Grazing Boards Meet Ramadan: How Women Entrepreneurs Are Bringing This Instagram Trend to the Halal Table

published Apr 26, 2022
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Halal Eid charcuterie board
Credit: Sara Ali

The past few years, our social media feeds have been flooded with photo after photo of beautifully arranged charcuterie and cheese boards with dried fruit, nuts, and more — grazing boards, as they’re often called. The  grazing boards comeback reached its peak in the midst of the global pandemic, thanks in part to social media, but also because of the unique needs they meet. Grazing boards can be customized to fit every eating style or occasion, which means they’re a good idea in any season and for any gathering. During the pandemic, a lot of us were looking for unique ways to safely gather outdoors, and often these grazing boards — or larger grazing tables — became a way to do it. 

Now halal charcuterie boards and grazing tables are making a splash throughout the United States, replacing pork with halal salami and featuring pastrami and cheeses without animal remnants or enzymes.  

Afsana Hai, the owner of The Halal Graze Board Co. in Richmond, Texas, says she accidentally stumbled on the business idea after making her first halal grazing board for Thanksgiving in November 2020.

“I had a grazing board out for my brother-in-law, and he exclaimed this would be such an awesome business because nobody’s doing it,” Hai says.

After doing a quick Google search she saw that everyone was doing it, “except nobody had a halal version in town. So I was like bingo,’” Hai says. “It just skyrocketed.”

She launched her business on @thehalalgrazeboardco on Instagram in December 2020.

From there she began looking for halal meats, prepared according to Islamic dietary laws, to replace the pork on traditional boards and researching cheeses without remnant or animal enzymes, which is also important for vegetarian customers. Her signature boards include sharp cheddar cheese, and salami from the Sharifa brand from Detroit’s Saad Wholesale Meats, which she purchases from her local Halal World Depot.

“I always wanted to be part of the Muslim community in a big way. I went to Islamic school my whole life just to be surrounded by other Muslims,” she says.

For Hai, this work is about representation and inclusion. Being able to participate in something larger than herself can sometimes mean taking a trend and making it accessible for people who eat halal, and creating ways for Muslims to participate in the joy of emerging pop culture. “I want there to be an availability of other items and experiences that are available to everybody else, to our community as well,” she says.

Grazing tables are charcuterie boards multiplied by the number of guests, with cheese, meat, crackers, dips, and everything you need for an appetizer or meal. Hai’s services range from $9 to $16 per person. Creating grazing tables is a part of the business and a way to bring community together, by introducing them to foods that go together, and allowing people to enjoy and experience them together. 

Halal charcuterie and grazing boards are not going away anytime soon. According to Pew Research, “Islam is currently the world’s second-largest religion (after Christianity); it is the fastest-growing major religion,”making the halal market one that’s growing with the crowd.

Grazing boards and tables have become a staple of Ramadan and Eid, celebrations where people have traditionally gathered — often hopping from house to house— to graze and share finger foods and appetizers with the community. This year Ramadan began April 2, and ends May 2. Hai took limited orders on Instagram a few weeks in advance for Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr, the celebration ending the month-long fast.

“In the Muslim community, we are people who love to gather. We love sharing, and charcuterie is for sharing.”

Sara Ali

Hai says the trend is becoming a popular part of festivities ranging from birthday parties to wedding appetizers or meals — in some cases replacing birthday cakes and baby gift baskets.

“My favorite part is creating each individual board because each one is so different. Each one is unique. There’s no template … it’s literally painting with food,” she says.

Farah Naz Siddiqui is the owner of Grazelicious in Dallas, Texas. Siddiqui was a design consultant and event coordinator prior to the world of halal charcuterie boards and grazing tables. After her events were getting canceled due to COVID-19, she began researching market trends. She noticed dessert tables were being replaced by the charcuterie concept about three years ago. She wanted to provide a halal option.  

“I was surprised that the whole Muslim community was so supportive and … that their taste buds would accept the charcuterie,” she says.

“I created something of my own … That really is what took my business on another level.”

Farah Naz Siddiqui

She says beginning her business first required introducing the concept of charcuterie to her community. Now with her business in full swing, the one thing Siddiqui doesn’t compromise on is the main charcuterie concept of including cured meats and, in more recent times, cheese. But they’re not composed of just halal meats and cheese. Any requested items that speak to South Asian or Middle Eastern foodways are added to the board as well.

