Halal Food in Taiwan — Fed Up Looking for It?

Halal Food in Taiwan — Fed Up Looking for It?
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

What you need to know

The Tourism Bureau is promoting halal certification for the catering industry to boost tourism. But long-term Muslim residents still face many difficulties dealing with their daily meals.

Amid efforts to attract more Muslim tourists to Taiwan, the Tourism Bureau has been cooperating with the Chinese Muslim Association to promote halal food certification. Restaurants, meat providers and hotels can all apply for the Halal certification after undergoing strict evaluation.

Certification for restaurants comes in two categories: Muslim Restaurant and Muslim-Friendly Restaurant. The former provides Islamic food only, while the latter also serves other kinds of food, with Halal foods cooked separately.

The Chinese Muslim Association told The News Lens International the association was appointed by the government in 2012 to provide Halal certification. Since then, more than 100 restaurants have been certified.

“The number is still rising, and according to feedback from the businesses, especially hotels, the certification did a lot of good and generated 10 to 20% growth in business,” officials from the association said.

The certification procedure includes checks on several standards of cooking, sources of meat, as well as investigations of the environment. It also includes four to five hours of training.

However, certified restaurants are not spread out evenly, with more than a half of them located in northern parts of the country.

Wang Mon-long (王夢龍), executive secretary of the New Taipei City Muslim Community Center, told TNLI that most certified restaurants are for tourists — consisting primarily of hotels and expensive restaurants.

However, for Muslims who live in Taiwan, their daily meals remain problematic.

Mr. Ma, who owns a halal restaurant in Taipei, says he doesn’t think the certification has had much of an impact among small businesses, as most customers find them through reputation and not through certified lists.

Himmatur Rajal, a master’s student at National Chiao Tung University (NCTU) who has lived in Hsinchu for almost two years, tells TNLI that finding halal meat or a halal restaurant in that part of the country is a hassle.

“Fortunately, Muslim students in Hsinchu can join Muslim clubs and ask for help,” says Rajal.

Students can also show a card provided by NCTU with halal information to the restaurants so they will know what to serve them. Checking the source of meat helps as well. “Most meat imported from Australia and New Zealand is halal certified, making it safer.”

However, as a busy student who rarely cooks for himself, the safest way absent alternatives is to avoid meat and eat only vegetables.

Halal meat available everywhere?

Samila, a master’s student at National Chengchi University (NCCU) in Taipei, says that most Muslims prefer to cook themselves, because they are “very picky” about the source and the manner in which dishes are served.

“Even if a restaurant is Muslim-friendly, most Muslims still feel unsafe if they can’t see its kitchen or coking process. So we favor Muslim restaurants or cooking on our own,” she says.

Only four slaughterhouses in Taiwan provide halal meat: one in Taoyuan and three in Yunlin.

Chinese Muslim Association assistant secretary Tsai Yi-wen (蔡逸文) says that excluding eastern Taiwan, halal meat is available mostly in supermarkets or some traditional markets. This includes fresh meat and imported meat.

However, for those who prefer fresh meat, the sources are still lacking.

“Not enough people in Taiwan understand Muslims’ needs,” says Samila, “If the government could encourage more restaurants and markets to purchase halal meat, it would be more convenient for us, and halal food would be more accessible.”

Tsai Chang-min (蔡昌旻), a college student born to a Muslim family, tells TNLI that his family prefers to cook at home. “We go to mosques often, so buying meat isn’t a major problem for us. Sometimes the mosques also sell raw meat.”

Wang, of the community center in New Taipei City, says that although information is often shared at the mosque, “Muslims who seldom participate in group activities or go to the mosque may still encounter problems” finding safe sources of halal food.