Taste a flavour of country with the language of food
When Middle and I arrive at the Syrian Supper Club at the Cyrenian’s Cook School in Leith, intriguing smells and spicy aromas waft around the cooks, led by chef Noura Selibi, all moving in practised harmony.
Along with husband Qays Dukhan, Noura set up the Club with the support of homeless charity Cyrenians, so members of Edinburgh’s refugee community could prepare some of Syria’s finest dishes and they’re a feast of cooking, conversation and connection.
Of course I had intended to take all of my offspring but the charity events sell out fast and there were only two tickets left. Hmmm, who’s my favourite? Obviously the cat wouldn’t appreciate it, so I left it to the others to negotiate it out – hey, it’s a life skill.
Youngest: “I’m revising.”
Middle: “Well, Eldest has actually been to Syria, so I suppose he should go really.”
(True, back before the war Eldest went with Other Parent to visit relatives. His appetite whetted by an XBox game, the chance to see Palmyra and visit Damascus, Homs and Aleppo, was a trip he was up for. He came back with tales of the country’s beauty, vibrant cities, ancient sites and friendly people, especially the young, who wanted to talk football, that other universal language after food).
Eldest: Well, I have been to Syria, take Middle, he loves cooking and eating and it’ll be really interesting.
Wow. Eventually when the fighting ends, the talking starts and we get somewhere. Next time I’ll take them all, I promise.
Preceded by wafts of flavour, the food arrives, vast bowls lined up on a table, jostling for room. We start with spicy sambosek pies (who doesn’t love a pie?), move on to chicken and vegetable smoked rice dishes, Middle tucks into meat dumplings bobbing around in yoghurt sauce, and there’s kibbeh (fried bulgur wheat and mince balls), tasty tabbouleh salad, the sweetest of beetroot salads, smoky aubergine baba ganoush, and honestly the creamiest hummus I’ve ever had.
And with the honey laced walnut baklava and coffee, comes the best part of all, when Noura and team take the weight off their feet and join us, telling us about her country’s food and how she learned to make it. Only a year here, she’s learning the language, but when it comes to food, she and her Syrian Supper Club are already fluent.
Iftar Syrian Supper Club by Cyrenians, 21 May, £25, Cyrenians Community Cook School, 66-68 Jane Street, Edinburgh, EH6 5HG. For tickets, see www.eventbrite.co.uk