A small store in the premises of a 77 years old market, in Arroios, Lisbon. Two massive windows allow for the light to come in. A long, communal table in the center of the room invites people to sit across, and side by side.
Inevitably, you will touch shoulders with a stranger, but, hey, you can also peek at their dishes when in doubt. There’s no music except for the rhythm of the cashier machine, glasses clinking, the cashier once again, adjacent conversations, and the occasional crying baby that will eventually fill the room with a sense of community and belonging.
Much of Mezze is about belonging. Francisca, one of the founders of the Associação Pão a Pão, responsible for the integration of Middle Eastern refugees in Lisbon, welcomes me and introduces me to 51 years old Fátima, the head chef of Mezze, her sons Rafat and Yahya, and Uruy and Fatyn. Fátima and her family flee from the war in Syria 2013, but it was only in early 2016 that they arrived in Portugal. Trying to find a way to make a living, Rafat found an ad on Facebook from the Pão a Pão Association, and that’s how it all began.
The Portuguese language is a struggle for everyone, except for Rafat, who is the Mezze’s unofficial translator. We mostly smiled and expressed through gestures, with help from Francisca whenever I asked about the dishes.
There is a lot to be said about migration, especially nowadays. In Portugal, we are just over 11 million resident citizens, but there’s an aditional 2 million spread out over the world. That’s roughly 15% of the population, in which my mother is included. Every time we talk on the phone about food, she will reminesce about sardinhas or arroz de feijão. Food plays a conforting and soothing role in the lives of emmigrants, bringing back all of these memories, as if, at each bite, home is still within reach.
Upon settling in a new country, identity and memory are often associated with food. As time goes by, homeland cuisine starts to blend with local dishes, being subjected to adaptations with new ingredients and tastes. But Mezze stands out and creates a bubble allowing for the preservation of recipes and traditions, showcasing them most beautifully: undisturbed.
Mezze︎Rua Ângela Pinto, 40D 22/23, 1900-069 Lisboa
Tuesday to Saturday