Eleanor Jackson on Hana Assafiri
As I travel towards Moroccan Delicacy to meet Hana Assafiri—the powerhouse behind this bustling Brunswick café and its 20-year-old sister establishment, the Moroccan Soup Bar—I wonder how many others have met Hana in this same way, nestled amongst the warmth and clamour of food, people and voices.
I don’t want to presume Hana will remember me, although we have met at her restaurant dozens of times before. She’s written my number on a small, white napkin to secure a table; set down a Haloumi salad and roasted cauliflower; handed me a Tupperware container of the chickpea bake that was, for a time, the only cure I knew for heartache. We’ve spoken before, lightly chatting between the rituals of food, and Hana has a way of opening conversation with customers right in the middle of things, pleasantries aside, cutting to the heart of a matter while deftly delivering a plate. Some small part of me thinks I know, at least something, of Hana Assafiri and her ways.
Despite these glancing exchanges, nothing quite prepares me for the life-force of a conversation with Hana. Her energy for what she does and how she does it is potent, and prevails over the cars driving by, the construction site across the road, the interruptions of lunchtime at the café, and the waves of departing customers, arriving friends and passers-by.
It is clear Hana lives with purpose, passion and conviction, all of which must have sustained her through nearly two decades at the helm of the busy Moroccan Soup Bar, with its spoken menu, its feminist and transformative employment agenda, and its willingness to see food and women as a recipe for change. While adding another café to her interests might seem a natural next step for a popular business looking to expand, it is clear Hana’s outlook is more than economic: it is the business of memory, community and activism that has inspired her to take over a Brunswick nut bar and transform it into a centre for the trade of daring ideas.
Host of the “Speed Date a Muslim” events, convenor of a program of creative debates, Hana is setting tables in a climate of global mistrust and ignorance about Islam—particularly the relationship of Islam to women. At each table she invites customers to participate in an act of resistance against hate. In each interaction, she sees the possibility of radical human connection. I don’t care if she remembers me. I remember her.