In the wee hours before sunrise, friends and families pack tables at IHOP on Route 46 in Totowa to chow down on omelets, pancakes and hash browns before they start their daily fast during Ramadan.
For Muslim Americans, the breakfast-anytime chain is a popular destination during the holy month, because they can fill up on hearty dishes for the pre-dawn meal called suhoor.
Now they have another reason to make the trip.
Just in time for Ramadan, IHOP in Totowa has introduced a new halal menu, meaning it will serve items permissible under Islamic law. For Muslims, that means they can finally have turkey bacon with their omelets and chicken with their cheesy quesadilla.
“I’m Muslim myself, so it’s something I always wanted to do,” said Suhaib Jubran, partner and manager at the restaurant, who also goes by Abe. “It makes the community feel like they are back at home, especially in the New Jersey area, where they have all Arab traditions and foods. Now they have halal American foods.”
The announcement, made on the restaurant’s social media pages, quickly attracted attention from New Jersey residents who liked and shared the news. But they also had questions, wanting to know about menu items and how they would be cooked.
Most non-meat items are already considered halal. Jubran is taking extra steps to ensure that every ingredient is fully compliant. For instance, he makes sure cheese products are free of pork enzymes and that foods do not contain gelatin, which may be made with pork collagen.
“We have to read and contact companies and check every single ingredient,” he said. “Even if I have a question, I take it off the list.”
Foods that are halal do not contain pork products or alcohol. Some Muslims avoid non-halal restaurants altogether, concerned about cross-contamination if food is cooked on the same equipment. Jubran has invested in a new grill so staff can cook food separately. Jubran also trained workers on halal food practices.
The menu, unveiled last week, features popular dishes like chicken fajitas, grilled chicken with salad, and turkey bacon with pancakes — made from halal poultry slaughtered and prepared according to Islamic law.
Sameer Sarmast, the popular Instagrammer behind Sameer’s Eats, an online show about halal foods, said he was eager to go with friends to check out the new halal menu. At IHOP, he often orders omelets and pancakes without meat. Now, he looks forward to a heaping side of turkey bacon.
“Being an American, born and raised, I’ve always been intrigued by having American foods halalified,” Sarmast said. “That a mainstream chain is doing this is huge and exciting."
Jubran said the new menu, unveiled last week, is already drawing even bigger crowds to the Totowa eatery. There are more than 1,600 IHOP locations in the U.S., but only a handful have halal menus, including in Tujunga and Fullerton in California and one in Burke, Virginia.
The Totowa location is open 24 hours from Tuesday through Sunday, and 12 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Mondays.
With hours that fit their schedule, the chain has become a huge draw for Muslims during Ramadan.
Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar, when Muslims believe the Quran, Islam’s holy book, was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. During this time, Muslims focus on prayer and charity and fast from sunrise to sundown.
Traditionally, families have meals together during Ramadan, both suhoor and the fast-breaking meal called iftar. But for a growing number of Muslims, especially young people, eating at diners has become a beloved tradition.
In New Jersey, they may crowd one of many local 24-hour diners to indulge in hearty meals. Others eat at Middle Eastern restaurants that adapt their hours to open for suhoor. And many will go to IHOP.
For Muslim foodies like Sarmast, it’s a big deal for a place like IHOP to add halal foods to the menu. He feels it is part of a larger trend of businesses and municipalities being more inclusive toward Muslims.
“They are understanding the demographic makeup of this country,” he said. “Recognizing Muslims is a huge part of that.”
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Totowa NJ IHOP launches halal menu, in time for Ramadan