Paying it forward with flatbreads and kindness at Manoush’eh

posted on May 28, 2019

By Vancouver Sun |

George Assaf, a Syrian refugee, serves up delicious Lebanese flatbreads with gratitude at Manoush’eh, his charming West End café.

How is it that the kindest person I’ve encountered in a long time is a man who lost everything?

George Assaf and his family came to Canada as a Syrian refugee two years ago.

“We lived in an area (of Damascus) where most of the homes were destroyed,” he says. “When the war began we, as Christians, were a target for ISIS. We found a way to run away. We are super thankful for Canada and the people and the government.”

He and his wife Heba (“his queen”) now run Manoush’eh on Davie Street where I stopped to try some manoush’eh, a Lebanese flatbread, before a movie at the Pacific Cinematique.

Assaf calls out a hello to a young man who enters and sits. Assaf prepares and gives him a flatbread and the guy says “Thank you, George” and departs. When I interview Assaf, I learn he gives this young man a meal every day, on the house.

“Every day from the day I opened this small shop, I feed him. He’s not homeless but he might have an mental issue and I like him because he’s very polite,” says Assaf.

Manoush’eh (named after the flatbread) has been open for a year and a half and gratitude is a big part of Assaf’s being.

“I opened this shop to prove myself in Canada. Nothing is easy but I try to help people because I got lots of help from Canada and I want to prove myself and be 100 per cent Canadian.”

Assaf also gives discounts to organizations that work with refugees and immigrants.

The clean, well-lit, welcoming shop is furnished with wannabe steampunk tables and chairs.

“When I bought (from an antique shop), they thought maybe (they were) from Russian military school or something,” says Assaf. “It’s green with wood, so … most probably.”

We hummed, hawed, and asked questions before deciding on the classic za’atar manoush’eh ($5.49, flatbread with wild thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, olive oil) and sbanekh ($7.50, a folded pie with spinach, lemon, onions and sumac). The flatbreads are baked fresh in a pizza oven and everything’s made in-house. We also got an order of hummus with flatbread ($5.99).

As we waited I wished there were something fermented to go with the meal. Well, when dinner arrived aloft a long board (Assaf has fashioned different lengths for different amounts of food), wish granted! There were pickled beet-dyed turnips, pickled cucumbers and some fresh tomatoes. The food is fresh, light and very tasty. He cuts out oil when possible and keeps the kitchen nut free and egg free.

The sbanekh, folded into a triangle, comes drizzled with pomegranate molasses. The filling was a tad over-salted but otherwise healthy with lots of spinach.

Other dishes for vegetarians or vegans are flatbread with labneh, veg and olives; jebneh (akkawai cheese); falafel (spread over flatbread with tahini sauce, tomatoes, pickled turnips, parsley) and muhammara with cheese (hot pepper paste, onion, tomatoes, spices and akkawai cheese).

Meat eaters will find different mixes of ground beef toppings and most recently, pepperoni. They add new items every couple of months. And every five or six weeks, they make foul (fava beans with lemon, garlic, parsley). Side dishes include stuffed grape leaves, lentil soup and bite-sized manoush’eh.

For dessert, there’s baklava, semolina cake and semolina over cheese (mozzarella and akkawai). We ordered the latter with baked and crushed semolina with rosewater, orange blossom water atop the cheese, then drizzled with simple syrup. It’s an interesting fuse of savoury and sweet, but I think I would have liked the semolina cake more.

Several companies will deliver the food and orders over $150 are delivered free.

Manoush’eh’s been successful it seems — Assaf is looking for a second location in the Metrotown area.

You should try Manoush’eh. You’ll like the food and perhaps be inspired by kindness.

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