Dinner, Insha-Allah? Two words that open up a whole new world for the Muslim community.
USHUB’s first original production, Dinner Insha-Allah?, takes us around the United States in search of culture and meaning by delving deeper into ethnic communities to connect us over one common love: Food.
Now, no one can deny that the sharing of recipes has expanded our culinary horizons, but we’ve never been exposed to the deeper meanings of how this common love has come to bond our community as a whole until now.
The first episode sees Somali-American host Amal Dalmar (AKA @itsamalworld) take us to the Bay Area in northern California, where she meets an array of old friends, as well as some new faces, to tell the untold truth behind what makes the region’s food hot-spots so great. From Mexican to Afghani, we’re treated to some traditional meals, as well as given more insight into why these particular places are so important to the locals in the area. The combination of the two gives us a wider perspective to how the Bay has become one of the most culturally diverse areas in the entire country.
One particular moment that perfectly encapsulates the importance of the mini docuseries is seeing Amal in a bookstore with the owner Feraidoon Mojadedi. Feraidoon enlightened us on the history of his store, Rumi, as well as other small businesses in the area.
“We have been here since 1999,” he tells Amal. “I grew up in Afghanistan and migrated to America when I finished 8th grade.”
Now he owns a quaint, little bookshop, a popular hub for a wide range of literature, available in multiple different languages. His tale about expanding collections was the perfect microcosm for the ever-growing cultural diversity that has come to shape the Bay.
“So originally, this was supposed to be a completely Farsi bookstore,” he explains. “There were no English books. But a lot of young people came [to me] and said ‘Hey we can’t read Farsi, do you have any Islamic, English books. So then I divided the store into two sections.”
However, Feraidoon quickly realised that wasn’t going to be enough.
“Then we had the Arab community come over and say ‘Hey do you have any Arabic books?’ So we started a third division. But then the Pakistanis came and were like ‘Where are the Urdu books?’ So we started that section.”
Amal laughed, as did the crew.
“It’s a true story!” Feraidoon says. “These are the languages of the Bay area for the Muslims.”
“You need a Somali section,” adds Amal.
“I know, I know.” he chuckles.
With the second episode premiering last week, we decided it was time to get to know the host, so we can all feel better connected to Amal while we watch her on her journey across the country.
Here’s how it went.
In your own words, tell us a little bit about Dinner Insha-Allah.
I always like to describe ‘Dinner, Insha-Allah?’ as a food show that’s really about people.
Restaurants and food in general do not exist in a vacuum; there are stories and communities that make them what they are and our show is really about putting those stories and people at the forefront of the conversation.
On a certain level, our show is a love letter to the food many of us grew up with but couldn’t find at our local shops. We wanted to make this show about halal food but at the end of the day, it’s so much more than that. Muslims in America have carved a place for themselves since the violent inception of this country and many times, food has been a means of safety, comfort and community building.
This show is an ode to that history of resistance.
And how does this differ from other mainstream food shows?
Honestly, we are following a legacy of inspirational food shows that have come before.
For me personally, the late great Anthony Bourdain has been an inspiration while creating this show. The way he provided the platform for his guests to speak and create their own narrative surrounding their food while respectfully engaging in conversation was a work of art and he is greatly missed.
For ‘Dinner, Insha-Allah?’ I tried my best to gear our interviews and conversation with our guests in a way that would not pigeonhole them into being “just a halal restaurant”. The reality of many of these institutions is much more complex and we tried our best to shed light on those complexities without reducing them to a singular label.
While we do focus on food, you will find much more than just your average taste test and the occasional “wow, I love the complex flavour palette of this dish” because I am not a food expert. Other shows may be led by culinary geniuses who have a firm grip on textures and flavour components of foods, I am really just a food stan; someone who has been eating her whole life and wants to find deeper meaning in what it means to truly share your food with the world.
Favourite episode? You can give us a spoiler or two if you want to…
That’s a tough one! Because I have a personal connection to each city we visited, I was transported to a different time of my life during every episode – some definitely better than others – but all very special.
If I had to choose one, I would say the first episode simply because it was the very first one and I was so nervous for everyone to see it. Looking at the episode, I love the diversity in establishments we visited and guests we talked to. From my friend Allyssa Victory who is running for office in Oakland, to Sumaya who founded The Sabaya company while being a full time mother and lawyer, to my old mosque ‘Lighthouse’ where I would walk to for Friday prayer, it really felt like we were able to get the heart of the Bay Area Muslim community. And felt very welcomed as well.
Personally, what does it mean to you to be the host of this show?
In the first line during my voiceover segment in episode one I describe myself as “someone that has been eating food for 30-something years, with those stats, some might even call me an expert.”
Those words were actually something I casually said to our director, Mik, in the first few days of filming in the bay area and they stuck.
I never thought I would be a host of my show like this and I still have to pinch myself every day when I remember that I was lucky enough to have had this experience. I watch these episodes back and feel driven to improve even more for the future.
In my adult life, I describe myself as a late bloomer; I feel like it took me a while to get to where I am today but when I look at the beautiful piece we were able to create with this show and I know it was all worth it.
What was it like on set, working with the creatives at USHUB?
Working with the USHUB team has been a dream.
I was nervous at first because after a few weeks of online meetings, our first official meeting was a roadtrip to the Bay Area to start shooting episode one. We jumped right in and from the very first day we all worked incredibly well together.
While shooting the show, there was only our small 6-person team going from place to place. When our guests would see how few we were, they would be surprised, expecting a large scale production. But we really bonded over food, just like we set out to do with ‘Dinner, Insha-Allah?’.
And how is this show, as well as a platform like USHUB in general, going to impact the industry as a whole?
‘Dinner, Inshallah?’ and USHUB in general marks a turning point in the conversation about “representation”.
While that word has been used to death and has lost a lot of its meaning over the last few years, platforms like USHUB provide a space for those who are craving a different take on their usual media consumption.
I am so excited to see where USHUB goes and how Muslim media will continue to expand the conversation surrounding diversity in film and art. My hope for our show is that it finds its audience, wherever they are in the world and most importantly, showcases our beautiful community.