The opening of Zaytuna in Doncaster's Wool Market

Article written by Louise O’Brien, taken from ‘A View From the Edge Doncaster Conversation Club Newsletter’

So last week I travelled 200 miles round trip to eat falafel in Doncaster. Why? I hear you ask. I’ll tell you. Until a few years ago falafel was, at best, something stodgy and not very tasty which I sometimes had if there was nothing else around to eat.

Then in 2015 at the height of the so called ‘European Refugee Crisis’ I travelled to the island of Kos to assist refugees arriving in Europe. I met hundreds of refugees of many nationalities, including Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans, Iranians, Malians, Pakistanis and others arriving in Europe in tiny, overcrowded boats. I started to hear about the places which people had fled and they became like places I knew; Latakia, Homs, Aleppo, Raqqa, Mosul, Deir al-Zour, Hawja, Idlib and Damascus.

When working at Doncaster Minster in the town centre, we set up an English language learning project to complement the work of Doncaster Conversation Club to support asylum seekers and refugees who are living in Doncaster, with opportunities to practice their English. And it was there, in Doncaster, that I discovered that falafel was in fact anything but stodgy and bland….

I have become friends – like so many others – with Rania Al Arnab and Thabet Kalthoum from Damascus who have RETRAINED my taste buds to understand what makes falafel a truly egalitarian street food worth travelling 200 miles for. I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many times I have eaten beautifully made Syrian and Mediterranean style food at the home of Rania and Thabet! It’s always about fresh flavours… parsley, cumin, pomegranate seeds, freekeh, some garlic, good olive oil, roasted aubergine and so many other lovely things. And it’s about knowing how many times to blend the chick peas so that they remain crunchy on the outside and cooked to perfection on the inside when deep fried. Don’t be afraid of the deep frying! They are so light and so very tasty. I definitely ate way too many on the opening day! So on the 26th of March 2019 the newly refurbished and designed Wool Market opened in Doncaster town centre with a soft launch, leading to 3 full days and evenings of entertainment over the weekend where people from all over the borough came to see what the place had to offer. There are a lot of new businesses in the Wool Market, but the one which I travelled 200 miles to see and buy from is Zaytuna, Mediterranean Cuisine, a lovely, fresh looking unit in the market hall specially designed with vintage looking tiles and a new logo. I was there first thing on the 26th and could

see how the customers were responding to the food, especially the falafel wraps and it was all very,

very positive. People were enjoying the simplicity of the food and something new in Doncaster. What will bring people back to Zaytuna will be the welcome, the simple fresh food and the fact that the Wool Market will be open during the evenings, especially in the spring and summer months. It’s so important that people who make the UK their home having claimed asylum have opportunities to build new lives for themselves and their families and that means finding work and being able to participate fully in society. Seeing this family setting up a new business in Doncaster using their already existing skills and expertise as well as bringing something new to the town is brilliant. They in turn will be able to offer opportunities to others and so the positive effects are passed on.

If you love inexpensive and tasty street food and you’re in Doncaster make sure you visit Zaytuna in the Wool Market; not only will you enjoy the food but you may find yourself being seriously impressed by the drive and commitment of this family to put down roots and grow something new in their new home town.