Ahlan w sahlan bikom. Welcome to Mezze, a Middle Eastern restaurant. We bring to the table more than just delicious dishes prepared by hands who cradle many stories. We also bring inclusion, solidarity and tolerance. This is a project created to provide training and employment to Middle Eastern refugees, making the most of all that they have to offer.
Pão a Pão
We asked a Syrian student living in Lisbon what she missed the most about her home country. Her answer was “Bread! Syrian bread!” From there, Pão a Pão Association developed an inclusive pioneering project in Portugal: a restaurant where the majority of employees are refugees, and where they can maintain a connection to their culture through food and mealtimes.
Mezze is a space where Arabic bread and many of the dishes that go along with it are prepared and carefully served. We can taste yalanji, fattoush, kibbeh, hummus or baklava, all made by hands who carry a lot of stories and a lot of hope in a new beginning. Which starts here. Fatima, Faten, Rana, Rafat, Yasser, Shiraz… all had to leave Syria. Along with other refugees, they work hard at Mezze and share with us the amazing cuisine from the Middle East.
We also hold gastronomy workshops, conferences, music concerts… Mezze is, above all, a meeting place – between refugees, between refugees and the local community, tourists, immigrants…
We use the skills that refugees already have and provide them with tools so that their work can be valued and professionalised. Thus, we are designing a self- sustainable job-creating solution, and contributing to true inclusion, through a non- profit model that will then be replicated in other places across the country. The first Mezze opened in Mercado de Arroios (Lisbon) in September 2017. It has been hailed as an example of success by many, including the Portuguese prime minister António Costa, president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos, to name a few.
In October 2018, Pão a Pão was elected as Culinary Personality of the Year by the Portuguese Cooks National Congress, which highlighted its “important social contribution to the Portuguese Gastronomy”. In 2017, the Association won the Social Entrepreneurship Prize from PSA- Peugeot/ Citroen Foundation (France) and also the Julia Taft Grant from the USA State Department.
Did you know that…
Mezze is a meal for sharing. It’s a feast of small colourful and tasty dishes. It can be hot or cold, sweet or savoury, mild or highly spiced. It can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner. But bread is an essential part of it. And it has to be delicious too.