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Muslim houseguest - kitchen/dining room etiquette and rules? - [moved from Home Cooking board]

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Later this summer, I will be hosting an African Sunni Muslim at my home for a week on a work-exchange program. I've familiarized myself with the Halal guidelines, but I'm unsure how to make my guest feel most comfortable.

I've already planned to rid the kitchen of pork products while he's here. However, I do have a liquor cabinet, which I don't intend to empty or hide (and I'm sure he'll be fine with that -- he is on a long trip to the U.S., and is by all accounts a very open-minded guy).

Of course I won't be offering any non-Halal foods. I have easy access to a Halal butcher for meat, so I'll just take that concern off the table from the get-go. However, is there anything else I need to be aware of so that I won't put him in an uncomfortable situation? I haven't seen anything in my research about requiring serving and cookware to be Halal-only, but am I simply missing something? I have close friends who keep kosher, but only at home, so I don't really know how careful I need to be.

Many thanks for any and all advice.

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  1. How thoughtful of you! Especially the sacrifice of pork products. :)

    The only detail that you might want to be aware of is the avoidance of eating with the left hand. As a person raised as a Muslim, I'm completely backwards when it comes to holding knife and fork in hand (I keep the fork in my right hand and cut with my left, because I want my right hand guiding food to my mouth). You may find this to be the case with him as well.....

    I'm not sure if you should be concerned about having pork-free cookware. Maybe avoid using any cast iron cookware that's absorbed pork essence....but honestly, you could ask simply to get a sense of how strict his guidelines are. If he eats in any restaurants outside of a predominantly Muslim country, he is most likely OK with cookware, china and flatware that has been in contact with pork before.

    Will you be hosting him during the month of Ramadan, which will be starting mid-August of this year? If so, further discussion may be warranted about the practices surrounding the customs of fasting. (and breaking fast!)

    1. May I ask from where in Africa you guest is from? Also, do you happen to know that this person is a religious, practicing Muslim or just kind of a 'cultural Muslim'? I know plenty of Muslims who have liquour cabinets themselves, and though they strongly identify as Muslim, aren't particular about rules and all. All of the fingers on one hand are not alike, as they say. Maybe the guy has an easy going personality anyway, and wouldn't have cared as long as you took care not to serve him pork, but I think you are doing a considerate and welcoming thing by removing the pork. That's very nice of you.

      Before spending money on halaal meat, do you know that he only eats halaal butchered meat (zabihah halaal)? Not all Muslims are zabiha-halaal only, and are perfectly fine with eating from the local grocery store. I am a religious Muslim, pray, don't drink, and all that jazz, but I eat meat from the local grocery store and do not specifically buy halaal meat. Just fyi. It could be worthwhile to inquire.

      There are no extra rules...some Muslims do not eat the same types of seafood that are considered unkosher, but nothing more than that.

      1. We have had many Sunni Muslim house guests (from Egypt) over the years, and although they are all practicing Muslims who don't eat pork or drink alcohol, we never changed a thing. We ate our regular meals with meat from our regular sources, and if we wanted to have a cocktail before and wine with dinner, no one seemed particularly fussed by it. Of course, we didn't serve those things to them. One thing they absolutely loved was bagels. One guest had bagels and smoked salmon every single day for breakfast, and dreams of it still. Another guest, a teenager, ate 3 bagels every morning - one with tuna, one with butter and jam, and one plain. They still talk about it. Another thing they really loved was steak. In Egypt, everyone eats meat cooked to death, and restaurants are surprised when you ask for meat medium rare. Well, that's all my husband will do with his prime beef, and they talk about how flavorful and juicy the meat is in the US. Funnily, we served lamb one night, and one of our guests wouldn't eat it because, as he said, "I don't like sheep." So, like anyone else, there are likes and dislikes that can be surprising, a matter of taste, and non-cultural. Have plenty of juice on hand -- Egypt is the only place I've ever been where even the adults drink from juice boxes! One thing all our guests loved was sparkling cider, which we wound up buying by the case from Costco. As luckyfatima says, many muslims do drink alcohol, a point that was hammered home for me by the bottles and bottles of Chivas Regal being purchased at Duty Free in Cairo by the natives. Though many Muslims will drink alcohol it seems, almost none are as "open-minded" about pork.

