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Meet the Instagramer: @halal_girl on her search for creative cuisine

Layla Hassanali, aka Halal Girl About Town, a full-time blogger based in London, tells us about her quest to find the best halal food around the world.

Published 3 Apr 2019, 18:26 BST, Updated 15 Jul 2021, 12:03 BST
Food Instagram images

Layla Hassanalienjoys posting food images

Photograph by Layla Hassanali

How did you get into photographing food?

I've always been into food, and constantly on the hunt for halal establishments that are different. There was no resource for halal restaurants in London at the time, so I started to journal my food adventures online and it just took off from there. What started as a hobby in university became my full-time job once I graduated.

What are you hoping to convey about halal food?

I want show my followers that halal dining doesn't need to be limited to stereotypical Indian or Pakistani cuisine, and can range from European to Filipino too. Things have changed quite rapidly in the last few years, with lots of restaurants now accommodating the halal consumer. I'm always busy looking for the latest launches and most creative dishes.

Who are your culinary heroes?

Nigella Lawson helped transform the way we see home cooking with her book How to be a Domestic Goddess. Her recipes are easy to follow, and her slow-roasted chicken is my all-time favourite.

What's your favourite London restaurant?

That's difficult, because the London restaurant scene is always evolving and pushing limits. If I had to name one place that blew me away with every bite, it would be The Ledbury. It was a sad day when I discovered they no longer offered halal options, but I still go back for their pescatarian and vegetarian dishes.

Have there been any surprises on your travels?

I've always known that Paris caters for the Muslim community with numerous halal outlets, but I was taken aback at the variety of options, not to mention the calibre. It was a pleasure to finally be able to eat authentic halal French food.

What destinations are on your foodie hit list?

I would love to visit Japan in the near future. They have an abundance of halal Japanese restaurants out there, from ramen to sushi and shabu shabu too — dishes I've found difficult to source in London due to the lack of halal versions.

Tell us about the food you grew up with.

As both my parents are East African, it would be typical to come home from school to the aroma of freshly fried bhajias (lentil fritters), creamy kuku paka (chicken in coconut-based curry) and sweet mandazis (doughnuts).

What do you cook at home?

Given how much I eat out, I like to keep meals at home fairly light and healthy. Grilled or roasted chicken and fish, paired with seasonal vegetables and colourful salads are on rotation in my house.

Do you have a favourite cookbook?

At this moment, it's The Food Lab, by J Kenji López-Alt. I'm not the most confident home cook but Kenji takes you back to basics and explains, using science, different cooking techniques and flavour combinations.

Follow Layla on Instagram

Four to follow: Layla's favourite Instagramers

1. @thefoodranger
Trevor James has the dream job: travelling the world and finding delicious hidden gems along the way. His video on the food in Islamic China is worth a watch on YouTube.

2. @sukainarajabali
Sukaina Rajabali is beyond talented when it comes to food and travel photography. Her food styling shots are mouth-wateringly good. 

3. @theboywhobakes 
With a stunning food feed like his, it's hard to resist Edd Kimber's page. His recipes are easy to follow and he makes baking look as easy as pie. 

4. @symmetrybreakfast
Michael turns breakfast into a creative and symmetrical masterpiece. The ideal page for all the perfectionists out there. 

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