Hira Qureshi has a taste for adventure and a passion for exploring new foods.
She was in her new Philadelphia apartment just a few hours when she decided to check out Chinatown. The following weekend, she was exploring the Italian Market. Not long after that, she was checking out the food scenes in Collingswood and New Hope.
A native of Memphis, Hira was about to spend her first Thanksgiving alone. Rather than feel bad about it, she set to work researching pie recipes, and transformed a pecan pie favorite with cardamom and ghee. She cooked all day for herself, in between virtual visits with family.
A May graduate of the University of Memphis, Hira will bring this enthusiasm for new taste profiles to her new role as regional food and drink writer for South Jersey and Bucks County.
Prior to joining the USA TODAY NETWORK, Hira was accepted as a summer audio intern at the Washington Post. When the pandemic sidelined the internship, the newspaper hired her as a freelancer. She also interned for our sister newspaper The Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, New York, where she delved into the halal food scene.
A proud Pakistani Muslim American, Hira created, produced and hosted her own podcast “Eating Z with Hira Qureshi,” an exploration of the Muslim community, its culture and of course, its dishes.
“It specifically explores what Zabihah eating is, the differences between Zabihah and Halal and how Muslims fit into the American lifestyle,” she explained in the Post.
In addition to her passion for good food, Hira looks forward to bringing her experience in audio journalism to her storytelling about food and culture.
We chatted with Hira recently about her love of food, her passion for storytelling and her excitement over sharing her discoveries with you:
Q: So, maybe an obvious first question – what’s your favorite food?
Favorite food? I don’t really have a favorite food, it’s always just something that I’m in the mood to eat. I’m a moody eater, quote/unquote, it’s based on how I’m feeling at the moment. But what I tend to go towards are tacos and ramen.
Back home, I think it’s barbecue. Barbecue is Memphis. And there is one specific restaurant that has halal barbecue. Memphis barbecue is very specific and very good. That restaurant owner is amazing and tells the greatest stories. That is one thing that I’m going to miss.
Q: What was the appeal of coming to the Philadelphia region to write about food?
I just always wanted to come to the Northeast. I think of a show like the ‘Gilmore Girls,’ all the quaint little towns and fall looking like fall. It’s a homey feeling I don’t know other than what TV has shown us about the northeast. And I’m excited to see snow. Memphis doesn’t get any snow.
I’m also excited to try a Philly cheesesteak, and see what other halal options there are here.
Q: Do you have special holiday traditions at Thanksgiving?
Well, I am a huge fan of sweet potato casserole, sweet and savory. And stuffing is always such a good thing, and the turkey, I honestly really like turkey. I’ll be the one to cook the turkey every year and I try my own recipes with that. And oh, my gosh. Pies are a must. Pumpkin pie is definitely my favorite, and apple and pecan would be the next best.
We have a unique thing at home. We go to a family friend’s house, she would have all the family friends and the kids … the youngest to the oldest, and we would take turns making pies with her eight different types of pies, all different combos. She would make a Kool Aid pie and a coffee pie … it’s a really big thing. Thanksgiving is not Thanksgiving without pies.
Q: What attracted you to journalism and specifically food writing?
I chose this path because I want to focus on the people and their perspectives and experiences, to listen to and tell their stories.
I just think that the world is better if we hear different perspectives. And so the goal for this job is to bring diverse perspectives to the Bucks County and South Jersey area … Knowing other people’s perspectives, you can learn from that and grow, too. A lot of voices need to be heard right now, and that applies to food, too.
Q: What is one thing you are most looking forward to sharing with our readers?
I think overall just sharing my culture and perspective on food as a Muslim Pakastani woman is a goal of mine. A lot of people don’t even know the basics sometimes. Ramadan is a huge holiday; we fast from sunrise to sunset. We are constantly thinking about food during the day when we are fasting, it’s about the absence of food and that’s on our mind all the time, too. Eid is literally the day that Ramadan ends, and we just pig out and that’s an eating holiday. There is a third holiday (Eid Al Adha) dedicated to the slaughter of animals and the process that goes with it, and special things that go with it. A lot of our holidays have to do with food, and food is a big part of our culture.
I want to write about the diversity within our community, offering a wide range of cultures and perspectives and traditions. I really want to talk about that and show it through the food.
Follow the South Jersey food scene at South Jersey Eats on Facebook.
Tammy Paolino is Features Editor for the Atlantic South region of the USA Today Network. She’s an award-winning reporter and editor who loves to cover trends, diversity, the arts, food and drink. Reach her at [email protected] or 856-486-2477 or on Twitter @CP_TammyPaolino. Help support local journalism with a subscription to the Courier-Post, Daily Journal, Burlington County Times or one of our sister publications.