At Oasis Food Market, the Middle Eastern sweets draw customers from afar

on December 27, 2011

Oasis Food Market in Oakland is one of the largest halal (Islam-compliant) markets in the East Bay. The store sells a range of goods, from meat and produce to candy.

There are a strict set of rules for slaughter that make meat halal in Islam. The animal must be facing downward and toward Mecca while a blessing is said, as dictated by the Koran. Then, a knife is drawn across the throat in one swift motion. These rituals are designed to give the animal the most humane death possible.

While Oasis is known for its selection of halal meats—including jerky, chicken, and Polish style sausages—the market’s pastries may be its biggest draw.

“Middle Eastern people love sweets. For me, I’d rather have a plate of sweets than eat a plate of food,” co-owner Osman Othman said. The bakery attracts customers from as far away as Fresno and Sacramento, he said.

Othman’s story began in East Jerusalem. There, he watched his father make and deliver sweet cheese for local dessert shops. Today, he brings a lifetime of expertise to the business. He hired a pastry chef to make everything from scratch, using only traditional methods from back home. The store produces thousands of desserts and sweets daily, made with sweet cheeses, pistachio, honey, and filo, the thin, crispy dough common in Mediterranean desserts.

Oasis is the only shop in Northern California that makes its own filo dough. It is “the most important thing we make in the store,” he said. “When [the pastry chef] makes dough, it takes a whole day.”

Othman opened the market in 2009 as a one-stop shop for halal meats, Middle Eastern desserts, and groceries. He chose to open shop in an old pharmacy on Telegraph in part because it was next to a mosque and could attract local Muslims.

“The population of Muslim­ people, or of the people who care to have halal, has increased a lot lately in this country,” Othman said. “I don’t think there was halal beef jerky ten years ago.”

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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