Travelling on this trip reminded me of my solo backpacking days about three years ago. Some parts were the same, but some parts were really really different. For one, while I as travelling alone, I generally visited the major cities and kept to places where it was well connected.
This time, we thought of visiting a place that was far away from the busy cities to see how it was like. So we went to Champery, Switzerland, hoping to see snowcapped mountains. It was a 1 hr flight from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, and then a 13 hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam, and then 2 hour flight from Amsterdam to Geneva, and then a 3 hour train ride from Geneva Airport to Champery. Including transit times, it was a solid 24 hour worth of travelling before we reached the quiet town that was far far away from the city, and in the mountains. We enjoyed much of the quietness and the peace as we appreciated the magnificence of God’s creation. We then ventured into the quiet town before checking in at our hostel. It wasn’t until quite a while later that we noticed – there are no muslim establishments here.
There was a church, but there was no other religious establishments around. We didn’t see any mosque, or anything that remotely looks like it, nor did we see any sign of halal food, or halal restaurants. After going into restaurants after restaurants, we also noticed that people in the area also were not used to seeing people wearing the hijab. It was pretty strange when we stepped into a small cosy restaurant, we have the servers and the restaurant people staring at us, but no one served us. After standing around for about 5 minutes, we left the restaurant.
But, we faced a problem. How to find food while travelling in a city with no Muslim population?
Here’s what we did.
1. Hostel, not Hotel
Stay in a hostel with kitchen facilities, not a hotel where you can only buy the ready made food. Remember to cleanse (sertu) the equipment before you use it to prepare your food. Then find a supermarket to source for the ingredients that you are going to cook.
Look for fresh ingredients in a supermarket. (vegan) pasta is good. Fresh fruits is good. Fish is good. Rice is good. Eggs. Salt. Pepper. Vegetarian paste or puree (eg. tomato) for pasta. Garlic. Onion. Olive oil. Fresh leaves (eg. thyme, mint, rosemary, coriander, sage) Ok, you get the drift.
Have you seen our recipe videos? That might come in handy – as far as possible, prepare your own food to ensure the halal-ness of what you’re eating. In a place where there’s no muslim population, I think it’s safe to assume all meat is not halal there.
4. Food labels
For the more tricky bits – try to avoid. But if it’s entirely unavoidable because there are no other options, then well, read all the food labels. Ensure that the labels does not say any meat substances or flavouring was used, no emulsifies, additives, or funny food names which you don’t know what it is. So yes, read the labels!
5. Fresh Meat
Though this was not applicable to this trip, I am reminded by a friend who was in a certain part of Vietnam for quite a while, and found that there was no muslim population there. When he came back, he mentioned that he was eating mangoes after mangoes after mangoes with nothing else since nothing was halal. Of course, I asked about the other parts of his trip, and he conveniently mentioned that he was staying in an orphanage that had kitchen facilities, and throughout the small village there were people selling live chicken.
“Dude, you could have just bought / caught a live chicken and slaughter it yourself, and cook the meat for your meals.”
So yes, FRESH meat. Though the halal ones may not be available in the frozen form resting in the freezers of the supermarket waiting for you to purchase, it may be available if you know where to look.
If all else fails, eat bread, fry eggs, cook rice, eat fruits or do other things to keep the focus away from eating. Though we know, that’s going to be a wee bit tough if you’re a foodie.