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Published: 31 January 2008
The meat counter at Phoenicia, Kentish Town
The meat counter at Phoenicia, Kentish Town
Methods meat with approval

Don Ryan investigates our growing taste for specialists food shops

IT is an established fact that disillusionment with supermarket produce is creating a thriving independent food market. Small specialist food shops, vegetable stalls and on- site bakeries are among the beneficiaries.
Nevertheless, it came as a big surprise to learn that local halal butchers are seeing a growing number of occidental shoppers crossing their thresholds.
Gassan Fadi who sells halal meat at his shop in Kentish Town, is also surprised by this phen­omenon. With a slightly nonplussed but happy countenance he spoke of the steady stream of non-Muslim customers who buy from his meat counter. “They say ‘halal meat is tastier then the supermarket equivalent’,” he told me last week.
So what is halal and how does it differ from supermarket meat?
Halal means lawful; when the term is applied to meat, it refers to produce created in a manner approved by the Islamic religious authorities. The rules and regulations are centuries old and fierce debates are raging within British Islam as to what – in our modern high-tech society – should constitute halal meat.
Lamb, beef and chicken – but not pork products – are the mainstay of a halal butchers. This year some halal turkeys were on sale at Christmas.
So far, meat produced from intensively reared animals is deemed to be acceptable. However there are voices within British Islam who dispute this position.
They believe that only more traditional, less intensive, humanely produced meat that protects the welfare of an animal should be labelled halal.
A small but growing minority support the concept that all halal meat should be organically reared.
Currently, meat be­comes Halal in the abattoir. The technique of slaughter ensures the animal is drained and blood free, whereas mainstream methods permit blood to soak into the meat.
Gassan believes, it is the bloodlessness of halal, along with the freshness of the meat, that produces the taste difference.
British-reared animals are slaughtered the halal way one day, and in his shop the next. The meat, he says, “has a singular taste,” which some non- Muslims deem an appetising alternative to conventional meat.
The freshness of the meat is not to everyone’s taste – some epicurean- minded English customers believe the taste of halal meat improves when left to mature in the fridge for several days.
“This adds extra tenderness and even more flavour to the meat, they tell me,” says Gassan. Muslims are required to eat the meat while it is still fresh.

BRECKNOCK Road natural food shop Bumblebee has a long and radiant history. Founded in 1980, it was among the first of its kind.
It now fills three separate premises in Brecknock Road (that trade as one shop) with a raft of healthy, environmentally friendly products and foods. Sporting a rustic style, the shop has always operated on the quirky edge of the retail grocery market.
However, times have changed and natural foods and socially responsible products are now very much a part of mainstream shopping. A new generation of gleaming natural food outlets have sprung up in central London.
One of these, Earth, Natural Foods, in Kentish Town Road, is the progeny of two ex-Bumblebee partners. One of them, Gillian Haslop, became involved in Bumblebee back in the 1980s, but left to open the new shop in Kentish Town.
“We were looking for large premises and came upon the Specsavers shop”, said Gillian. “The premises were too big for an opticians but ideal for us. We have 1,000sq ft of extra floor space and we now stock more organic wines and beers – some of which we import ourselves.”
A bigger range of organic baby foods, biodegradable nappies, soaps and macrobiotic foods are also on display.
With another new ­natural food shop in Chalk Farm Road and Fresh and Wild down in Parkway, can the dear old Bumblebee in Brecknock Road survive against its more centrally placed competition? Gillian was in no doubt. “Natural food shops compete with the supermarkets, not with each other,” she asserted. “We know our customers and we know our ­suppliers personally. Today’s shopper likes to know where food comes from and who is selling it to them.
“Provided we stock good produce at reasonable prices, there is absolutely no reason why all of us cannot ­survive and prosper.”

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