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Streetfood from the homeland

Aymann Azzawi is standing with his REFUEAT stall at Maybachufer
“Food speaks its own language and connects cultures", says the REFUEAT founder Aymann Azzawi
Image: Publiplikator

There is one thing that unites all people, regardless of religion or culture: food. Aymann Azzawi recognised this in August 2016 when, together with Constantin Bartning, he got the idea for REFUEAT: refugees selling streetfood from their homeland on markets in Berlin, connecting with the locals and the German language, having employment and an income. Their company name, REFUEAT, comes from the English words for refugee and eat.

Since then, the initiator of the idea Aymann Azzawi and his two Syrian co-workers Yusuf and Ahmed have been going to the Hermannplatz, Karl-Marx-Platz or Maybachufer markets every week to sell their food: grilled sandwiches with chicken, falafel or Halloumi cheese and vegan lentil stew. The sizzling hot selling point, however, is their specially created signature dish, the Arab Hot Dog: three spicy Merguez sausages with salad, fried potatoes and their secret sauce recipe, garnished with fresh pomegranate kernels and a splash of lemon juice all packed into authentic Syrian-recipe bread.

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Food speaks its own language

Aymann Azzawi is a native of Berlin with Syrian roots and until they married, his wife lived in the country where civil war has been going on for years. When he brought her to Germany two years ago, the 30-year-old saw how refugees live in Germany. As a result, he wanted to create something that would support the community and benefit both sides. And so he came up with the idea of selling Arab streetfood. “Food speaks its own language and connects cultures. It bridges the gap between the refugees and the German community,” says the REFUEAT initiator, who used to work as a media service provider in Dubai.

There was also a market in the street in Syria where his grandmother lived. 500 people came out onto the street and built up their stalls. As soon as the public order officer made an appearance, a five-year-old boy would run through the group of merchants loudly shouting that the public order officer was coming. Within five minutes, the entire black market was empty and people had retreated to the backyards. When the coast was clear, they all came out again and continued to trade.

Yusuf is offering a fresh made Arab Hot Dog, Aymann Azzawi is standing next to him at the barbecue
Yusuf from REFUEAT is offering a fresh made Arab Hot Dog
Image: Publiplikator

Making important decisions together

In Germany, goods, mobile kitchens and fold-out stands – all totally legal, of course – are transported on cargo bicycles, a widespread type of selling in Syria. The capital outlay is comparatively low, anyone can drive them without a driving licence, they are environmentally friendly and “keep you fit too,” says Aymann Azzawi. They are planning a third bike with an upside-down wok pan, in which Arab flat bread can be baked with sweet pepper paste, cheese, oil and thyme or with Nutella and apple sauce.

REFUEAT aims to become a cooperative in the future, in which all parties also bear the economic responsibility. “The refugees not only get an employment contract and wage, but will be involved in the business and have the right to a vote,” says the 30-year-old. “In this way, you can make important decisions together and jointly steer the whole enterprise in the right direction.”

After all, the business is expected to grow, and well beyond the limits of Berlin. REFUEAT is already getting requests from Munich or Frankfurt to supply events with their food. “We started with Syrian cuisine, because my own roots are in Syria, the connection to the Syrian refugee community was there and we were able to acquire employees straight away. However, we are continually developing our recipes as part of our vitality, integration culture and our business base,” says Aymann Azzawi. So maybe there will soon be speciality hot dogs from all around the world.

Julia Raunick