ORANGE PARK – Kavser Selevany started Dunya Fresh Halal Food because she didn’t have much luck finding authentic Arabic food in the area.
The restaurant, at 319 Blanding Blvd., has been open for more than a month. Selevany and her staff serve halal staples like kebabs, shawarma, falafel, hummus and baba ghanoush.
Selevany is Kurdish and from Duhok, located in Northern Iraq. Selevany said she’s been in the United States for more than 20 years and Florida for about two. She said a family member served in the U.S. Army.
“We’re U.S. allies,” Selevany said. “We’re here because of that and it’s great.”
She would drive past Dunya’s future location on Blanding and think about it. She said her family based in Connecticut had restaurant experience and it seemed like the right fit. It took three months of preparation to open the restaurant, Selevany said.
“I came up with my own menu, my own recipes, my own food, literally everything you see was built from scratch,” she said. “The way we prepare it is original Kurdish style I would say. Everything is homemade. (Customers) see the difference between us and other places they have tried.”
Halal means “permissible” in accordance with the Quran. It’s meat from an animal that’s hand-cut, excluding pork, that isn’t harmed. Selevany said halal meat was lean. She said it’s great for dieting or gaining weight for athletics because of the high protein content.
“When you eat the kind of meat we serve, it’s halal because it’s clean,” Selevany said. “It’s not off of the shelf sitting there or processed.”
Those familiar with halal won’t see the spinning spits of meat. Selevany said her food was cut in advance, to avoid the dryness that comes with a spit.
“You have to add a lot of oil and fat to keep (meat on the spit) moist,” she said.
Selevany said one of her favorite parts is helping people unfamiliar with halal. She’ll usually stop to tell customers about the spice sumac or tahini oil, two important ingredients that give halal a unique, savory flavor.
“Some of them don’t know what they’re going to get. We help them. We explain,” Selevany said. “They give it a try and they’re not scared. That just makes me more motivated to do this.”