From a Meat Grinder to the Aleppo Supper Club

The dream of opening up a restaurant – Marion Detjen on one Syrian family’s long struggle to get a foothold in Berlin.

von Marion Detjen

Berlin 2016. Foto: Wir machen das
Cooking brings a little bit of Syria back into Huddas life, and into our shared present day. Berlin 2016. Poto: Wir machen das

When Huda arrived here she had a suitcase with her. The case was heavy, as if she’d lugged bricks all the way from Aleppo. Along with spices and her winter coat, it contained a huge old-fashioned electric meat grinder. There was no way Huda would leave without the grinder, the essential piece of equipment for making kibbeh. Kibbeh are balls made of bulgur wheat, minced meat and onions, sometimes nuts and raisins, according to each recipe. They are often deep fried or baked but there are also raw and strongly spiced kinds or – especially delicious – not in ball shape at all, but baked as a kind of meatloaf. A dish of kibbeh is eaten as a main meal, along with salads and other stuffed, baked or fried delights such as ousi – wafer-thin pastry filled with rice, peas and nuts. Or the cheese-filled pastries; I can’t remember their name right now.

Huda is right, there’s no going without kibbeh and her meat grinder; without them, we would all have had an even harder time this first winter in Germany for her family, this tough new beginning involving many tears and troubles. Whenever we visit her, Huda brings small dishes out of the kitchen and we eat them with our fingers while the TV shows Al Jazeera or Al Arabiya, presenting images as incomprehensible to us as the Arabic that accompanies them.

In Aleppo, Huda taught home economics; she could also sew or make pottery or give painting courses. Since she’s been in Germany, though, all she’s wanted to do is cook. Cooking brings a little bit of Syria back into her life, and into our shared present day. The Syria she left behind destroyed, for which she sees no future any more, but which she yearns for so terribly that she cries every day. She wants to start earning money soon and we’ve promised to help her. The project is called the Aleppo Supper Club. You can already book Huda’s catering skills. She cooks at home and her grown-up children help with the shopping, with transport to the customer and of course with running the meat grinder and frying the kibbeh. And we Germans do all the other stuff: the budget, the invoicing, recruiting customers among our friends and acquaintances, discussing menus, (unfortunately also) transport by car, hiring plates, and we usually also help with the washing up. At some point soon, the oldest son will be allowed to use his Syrian driving licence in Germany and take care of transport himself. At some point soon, their German will be good enough to negotiate with customers directly. At some point soon, they’ll be fit enough to open up a restaurant. A place for encounters, an exhibition space, a site of remembrance for the Aleppo that once was, with the meat grinder on display in pride of place.

There was no way Huda would leave without the grinder, the essential piece of equipment for making kibbeh. Berlin 2016. Photo: Wir machen das

Huda is not the only Syrian with a passion for cooking. At the moment we’re building a network with other cooks and cooking initiatives to make catering feasible on a larger scale. Several restaurants want to help and have already booked the Aleppo Supper Club for individual courses and commissions. We’ll be trying together to find a structure that enables the newcomers in the emergency accommodation facilities to profit from the Aleppo Supper Club – so that they don’t have to eat the awful food served up in the homes. It’s a pretty long distance to that point, but – we’re doing it!