covid-19 restrictions everywhere. During the last two Ramadans, there have been lockdowns, mosques were closed and there wasn’t a lot going on. Sure, it was nice being home with family but there was no community feeling.
“This year is completely different — you can go out for iftar or to the mosque. You get to see so many other people who are going through exactly what you are.”
The touring festival, which will take place after Eid, is only set to strengthen community ties. “We never want to just host another event — we want to create a purposeful impact,” says Chapti. “That is our mission. We’ve learnt that if we stick to our vision and mission, we can accomplish anything.”
“I tear up at every event saying how grateful I am to have such a solid team,” says Nassereddine. “As the only women in the area within this industry, we've really shaken things up the first two years — and now without the pandemic holding us back, we are ready to go beyond. The sky’s the limit.”