Food and Wine Names Terror-Supporting Bakery Reems As One of Restaurants of 2018
If that wasn’t bad enough, they buy in to the lie that it is a place of “peace,” where Jews and Arabs can eat together.
I’d ordered far too much already. I’d tried elastic man’oushe flatbread peeled off a hot saj griddle, sumac-braised chicken, shakshuka bubbling with bright egg yolks, and tahini cut with butternut squash. I hadn’t planned on getting the mu’ajinaat—the puffy little turnover stuffed with tangy marinated akkawi cheese and speckled with black nigella seeds. But a pair of older women at the Reem’s counter insisted I was missing out, told me they hadn’t tasted mu’ajinaat quite like this since their mother died, told me this particular mu’ajinaat was a taste of Palestine, a taste of home.
The woman to thank here is Reem Assil, who grew up in a Syrian-Palestinian family in Sudbury, Massachusetts—an “ambiguously brown kid,” as she describes herself, in a predominantly white neighborhood. From an early age she understood food as a potent tool for empathy and connection. “When the Arab world appeared in our curriculum at all, it was always stereotypical and outdated. Kids would make fun of me,” she remembers. “My mom would come to the school and give the kids baklava and maamoul cookies. It always won them over.” As an adult, Assil studied international relations and became a labor activist; it wasn’t until a trip to Lebanon, where she observed the sense of community fostered in the lively bakeries of Beirut, that she resolved to bring that spirit to the States.
Food as a vehicle for healing is at the center of everything here. Assil has roots in the local foods movement of the Bay Area—Reem’s started out as a farmers market stand. And so the produce is local, the meat from nearby halal butchers. The dough for those man’oushe breads gets its tang from a Tartine Bakery starter and may be topped with cumin from Burlap & Barrel, a company emphasizing ethical sourcing in Afghanistan, Palestine, and elsewhere.
At a moment when touchstones of Middle Eastern cuisine like tahini and pomegranate molasses appear on menus all over the country, Reem’s offers an opportunity to see those flavors, often attributed to Israel, through a wider lens, one inclusive of the Arab perspective. “I wanted to cultivate understanding in the most humane way possible—through food,” says Assil, who makes her case with orange blossom–scented cookies, spinach pastries spiced with cinnamon and sumac, and warm flatbread bundling sujuk sausage. “I look around my restaurant on a Saturday afternoon. I see Jews and Arabs eating together. I see people who are not politicized just enjoying a meal. And I think, this is what peace looks like.”
Because nothing says Jews and Arabs eating together and peace like a big, ugly ass mural of a remorseless terrorist who murdered two Jews in cold blood.
Maybe the judges over at Food and Wine need to eat more food and drink less wine.