In the kitchen, "we're all human": Refugee cooks up taste of Syria in Athens


By Karolina TagarisATHENS, June 20 (Reuters) - Barshank Haj Younes may not have
much to celebrate, but the young Syrian is cooking up a feast.
    His menu features hummus and moutabal - a smoky eggplant
salad - and lamb and chicken dishes typically offered to guests
at home, about 2,000 km away in war-torn Syria.
    For one night this week, the young Syrian Kurd, who fled to
Greece a year ago, showcased his cooking talent alongside a
Greek chef in a packed Athens restaurant to mark World Refugee
Day on June 20.
    Beyond giving diners in 13 European cities a taste of Middle
Eastern and African cuisine, the French-born Refugee Food
Festival, backed by the United Nations refugee agency, is hoping
to promote integration.
    In sweltering conditions, Younes and Greek head chef Fotis
Fotinoglou barely have any room to move around as they
frantically prepare a menu of 14 Greek and Syrian dishes in the
cramped 1 metre x 2 metres kitchen.
    The menu includes dakos - a Greek barley rusk salad - tomato
and zucchini fritters, Syrian freekeh - roasted durum wheat - as
well as slow-cooked lamb shank and bulgur with chicken marinated
in tahini, yoghurt, spices, and cumin.
    "There's cumin in everything!" Fotinoglou says.
    "You want garlic? Or onion? You want water?" he asks Younes,
a gawky 25-year-old with slicked back hair who stared at him
    They end up communicating with elaborate hand gestures to
get by.
    Beyond offering a brief respite from the daily grind of
refugee life in Greece, Younes hopes the food will draw
attention to the plight of the tens of thousands of refugees and
migrants stranded in Greece.
    "(I want to) remind them that there are refugees here, there
are still Syrians here," Younes said. "And I want them to
remember that there are Syrians everywhere who are in need."
    Younes, who studied computer engineering, began
experimenting in the kitchen five years ago, driven by necessity
rather than a passion for food.
    In the early years of Syria's civil war, he fled the mainly
Kurdish northeastern town of Amuda for Iraq, where he hoped to
make enough money to pay for his journey to Europe. In hotels he
worked first as a waiter, then as a cook.
    He arrived by boat from Turkey in March last year, a week
after the European Union and Ankara enforced a deal to stem the
refugee flight to Europe, cutting short his plans to travel
north to Switzerland or the Netherlands.
    "At times I don't want to leave, because I really like the
people here, they are very kind," he said. "At other times I
want to."
    Whatever the future may bring, the message Fotinoglou wants
to bring home is clear.
    "The circumstances which forced (the refugees) to leave
behind their homeland, their home, their families, their
birthplace -- it could happen to any one of us," Fotinoglou
    "We're here today to say that in cooking, in the kitchen,
there are no differences. We're all the same, we're all human,"
he said.

 (Editing by Pritha Sarkar)
 ((karolina.tagaris@thomsonreuters.com; +30 210 3376 469;
Reuters Messaging: karolina.tagaris.reuters.com@reuters.net))


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