“I can incorporate these [personalized food items], but the basic charcuterie has to be there. Within my community, there weren’t any [grazing table] businesses so I had to first educate them, and then sell my product and, alhamdulillah! They really appreciated it and they’re coming back,” she says.

Last year was her first year doing charcuterie boards during Ramadan.

“I had to incorporate all the Ramadan food within the charcuterie and that’s completely unconventional, but it became a really big hit and they loved it,” she says.

That led to creating Eid boxes with additions like rice puddings and Kashmiri chai. Siddiqui says she was inspired to pursue a home-based business, which gave her a chance to stay home with her kids, and a chance to do something different to educate the masses about South Asian food.

“I created something of my own. A few people will see my boards and people will say ‘OK, that must be Grazilicious because you have your own thing in it.’” That really is what took my business on another level,” Siddiqui says.

Like Hai and Siddiqui, Sara Ali of Moment to Graze started her business on Instagram to fill a unique niche for those who were looking for halal charcuterie and grazing boards in New York City. Ali got into the world of charcuterie through her photography page @dieteticaesthetic, where she features brand products.

“I was just making it for my photography job, getting paid, and then eating it myself, not selling them,” she says.

Then one day her friend asked her to create a grazing table for her backyard wedding. It was a hit. Ali registered her LLC and began initially serving family and friends.

“My community is asking for it. So I want to provide it,” she says.

Ali, who is Egyptian American, says her background in photography helped launch her business.

“It was just two of my favorite things, photography and food, and also having halal meat options in New York is an amazing plus,” she says.  

For Ali, halal meat goes beyond the slaughtering process; it extends to knowing that the animal was treated humanely while alive. She believes it makes a huge difference in the quality of the meat. She says that appeals to people who are conscious about where their food is coming from, Muslim or non-Muslim. She looks for the cleanest halal meats and the best quality products.

Ali’s charcuterie boards became an alternative for those who might have traditionally picked up artisan bread, cheese, or meats from their local bakeries and shops that closed during the pandemic.

Ali curates charcuterie boards with a Muslim twist, catering to the people who are looking for South Asian or Middle Eastern customizations.

“We have done a lot of Arab-inspired boards. My community also includes a lot of Bengalis and Pakistani so we do gulab jamun (sweets) and sweet versions (of the grazing boards),” she says.

Her boards reflect the diversity of customers in her neighborhood of Jackson Heights, a Queens neighborhood where 167 languages are spoken. 

“In the Muslim community, we are people who love to gather. We love sharing, and charcuterie is for sharing,” she says. “It’s not just like the trendy 20-somethings; there are people who are older who are going to be introduced to this and may be shocked at how much they like it.”

Ali says preserving culture and community is important to her. When she was a little girl, she celebrated Eid by waking up to her new outfit laid out on her bed, visiting family, and eating date-filled cookies with powdered sugar. In 2021, Masjid Dar Al Dawa, a mosque located in Astoria, Queens, replicated these Eid festivities by providing goodie bags that incorporated treats from different traditions from diverse cultures. Her boards were also available to order to enjoy with family.

“People were customizing [the boards] by adding cookies, desserts, even little cake toppers that say ‘Eid Mubarak.’ I just love seeing all the trends,” she says. She took pre-orders for Ramadan and Eid this year via Instagram.

“I like to add fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme to my boards. Sometimes I add fresh flowers from my local florist too. I like to add that local aspect. It makes me feel like I’m supporting other businesses while nourishing my own,” Ali says.

Ali’s boards start at $70 for two people. She can customize boards to work with people’s budgets. She also provides biodegradable utensils and cleanup options. 

“We try not to use any plastic and we have sizes from small, medium, and large, and small boards and boxes. For tables, we start with a five-foot table so you provide the table, we come to the setup, and everything in the cleanup is very simple. You just roll the brown paper that’s under, and throw it out,” she says.

Siddiqui and Ali say they hope their businesses encourage other women to take the leap of opening their own businesses and following their passions to serve their communities. 

Charcuterie boards have made a huge splash in the Muslim community, especially during Ramadan, when people share food while breaking fast together. For more and more people, halal charcuterie boards are a part of gatherings with family, friends, and community. In fact, “Eid hopping” — going house-to-house to have finger foods at each other’s homes — is customary to the Eid spirit. These grazing boards and tables go hand-in-hand with the hospitality and culture of breaking bread together, building community, and finding nourishing ways to connect.