Customers queuing for a table at the Syrian Mezze restaurant has become the norm for foodies in the Portuguese capital. But in another unusual scene, locals talk to the staff on women’s right to work, dating and interfaith marriage in the Syrian culture.
Three Portuguese women met Syrian student Alaa Al-Hariri in a party, and their discussion saw the birth of an idea to open a restaurant that would later be a main lifeline for 13 Syrian refugees. They managed to collect 130,000 euros (8,000) to start the project through a donation campaign.
The restaurant opened its doors to offer Middle Eastern delicacies in September, and since then turned into a socialisation hub for those wishing to know more about the Syrian culture.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says this is the first Syrian restaurant in Lisbon.
Co-founders organise monthly group discussions where restaurant customers can speak with the Syrian staff.
"For us, integration started with the idea of providing work and then getting to know each other better. That is why we are organising debates and workshops to help the newcomers be closer to their new community," co-founder, Francisca Gorjao Henriques, said.
Among the restaurant workers are seven housewives-turned-chefs, who otherwise would have struggled to find job opportunities given their limited work experience and qualifications. The workers meet with volunteers to take Portuguese language classes twice a week.
"As a Syrian here, it gives me a very positive vibe to give a good example of my country, of my culture and a good example of people who transformed their lives and who keep going and doing things to change," Hariri said.
Their plans for next year include launching a catering service and opening a new branch in Portugal’s second largest city, Porto.