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09/09/2017 - 07:00hs

Syrian chef sells Arab food out of a container in São Paulo

Hatem Masri came to Brazil fleeing the war in Syria. Now, he sells specialties of the Arab cuisine in a recently-opened space at Brigadeiro Faria Lima avenue.


The chef Hatem Masri fled the war in Syria

São Paulo – A little more than a month ago, Syrian Hatem Masri was back to selling his shawarmas, kibbes, stuffed grape leaves and other Arab specialties out of a shipping container at Brigadeiro Faria Lima avenue, one of São Paulo’s main commercial centers. For months, he had been waiting to get back to work, which was interrupted by the city hall political transition in São Paulo.

Before, the Cozinha Masri (Masri Kitchen) served its clients at Paulista avenue, another main commercial – and touristic – center of São Paulo. The Syrian had a tent at the Gastronomic Fair, near the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), which was shut down. He went almost eight months without working until he found the new spot.

The recently-opened space is a type of an outdoor food court, with large tables across it, with the restaurants working inside containers.

But the time without work, however, doesn’t even begin to compare to the harshest difficulty faced by Masri, who grew up in Damascus, where he graduated in Gastronomy. He was kidnapped and held hostage by the Islamic State for 20 days during the civil war in Syria, which has been going on for six years already.

“I was walking in the street when a car stopped and grabbed me. We were driving while I was blindfolded, I don’t know where we were. I was with them for around twenty days. I got out because I was able to escape with three more people,” told the Syrian. According to him, the ISIS soldiers noticed the movement and pursued the hostages but they encountered soldiers from the Syrian army – then a gunfight ensued. “I was hit in my right leg. Two of the people that escaped with me were killed in the gunfight,” he said.

At the time, Masti had relatives in São Paulo. An uncle heard of what happened to him in Syria and helped him move. Upon arrival, without speaking Portuguese and with his diploma in Syrian gastronomy invalid here, he went to work with an Arab at Santa Ifigênia street, a traditional area of electronics sales in São Paulo. “These eight months in which I worked at Santa Ifigênia helped me with the language,” he said.

With the help of some friends, the Syrian moved to the city of Mogi das Cruzes, near São Paulo, where he was a chef of a restaurant specialized in pancakes. Later, he decided to become an entrepreneur and opened an Arab cuisine business.

According to Masri, the competitive differential of his restaurant are the spices, all of them brought from Syria. “I bring everything from there and I prepare them,” he said. In the new place, he has two Brazilian employees. “We are still in the phase of promoting the place. The number of customers are still low, but we are fighting to make it work.”

The Faria Lima Blocks, where the Syrian’s kitchen is established, offers also hamburgers, hot-dogs, Italian food and beers, among others. It’s open from Sunday to Thursday, from 9 am to 11 pm, and on Fridays and Saturdays, from 9 am to midnight. In addition to the restaurant, which also delivers, the Syrian cooks for events and marriages.

Quick info
Cozinha Masri (Masri Kitchen)
Faria Lima Blocks – Avenida Brigadeiro Faria Lima, 4433
From Sunday to Thursday, from 9 am to 11 pm. Fridays and Saturdays, from 9 am to midnight.
Information: https://www.facebook.com/Cozinha-Masri-501534513518868/

*Translated by Sérgio Kakitani

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