• Nadeem Turkia in his Syrian food truck Flavours of Damascus. (Facebook/Damascus Kitchen)Source: Facebook/Damascus Kitchen
Nadeem Turkia's food truck has become a regular sight at Darwin's famous markets.
By
Alyssa Braithwaite

28 Sep 2017 - 2:58 PM  UPDATED 28 Sep 2017 - 4:45 PM

Customers who buy a falafel from the Darwin food truck Flavours of Damascus quickly notice there's something different about them. 

Nadeem Turkia serves up the deep-fried snack in the shape of a love heart.

For the Syrian refugee, it's more than just a gimmick. It's a conversation starter.

"People say, 'Oh how do you do a falafel in love heart shape?', and we tell them 'because we cook it with love'," Mr Turkia says.

"And we start to talk about our culture and our food. From there we start the conversation."

It's also a way to say thankyou to the country that took Mr Turkia and his family in.

 

Mr Turkia was studying hospitality in Jordan, where he and his mother were born, and where they family had lived for many years, when the Jordanian Government changed its policy on Syrian nationals having rights to work and live there after being flooded with refugees fleeing the war.

Right as he was on the verge of taking up a scholarship in the United States, Mr Turkia found himself an illegal immigrant in his own country. 

His dream of owning his own restaurant seemed to be drifting out of reach as he became a refugee.

When his family heard Australia was accepting Syrian refugees, they applied and were accepted. One year and six days ago they flew to Australia, to begin their new life in Darwin.

Most Syrian refugees who came to Australia settled in other parts of the country, and Mr Turkia found that the people of Darwin knew very little about his beloved homeland.

"I get shocked because there's a lot of people that they thought we are coming from a country that we still use camels to get around, and animals," he says.

"They don't know anything about our country, so that made me sad at the beginning. But then I said no, maybe I should talk to them about it. Because Australia is so far from that part of the world."

Noticing the popularity of Darwin's food markets he decided the first step to rekindling his restaurant dream was to start up his own food truck, Flavours of Damascus (formerly Damascus Kitchen), and become the first person to serve traditional Syrian food in the NT capital.

Mr Turkia says he initially was unsure how people would respond to the food he served, but it's been a big hit.

The best-sellers are still the falafel and kebab, but many people have expanded their knowledge of Syrian food through Mr Turkia's 'everything meal' - a little bit of everything so people can try it all and see what they like. 

"I keep the traditional taste for it. And I didn't just do the food, I wear our traditional [clothes] so that makes them really happy and they know that's something behind this food," he says.

"And I also keep telling them about our country, how it was before the war, and how everything changed after the war."

It was very tough for them initially as they didn't know how everything worked, and where to source ingredients and equipment. But with the help and support of the Darwin community, other food trucks and market operators, the hard work seems to be paying off.

The family-run Flavours of Damascus was one of just six food stalls selected to operate at the Darwin Festival in August, which Mr Turkia says was "a really big experience for us". 

But Mr Turkia has much bigger plans in mind. 

"I was never give up from my dream of owning my restaurant," he says.

"That is my goal, and I will never change it."

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