By Asmeret Tesfay
The third country we are visiting for our Taste of Culture Series is Syria, and we are delighted to sit down with Chef and Owner of Jasmine Syrian Food Mohamad Alnouri. Mohamad will be sharing an online cooking demonstration of the first dish he learned to prep--tabbouleh! Tabbouleh is a salad with finely chopped ingredients. There will be an opportunity to learn more about his journey into cooking. The virtual program will be on Tuesday, October 19th from 2-3 p.m.
Below are questions I asked Mohamad to get to know his journey into the world of food and his business. Before we dive in, here are a few fun facts about Syria for those who might not know much about the country. Guilty! ;-)
Damascus, the capital of Syria, is claimed to be the oldest inhabited city in the world. Syria is a country located in the Middle East, with a coastline at the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, and it shares maritime (sea) borders with Cyprus. There are five major languages spoken in Syria: Arabic, Armenian, Kurdish, Assyrian and Syriac. Also, Syria is home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world. There is much more to learn about Syria. To get started, check out the library’s CultureGrams database, or choose a book or movie from our catalog.
Mohamad graciously took a step away from the restaurant and took a seat, so we can hear a little about his story.
What is unique about the Syrian culture?
We like to share our food….culture. We invite you to come over even if we don’t know you. We are very hospitable. We don’t want anything from anybody.
What is unique about Syrian food?
Syria has the best falafels in the world. Our recipes we use are from four generations in my family. When we opened the restaurant, I called my great-great-great grandfather to get the recipe we currently use. My great-great-great grandfather is still alive at 130 years old. He has his own farm and he grows his own food.
How did you start cooking and how did your love of cooking begin?
It’s from my family. It started with my mother; she was a culinary teacher in Syria. I loved to cook at a young age. I loved being home more than I loved being outside. I was a calm child. My mother saw my love to cook and always invited me to learn how to cook. Cooking was my second job in America. My first job was actually at the age of 13 in Egypt at a bakery for five years. We baked breads and desserts. We were in Egypt before we arrived in America. I arrived in the U.S. February of 2017 in Aurora, CO.
What was the first thing your mother taught you to cook?
She started with salads--prepping Tabbouleh. Tabbouleh is a Syrian/Lebanese salad medley dish.
How did you hear about the opportunity at Mango House?
My parents were regular patients at the old Mango House and they heard that this current building we are in will be bought and it will be a space for refugees. My parents asked to rent a space and they started the restaurant in 2019. Our restaurant opened on 2/15/2019. We were the first restaurant in Mango House. The building was still in phases of construction and not fully complete. It was a little tough when we started the business; there weren’t any signs and no one knew what this building was. It took time for our business to get going.
How did you acclimate when you arrived in the U.S.?
I entered the U.S. in 2017. I am the older kid of two in my family and so it was some pressure on me. My parents are older and no one knew English in our family. I needed to make sure the rent was paid for the following month and support my parents. I received my first job as a dishwasher in the first week I arrived in the U.S. at a restaurant in downtown and I also went to school full-time. I would use Google translator to communicate. In the restaurant I worked at the chef noticed my work ethic and took me under his wing. The chef asked if I wanted to learn to cook and I told him, that is my career--that is exactly what I want to do. The chef always made time for me even when he had a busy schedule. He saw my hunger to learn. He showed me culinary techniques and after I finished washing dishes I would prep food. After a couple months, I got promoted as a prep cook. By working side-by-side with the chef my English improved. T.V., movies and music also helped me to learn English. In about two to three months, my English improved and I also learned some skills. From there, I received an opportunity for a one-month program at Denver University (DU) where they helped refugees gain skills and experience in the food industry. I continued to go to school full-time and continued my job at the restaurant downtown and I also received an opportunity to work in the kitchen at DU adopting more culinary skills.
What are your next steps of your family business?
I am hoping to open a new location. A second Jasmine Syrian. A bigger space. A restaurant with my own dining space, so I can decorate it in true Syrian décor.
Is everything on your menu from your culture? And what is your most popular dish?
Yes, it is Syrian/Lebanese style. Syria and Lebanon was one country a long time ago. Our food taste just like home. Everyday our food is freshly made. We have pride in our food and our reviews. My mother makes all the desserts at her home as we don’t have an oven here. I pick it up from her daily. Our most popular dishes are the falafel dish and the lamb shank dish.
There is usually a negative stereotype of refugees in America--what would you like people to know?
I would like people to know that we are all people, we are human beings, we are all human…we all have hands…a mind…we shouldn’t be mean to others. It doesn’t matter where you are from, what religion, what language you speak, your age and or your color--we are all people. If I witness others making fun of someone for not speaking English or disrespecting someone who is not from here, I am not quiet. I always speak up.
We hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about Mohamad’s story. We will have a cooking demonstration by Mohamad on Tuesday, October 19th from 2-3 p.m. Join us online to learn more about his journey and how to create your own delicious tabbouleh!
Celebrating World Food Day
October 16th is World Food Day and it is celebrated worldwide. World Food Day is not only about celebrating the amazing food we indulge in; it is also about raising awareness for those who do not have that privilege. Take the time to enjoy your favorite local international cuisines this month. We have a few suggestions:
Konjo Ethiopian Food in Edgewater Public Market: 5505 West 20th Avenue, Edgewater, CO 80214, provides "healthy, fast and delicious Ethiopian food in a clean, friendly, and convenient dining environment."
The Denver Public Library's Cultural Inclusivity department collaborates with Denver's multicultural community to create equitable opportunities for learning, discovery, and connection.
We offer Plazas, an open community space where people from all over the world connect with information and resources, building Denver’s global community. Come to practice English, prepare for citizenship, pursue your goals, and create your future. Whatever you’re doing, we can help!