        8 Replies
        1. re: roxlet

          I don't have anything near the knowledge that others replying do, but just to mention on the steak issue, I do have friends, who are American and Muslim, who will only eat beef cooked well-done. It took me a while to make the connection that it might have something to do with their Muslim background -- it didn't come up as a religious restriction (like pork) but I have a feeling there's a connection there, maybe there's a halal thing about not eating blood or something about the way it's prepared that explains the tendency to "cook to death"? Just thought I'd mention it in response to roxlet's experience that their Egyptian visitors did appreciate steak cooked medium, as my friends seem to be grossed out by that -- I actually have a friend who was less disturbed by the chance of ingesting some bacon than by a medium rare steak. Another data point for you, if it's helpful.

          And, enjoying this thread -- I'm sure your visitor will appreciate your thoughtfulness and hospitality and that you'll enjoy him as well.

          1. re: mselectra

            No, I do not think that this is a dietary restriction at all. It is simply the way that things are cooked here, always have been and probably always will. The reason I think this is because they will ask you in restaurants how you want your meat cooked. We actually had a chef in a French restaurant come out of the kitchen to meet us when we ordered our steak medium rare. He was French, and kept on saying that the problem with the Egyptians is that they refuse to try anything new. If it was a religious restriction, I don't think the waiters would be asking. BTW, this is in any restaurant where they serve beef, not just in this French one...

            1. re: roxlet

              I understand -- I was guessing that the halal blood prohibition might lead, in some cases/places, to a cultural tendency towards finding less than well-cooked meat distasteful, not that it would be a clearly stated restriction. I have actually run across this idea elsewhere -- which is how I made what might be a nebulous connection -- that is, cooking well-done to get rid of the blood which you're not supposed to eat if halal -- but nothing really authoritative and not sure it's helpful to the OP anyway, since there's so much variety, and I'm obviously not very knowledgeable -- and of course there are lots of people (or cultures?) that don't like bloody meat... (Irish relatives, eg, ;) Didn't mean to get things off on an unhelpful tangent, anyway.

              1. re: roxlet

                It is cultural actually, not religious. It depends on whether raw meat is acceptable in the culture. Generally, most Pakistani Muslims would never dream of eating raw/rare red meat unless they just happened to like it as an individual, for example. But in the Levantine countries a well known dish is 'kibbeh nayyeh" or raw kibbeh made of pounded raw lamb flesh. There is nothing in Islamic exegis that forbids the consumption of raw meat.

                1. re: luckyfatima

                  As I thought. Thanks, luckyfatima for clearing that up!

              2. re: mselectra

                You'll find the same thing all over Ireland so whatever the "connection" is, let me know. Last weekend I was at the home of an Irish relative (he's been in the states for 15 years). He put two London Broils on the grill and 40 minutes later...dinner was served! Yum.

                1. re: southernitalian

                  lol!

                  1. re: southernitalian

                    Ha! My sister is moving back to the US from Dublin in two days after seven years there. I think this and other food matters (i.e., spicy=a little black pepper) are one upside to leaving.

              3. So far, you've had a lot of great and very sound advice. There are two things I would add. First, if you have any sort of contact with him prior to his arrival, why not ask if he prefers halal? And second, no one else has mentioned it, but there is a sura in the Qu'uran (don't ask me which one, I forget!) that says that if a believer UNKNOWINGLY eats unclean food, he is guilty of no sin." I know this because a young Moslem friend who was teaching me his language adored eating lunch at my house if I was serving "those wonderful baked beans." He was FURIOUS with me and explained this "clause" to me after I told him it was PORK and beans. So I would check with your guest on what will work best for him. If he's a "don't ask, don't tell" kind of guy, you have nothing to worry about. But you ARE very gracious! Good on you...!

