051916 The Urban Tracker (In Paranaque): Hail To Halal At Pak Restaurant

Pak by night lit by signage
f there’s one spot that is bent on bringing authentic and finer taste of Halal-conscious food done in Pakistan order that would be Pak Restaurant which is an audacious venture by a Pakistani expat. 

Standing along the commercial part of the Muslim community along Ninoy Aquino Highway, Pak (short for Pakistan) not only wanted to banner halal-friendly cuisines but was sending a message that it's high time for Pinoys to be open-minded in the practice of Halal.

Pak's Business license in a display.
That was the main concern over the dinner served for that appointed night with the place that's generally comfy, modest with its cozy arrangements. From tables to wall decorations, Pak wanted to remain true to its roots after all. Even more friendly was talking with its enterprising owner Mr.  Ahmed, a Pakistani expat who married a Filipina and wanted a restaurant conceptualized after his native country Pakistan.

Biryani rice, a best-seller specialty
We were served a hearty dinner called Biryani rice - a beef or chicken topped with a spicy rice instead of the other way around. Nevertheless, it’s something challenging in one taste. If your palate is not accustomed to stronger spices then chances are it's off your taste buds. In Pak however, the spiciness possessed a sensation that could impress experimental Pinoy cravings.

Chef Tato, the exponent of Halal Bill in the house
Moreso, we were discussing the implications of Halal with no less than the restaurant consultant and the President of Halal governing body Chef Tato whose desire is to educate the greater mass now that Halal bill was signed into law. Halal was such a word that could strike as stereotype towards Islam. In short, Halal in general is not yet accepted in the mainstream or has a misunderstood impression and it has many challenges to hurdle in orienting the public on its proper frame of understanding.

Halal-proud Ahmad, a Pakistani entrepreneur 
Halal, a practice that is observed in the culture of Islamic religions all over the world when it comes to food or nutrition, is often applied in reference to, particularly foods that are permissible for Muslims to eat or drink under Islamic Shari’ah.  Pork, in contrast, is prohibited or considered haram food. For a deeper understanding of Halal, refer to the Halal Food Authority for further reference.  Halal in popular notion is a nutritional practice free from any ingredients of pork or any of its derivatives.

Pak's menu consists of Halal certified dishes.
It’s about time the public must come to learn and accept this inherent custom or practice by Muslims as Chef Tato himself is a practicing chef. Halal food is generally accepted in the rest of the world with a big market and Philippines must see this as an economic opportunity. Food products bearing the Halal seal must come under full scrutiny before they are exported. Restaurants, on the other hand, having certified as Halal friendly, must observe strict regulations on preparation as they cater to nationalities and other ethnic people who are Halal conscious.

Me, Chef Tato and Ahmed at work.
It’s an eye-opener as Chef Tato being the president of Halal certification body to disclose other realities that all boils down to one thing – the general recognition of Muslims in the mainstream. This Halal Law could bridge the gap of a long misconception that could give his fellow brothers an important role to perform as they conduct business especially now that it is regulated in the food industry.

A display frame with a sacred artwork of a book.
If Koreans have successfully infiltrated Pinoy taste, then why pursue and revive the interest and patronage to some recipes and dishes that have Muslim in orientation but can be integrated into Pinoy cuisine. The popularity of shawarma has long been accepted and already a proven on-the-go comfort food but it's no surprise Koreans have captured our palate with greater variation and acceptable fusion.

Pak, one of growing restaurant that appeals to the Halal crowd.
With Halal law being lifted, that would give Muslim food preparation greater reach and acceptance from its marginal state to the conduct of business in a long run. It may seem a long throw but the vision of Chef Tato aims towards solidarity and goodwill of the culture. Muslim communities are 12 million strong and have even settled into many cities and scattered around the Philippines and they usually are enterprising like most Pinoys who engage in retail, and are mostly community oriented. Making Halal into law is embedding them in this society where they deserve decency, acceptance, and leverage and weaken further the resistance.

Kicking in a hot meal with resident Chef Tato.
In the near table, there were some obviously Indian customers munching the chapatti and it’s interesting to note that they can freely move according to the dictates of their culture because here comes a restaurant where they could feel closer at home and not pretend to be anything at all

Grocery items imported from Pakistan.
In the cashier section, I noticed the presence of groceries containing Pakistan goodies. Now with Halal made into law, expect Indian and Pakistan stores to give Koreans tough competition in retail not in telenovelasIn more practical terms, a Halal law could help boost tourism especially for other nationalities who are also seeking  Halal-certified food like Malaysians, Thais, Singaporeans and more.

A yoghurt sidedish
So wrapping up the meal, I realized how big Chef Tato’s role in educating general Pinoys in long term. He’s planning to start an information dissemination by tapping media  especially social media to further this cause.  And he’s the figure to reckon with because in such a long time there has been no one among Muslim descent with a big heart and vision capitalizing on Halal advocacy and uniting our segmented culture. He’s the big brother in the making that would liberalize our concept and respect towards Islam and our Muslim brothers.

Pak Restaurant and Meatshop - a haven for Halal food hunters 
Leaving Pak gave me a shining promise. It’s all about being free and at peace with ourselves. It’s not a question of identity, or anything for any matter  that can only be answered with our openmindedness and understanding.  And then I heard the motors screeching with another stopover from our Indian brothers who have gained comfort and adjustment in Pinoy life. But I guess they would love to talk about traffic and weather this time..freely in their own language.