Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all! Many of us struggle to find reasons to be cheerful about the past year. 2017’s headlines were dominated by Trump, Brexit and the potential for nuclear war in North Korea.
Apart from telling you that this is a good time to have a drink, what can I write about in a holiday message? I could tell you that Trump isn’t that bad and tax cuts are generally a good thing. Or that Brexit will set us free from a continent that lurches from crisis to crisis every few months (Catalonian independence, Nazis in the Bundestag, Greek debt, Italian banks etc).
Instead, I will share the story of my dinner at a pop up restaurant; the Aleppo Supper Club. It is the brainchild of Ahmad, a Syrian refugee. Supporting him is The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN), a pioneering social enterprise that helps refugees launch their own businesses.
The pop up is hosted in people’s homes. NLB (the North London Blonde) invited me over and requested that I bring my camera. I arrived early to get to know Ahmed a bit better, and to take some photographs.
Ahmad is a likeable chap. Engaging and friendly he is keen that you understand the history of the food he cooks, and the context it is usually served in.
Ahmad comes from a family of wealthy Syrian Jews in Aleppo. Targeted by all sides in the war, their property was confiscated. His parents were killed. Ahmad was arrested, beaten and tortured. He doesn’t dwell on it, apart from pointing out that he is missing part of a thumb, sliced off during an interrogation. What impresses me most about this young man is his sheer joie de vivre. Where others might worry about what they’ve lost, Ahmad delights in the joy of living in a land where he no longer has to worry about a knock on the door in the middle of the night.
His audience ate him up. The food he serves is mostly familiar middle eastern cuisine, spiced with the gentle heat of sumac. Yet it tastes different, imbued with the flavour of his narrative. It’s not a gourmet meal, but it feels a bit like eating your mother’s home cooking; it touches a place in your heart, not just your taste buds. It warms you.
To Ahmad, and people to like him, the true meaning of Christmas lies in the way he finds joy and peace amongst strangers like us. Whatever holiday you celebrate or don’t celebrate at this time of year – I wish you joy and peace!
To contact Ahmad and the Aleppo Supper Club via Facebook click here.