Mehdi Hilmi points to his butcher case at Casablanca Market, explaining why the meat is pink, rather than dark red.
“All our meat is halal,” he says, noting that he only buys whole animals. “Our chicken is hormone- and antibiotic-free.”
Halal is Arabic for permissible. Halal food adheres to Islamic law, which requires it be hand-slaughtered and the blood drained.
Hilmi, a native of Morocco, was unimpressed by the Arabic stores when he and his wife moved to the Triangle from California four years ago. He decided to open his own business.
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Casablanca caters to a variety of tastes and recently has added an Italian oven to bake specialty breads. The dry-goods shelves are stocked with items aimed at making international customers feel at home.
“I learn a lot dealing with all these nationalities,” Hilmi says.
For example, there are 12 types of Turkish olives.
“The Turkish can’t live without olives and cheese for breakfast,” he says.
An entire shelf is devoted to bulgur, a cereal food touted for its health benefits. Across the aisle is a selection of cold-pressed olive oils.
When it comes to sweets, the flavor is decidedly European.
“Everybody likes them the best,” Hilmi says.
But it is the meat that sets the small market apart from the competition. Casablanca has hard-to-find organs and cuts often sought by its diverse customer base. Although area grocers sometimes carry lamb and goat, it is more difficult to find fresh.
“The lamb, goat and veal we sell is North Carolina-raised and grass fed,” Hilmi says. “Oxtails are popular with African-American customers.”
As Iraqi baker Hasanim Alattar slides freshly baked bread from the stone oven into an open bin, Hilmi shows off a tea pot on display nearby. It has been passed down through his family for more than 450 years, a testament of the influence of his roots.
Hilmi, who speaks five languages, wants to introduce Americans to halal meats.
“I am going after the mainstream now,” he says. “They walk in accidentally, and they’re my customers for life. They taste the difference in the quality of meats.”
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About Casablanca Market
Location: 1365 SE Maynard Road, Cary
Contact: 919-469-5671, email@example.com
Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday