Dear Ace: As I was strolling to Fridays After 5, I noticed a sign in the window of the former Virginia Diode company on W. Main (the building with the cool blue tile work façade). The sign was written in Arabic. What does it mean and who occupies the space?—Stan Skrit
Stan: Arabic, eh? Well, Ace has always had a gift for learning new languages—Klingon, Esperanto, Pig Latin—but unfortunately, he hasn’t gotten around to learning Arabic quite yet. But, Ace did see Lawrence of Arabia six times, so a translation was not totally out of the question.
Standing in front of the blue-tiled building on W. Main Street, Ace realized that not only was Arabic an entirely different language, it was an entirely different alphabet! For a translation, he would need to consult an expert.
After failing to reach the owners of the shop, Ace contacted Betsy Mesard, an Arabic-speaking Ph.D. student in the Religious Studies department at UVA. (Most of Ace’s acquaintances, it goes without saying, are terribly well-educated people.) According to Mesard, the sign on the building announces, “Halal Meat, Afghan Brand Market.”
Halal meat? Afghan Market? What kind of establishment sells meat and winter blankets? Has Musictoday decided to bite the bullet and open up a company store? O.K., probably not.
“Halal meat is the Muslim counterpart to Kosher. The Afghan market,” Mesard speculated, “will provide foods that comply with dietary requirements of the practicing Muslim community here in town.”
Ace didn’t know this before, but Muslims regard eating as an act of worship, like prayer or meditation. Because of the sacred nature of the dining experience, food preparations must adhere to the teachings of the Qur’an. Halal meat is hand-butchered according to Qur’anic rules, the most important being that the name of God be pronounced over the animal at the time of the slaughter. Forbidden by the Prophet Mohammed to harm animals, Halal butchers are also required to use extremely sharp knives to ensure that animals are killed instantly with minimal suffering.
According to industry projections, the $75 billion American ethnic food market is expected to grow by 50 percent in the next decade. While ethnic consumers make up 37 percent of that market, the increase seems to be in response to America’s more adventurous palate.
Even though the market on W. Main has not opened yet, Ace is counting the days until he can stock up on halal meat and his other Afghani favorite—chili pepper-flavored gummy worms.