Marwa Makool arrived in Australia from Lebanon with her husband when she was only 19. “I had no friends, no family and no English. It was very hard for me. I was like a fish out of water,” she says.
But she quickly realised that food was her thing and studied to become a chef. “When I came to Australia, the food was different than it is now. My family had always eaten healthy, but here, there was a lot of fat so I wanted to show people the way we ate.”
Then Makool opened Oasis in 1998, taking over and renovating a shop that needed a lot of love. It first gathered a following for its bakery, Middle Eastern groceries and sandwich bar. “I started the business with the shawarma, and it will always be my favourite,” says Makool.
Despite their mother first trying to discourage them, her three children, Michael, George and Natalie have joined the family business. “I wanted them to do anything but be involved in this business because it’s very hard work. But the three of them insisted and told me they wanted to do it,” she says.
Together, they took Oasis to a new level by doubling its size and transforming it into a one-stop shop for all your food needs. “I couldn’t have done it without my family,” says Makool.
A Middle Eastern food haven
If you have a bit of time when you go to Oasis, start by having a bite at the cafe, which boasts a large selection of Lebanese pizzas, wraps and salads. There’s also a breakfast menu with dishes like avo on toast with za’atar yoghurt and beetroot tahini, and lamb and scrambled egg with smoked labneh, a family recipe. Portions are generous, but you’ll still want to order the haloumi chips as a side. They come with a yogurt sauce, pomegranate molasses and mint.
Once you’re satisfied, get on with your grocery shopping. The focus is on gourmet food from the Middle East, but the offering also extends to other parts of the world. “If you go around the shop, you’ll find want what you want whether you’re from France or Italy or Brazil. You’ll find good products from all around the world,” says Makool. There’s a bakery, a butcher, fresh produce and even a nut butter station. In the aisles, you’ll find plenty of cheeses, spices, grains, pulses and specialty ingredients. Oasis also has its own range of dips, kibbeh and other meals ready to take home.
If you’re keen to learn how to use the ingredients you find on the shelves, Makool, who has published two cookbooks, does cooking demonstrations a few times a week.
Before leaving, stop by the dessert bar where you can find Nutella-filled doughnuts, as well as more traditional sweets like Turkish delights and kanafeh.
Oasis has been a food mecca for Melburnians for the last two decades, though its location in suburban Murrumbeena makes it hard to reach for some. Luckily, a second location is set to open closer to the city, in Fairfield, by the end of the year.
9/993 North Road, Murrumbeena, Vic
Sat – Wed 8 am -7 pm, Thu – Fri 8 am – 9 pm
Stuffed roasted vegetables are a great make-ahead and reheat dinner. This is an ideal meal for those on a reduced-carb intake plan.
You want hummus to be creamy and buttery – adding the iced water is part of the secret. I use a lot of tahini in this recipe, but I want it to be super creamy.
This Middle-Eastern method of having poached eggs for breakfast involves baking the eggs in a earthy paprika tomato sauce, spiced lightly with chilli and capsicum.
It is so easy to put this dish together, and yet it makes such a big impact with its sharp, clean flavours. The hazelnut dukkah can be kept for up to a year – but I am sure you will eat it all before then! It is best stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.