                1. My daughter is an observant Muslim, so I deal with similar questions a lot. Yes, she and her family do sometimes follow the 'don't ask, don't tell' approach to some extent, but they aren't really comfortable doing so, and I don't recommend assuming it is an acceptable approach, even as a last resort or 'fallback' position.

                  The best advice for anything you aren't sure about is to ask. Your guest will feel welcomed that you want him to be comfortable, and will probably be happy to have the opportunity to discuss his customs and preferences. If at all possible, I'd email him with a welcome, stating you look forward to meeting him, and asking your questions in advance; if not, bring it up soon after he arrives.

                  If it turns out he does follow halal guidelines for meat, when cooking food, don't forget that any stocks or broths you use in a dish should also be halal (or vegetarian), and don't cook with alcohol (or pork), ever. Btw, in my daughter's case, kosher meats and meat products are also perfectly fine, and that is true for a number of Muslims who consider kosher meats to be halal, but you would have to ask him to be sure (depending on where he is from, it is possible that he may not be familiar enough with kosher meats to answer the question for himself anyway).

                  One bit of research that might make you feel more comfortable, particularly if you can't contact him via email in advance, would be to find a few places near you that offer halal meals, so you can always take him out to eat until you have a chance to ask about how strict his guidelines are. A vegetarian place would also work.

                  Here is a good reference if you haven't seen it yet:

                  http://www.zabihah.com/

                  The reminder about Ramadan is a very good one this year given that it comes in August. Again, you can ask.

                  All that said, I suspect that if he was extremely strict in his observances, he wouldn't agree to stay at a home not known to be Muslim. I am sure he will appreciate your thoughtful desire to make him feel welcome and comfortable.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: susancinsf

                    It was not my intention to suggest the "don't ask, don't tell" clause be exploited in any way. Obviously dmd_kc is going to considerable lengths to ensure accomodating his guest to the very best of his ability. But it can be comforting to know that if you inadvertently don't meet the requirements of halal (or Islam, for that matter) the believer one is befriending will not be held accountable for a host's goof. My intention was to help the host relax.

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      I realize that, but from the sounds of it, he'd be much more relaxed if he knew he was on the right track, hence my advice. It is my experience that some people are shy or otherwise reluctant to ask about cultural or religious concerns, even in situations where asking is clearly the best way to handle an uncertain situation. So, I wanted to reinforce the idea that asking is a better alternative to keeping quiet and hoping for the best.

                    2. re: susancinsf

                      "All that said, I suspect that if he was extremely strict in his observances, he wouldn't agree to stay at a home not known to be Muslim. I am sure he will appreciate your thoughtful desire to make him feel welcome and comfortable."

                      That, I think, is the gist of the matter. If you are Muslim, and travel and are therefore somewhat worldly, I believe you tend to be more flexible in your approach. He knows he is not coming to a Muslim home, as our guests did, and a lot of these issues never came up. BTW, in case you'd think that their thoughts were in the neighborhood of , "Well, never going back to stay with those people," we've also had return visitors who never asked us to change a thing...

                    3. if his visit will overlap w ramadan, then that will probably include his eating a rather hearty pre-dawn breakfast, then (most likely) returning to bed, going about the rest of the daylight hours fasting, then another fast-breaking meal after sunset. just to warn you.

                      fresh fruit, juice, pastries/fresh bakery items, and black tea would be good things to have on hand, perhaps dates? if your guest does not drink alcohol (and he may, as others have noted), he may enjoy the custom of a sweet at the end of a meal, just as others may enjoy an after-dinner drink in the evening. it depends-- you should just ask, and ask as well if he is interested in trying "american" foods. veggie pizzas may be right up his alley, for all we know! not on the subject of food-- if i may suggest, also purchase a new, small-size watering can with a small, less than 1" diameter spout and leave this in your guest bathroom for your guest's comfort, just as you'd lay out fresh guest towels.

