A cool, crisp autumn morning. The smells of spices fill the air. It’s just another early Thursday morning for local farmers’ market vendor Nasr Mostafa.
Nasr & Nabiha’s Travelling Kitchen is a must-try vendor at the Belleville Farmer’s Market. When I went to visit Nasr at the market, he was already there setting up his table and prepping his food. Beginning his morning at 6 a.m., Nasr wakes up and starts prepping at home for the day ahead. He makes his falafel mixture fresh each market day and cooks them to order for customers throughout the day. He also brings fresh chicken, ready to cook, to the market with him. The aroma of something delicious cooking is a great way to start your day at the market.
Nasr and Nabiha moved to Canada four years ago with their six children. When they first came here, Nasr says they didn’t speak much English at all. Transitioning from life in Syria to here was challenging for Nasr and his family, but he says that so many people helped make it easier on them.
In his first year being here, he had so much help and support from people in the community. They shared their love of food and cooking with the new friends they made by inviting them over for dinners and sharing meals. Everyone told them how amazing and delicious their cooking was; Nasr and Nabiha then had the idea to share their culture with the community through food.
Chatting with Nasr, he told me about how he and his wife were a bit unsure about coming to the market; they felt that their English still wasn’t good enough and they didn’t know a lot of people. This was a big venture for them and they were very shy about it. He told me that the first day being at the market, he only sold TWO of his chicken shawarma sandwiches! I could hardly believe this — look how amazing these sandwiches are!
Now, Nasr says he goes through 100 sandwiches on Saturdays at the market, and everyone is there bright and early to get their food before he runs out.
While I was chatting with Nasr, I noticed that every customer that came up he greeted as “friend.” Many were simply customers, but some of them were good friends, people who had helped him get started in his new life and encouraged him to pursue his love of cooking and to share it with the community. It was so amazing to see so many people bonding over different cultures together.
I ask Nasr why he and Nabiha like being a part of the market. “Nobody around here knows much about this kind of cuisine, and now I get to share it with them. Everyone knows now and comes here for it. They are here early in the morning so they don’t miss out,” he says.
I was really starting to get excited to try the food. Nasr says his favourite things to make are the falafels and the chicken shawarma. “It reminds me of home. Everyone loves those dishes where I come from. They’re healthy AND delicious,” he tells me.
The Belleville Farmers’ Market has been an integral part of Nasr and Nabiha’s success in our local community. Transitioning to their new life here was full of challenges, but Nasr says that he has made many friends since being here and met so many people. “Being a part of the market,” he says, “you get to know so many people. You become very involved in the community. It [moving here] has been a huge challenge, but it has helped me learn more about the culture here and the community.”
As we wrapped up our conversation, he packed me up a shawarma to sample. I said goodbye and headed back to my car as customers stepped up to claim their favourites. On my way back, food in hand, Nasr’s last words of our conversation rang in my ears:
“We are so very happy.”
The Belleville Farmer’s Market is upholding proper physical distancing protocols. Please remember to practice these and other COVID-19 measures while out in the community.