I was hunting for hummus last weekend in Barrio Tetuán, one of the Madrid neighbourhoods with a high immigrant population – which means that it’s one of the best places to go foodhunting for interesting flavours. (Calle General Margallo, for example, has a row of well-stocked Asian supermarkets where I can find shelves of soy sauce, patis, pearl milk tea, chili garlic, tamarind sauce, etc – it’s a wonderful, wonderful place!)
Anyway, I needled through the Tetuán streets to find Al-Aga, a Syrian takeaway owned by a refugee family from Homs. The owner, Labib, is a jovial soul with a deep passion for his culinary heritage, and as such, makes everything from scratch. I was really lucky to see him and his hardworking staff of one preparing sfiha, a traditional meat pie from the Levant that’s made with flatbread and spiced ground lamb or beef. I expanded my knowledge of world cuisine (as well as my waistline) as I practically inhaled a Sfiha. Okay, make that two.
Globetrotting for taste
From the Levant to Eastern Europe to Central Africa – this past year (and without queueing for visas), I embarked on an adventure of exotic flavours, thanks to organizing Chefugee events.
Here are just some other amazing food I’ve tried this year thanks to the uber talented cooks from around the world who have worked with us in hosting these pop-up feasts:
From Ukraine, “Bolsa de pobrecito” (literally “Poor one’s bag”), an incredibly tasty little crepe bag filled with chopped mushrooms, chicken and cheese, and Farshmak (a spread made with dill, lard and garlic) on black bread.
From Cameroon, Ndole, a traditional dish made with ndole, a bitterleaf indigenous to West Africa, shrimp and beef, usually eaten with plantains and rice.
To be honest, the feedback from some of the guests on this dish wasn’t resounding approval, but I actually did like it, especially with the sweet taste of the plantains as a counterpoint to the bitterness of the leaves.
From Syria, Braziq (with sesame seeds), Ajwe (filled with dates) and Ghuraibeh (similar to a petit four). These were Syrian sweet souvenirs from Chefugee’s co-leader Eyad, who came from Damascus the week before.
And of course, kibbeh, or what I’d like to call it, “the Syrian croqueta“, made with bulgur wheat and filled with ground beef or lamb with Middle Eastern spices.
Have appetite, will travel!
And on that note, I’m taking this opportunity to announce that MFR Chefugee will the Madrid local partner taking part in the Europe-wide Refugee Food Festival this coming June 19 to 25, in celebration of World Refugee Day and in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Exciting stuff awaits, and I will be posting more details soon, including the list of participating restaurants all over Madrid. In the meantime – have appetite, will travel!