                      1. also, you mention this is a work exchange: have you asked your employer these questions? If you have the same employer and it is a well-organized program, I'd expect them to do some of the legwork on letting you know his needs, how to make him comfortable, etc.

                        by the way, depending on where in Africa he is from, the odds are rather high that he is a smoker. So, be prepared for the possibility that, in addition to learning about his restrictions, that you will need to let him know your own house rules about smoking, if any.

                        1. So many great ideas here, which I appreciate very much. I will indeed likely get to "meet" him via e-mail before he arrives, and he'll be staying with two other colleagues for a week each before heading to my place. However, I don't think either of them cooks, so they'll be having lots of KFC, I'd assume. (Kidding.)

                          Thanks again -- I'm going to plan to make bagels, roxlet!

                          11 Replies
                          1. re: dmd_kc

                            I tell you, if I wanted to stay in Cairo, I could clean up with a bagel business. When we returned after Christmas, the only thing in our luggage was bagels! We brought 4 dozen. Can you imagine? And then when my DH came to visit in May, he brought another two. Steak and bagels. The two things our guests liked best.

                            1. re: roxlet

                              its funny: my SIL is from Tunisia and had never had bagels until he married my daughter. Now his favorite breakfast is bagels and lox! (and the really funny part is that, since they live in CA, they haven't even had a particularly good bagel yet :-))

                              1. re: susancinsf

                                Every time I think about our friends and the bagels, I have to laugh. Someone else we know in Cairo, who had been in NY, was talking the other day about how much he misses going to Park Place Bagels (in Bronxville) every morning and getting a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon. And then I have seen them, describe in Arabic to a friend, bagels, the "white cheese," and the smoked salmon. They do have cream cheese (I have only seen the whipped kind) here as well as smoked salmon, but the bagels are only to dream about.

                                1. re: roxlet

                                  Isn't there something similar, like a sesame ring (Turkish simit) or whatnot, available? I was thinking bagels were popular because they're rather like sesame rings (at least the sesame ones!).

                                  1. re: buttertart

                                    I think the taste is completely different. The ring-shaped things I have gotten here in Cairo are more crunchy and have an odd sweetness. They may look somewhat similar, but they couldn't be more different. Maybe the Turkish ones are more similar, but I haven't ever tried those. In general, except for the pitas, the bread in Cairo is really bad. The "Wonder Bread" or Cairo is called Fresh Bake, and it makes Wonder Bread seem hearty. My son won't eat sandwiches outside our apartment because the rolls are hideous -- flabby, mushy and tasteless. I have been traveling to a French Bakery in the Four Seasons Mall to buy our bread, which I then freeze. This bakery supplies the bread to the French Embassy, so you know it has to be pretty good. But other than that, it's not a bread place nor is it a Foodie culture.

                                    1. re: roxlet

                                      funny, I remember many years ago as a starving college student visiting for three weeks living for a couple days on good long french bread loaves and a bag of tangerines. (and beer) That was down in the Luxor area though.

                                      1. re: DGresh

                                        I have read something about bread in Luxor, particularly a bread that is compared to Pain Poilaine, which is obviously not what you are talking about, but maybe there is better bread in upper Egypt than in Cairo.

                                        1. re: roxlet

                                          I'm really surprised to hear this because a couple of years ago, I had a gurlfriend here in the Dallas area whose husband is a baker and owns large bakeries in Cairo, some other far away (from me) city, and one here. When he came back from Egypt, he would always bring a carload of pastries because the same recipe made with U.S. ingredients did NOT taste the same! She used to bring me a basketful, much of which is still firmly attached to my hips! '-) Unfortunately, we've lost touch. I suspect they may have moved back to Cairo.

