Around midnight on the last night of the International Chemistry Olympiad, a wonderful aroma was wafting through the halls of the dorm where the students and I were staying.
I suspected that something was cooking, so I followed the scent. (Don’t ask me what I was doing still up at midnight.)
I found Ayesha Ahmed of Pakistan in the communal kitchen stirring a pot of chicken.
“What are you cooking?” I asked her.
“Hungarian chicken stew with sour cream,” she replied.
Earlier in the week, Ahmed had told me that the Pakistani students, who were all Muslim, couldn’t eat meat unless it was Halal. Because of that, all their meals in Hungary had been vegetarian.
“Where did you find Halal chicken?” I asked. “Is there a Halal grocery store nearby?”
“No, our Hungarian guide bought the chickens this morning and made them Halal for us,” Ahmed explained.
“You mean he bought the chickens live?” I asked.
“Yes, and he slaughtered them in the parking lot,” she said.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
It turns out that that morning, Peter (the guide) had asked his brother to purchase three live chickens from a local chicken breeder. Peter held the chickens between his legs while one of the Pakistani students slaughtered them according to Islamic guidelines. (Ahmed told me that only Muslims could slaughter meat to be Halal.)
I asked Peter what motivated him to prepare this special meal. “I love them very much,” he said of the students. “I felt bad that they had to eat vegetarian food all the time. That’s not real Hungarian food, and I wanted them to experience homemade Hungarian cuisine.”
In exchange, the Pakistani students have taught Peter much about their culture. For starters, Peter has never prepared a Halal chicken until now.
“Because of Peter, these 10 days in Hungary were the best days of our lives,” Ahmed said.
After they prepared the food (by this time, it was nearly 2 AM), the Pakistani students invited other Muslim students in the dorm to enjoy the meal with them.
Everyone said it was by far the best meal they had had in Hungary.