Halal food is not a rarity in Taipei, at least if you've lived here for a while. Tourists might not know where to go, but I've watched an Iranian kebab-slinger and a Turkish wrap-maker argue over cooking methods in a tattoo parlor. The market for halal food is small here, but it's certainly strong.
The newest players in the city's halal game are Muhammad Namairage—a 21-year-old Nigerian whose friends say he's more Taiwanese than foreign—and Mark Lai, a 21-year-old Taipei native and high school friend of Muhammad's.
After moving to the city 14 years ago, Muhammed quickly fell into Taipei's vibrant skateboarding scene. Because his father is the head of Nigeria's diplomatic mission in Taiwan, he was able to move from the American School and the European School—both of which only admit students holding foreign passports—to a local school, where he met Mark. With their shared passion for skateboarding, they decided that they needed an outlet for creating something new.
That's when Muhammad came up with the idea of selling halal food. "It's what I eat all the time, and it's something anyone can eat," he says. It also makes sense for someone living in the international neighborhood of Taipei, where there are restaurants of every stripe. Muhammad even offers vegan options; his mushroom pita is a standout.
And so Muhammad and Mark founded No Type, a space that blends skate culture and Islam in a way that you probably won't find elsewhere in predominantly Buddhist East Asia. With skateboards hanging from the ceiling and clippings from Western skate magazines and quite a bit of graffiti on its walls, No Type is certainly unique as a food stall. The fact that it's located in a small shack tacked onto the side of Tasters—a high-class steak restaurant frequented by dignitaries and other worldly rich folk—only adds to its peculiarity.
No Type had to fight an uphill battle to get to where it is today. Before Muhammad and Mark opened up here, the space was home to a foreign-run fried chicken business. But in a section of the city where not many people are looking to get their meat on the street, it went out of business quickly.
There's no night market in the area, but No Type stays open until 1:30 AM on weekends. Speaking from personal experience, that's the perfect time to stop by after a taking drunken dip in the springs up the mountain and before hitting the bars that stay open until 5.
As for the food, Muhammad only uses recipes passed down from his family. He grinds all of his raw herbs and spices by hand, sources his produce from local farmer's markets, and orders meat from Taoyuan, a full hour outside of Taipei. "There's always been halal food in Taipei," he says. "Sometimes it's just not easy to get."
That attention to ingredients pays off. His kofta kebab—likely the only authentic one in Taipei—contains lamb that's been finely ground, rolled into evenly seasoned balls, baked, and then grilled. He stuffs them into a homemade pita and serves them with a side of tzatziki sauce. (It's normally reserved for the chicken, but I'll put that shit on anything.) Muhammad insists that his kebab doesn't have to be served on a skewer, but it must contain more spices than regular pita meat. The spice blend is a secret he refuses to share.
I ask Muhammad to make me a "monster kebab," which isn't listed on No Type's short menu. Made with chicken that's been marinated in ginger and onion for 24 hours, it's a huge chunk of skewered meat that's seasoned so aggressively that you'd think it had done something wrong—but it's oh-so-right. (You can try requesting one, but he says it's VIP-only.) During the holidays, Muhammad will make a dish that involves mixing couscous with flour, wrapping it around a blend of cheese and lamb, and deep-frying the whole thing. Sadly, I've yet to have had the pleasure of trying it.
I ask Muhammad and Mark if they have plans to grow No Type into something greater. "Yes, I'd like to open a restaurant," Muhammad says emphatically.
"We want to make it something bigger," says Mark simultaneously. Then, embodying Taipei's sense of youthful ambition, he adds, "Something like McDonald's."