Adam Liaw's visit to Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan shows that connecting to people through their food helps better understand the realities of the Syrian conflict.
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26 Jun 2018 - 3:35 PM  UPDATED 15 Jun 2020 - 12:26 PM

I travelled to Zaatari and Azraq Refugee Camps on the border of Jordan and Syria as part of my work with UNICEF. I got to meet Syrian children and their families living in those camps. About 80,000 people live in the Zaatari camp – over half of them children – and is now Jordan’s fourth biggest city.

Zaatari Refugee Camp is home to over 80,000 displaced people.

Zaatari camp as been operating for over seven years and you can see how developed the culture has become in the camps. Through the centre of Zaatari camp is a long market street known colloquially as the Champs-Élysées, named after a French field hospital that was on the street many years ago [and the Paris avenue]. It bustles with activity, crowded with shoppers and people who just come to meet friends and chat. It's a vibrant market street where you can do everything, from getting your mobile phone repaired to buying your daily bread. 

The Syrian shawarma shop that Adam Liaw wishes was in Australia
Adam Liaw's visit to Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan shows that connecting to people through their food helps better understand the realities of the Syrian conflict. #RefugeeWeek

One of the most interesting things I found about the camps is that many of the people operating the stores have learnt new skills. Many people who leave their homes, or in this case are forced to leave their homes, develop these news skills to find a connection to their culture that they've left behind and to make ends meet for their family.

I met Abu Muhanned. He’s been at Zaatari since the beginning, seven years ago. In Syria, he worked at a poultry distribution company, but in Zaatari he became a baker. His breads are legendary in the camp. 

Every day, he and his son, who is only 13 years old, make different kinds of bread, a flatbread for shawarma and a yeast-leavened bread, too, and sells them for just a few Jordanian pastries or cents to the residents of the camp.

Wrapped with love
Adam Liaw's emotional visit to 'the city of children'
Zaatari Refugee Camp is home to 80,000 Syrians – over half of them children – and is now Jordan’s fourth biggest city. TV chef, UNICEF Australia ambassador and father-of-two Adam Liaw tells SBS News what he witnessed there.
Lamb shawarma with tahini and lemon

For my shawarma, I use lamb fillet marinated in red wine and vinegar, which pack a flavour punch, and I like to make my own soft and fluffy bread to wrap it all up in.

Toyug kebabs (Azeri sour chicken skewers)

Half the world loves a kebab, and the other half just hasn’t got around to knowing them yet. The secret to a delicious Azeri chicken skewer is the souring agent, such as lemon juice or vinegar in the marinade. It seasons the dish and also tenderises the meat. 

Back street kofta kebabs

“Tucked away in Istanbul's Eminonu market, I found an esnaf lokantasi (workers’ café) specialising in kofta, a kebab made from ground beef or lamb, then mixed with onions and spices."

Syrian-style hummus, lamb kebab

The secret to Syrian-style hummus is that it’s made with roasted chickpeas and that’s what gives it such a unique flavour. The kebabs are just as simple – no marinating or heavy seasoning. It’s all about the quality of the lamb and the fat you buy.

Beef shawarma with tahini sauce

"Although it’s not traditional, I love to throw the meat on sliced bread with barbecue sauce and Swiss cheese, then toast it," says Mohamed Fettayleh of Abu Ahmad Butchery.

Chicken shawarma sandwiches

This chicken sandwich, made with a traditional Israeli marinade, is well worth the wait! The shawarma marinade also works very well with a leg of lamb.