$33,000 for lentils, rice, and resilience for Palestine

The Palestinian restaurant Tamam collects donations for Gaza

A long wooden table set with empty dishes in front of a moody amber light and acrylic paintings with golden frames on the wall. The window outside shows it is dark out.
PHOTO: Brigitte Buck / The Peak

By: Brigitte Buck, SFU Student

Content warning: mentions of genocide.

Cuisine changes, evolves, and is constantly reinvented. The same goes for people, cultures, politics, and perhaps even history. Often, we can gain something positive from change, but not always. While Sobhi Al-Zobaidi’s dishes at his Palestinian restaurant Tamam are based on old traditions and have only changed for the better in recent years, this is not the case for the place he calls home: Palestine.

Israel’s violent siege on Gaza has continually devastated Palestinian lands. Restaurant owner Al-Zobaidi has made it his mission to create a space of listening and understanding.

This common space is consolidated in his East Vancouver restaurant, Tamam. Sohbi’s restaurant bustles behind floor-to-ceiling windows and minimalist wooden tables in front of acrylic paintings. Tiled mosaic lamps adorn the room.

Creamy consistencies and cultural compatibility 

The heart of the restaurant is the extensive range of delicious dishes on the menu. Starters include creamy muttabal: a mix of yogurt, eggplant, sesame paste, and fresh tabbouleh, a Middle Eastern salad with herbs and bulgur. The main dishes include mouth-watering slow-baked chicken, lamb as tender as a baby’s cheek, and for dessert — sweet and spongy nammourah, a Middle Eastern cake baked with semolina. Tamam, Al-Zobaidi’s wife and namesake of the restaurant, spends her time in the kitchen and seasons each dish to perfection. 

One of them, which is particularly close to their hearts, is mujadara. A fairly straightforward dish made from lentils, rice, caramelized onions, and olive oil. It is “one of the simplest, most humble dishes you can find,” Al-Zobaidi told CBC News

Al-Zobaidi is also a filmmaker, artist, and scholar. For him, mujadara is another form of cultural expression. “People, when they love your food, they become humble. They are more willing to listen to your stories that are associated with the food that you serve them.”

A simple dish for a bigger cause 

At the end of October, the two started a fundraiser for Gaza, selling mujadara to the community and raising over $13,000. A week later, on the following Sunday, they held another one and raised over $20,000 — a total of $34,000 was raised. “This is an amazing show of love and support,” Al-Zobaidi announced. “At dark moments like these, only love can heal, no amount of money can do what love does to a child who has just lost his entire family. Continue to love Gaza and all the oppressed people wherever, whoever they [may be].” Sobhi and Tamam are in contact with friends from home. Their aim is to donate the money to the organizations most able to provide help. 

Their third fundraiser will take place on Sunday, December 3, from 1:00–5:00 p.m. at their restaurant on 2616 East Hastings Street. What should you bring besides money to donate? Solidarity.

“Raise your voice at every occasion, let politicians know that you disagree, that you are disgusted to be watching genocide unfolding live,” Al-Zobaidi wrote in an Instagram post. “Tell Canadian politicians that instead of exporting arms to Israel, Canada should be exporting its experience in dealing with postcolonial realities.

“The only just solution for Palestine is one democratic state for all the people living on the land, just like here, and Canada can lead this conversation worldwide.”

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