In a cozy street in the center of Den Bosch the Middle Eastern food bar Yalla Yalla is located . As soon as we enter the restaurant we are surprised by the wonderful smells, a diversity of people and a lot of fun. The dinner consists of several tasty dishes from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel that we can share with each other. It's an explosion of flavors. From deliciously seasoned vegetables and fresh dips to the best falafel we've ever eaten. When we hear the story behind the restaurant, we become so curious that we ask the owner Jinan and cook Hamza if they want to participate in Smaack. A few weeks later we can visit them again in the restaurant where they tell us everything about Yalla Yalla and teach us how to make falafel from four different Middle Eastern countries.
Yalla Yalla's owner, Jinan, is half Iraqi and half Dutch. When she was twelve she moved from Baghdad to the Netherlands. In the early years she found it very difficult to find her identity. Was she Iraqi or Dutch? What did she really belong to? The longer she lived in the Netherlands, the better she learned to deal with this. She now feels completely at home. That is why she wanted to do something for everyone who comes to the Netherlands as a refugee and also experiences this culture shock. Five and a half years ago she therefore started giving cooking workshops in asylum seekers' centres. That is where the concept behind Yalla Yalla originated. At Yalla Yalla, cooks from all over the world work together to put the tastiest Arabic dishes on the table.
Jinan's passion for cooking started much earlier. She has even published her own cookbook. She tells us that she came up with this idea when she asked her son what his favorite food was, to which he replied: “Kebab with Brussels sprouts!”. Jinan explains: “This describes exactly how Western and Arabic cuisine are intertwined in our family. That statement gave me the idea to write a cookbook about the two different worlds on one plate”. In this way she tries to make people more familiar with Arabic cuisine. She has the same goal with her restaurant. “In the Netherlands you mainly see shawarma dishes, but Middle Eastern cuisine is so much more than that. For example, how French cuisine is seen as the most refined cuisine in the Netherlands, Lebanese and Syrian cuisine is the same in the Middle East.” explains Jinan. With her restaurant, she hopes to change this image in the Netherlands and thus bring cultures together.
“In the Netherlands you mainly see shawarma, but Middle Eastern cuisine is so much more than that.”
During our conversation with Jinan, Hamza is busy providing their customers with a delicious lunch but also joins in halfway through the conversation. Hamza started at Yalla Yalla in the dishes, but now works in the kitchen as well as in the service. He is originally from Israel and Palestine where he had a professional football career. Unfortunately, he had to quit because of problems with his heart. In the beginning it was really hard for him to accept this but he has now completely found his passion in cooking. “I like to make people happy with good food”, says Hamza enthusiastically. He is now even attending chef courses where he learns a lot about new cooking techniques and the use of ingredients. But he also learns a lot from his colleagues. Because people work there, each with a different background, they learn a lot from each other.
“I like to make people happy with good food”
“Due to the diversity of colleagues, it is sometimes difficult to lead,” says Jinan. “Everyone is used to their own taste. Falafel is a good example of this. What tastes like home to one person, tastes strange to another. You can compare it with, for example, Dutch peanut butter. When you eat this in another country, it is never the same as here," explains Jinan. For the menu in the restaurant they often choose together which recipe they want to serve. “In this case it has become the Palestinian falafel. For this reason, it is also very important to work with recipes in the kitchen. Otherwise, everyone will put their own spin on it,” explains Jinan.
Jinan and Hamza were kind enough to teach us how to make Syrian, Palestinian, Iraqi and Egyptian falafel and we share the recipes for you to enjoy too.