NEWARK -- As nearly 10,000 people last year crowded into the state's first-ever Halal Food & Eid Festival, its unexpected popularity caused long lines and food shortages, leading organizers to rethink this year's reprise.
Co-organizer Irfan Rydhan says now they're ready for a throng of revelers outside NewPark Mall, where the festival Saturday will celebrate food prepared according to Islamic dietary rules.
"We're going to do a few things differently that will help things run more smoothly," said Rydhan, a San Jose resident and architectural designer.
First, organizers will charge $3-5 for adults, with free admission for children 12 and younger, which should limit crowd size to a manageable level. Admission was free for all a year ago.
The festival will have 25 food booths and trucks -- seven more than last year -- featuring halal specialties made by restaurants from Sacramento to Los Angeles. Four booths will offer Indian-Pakistani meals, where last year it had one, as organizers try to meet customer demand.
"That's popular food for our community," Rydhan said. "Having multiple vendors selling similar meals should relieve congestion."
Organizers also will scrap the food-token system, allowing visitors to buy dishes directly from vendors and trucks. "That's one less line to wait in," he said.
Halal meat is blessed and prepared according to Islam's dietary rules. The festival's offerings will range from the lamb, beef, chicken and goat dishes found in Afghan, Indian, Turkish and other restaurants to American staples, such as Philly cheesesteaks,¿ fried chicken and waffles.
Some festival offerings such as Chutney Mary's, a food truck run by South Bay chef Nerissa Ward, will fuse several countries' styles, reflecting the Bay Area's eclectic tastes, Rydhan said.
That diversity might explain why the inaugural event's crowd a year ago was a mix of Muslims and non-Muslims passionate about food, organizers said.
"This is a good event to try out different types of food most normally don't get a chance to," Rydhan said. "And it's a good way to break down barriers and learn about different cultures."
Despite the big crowd last year, no problems were reported. Like Islam, the festival prohibits alcohol, which may have helped with crowd control, Rydhan said.
City leaders like that the festival brings safe but fun entertainment options to Newark, and that NewPark Mall has the space to host it.
"It brings diversity and energy, and it drives traffic to the mall," said Assistant City Manager Terrence Grindall. "A well-managed event like this, when coupled with other things at the mall, is great for our community."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.
Noon to 7 p.m. Saturday, NewPark Mall main parking lot, between Sears and Macy's, south of Mowry Avenue. Admission $3-5 for adults, free for children 12 and younger. Information at www.halalfest.com.