Abdulghani Alrahmo thought he had a good life in Syria. He spent his days as an electrician, dealing with voltages, chargers and inverters. Alrahmo shared his home in Aleppo, near the Turkish border, with his wife Fatima and six children: Raghad, Rawan, Ahmad, Sami, Ghazal and Osama. "[It] was so easy and nice living with family and friends away from complexities of life," he says.
The Syrian war, which started in 2011, upended all of that. "We decided to move to Turkey to save my family and also to find treatment for my son [Osama] who has glaucoma [an eye condition]," he says.
In 2016, they came to Australia as refugees, where he realised a career change was inevitable. "My English language was not good and I couldn't amend my certificate in electricity," he says.
These circumstances inspired him to start Melh Wa Sekkar, a catering company he runs in Adelaide with his wife Fatima and two of their children: Raghad, aged 18, and Rawan, aged 16.
"Melh Wa Sekkar means salt and sugar in Arabic," says Alrahmo. "The needs of cooking are salt and sugar — it's like in life, [we need both] salt and sugar." For example, when salt is missing from a recipe, the spices don't have the same impact, he explains.
This philosophy has taken Melh Wa Sekkar's platters of baklava, lahm bi ajin (Arabic pizzas), vine leaves and tabbouleh across Adelaide, from the Morella Community Centre to a Ramadan tent at Marion Mosque. However, one of the most memorable catering occasions for the family was their first-ever job for the world's second-largest annual arts festival, the Adelaide Fringe.
"It was hard doing food for more than 50 people," Alrahmo says. The family actually did a practice run before the event to prepare.
On the day, they offered a spiced lamb curry, freekeh, kibbeh, hummus, tabbouleh and a dessert of ice cream and cooked milk. "Fatima was doing the kibbeh in front of the guests," he says. The crowd was so impressed and appreciative that they even took photos of her.
They weren't the only ones to be blown away by the food. Melh Wa Sekkar ended up winning the Best Event Award for their Adelaide Fringe menu, which is pretty amazing considering it was their first catering event.
"Winning it was really indescribable feeling, especially since our fatigue and effort were not in vain and [we] won the people's love," Alrahmo says.
Before the family launched their catering business, their community dinners at the city's Welcoming Centre, which supports new arrivals, and Morella Community Centre were a big hit. This led to people asking them when they'd open a restaurant, which made them realise there was a demand for their Syrian dishes.
Since then, they've presented their mandi (smoky chicken and rice) for 120 people at Adelaide Mosque and cooked for a big moonlight party at Oarsman Reserve by West Lakes. "It was an amazing night near the lake," Alrahmo says.
They've also catered for Walk Together, an annual walking event to celebrate diversity, and the Tasting Australia food festival. The momentum for turning Melh Wa Sekkar into a standalone eatery was there — until lockdown.
"We had a plans to open a restaurant, but because of COVID-19, we decided to wait until the pandemic ends," he says.
In the meantime, Melh Wa Sekkar continues to take catering orders. Feeding locals hasn't just been a business that maintains their link with their home country, though. Serving mandi, lahm bi ajin and baklava strengthens their connection to their adopted home, too.
"Melh Wa Sekkar helped our family settle into Adelaide," Alrahmo says.