Book review: Imad’s Syrian Kitchen

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Book review: Imad’s Syrian Kitchen

Related tags Imad Alarnab Chef Imad’s Syrian Kitchen Syrian food Cookbook

Syrian chef Imad Alarnab’s debut cookbook combines vibrant recipes from his homeland with honest and heartfelt reflections on what it means to be a refugee in the UK.

In some respects, the recipes in Imad Alarnab’s debut cookbook, named after his recently relocated Kingly Court restaurant in London’s Soho​, are secondary to the author’s story of journeying as a refugee from his hometown of Damascus in Syria to London in 2015. “Being a refugee is exhausting,” he writes, emotionally, at one point. “It’s emotional. It’s depressing. It involves so much waiting, unable to do anything, completely at the mercy of a constantly changing series of people who mostly don’t seem to care.”

Alarnab has told his story many times before​ to journalists and on TV, but this is the first time he’s really been given the space to explain the whole saga: from his life as a restaurateur in Damascus to being forced to flee and journey through Europe to the UK; navigating the UK’s long and debilitating immigration process; his fight to bring his family to the UK from Syria; opening his first restaurant in London; and, finally, reflecting on what it means to be a refugee today’s world.

Alarnab’s testimony is split into nine sections interspersed within the different recipe chapters of the book. His writing throughout is frank, soulful and brimming with raw emotion. An entry midway through sees him reflecting on his relationship with his mother, who died in Syria less than two months after he arrived in the UK. Later on, he talks of the frustrations of Syrian refugees, who believe the plight of their countrymen have been forgotten by many in the West. And in a final message, he writes tenderly of needing more people to use their voice to call for greater support and protection for those displaced across the globe.

Amid this is an extensive series of recipes that offer a bustling tour of Syrian cuisine. Many of the dishes that have become signatures at Alarnab’s London restaurant feature, including the falafel, which are strikingly shaped with hole in the middle for a ‘crispier texture’. There are six chapters to the book in total, covering spice mixes, recipe basics, starters, mains, desserts and drinks.

This is clearly a book that’s been designed to demonstrate how easy it is to recreate traditional Syrian dishes in a domestic kitchen. Throughout, the recipes are simple and straightforward, with almost all the ingredients obtainable in your local supermarket. The front cover calls it a ‘love letter from Damascus to London’, which is apt. Syrian cuisine remains relatively unexplored in the UK, and Imad’s Syrian Kitchen ​offers a vibrant introduction to it.

Imad’s Syrian Kitchen
Author:​ Imad Alarnab
Number of pages:​ 256
Standout dishes:​ Haraa asbeau salad; kabsa rice with chicken; and besbusi semolina cake
Publisher and price:​ HQ HarperCollins, £26

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