How to rebuild after a civil war? This is the question that arose for Omar and Wael Jalabi when they arrived in France and fled the civil war that began in 2011 in Syria. A few years later, the two cousins had the solution. Before the war, they owned a restaurant in Aleppo, one of the country’s largest cities. Emigrated to France, they would open in Lille, Syriana, the seed copy of the restaurant they had to close in Syria. Since then, this establishment has become the focal point of Syrian society. This is the first episode of our summer series, Diasporas: Legacy Cooking.
“These are the images from the cities of Syria: Aleppo, Damascus, Homs,” explains Omar Jalabi, neck tied. Through the pictures we can guess the grief that Omar and his cousin Wael experienced, nostalgic for a country that has now been destroyed.
But this place and the pictures are also a way for the two cousins to revive their old restaurant in Aleppo, a memory from their lives in the past. Everything is the same, from the decor to the recipes. “Unfortunately, I could not bring anything else from Syria,” sighs Omar.
Today he prepares his legendary dish for us, the one that made him famous in Aleppo and now in Lille: the Syrian falafel. It is a traditional dish made from fried chickpeas. “It is very simple and good, but difficult to prepare … It can take between 06:00 and 07:00 to make the falafels every day,” says Omar.
Falafel is served as in Syria: with hummus, moutabal (eggplant caviar), a salad. But he allows himself an exception: french fries to honor the people of Lille! Respect for tradition is his way of not forgetting his past, his family, his friends who stayed in Syria. With his refugee status, it was impossible for Omar to return to Syria, even as a tourist.
Behind his elegant suit and joviality, Omar does not hide his grief despite his love for France, “I miss everything: my life in Syria, my house, my car, my friends” But the cousins have reformed a small community around their establishment. In the kitchen we meet Ibrahim. He is the sous chef at the restaurant. He is also a Syrian refugee. He arrived in Lille just 6 months ago from Aleppo, where he ran his own restaurant before the war. Omar, Wael and Ibrahim had never met in Syria, until the day Ibrahim, exiled in Lille, opened the door to the restaurant in search of a job. The pictures, the decoration, the falafel take him back to a carefree era and make him forget the painful memories of recent years: “This restaurant in Lille makes me relive all the good memories from my own restaurant in Aleppo, Syria. Today makes me happy to be able to do the same work that I did in Syria. I have the impression of not having left Syria completely, Ibrahim explains, visibly moved.
The Syrian community of Lille is small, but it is already a big victory for Omar. This traditional restaurant is not only a way for him to build himself up, but also to let Syrian families in exile in the Lille region not forget their lives before the war.
OMAR’S SYRIC FALAFEL RECIPE:Ingredients:
1 kilo chickpeas 1 onion Parsley Coriander (to taste) Chopped mint (to taste) Salt pepper 2 cloves garlic 1 tbsp sesame seedsPreparation:
Soak the chickpeas in water for 24 hours the day before. When the time is up, empty the chickpeas and dry them on a kitchen towel. They must absolutely be dry. Pour the chickpeas into a blender and mix everything. The preparation must be granular and not puree. Pour the preparation into another bowl. Finely chop parsley, coriander, mint, onion and garlic in the same blender. Mix the herbs with the chickpeas. Add salt, pepper and sesame seeds. Heat oil in a fryer to 120 degrees. Use 2 tablespoons and shape falafels. Dip the falafel into the oil for 5-7 minutes. Return the falafel to the oil a second time for 2 minutes. Prepare absorbent paper to apply the falafel after cooking. Serve with a salad and with hummus, tzatzíki or eggplant caviar. .