• Joumana Charaf (left to right), Hend Naseraldin, Akram Abou Hamdam and Hachem Abou Hamdam at Trio Syrian Cuisine. (Audrey Bourget )Source: Audrey Bourget
These Syrian refugees arrived in Australia with no money and no English. Fast forward five years and their new baklava business is about to expand.
Audrey Bourget

20 Jun 2019 - 2:08 PM  UPDATED 15 Jun 2020 - 12:38 AM

Among the shops packed with cannoli on Melbourne's Lygon Street, one is not like the others. Instead of Italian pastry by the bounty, it's an assortment of golden baklava that's stacked behind this window.

The shop was known as Trio Pasta, Sweets & Nuts, was renamed Trio Syrian Cuisine when Joumana Charaf and her husband Akram Abou Hamdan took over in 2017.

Baklava and sweets

They arrived in Australia as refugees from Syria with their daughter. Their youngest son, who was studying architecture, followed later. Their oldest son, who had to flee before them, now lives in Dubai. "I had everything in my country; my job, my home, and the most important, my family all together," says Charaf.

Back in Syria, the couple owned a food distribution business in As-Suwayda, in the southern part of the country. 

When the war started eight years ago, refugees from other parts of the country began fleeing to their city for safety.

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With the help of family and friends, Abou Hamdan set up a centre to help incoming women and children.

Because the people he helped came from areas that opposed the government, Abou Hamdan was threatened and fled to Jordan. After spending time in a refugee camp and staying with friends, his family joined and they eventually came to Australia as refugees.

"Coming to Australia, I didn't have anything; no money, no English, nothing," says Charaf. The family began working hard in their new country; in a pizza shop, making bread and delivering newspapers.

Charaf also crocheted and knitted with SisterWorks, a not-for-profit helping migrant and refugee women. 

"In my country, I had many friends and they would visit me and my husband at home, and I'd cook for them,but it was never a restaurant."

A volunteer suggested she start selling Syrian sweets at markets. "I didn't even understand what she meant by 'market'. Everything was so different here," recalls Charaf.

"In my country, I had many friends and they would visit me and my husband at home, and I'd cook for them, but it was never a restaurant."

Trio Syrian Cuisine is on the corner of Lygon and Elgin streets, in the Italian precinct of Carlton.

Soon enough, Charaf was selling her baklava at the Mornington Main Street Market every Wednesday. "People liked my baklava so every week I'd go with my husband. Everybody was friendly," she says.

After a year and a half at the markets, the family thought they were ready for something bigger, and took
over a shop at the corner of Lygon and Elgin Street in Carlton's Italian precinct.

They kept selling nuts, dry fruits and sweets like their predecessors, but the sweets became a wide variety of baklava. Some are layered with traditional flavours such as pistachio. Others are made with walnut, cashew and almond. One is covered in chocolate, and another is even vegan.

Warbat is a cousin of baklava. Made with filo, it’s sometimes filled with custard or sweet cheese. Charaf fills hers with pistachios.

You'll also find some cousins of the baklava, like asawer (also made with filo pastry and nuts but doused in a rosewater syrup and shaped like a bracelet) and osh al bolbol (which uses shredded filo).

You can have your food to takeaway or eat in your felafel plate, pies and sweets.

Instead of pasta, Charaf now makes haloumi pies and falafel plates, which you can eat in, with labneh, falafels, pickles, hummus and baba ganoush all available to take home as well.

The couple is currently running the shop with their son, Hachem, and their daughter-in-law, Hend and come Monday (June 24) they'll also open their doors to their second location, Trio 2, in Pascoe Vale.

Trio Syrian Cuisine

339 Lygon St, Carlton, Victoria

Mon – Sat 11 am – 7 pm | Sun 11 am – 6 pm

Trio 2 Takeaway (Opening Monday, June 24)

28 Devon Road, Pascoe Vale, Victoria

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