                                          But I'm also surprised you don't have great bread. When I lived in Turkey, the bread -- ALL bread -- was to die for! The hell with a loaf of bread and a jug of wine, give me a loaf of hot from the beehive oven bread and a cube of butter! I've tried baking "ekmek" at home, but the wood fired brick oven is critical and I'm too lazy to build one.

                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                            Lol! People keep on talking about how many great things there are to eat in Turkey. Egypt is not Turkey. There are many pastry shops here with French names that make beautiful looking pastries, but many beautiful looking pastries don't taste too good. I don't know what the pasty shop was that your friend had, nor what kinds of pasties he made, but Egyptian pastried tend to be extremely sweet, like Greet pastries. I made a birthday cakes here for my son and one for my son's coach, and after that, people stopped bringing me all these fancy, beautiful pastries because my cakes were that much better and everyone seemed to realize that. I don't know what "ekmek" is, but if there was good bread around, I think that I would have found it in the total of 14 months that I have spent in Cairo! What people here eat is "baladi" bread, which is pita. You see people with huge trays of it balanced on their heads and riding bicycles. Once, we saw one of these guys get hit by a car, and while he wasn't hurt, his tray of pita was up-ended. He and others carefully helped him pick up all the bread, and put it back on the tray, and he biked away. You know that pita got sold. But really, that is it. No other bread except the decent French bread I have found in ONE bakery. And I have to travel 30 minutes from where we live to buy it. And let me just add that we live in Mohandeseen, a very Egyptian neighborhood, not in Maadi where all the Americans and many other foreigners live. What they have in this area is what Egyptians eat. The bakery that makes good bread is one we heard about from my son's French tutor, who agreed that the bread here is terrible and sent us to La Gourmandaise.

                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                              I am enjoying this talk of bread vs ethnicity and nationality. Some years ago I used to get my hair cut by a French guy who told me that when his relations visited him here in the States what they REALLY loved was Wonder Bread.????? The thing was that they liked it toasted. He said they would sit around the toaster for hours, talking and eating hot buttered toast. French bread doesn't toast like that.

                                              1. re: Querencia

                                                Wonder Bread --that's very funny! My MIL, who now lives in San Diego and who adores Pepperidge Farms bread, is thrilled when we bring her loaves because she can't get it there. She claims that IT makes the best buttered toast!

                            2. Like the others said, just ask him about his eating preferences. I have many Muslim friends -- some of them eat halal only, and others will order a club sandwich and just take off the bacon. Some drink alcohol or will eat food cooked with alcohol, others don't partake of any alcohol. The degrees of observance vary depending on how conserative they are. Your best bet is to ask him if he eats halal only, or if there are any special accomodations he'd like you to make before his arrival. He may tell you he is not a practicing Muslim and eats "regular" food.

                              1. What a wonderful thread, and very educational. I guess we are all at risk of showing our inner Archie Bunker, assuming that a black person must be served watermelon, a Jewish person necessarily keeps Kosher, and a Muslim person eats only Halal. Having a personal track record of having served shrimp to observant Jews, beef to Catholics on Fridays in olden times, and a rich array of allergens to the allergic, I now ask questions freely---and early. Good luck.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Querencia

                                  Salaam alaykum Any Muslim who goes by the "don't ask don't tell" is a sinner, our Quran teaches in your path of being a great Muslim you must inquire about things you come in contact with. A great meals that I cook that my friends that are not Muslim enjoy is navy bean soup, for breakfast bagels & locs or salmon, chicken kebobs on the grill (add veggies), hummus, Aloo Gobi (Potatoes and Cauliflower) Fasolia Khadra bi Banadora (Green Beans and Beef) stuffed  Grape Leave, Aloo Gobi (Potatoes and Cauliflower) stuffed bell pepper, olive & feta cheese salad , beef kefta (meatballs), chicken bbq w/ bread bun (sometimes served over rice)