César was born in Pemba (North-eastern Mozambique) in 1962. The civil war brought his mother to Portugal and César, the youngest of seven siblings, joined her when he was 20. Finding a good job in Lisbon proved difficult, so he decided to try his luck in France – he spent almost two decades in Nice working at a railway station. In 2011, César decided to came back to Portugal where he spent some time working in bars and restaurants before joining Mezze. There's a dish that immediately takes him back to Mozambique: lumino (fried fish with mandioca and coconut milk). But he loves the mujaddara (lentil stew with bulgur wheat and fried onions) prepared by Mezze's cooks.
Faten was born in Damascus in 1980. Her life took a sharp turn when her husband died, before the war. She was left on her own with three children. Two of them joined her in her journey over to Portugal, in 2016. The eldest (20) still lives in Syria, where Faten hopes to return when the war is over. Until then, she works at Mezze, where she became an expert in making yalanji (vine leaf rolls with rice and tomato), although her favourite dish is kibbeh (small fried cakes made of mince beef, bulgur wheat and spices).
It was not until she got married that Fatima learned how to cook. Before that, her mother used to do all the kitchen work. But, as she always says, “everyone in Syria knows how to cook from birth!” She has a refined palate and a well-trained hand. Fatima, mother of five, lost her husband in the war. The family crossed the border over to Jordan, then moved to Egypt and finally to Portugal in 2015. It would be almost sinful to ask her to pick a special dish, although if she really had to choose one, it would be yalanji (vine leaves stuffed with rice, tomato and parsley).
Fatma has now been away from her husband for quite a long time. He barely knows their son Jan, born in Lebanon over three years ago. Last time he saw him, Jan was only two months old. Fatma was born in 1987 in Afrin, a Kurdish town in Syria. The war forced her to leave her home: first Lebanon, then Turkey, where she took a boat to Greece along with her parents. She arrived in Lisbon in 2016, where she found peace and a job at Mezze. However, she misses her husband more than everything and can't stop dreaming of the day when they will once again gather around the dinner table eating mahashi (vegetables stuffed with rice, beef and spices).
Huruy was born in Eritrea in 1978. This is the second time he finds himself as a refugee. When he was a child, his family had to flee to Sudan to escape the war with their neighbouring country, Ethiopia. Back in his homeland, he eventually found himself having to run away from conflict again: the road to Portugal was made via Sudan, Libya and Italy. One of the things Huruy enjoys the most is playing rebab, a musical instrument from Eritrea. He had a band there and used to play in weddings. Now he doesn't get the opportunity to play so often.
Mouhammad Hussain Gaber
His life has quite the mileage. Mouhammad was born in Sada (Yemen) in 1988 and he grew up in Sanaa, the capital city. He was studying Tourism and Hotel Management but the civil war made it impossible for him to carry on. He flew to Jordan first, then Sudan, Chad and Libya, where he took a boat to Europe – several boats, in fact, as it took him many attempts to reach Italy. His favourite food? The same as any other Yemeni: rice with salouf (bread), yogurt, coriander and green peppers. He also loves the Syrian bread that he learned to prepare at Mezze.
Mouhammad Ibrahim Hussain
He was born in Mosul (Iraq) in 1988. He was working at the Youth and Sports Ministry and had to choose between fleeing or take up arms and fight. After a stopover in Turkey and Greece, he arrived in Portugal in 2017 with his wife and their two-year-old son. His favourite dish is dolma (called yalanji in Syria – vine leaves stuffed with rice, tomato and parsley). He hasn't learned how to prepare it but his wife has – from Mezze ́s cooks!
Mustafa was born in Basra (Iraq) in 1986 but he lived in Syria for ten years before fleeing the war and becoming a refugee once again. It was in Syria that he learned how to sew and be a tailor. He came to Portugal via Turkey and Greece, but he couldn't find a job as a tailor. He became a waiter at Mezze instead. He still misses his mother's dolma (called yalanji in Syria – vine leaves stuffed with rice, tomato and parsley).
Rafat's young age is often mentioned when people talk about his personality (he was born in 1996). His father died during the war and, with his older brother living in Turkey, he became the head of the family from a very young age. He says he has two lives. The first one was in Damascus, where he used to help his father in the restaurant on weekends and holidays, and where he became used to carrying a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. And that was useful when he moved to Portugal after living in Egypt: he became the “natural” manager at Mezze. He believes integration is made through food (he loves meshawi, moussaka and moujaddara) but also through a relationship between the Mezze team and the people at Arroios’ Market: “They are not only neighbours, they are part of the Mezze family.”
People from Midan (a well-known area in Damascus) always say that nowhere in the world has better food. Rana was born there in 1989 and she is really proud of her origins. She loves her mother's makloubeh (aubergine with minced beef and rice). After seeking a safe place in Egypt, she arrived in Portugal in 2015 with her husband and two children. For the first time in her life she began working outside the family home (in Mezze) and proved herself – and everyone else – that she is a master in the kitchen.
Reem was born in Damascus in 1990. Now she's the mother of three girls – the youngest one was already born in Lisbon – the first Mezze baby as we like to call her! Reem loves making desserts and, just like all her female colleagues in the kitchen, she had never worked outside her home before coming to Mezze. Now all it takes to put a smile on her face is to place sugar and orange blossom water in her hands – and she can perform miracles.
Serenah William Sabat
This young woman from Bethlehem (Westbank, Palestine) chose Portugal as her second home after spending two rainy years in Belgium. After a while working in Mezze, she realised that selling Middle Eastern food products could make a good business, so her and her partner opened Zaytouna, a store where you can find everything you need to prepare an entire Middle Eastern meal. If she had to choose a home dish to put on the table, she would go with Palestinian moussaka, with onions, sumak and chicken, served with taboon bread.
Shiraz Aref Shekho
Shiraz was born in the Kurdish city of Afrin, in 1970, but she was living in Aleppo with her children when the war erupted. In 2016, she risked her life on a boat from Turkey to Greece, where she waited one year to be relocated to Portugal. Despite all her hardships, whenever Shiraz smiles, Mezze smiles with her. She's an expert at making kibbeh (small cakes made either with minced beef or tomato, with bulgur wheat and spices). Those will be on the table on the day her husband, still living in Syria, finally manages to join the rest of the family.
Wael is from the rural Syrian province of Rif Dimasque, where he was born in 1992. In 2013, he fleed the country to avoid joining the army. After spending some time in Egypt (where he worked in the construction business), he came to Portugal. He still misses his mother’s fish dishes a lot – “even if Portuguese fish is better”, he adds. In Mezze, he feels closer to the scents of his homeland. “I love the food here, it tastes like home. But still, my mother is the best cook in the world.”
Everyone calls him Adam because Yasser's mother always used to call him that way. He was born in 1993 in Mosul (Iraq). When the city was captured by Daesh forces he ended up with no work and unable to finish his Medical studies. Him and his older brother then began a journey that took them to Syria, Turkey, Greece, and finally Portugal, where they arrived in 2017. He absolutely loves every single Iraqi dish – and he's a very fine cook too – but nothing makes him smile more than a chicken kebab cooked the Mosul way. Nevertheless, with 85% of his hometown totally destroyed, he plans to stay in Portugal and buy his own apartment here.
Did you know that…
Azeite – the Portuguese word for olive oil – derives from the Arabic zayt alzaytun. Just as in Portugal, it’s commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine, and therefore in several of the dishes you will find in Mezze.