For Hana Assafiri, connection is less about smartphones and laptop screens and more about the intangible things you can feel, touch and taste. Late last year, the chef and owner of North Fitzroy’s much-loved Moroccan Soup Bar opened Moroccan Deli-cacy, a café and deli on the old site of East Brunswick’s Miramar Nut Shop, a mixed business that served Melbourne’s Lebanese community since the 1970s. She says that the café, which exclusively employs Muslim women, aims to preserve the storytelling traditions that are passed on through the culture — via both the conversations we have with each other and the food we eat.
“Moroccan Deli-cacy is the natural evolution of the Moroccan Soup Bar against the gentrification in Melbourne, where everything is becoming same-same,” says Assafari, who opened the Moroccan Soup Bar in 1998 and whose recipe book Moroccan Soup Bar: Recipes of a Spoken Menu was published last year. “I wanted a place that preserved the wisdom of women and especially their oral traditions. Yes, everything these days [knowledge] is automated but where can women tell each other ‘you know, you’re pregnant, you should eat almonds!’ That’s the glue that keeps cultures and societies together.”
Stepping into Moroccan Deli-cacy on a stretch of Lygon Street flanked by milk bars and lighting stores, we’re reminded that when a place prioritises soulfulness over trendiness, nothing quite compares. Here, women dart around mosaic-tiled tables, refilling pots of mint tea; solo diners dunk bread into babaganoush; and cabinets overflow with pistachios, pastries and ras el nout. A far wall is adorned We The People, the iconic poster series by the artist and activist Shepard Fairey. A smiling woman directs me to a communal table and suggests that I order the mixed lunch plate — a combination of couscous salad, roasted eggplant, grilled haloumi and home-made falafel. It’s unreasonably delicious. No surprises there.
“The more processed something is — both literally and metaphorically — the harder it is to digest,” Assafiri smiles. “I’m vegetarian so the whole place is vegetarian and during weekend mornings we serve breakfasts like shakshuka, a spicy egg and bean bake and baghrir, which is our version of a pancake with caramel and ricotta, and milwee, a cross between a croissant and a roti.” Two weeks ago, Assafiri opened an on-site taginerie dishing out slow-cooked tagines alongside zalouk, an eggplant and tomato salad. “For me, a tagine is the conduit between the slow, contemplative nature of the east and the fast-paced nature of the West.”
At Moroccan Deli-Cacy, Assafiri also hosts an event series including Speed Date a Muslim, a free monthly session that invites the public to start a dialogue with a Muslim woman to deepen their understanding of Islam. She tells me she’s about to launch Building Houses on Shifting Sands, an initiative that creates a bridge between refugees and a community that wants to help.
“If you have a hug or a cup of coffee or want to orient a refugee around your local neighbourhood, Moroccan Deli-cacy will help. The world is so divided. Places like this are micro-platforms for engaging people. We’re set up to bring people together and reclaim all that is beautiful in our culture. Whether you’re a man, woman, black, white, gay, straight or trans it doesn’t matter. I want it to feel like this place is yours.”
Moroccan Deli-cacy is open Tues - Fri 11am - 4pm; Weekends 9am - 4pm. 313 Lygon St, Brunswick East VIC
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