Los Angeles can, yet again, boast about having the most variety, if not depth, of something. Home to the most diverse Muslim population in the United States, Los Angeles County is full of halal restaurants. Halal means permitted or lawful according to Sharia (Islamic) laws. In the realm of dining out, the key factor for observant Muslims -- besides avoiding pork and its byproducts -- is halal meat or meat from animals slaughtered according to religiously proscribed procedures.
As a food-history buff, we couldn't help getting a little dreamy trying dishes with roots in ancient Mesopotamia and cultivated during eras of caliphates, Moors, spice routes, Silk Road caravans and vast colonial empires. Though our actual journey involved a small economy car, every congested freeway in L.A., strip mall dining -- and a parking ticket.
10. Rice and Goat Meat at Banadir Somali Restaurant:
At Banadir, you submit to the goat; the goat does not submit to you. The pressure cooker-prepared goat at Banadir produces a cross between a dry roast and braise with very little sauce to speak of. You get toothsome bits of goat tendon and cartilage with juicy but chewy morsels of bone in meat. The dish is a simple celebration, not masking or taming, of all that is unique about goat meat. If the gaminess gets to be a bit much, you can cut it with Somalian basbass, a fresh, green, hot sauce made with cilantro, jalapenos, garlic and lemon juice. 137 W. Arbor Vitae, Unit C, Inglewood; (310) 419-9900.
9. Turkish Breakfast at Mama's Secret Cafe:
Mama's Secret Cafe, located on a tony strip of Third Street near the Beverly Center, looks like an art gallery converted into a chic café. It's also quite possibly the only restaurant in Los Angeles that serves a full-blown Turkish breakfast. There are at least 10-12 components to this Muslim continental breakfast, making it a bit too much food for most weekday mornings -- but ideal for a lazy weekend brunch. An assortment of fresh, pickled, cured and preserved items is served with Turkish tea and bread. Two kinds of olives, two kinds of cheese, tea cookies, strawberry jam, honey-drenched softened butter, tomatoes, cucumbers and an over-easy egg garnished with fried sujuk sausage are presented for you to create endless combinations of sweet and savory bites, all washed down with tea. 8314-16 W. Third St., Los Angeles; (323) 424-3482.
8. Goat Curry at Jasmine Market:
Jasmine Market in Culver City is half market and half quick-service halal café. Burmese goat curry doesn't use tempered spices or mustard oil, like Bangladeshi versions, or the Scotch bonnet peppers and sweet allspice found in Jamaican renditions. Nor is it an amalgam of Thai and Indian flavors and techniques. There is no lemongrass, galangal or coconut milk coupled with a ginger-onion base and toasted spices. Burmese goat curry at Jasmine Market is a rather humble affair, served with naan, rice and crunchy cabbage salad. The gravy is soothing, with a faint aroma of curry leaves and fresh ginger. The spice is right when you want something a little different but not too challenging. It's hearty Indian-Burmese comfort food. 4135 1/2 Sepulveda Blvd, Culver City; (310) 313-3767.